San Diego Zoo: 11 tips for visiting

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The San Diego Zoo is one of my all-time favourites. If you find yourself anywhere near Southern California in your travels you HAVE to visit. TripAdvisor recently awarded San Diego Zoo their Traveler’s Choice Number 1 Zoo in the world  – so it has to be true!

From Australian koalas to Arctic polar bears and Giant Pandas, the San Diego Zoo  makes a great family day out. Known for its large open enclosures (remember the film Madagascar?) the zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals. 

This year The San Diego Zoo celebrates its centennial year with lots of special activities, such a the NighttimeZoo, a film experience, new bus tour, shows and more. Check out the San Diego Zoo Centenary Events and Celebrations.

We were Zoo members when we lived in San Diego when the girls were just tots. Here are our tips for getting the most out of your day:

  1. Buy your ticket beforehand to avoid long queues. Try Mousesavers for a list of discount tickets, or if try buy a Southern California City Pass for $341/adult $311/child which includes the San Diego Zoo OR Safari Park, a Disneyland & Disney California Adventure 3-day park hopper, SeaWorld San Diego, and LEGOLAND (a real bargain!).
  2. Get there early – you’ll get better parking and the animals are more active and it’s not so hot in the morning!
  3. Bring a hat and sun cream. That sounds really basic, but Southern California sun is hot and you can really feel it in the wide open spaces that the zoo is known for. And don’t forget water!
  4. If you have toddlers you WILL need a pushchair. Preferably one with a sun shade.
  5. Strategise! Check out the map beforehand and decide where you want to spend your time. Also check the show schedule.
  6. See the Panda first! The queues can get long so as soon as you get there take the Skyfari to the other side of the park, take in the pandas, and then meander back (it’s downhill).
  7. Bring a packed a lunch. There are lots of options to purchase food, but there’s nothing like bringing your own snacks that you can whip out when needed. But make sure to but an ice-cream.
  8. Prepare to spend the whole day there. The zoo is huge and you probably won’t see everything.
  9. Your ticket includes a guided bus tour – either take early to get an overview OR last thing when you are tired.
  10. The petting zoo is near the exit – so do that last!
  11. If you have little ones – walk over to neighbouring Balboa Park and take the train ride. The perfect ending to a perfect day!


San Diego Zoo 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101 +1 (619) 231-1515 2920

America As You Like It Specialist firm that offer packages for families including return flights on British Airways from Heathrow to San Diego, car hire and hotel.


If you are planning a trip to Souther California, you MUST visit the world famous San Diego Zoo.

If you are planning a trip to Southern California, you MUST visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo.


Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

Arrive early – you’ll get better parking and avoid the crowds (if even for just an hour). Photo credit: San Diego Zoo


Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

Bring a hat and sun cream. That sounds really basic, but Southern California sun is hot! Photo credit: San Diego Zoo


Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

The Skyfari Arial tram is included in your ticket price. Use it to easily get to the far side of the zoo (where the Pandas are) or as quick way back. Photo credit: San Diego Zoo


Polar bear Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

Don’t miss the Polar bear exhibit! Photo credit: San Diego Zoo


Panda Gao Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

The pandas are very popular – our tip is to visit first when the queues are at their shortest. Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

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  1. 29/07/2016 / 19:33

    I really want to go here. It’s meant to be one of the best!

  2. 07/07/2016 / 09:39

    I’m still kicking myself for not going! We were just so tired after 2 days straight at SeaWorld & LEGOLAND that I don’t think we could have coped with another long day. I think it’s a top reason to go back asap! ;D

  3. 01/07/2016 / 13:40

    So want to visit now, fab review bursting with so many brilliant tips x

  4. 27/06/2016 / 17:18

    Great tips Susanna – can you believe I’ve never ever been to America! San Diego looks like a great place to start and I don’t think you’re ever too young (or old) for a zoo!

  5. 27/05/2016 / 19:32

    I’ve heard so much about San Diego zoo…there’s always a cute news story from there featuring adorable, rare baby animals which have been born there. Sounds like it’s a must visit…the Skyfari team looks particularly impressive! #citytripping

  6. 24/05/2016 / 21:24

    Great post! I’m hoping to bring my toddler to the San Diego Zoo this autumn – I haven’t been for about 10 years and am looking forward to seeing it again. Also really love the Safari Park, that’s one of my favorite attractions in the county. Thanks for sharing your tips! #CityTripping
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