The World-Famous San Diego Zoo


Location: Balboa Park (3 Miles Northeast of Downtown San Diego)

Open Daily: Entrance allowed 9AM – 4PM (8PM during Summer)

Cost: $46 ($36 for Kids ages 3-11; Discounts available)

Features: World Famous; 4,000 Animals on 100 Acres; 700,000 Exotic Plants; Pandas; Koalas


Why Visit the San Diego Zoo?

The San Diego Zoo is a very special place, making it difficult to highlight only a few major attractions within the park. It is something that must be experienced over time to capture the essence of animal life at the San Diego Zoo because each visit is different. If you only have one day, consider visiting your favorite animals on multiple occasions to watch them eating, playing, or napping precariously in a tree. You will definitely not be bored hanging out at this Zoo, which offers a rolling landscape holding over 700,000 exotic plants on 100 acres, waterfalls, shows, and plenty of food.

Panda at the San Diego Zoo

Best Times To Visit The Zoo

    • Giant Panda Exhibit – This is the only animal exhibit where you may have to wait in line, especially on weekends, weekday mornings and during the summer. Weekday afternoons during non-summer months are a great time to visit the Pandas, just after they’ve been fed. By this time, kids on school trips have left the Zoo. Also, on your way in to the Zoo, ask if there are any viewing restrictions that day for the Pandas. Sometimes there are restricted viewing hours for some or all of the Pandas.
    • During the summer, mornings and evenings are the best times of the day to visit the Zoo. The animals are more active when the temperatures are cooler. Besides, there are fewer visitors during those times.

Kids enjoying hoola hoops at the Zoo

  • Spring time is the best time of year to visit the Zoo when it is mating season for many of the animals. You’ll see an extra level of activity as they perform their courting rituals.
  • During the school year, weekday mornings can be busy when the Zoo hosts kids on school field trips.


Prepare for Visiting the Zoo

peacock entertaining crowds at the San Diego Zoo

  • Upon Entering – Pick up a Zoo Map, which will include an insert for the day’s Schedule of Activities. You will find coupons for other San Diego attractions on the back of the insert. If there are any particular animals you have to see, be sure to ask the ticket taker if they know of any limited viewing hours planned for that day. (On occasion, the Giant Pandas are only available at restricted times.)
  • There are large crowds near the entrance and exit, where you will find many shops, food venues, and the start of the Guided Bus Tours. However, once you move into the 100 acre park, the crowds are much lighter. In a few places you may even feel as though it is only you and the zoo animals.

What to do at the Zoo

Animals feeding at the Zoo

    • Zoo Map – Even with the use of a map, expect to get lost. The Zoo is huge, the trails go in every possible direction, and there are multiple levels in some areas.
    • Shows & Schedule of Daily Activities – Animal encounters take place throughout the park. Some occur on an impromptu basis. Keep your eyes open for them. Others are scheduled. Look at the online schedule to see what time your favorite animals will be visiting the crowds with their zookeepers. However, be sure to pick up the most current schedule when you arrive at the zoo.
      There are two theaters that fill up quickly for their respective shows – ‘Sea Lions’ and ‘Take Flight’. For the Hunte Amphitheater, use the top level exit for a quicker escape after the show.

Birds at the San Diego Zoo

  • Food – There are plenty of dining options throughout the Zoo. You’ll find ice cream carts, formal dining, and everything in-between. It’s best to eat an early lunch to avoid the crowds. You may bring water into the park but food is no longer allowed.
  • No Smoking is allowed in or around the San Diego Zoo.


Zoo Exhibits

– Learn about the various habitats you will find at the San Diego Zoo. The Zoo’s Exhibit page tells you what to look for (animals & plants), where to eat, and other fun facts. You can also download audio tours for your favorite plants and animals to bring along on your visit.

Wooly Mammoth replica at the San Diego ZooPrehistoric Ancestors – Millions of years ago, Mexico’s Gulf of California reached all the way to what is now the San Diego desert. The tropical climate at the time was home to Sabre-tooth Tigers, American Lions, Jaguars, Mastodons, Llamas, and other prehistoric animals. The San Diego Zoo brings this era to life with Elephant Odyssey. Stroll through this exhibit area to learn about animal fossils found in the local area and see their closest living relatives. You will get an up-close view of several Asian and African elephants, come face-to-face with a pair of lions and a jaguar, watch capybaras lounge on a beach, condors perch from tree tops and llamas strut around a pond.

Zoo Animals – Get to know all of the animals you will see at the San Diego Zoo and at its sister facility in northern San Diego, the Wild Animal Park. The Zoo’s web site provides photos, videos, blogs, chats with zoo keepers, and information on the animal’s natural habitat, profile, and endangered status.

Kids ride at the ZooZoo Gardens – Read about the various gardens, the species of plants (over 280), and learn when they are in bloom. You can also sign-up for their plant blog. Insider Tip: After you walk in the front entrance look straight ahead for a rack of brochures (just to the left of the flamingo exhibit). You will find walking maps for various types of plants, including palms, ferns, cycads, and bromeliads.

Children’s Zoo – This area of the San Diego Zoo is a great place to pet animals, look at baby animals, and watch the Dr. Zoolittle Show. You will also find a face painting pavilion, plenty of benches, and food geared towards kids. (Note: Be sure to visit additional kid favorites right outside the entrance to the San Diego Zoo. You will see the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad and the Balboa Park Historic Carousel.)

Arctic Exhibit at the San Diego ZooEvents Calendar – Check out all of the upcoming events for both the Zoo and Wild Animal Park. Don’t miss out on sleepovers, seminars and more.

Animal Web Cams

Zoo Tours

Audio Tours – Download to your iPod or MP3 player for free.

Otter and Monkey at the San Diego ZooGuided Bus Tour – Double decker bus takes you on a 35 minute tour throughout most of the Zoo. You will also have access to Express Buses for pick-ups and drop-offs at various Zoo attractions. This is a good introduction to the Zoo for first time visitors. Note that the line for tours may incur a short wait during the late mornings and early afternoons on weekends during the summer. If you want shade, be sure to enter the line that accesses the lower level of the double decker buses. Those with strollers will need to leave them in a designated area at the entrance. The Bus Tour and the Express Buses are included with the Best Value Ticket.

VIP Tour – 2.5 Hour Behind the Scenes Tour.

Malayan Tiger Cubs with Mother

Courtesy of the Zoological Society

Admission Prices: (Costs are Approximate)

  • Parking is Free.
  • The 1-Day Pass is $46; $36 for Kids ages 3-11. This includes unlimited use of the highly recommended Guided Bus tour noted earlier and the Skyfari Aerial Tram.
  • Senior Discount: 10% off the 1-Day Pass for those 65+
  • Military Discount: Entry is Free for Active Duty Military Personnel; Spouses and dependents receive 10% off the 1-Day Pass.
  • AAA discount: 10% off the 1-Day Pass.
  • Entry is Free for Kids under the age of 12 during the month of October when accompanied by a paying adult.
  • San Diego Zoo Discounts: For more details visit the San Diego Zoo FAQ page.
  • Multi-day and Multi-Park ticket options also available.
  • Zoo Membership is the best deal if you live in California and can visit more than once with a family member or friend. Diamond membership is even better if you want to visit both the San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park.
  • Some tickets can be purchased online to avoid the small lines that sometimes form at the Zoo entrance.
  • Passport to Balboa Park – Pay one low price for a Pass that will allow you one entry into each of thirteen participating Balboa Park Museums and the San Diego Zoo. You have seven days to use the Park Pass starting with its first day of use. Tickets cost $75 ($39 for kids ages 3-12). Passport to Balboa Park tickets can be purchased online or at participating attractions, except at the Zoo.

Directions from Google Maps to 1800 Zoo Place in San Diego, CA 92101. (Note that 2920 Zoo Drive is the official address for the San Diego Zoo. However, using the directions for 1800 Zoo Place will help you avoid busy, local surface streets. It is usually a faster and more enjoyable drive if you access the Zoo’s parking lot from Park Boulevard.)

Traffic – Unless there is a major event at Balboa Park, which occurs a few times during the year, getting in and out of the San Diego Zoo is relatively easy using Park Boulevard. If you approach Balboa Park using southbound SR-163, traffic occasionally backs up a little over a mile before reaching the Park Boulevard Exit, which is the same exit for the I-5 northbound. However, the delay will only take a few extra minutes. Likewise, if you are planning to get on SR-163 northbound after leaving the San Diego Zoo, plan on a short delay during the mid and late afternoon hours as a few entrance ramps merge together before reaching the highway. (Learn how to get the latest traffic updates.)

Parking -You will have a long walk to reach the entrance unless you luck out on getting a good parking spot. If you arrive around lunch time or later, your best bet is to park farther out in the lot rather than spending time to find something closer to the entrance.

Transit – Buses serving the San Diego Zoo drop passengers off on Park Boulevard near the driveway entrance to the San Diego Zoo. It is about a 150 yard walk to the Zoo entrance. (See San Diego Transit Information for the downtown transit map, which includes Balboa Park, and information for the online Transit Planner.)

Balboa Park Map – The map shows a listing of all Balboa Park Museums, attractions, bus and tram stops, and places to eat. You should also print out the Balboa Park Tram Map from the City of San Diego. It is not as detailed but is helpful because it includes names on each of the buildings. With the other map, you need to use a map key to find the name of a building.

Find More Attractions with Similar Themes or Location: *Top San Diego Attractions*, Aquariums & Zoos, Balboa Park, Flower Gardens, Kids Attractions & Activities |

2 Responses to “The World-Famous San Diego Zoo”

  1. TourGuideTim Reveals San Diego! says:

    Check out North America’s largest collection of Galapagos Tortoises (17) at the San Diego Zoo’s new exhibit

    The most recent mama tortoise at the San Diego Zoo gave birth when she was 100 years old?! Yikes.

    The oldest tortoise at the zoo is 130.

  2. Susan says:

    We did the Inside Look tour and really enjoyed it! It was our first time at the zoo, so it gave us a great overview. Plus, we got to go behind the scenes with the lions, jaguar, giraffes, and pandas. We loved our guide Kim and our zookeeper Jacob. It is definitely worth the extra money.

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