San Diego Zoo Tips


The San Diego Zoo is what we did the first day of our vacation. This was a great first day activity. We were all tired of sitting after driving 12.5 hours the day before and we were happy to walk around the zoo. It was also Brinley’s hardest day emotionally, and it was a good place for her having some emotional breakdowns.


This zoo has some really great habitats. Because of this, the animals are more relaxed and active. They are even curious about the people there. Kaitlyn was in heaven.


Buy Tickets Before You Go

Of all the parks we went to, this was the one where it seemed most people were buying tickets at the ticket office rather than coming with tickets. To add to this, the power had gone out shortly before opening, so the tickets were not working. There was quite the line up. I am guessing this made it so people were slower getting in and the park didn’t fill up as fast. This made it so we could see many animals with basically no one else around. 



Pack a lunch in your backpack and eat it there.


Arrive Early

Parking is free here. Wahoo! If you arrive early, you will get a good parking spot, too. You will be glad for this spot at the end of your day.


Do Not Be Afraid to Walk Around Zoo

Many tips blogs talk about how exhausting it is to walk around the zoo. I was kind of nervous to see what it would be like. My children never complained about the walking and I didn’t find it taxing. There are hills, but we were fine. It is smart to have good shoes, but don’t be intimidated about walking around the park.


If you do get tired, you can ride the Kangaroo shuttle around the park. There are also a lot of escalators in the steepest parts of the zoo.


See Pandas First

The Pandas are a must see, and the wait to see the Pandas is usually quite long. Head on back to the Pandas very first. We had no wait to see the Pandas.



Take Bus Tour

The bus tour is a great way to see a lot of animals. One of Nate’s coworkers said to do it first thing. The reason for this is that you then see most of the animals, get a feel for the park, and then can decide if you want to go back or just call that good. I read on one tips page to do it around noon when you are more tired and need a break.



Like I said, I really felt like the Pandas were the thing to do first, so we did not hit the tour first. We did the tour a couple of hours into our day. The bus tour is fun even if you have seen the animals already. Your guide will give you all sorts of info you don’t pick up when walking around. 

Kaitlyn’s favorite animal at the zoo–this is an Okapi–you drive by this on the bus tour, but you wouldn’t see it

You Can See All of the Animals

I think every list of tips I read for this place said that you can’t possibly see all of the animals in one day. I disagree. We saw all but three animals (the tortoises, crocodiles, and wart hog). We left the park two hours before it closed. We easily could have seen them all if we had wanted to (and yes, it kind of drives me crazy that we were so close). We were very tired, though, and ready to leave. We had far exceeded our goals and expectations and were satisfied.



I think if it were a super busy day, you could find it takes a long time to get a turn to look at the animals. We were there on a Saturday and it wasn’t bad at all.



Before we came, we went through the website and chose the animals we really wanted to see and had a list. I intended to follow this list and ignore any animal not on the list so we could see all of our musts. Well, that just doesn’t happen. You can’t walk past some animals and just ignore them. You can’t! At least I can’t. 

Brinley loved watching the elephants



There are some aviarys at the zoo. These are fun because the birds are flying around act more natural than they do in smaller cages. Take note, though, birds flying around means watch your head. Also, watch where you put your hands. Kaitlyn put her hand on the hand rail and touched a lot of bird poop. She wasn’t too excited about that. This leads me to, bring wet-wipes even if no one is in diapers.




Cloudy Day is Good

Cloudy days are always good for viewing animals. They will be more active. You will also be more comfortable not being in the blazing sun, though this park does have a lot of trees so it isn’t bad.

It was a cloudy day when we went. The polar bears were fun to watch.


The line for the Skyfari is much shorter if you take it from the top to the bottom rather than from the bottom to the top.



Something I had a hard time figuring out is if a stroller could go on the Skyfari or not. Yes it can! But it has to be able to fold up. Our Graco stroller folded up to the correct size to be able to take it on the ride.


Buy Postcards of Favorite Animals

It is hard to get a good picture of the animals. The postcards have good pictures. We each bought a postcard of our favorite animal at the zoo.

Animals are hard, but photo ops are easy



2 thoughts on “San Diego Zoo Tips”

  1. I loved this post, Valerie. It's so fun to see pictures of your family together. My husband & I spent a week in San Diego this summer for our 10th anniversary. We spent a day at the zoo. It was so strange not to be there with our daughter since kids were everywhere, but we had such a nice time alone!

    • That sounds fun! And weird about the kids. When we were there, most people were childless. And it was a Saturday. I wondered if it was because October is free kids month at that zoo and we were there November. Maybe people got their fill?


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