San Diego Zoo OverviewWith a reputation as one of the best zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo blew us away with its animal exhibits, facilities and activities during our recent visit! We happened to be there during their 100 year celebration--quite the milestone. Overall, the zoo was very large with an overwhelming number of things to do and see, which is why we strongly suggest planning ahead prior to visiting to get the most out of your time (and to keep your visit as positive and grumble-free as possible).
Thinking about visiting? We're happy to share our top 10 tips for planning a successful trip to the San Diego Zoo with kids!
Dying to catch a glimpse of some of the animals we saw? Keep scrolling, you won't be disappointed!
San Diego Zoo at a Glance:
- Open 365 days a year (including holidays)
- Hours vary (check site prior to visiting)
- Special parking, bathrooms, show/tour access, etc. available for special needs visitors
- 100 acres in size
- 3,700+ rare and endangered animals (660 species and subspecies represented)
- 700,000+ plants
- 35-minute guided bus tour available (overview of zoo)
- Kangaroo Bus provides quick on-off transportation from several spots in the zoo
- Skyfari brings visitors from one end of park to the other in ski lift-like cars
- Many photo opportunities
- Variety of shopping (proceeds go to San Diego Zoo and wildlife conservancy efforts)
- Food may be brought into zoo, however, coolers and large storage containers are prohibited
Offering wildlife education, animal exhibits, special experiences, park activities and special events, the San Diego Zoo puts a great deal of time and resources into helping animals around the globe through their Wildlife Conservancy program. We were actually really impressed to hear just how much work they were doing throughout a number of countries in their efforts to save a variety of species from reaching extinction. We strongly suggest reading more about it!
Top 10 Tips to Enjoying the San Diego Zoo with Kids
The zoo was fantastic, but given its size and the sheer volume of animals and activities available it could be daunting and quickly turn from fun to complete meltdown mode. We suggest doing a few things to make the experience better all around for everyone!
1. Review the Map Ahead of Time
If you're like us, you probably do a fair amount of research prior to making any big trips to somewhere you've never been. We strongly suggest doing that before visiting the San Diego Zoo, especially when it comes to reviewing the map ahead of time. We knew the zoo would be large, but seeing it (and walking it) in person was a whole different story. We recommend coming up with a game plan on the path you want to take through the park, making notes of dining and restroom stops you'll likely want to hit along the way.
Note: The zoo is note completely flat, in fact, much like San Diego a lot of it is uphill or downhill. Keep this in mind when planning your trip with little ADHDers.
2. Take Skyfari or the Guided Tour First
We had read multiple people suggest taking the Guided Tour bus or Skyfari first thing when getting to the park. Both are relatively close to the entrance. We personally found that the best way to do it with little guys was to take the Skyfari as soon as we got to the park, which deposited us on the other end (uphill) then walk downhill back through the park from there. We then took the Guided Tour at the end, which brought us past many of the animal exhibits we hadn't been able to get to up to that point. The Skyfari gave us a great view of the entire zoo and also prevented us from having to walk uphill during the majority of our visit (which was pretty intense for little guys). We did end up backtracking uphill at one point, but if you have little guys with short legs or low muscle tone, that could be difficult.
Note: The Skyfari was similar to a ski lift, but with enclosed cars. A couple people in our family were a little anxious at first since it went quite high up, but overall everyone enjoyed it. If you have someone with an extreme fear of heights you may want to avoid this.
|The view from Skyfari was pretty spectacular!|
3. Prioritize Animal Exhibits
With over 3,700 animals in the park, the San Diego Zoo really blew us away during our visit. While we did get to see most of the animals, we didn't get to see all of them and we certainly couldn't have walked by every exhibit. Thank goodness for the Guided Tour! We saw the majority of the animals we'd missed while walking during the Guided Tour, which we hopped on at the end of our visit. If members of your family simply cannot live without seeing certain exhibits make sure you plan those into your day--preferably at the beginning. Popular exhibits (hello, pandas!) can get very crowded with decent waits, so it's best to make sure you see anything you wish to see as early as possible to make sure nobody leaves the zoo upset.
The San Diego Zoo's website has a cool feature that allows you to add exhibits to your plans for the day, which could really help while planning!
Note: The pandas, Bonobos (similar looking to chimpanzees, but extremely sweet and their own species) and polar bears seemed to have the longest waits the day we were there, but nothing compared to the wait for the pandas, which are consistently a crowd favorite from what we've read. We waited about 30-40 minutes in line to walk through the panda exhibit, which was worth every second. The female adult panda was incredibly willing to ham it up for the cameras the day we were there, which was fantastic. Pandas are our youngest's favorite and he all but passed out from sheer joy during our trip!
4. Prepare for Varying WeatherThe day we visited the San Diego Zoo we had sun, clouds and even a sprinkle or two. We strongly suggest dressing in layers depending on the time of year as the temperature fluctuated a lot (the second the sun was covered or began to get lower the temperature dropped like nuts). Also, check weather reports and pack light raincoats if there's even a hint of a chance or rain! Temperature differences from one area to the next, tree-covered vs. none, had us pulling our hoodies on and off throughout our trip.
5. Bring Snacks & Water (especially for those with special diets)You're going to walk a lot, so you're going to get hungry and thirsty! You know how it is, you take 20 steps and somebody is dying of thirst and someone else is about to pass out from hunger. Be prepared!
The San Diego Zoo had a number of dining options--quick and sit-down. There were a lot of snack stands that offered things like popcorn, sweet treats and water. We chose not to eat at any of them and brought quite a few bottles of water and snacks with us in our backpacks because we wanted to make the most of our time and we had a number of dietary restrictions between the four of us. We were told some dining spots could accommodate certain restrictions, but overall we found it easier to simply bring snacks and then grab dinner after in the North End nearby (more on that in a future post!). The day we were there the zoo closed at 5 pm, so it wasn't as though anyone had to wait past dinner time to eat. If you're staying for a later close or you don't mind stopping to eat, you may want to explore dining options to see what may suit your family.
6. Plan to Shop (at least a little)
Odds are you're going to see the scene above multiple times throughout your visit. That face ... can you really say no? Yes, you can and we mostly did, but be prepared for at least a few moments of: "I love it sooooo much, can I please have it?". Our rule is generally one souvenir per destination, which we stuck to for our trip to the San Diego Zoo. If you've been to a number of theme parks you know how they generally work. You hop off a ride and land knee-deep in merchandise. The San Diego Zoo is similar in the sense that they have themed shops near many of the major exhibits (such as this adorable panda spot near the pandas). What we loved was that you didn't have to walk through these little shops and the proceeds went to supporting the zoo and their wildlife conservancy efforts, so less painful by far in our opinions compared to some theme parks! There were also large shops near the entrance/exit, which we also popped into for a peek. Merchandise ranged from pins to plushes and more. We actually though the merchandise was quite good quality-wise.
Note: We found a lot of these shops had fun items for under $20. The small panda in our youngest's arms above came home with us (each boy adopted one actually) and was priced around $14 if our memories are correct. That large panda did not come home with us sadly, though he'd fallen in love with it.
7. If you want the picture, you may have to wait!
Amazing animals everywhere and tons of little (and big) kids going crazy for them! We found it sometimes required some serious waiting in order to snag a really good shot of animals or the boys with animals in the background. While this may not be a priority for you, if you're camera-happy then make sure you plan for a bit of extra waiting time to snag the shots you want--especially if you're short like us. Our patience typically paid off and we were able to get some great shots during our visit!
Note: If you see an opportunity and it isn't going to require you to be rude, jump at the chance! We always try to be courteous when we're out, sometimes to the point of missing out on opportunities so others can have the chance, but thankfully a kind staff member told us to take this shot as we hung back to let others have a shot and we were able to get one with this lovely old girl (a super hilarious orangutan) in the background!
|This guy was watching all of the kids (who were watching him) pretty intensely...|
8. Photo Ops: No Camera Required
If you can't snag some good shots on the go or you don't want to carry your camera, you may want to take advantage of the many photo ops around the zoo manned by staff. We didn't make the boys do many of them since we tend to take quite a few pictures ourselves, but they were good sports about hopping on this guy's back near the entrance! There were also a number of green-screen photo ops where visitors could take pictures with specific poses then have them edited to include certain animals. We did one with pandas and it came out super cute! The photo packages were reasonably priced and I believe we paid around $30 for several pictures (one large and 4 small) and a magnetic frame.
Note: You can take pictures at every photo station if you like, but only pay for the one(s) you choose to purchase!
9. Guided Tour: Seat Location Matters
If you take the Guided Tour (we suggest it at the end or possibly the beginning) make sure you try to grab a seat on the top level! Also, if you're able to get a seat on the left side (passenger side) you may get some of the best views. While the lower level can see most of what you pass on the tour, we found the top level had a slightly better view from above of the animal exhibits as many had fairly high vegetation or structures around them. We were able to snap quite a few pictures of animals we weren't able to see earlier during the day when walking around, such as the elephant above!
Note: Keep an arm around impulsive little ones as the top level of the bus is up fairly high! There are railings, but you never can be too careful in our opinions.
10. Don't worry if you can't see it all!
|This little Biloba was the cutest thing with the most expressive little face! Major shade being thrown while he swung around this bamboo.|
Despite all your planning and hustling once you get to the San Diego Zoo, odds are you won't be able to see it all (especially with little ADHDers in tow) in one day. That's okay! As long as you prioritize the exhibits you can't live without and you enjoy your time that's really all that matters. When we went over all the animals we didn't have a chance to see after our trip we quickly realized how impossible it would have been for us to swing by them all. We did make it to all of our must-sees along with quite a few more, so the trip was definitely worth it! We still have plenty to look forward to next time.
Yes, you could try to do it all in one day, but you'd honestly probably leave spouse-less, childless and crawling on your hands and knees. Is it really worth it? Enjoy your time and make the most of it without running your family ragged!
San Diego Zoo Final ThoughtsThe San Diego Zoo was the best zoo we'd been to to date! Everyone really enjoyed our visit and we were incredibly impressed by the cleanliness of the zoo and perkiness of the animals overall. Especially for a family that tends to avoid quite a few zoos because we can't stand looking at sad, poorly cared for animals, this zoo was a breath of fresh air!
The day we were there it varied from warm to cool at different points and the animals were pretty active as a result! We were told once it gets hotter out some of the animals tend to find a shady spot and stay there, so try to visit during a cool (but not necessarily cold) time of year if possible.
The restroom facilities were all quite clean during our visit and thankfully they were scattered generously throughout the zoo! As long as your ADHDers give you some warning, you should have plenty of time to get to one.
Even with a map don't be surprised if you get a little lost. We planned our path out, kept a map on us and still managed to get a little turned around because some of the signs were a little confusing at times. If you get lost, look for a staff member--there were quite a few wandering around to help when we were there and they were great at pointing us in the right direction!
If you want to see the pandas, go first thing! I know we mentioned it above, but they really were quite popular (and consistently are) and you don't want to risk missing out or having a cranky kid by the time you get to see them.
If you plan to take pictures make sure your camera is fully charged and you have plenty of storage space on your SD card. During our time there I took close to 1,000 pictures. While you may not take this many (obviously one of our priorities is to get as many great shots for you guys as possible) there were so many fantastic opportunities to snap pics of animals and the boys, I wouldn't be surprised if you take more pictures than you anticipate!
Overall, our experience was really fabulous and we strongly recommend making time to visit while in San Diego!
Have you been to the San Diego Zoo? Which animal do you think you'd make a beeline to see first?
San Diego Zoo - Animals, animals and more animals!We lucked out the day we visited the San Diego Zoo and managed to see quite a few of the animals while they were super active! As a result, we got some really great shots. If you love animals (prepare for some serious "aaaaaaw" moments) then keep scrolling because we have a serious treat for you!
|This guy's fur coat was really stylin'!|
|Polar bear polar bear, what do you hear?|
|We loved that you could see his dark skin underneath his coat here!|
|This helicopter was a replica of the ones used to track polar bears in the Arctic!|
|This guy's bill was seriously beautiful!|
|His girlfriend preferred to keep it low-key in black.|
|He was munching on something delicious in this stump!|
|This guy was not interested in having his picture taken. He was also really high up!|
|Ironically, we were told on the Guided Tour that these guys are actually not technically part of the zoo exhibit, they just stop by for lunch!|
|I waited a long time and this guy finally turned so I could get a shot of his gorgeous face!|
|The feathered moochers!|
|That beautiful coat was amazing to see in person!|
|For good reason this guy was behind some serious caging, but his coat was so gorgeous and he was extremely active when we were there!|
|This fluffy bum belonged to a sleepy red panda...|
|He chose not to bother himself with getting up while we were at his exhibit. Those little feet--so cute!|
|We did not try to speak parseltongue to this scaly guy, but perhaps we should have!|
|Not really a fan of snakes, but this guy was really amazing.|
|She was such a ham and completely worth the wait!|
|Little Xiao Liwu was enjoying his naptime!|
|This little guy was born in 2012! Still just a baby.|
|After we left this little one decided he wanted to say good-bye!|
|This hippo couldn't be bothered to say, "Hello!"|
|This guy was no joke.|
|We watched him for quite a while and he watched the boys right back!|
|I've got my eye on you...|
|This little orangutan was so adorable and curious! Reminded me of two little boys I know...|
|Do a split in the air, you say? No problem!|
|She tumbled in front of the glass for the boys!|
|This man was one of her handlers and she loved interacting with him.|
|Such a beautiful face!|
|There were quite a few people watching these little guys so it was hard to get a shot, but I managed to snap one of these three real quick!|
|This gorilla was far too busy with her nap, but it was amazing to see how large she was! We didn't get a view of her baby, but we will definitely look again next time.|
|These guys are not chimpanzees, they're actually Bonobos! Super sweet, very intelligent and a total joy to watch.|
|This baby Bonobo spent his time playing and being cared for by the adults!|
|This was such a sweet moment, I can't believe I managed to get it!|
|This baby Bonobo had the BEST facial expressions! He was swinging around this bamboo having fun, then stopped to throw some major shade.|
|This guy was so large!|
|Absolutely beautiful girl.|
|This guy was taking a nap, but even lying down you could tell how large he was!|
|The elephants were really cool to watch as they meandered around! By this point we were on the Guided Tour bus and had a great view from the second level.|
|This guy had some really impressive tusks!|
|This little giraffe was months old when we saw him!|
|We had no idea just how pebbly a rhino's hide was! His skin literally looked like thick leather armor.|
|So glad we got to see this koala, even if he was napping in a cute, fluffy ball.|
That's it! Those are the many, many animals we had the pleasure of seeing during our trip to the San Diego Zoo.
Hopefully you've enjoyed these as much as we enjoyed taking them. If you go, definitely let us know what your favorite animal exhibits were!
Note: Tickets for this experience were provided complimentary to FamilyADHD. All opinions above are our own based on our experience.