Tips for visiting the San Diego Zoo…

While we were staying near San Diego, we chose to lay low over the Christmas holiday break.  That was a great choice for us, and we loved the rv park we were in, but that also left only one week to do what we wanted to do in San Diego!  So we packed in as much as we could, and found some great stops!

One of our favorites was the San Diego Zoo!  Because of our time limit, we split up some to explore different destinations.  This day the littles (Emma 9, Savanna 7, Molly 5, and Caleb 3) and I went to the SD Zoo while the big boys and Vaughn toured the USS Midway.

We arrived at the zoo shortly after opening to pick up/purchase our tickets.  We chose to purchase our tickets on site so that we could utilize a $5 off coupon that we found at our campground, but if you would like to skip the lines, you can purchase your tickets online.

SDZ tickets make cute scrapbook fodder!

Once inside, the first thing that we did was to pick up a copy of the zoo map.  These are readily available, and are a must as the zoo is HUGE!

take along map to help you navigated the San Diego Zoo!

Because the zoo is so massive, if you are going for a single day, it’s a good idea to prioritize what you want to see and do, before you even arrive! has a special page on their site just for planning your day, and looking at the above map, and doing an itinerary will help you see the most during your visit!

It was here that I found the only thing that I didn’t care for in the zoo – the flamingos!  We all think flamingos are beautiful, so we walked over to look at them while I checked out the map and made somewhat of a game plan.  We didn’t stay for long tho because their enclosure smelled awful, and it wasn’t even a very hot day.

After getting ready to tackle the park, our first stop (and a wise choice, I must say!) was to head on over to the double decker bus tour!!!  And we had THE BEST bus tour.  Our guide was Chris ‘The Zoo Man’.   Apparently, the zoo man has had his own show on Discovery; the man can talk the ear off of a elephant (which is fabulous when you are leading a tour), can make every animal noise out there, and was a RIOT!!!

We were able to get seats on the top of the bus, and our drive around the zoo lasted about 35 minutes. It was a great way for us to get a feel for the park, and to help us prioritize our stops. riding on the top deck of the tour bus at the San Diego Zoo.There are 2 types of bus rides available in the zoo, and both are included with your tickets.  The tour, like we took, and are the Kangaroo buses, which has bus stops throughout the park; they run in 15 minute increments – these are handy for getting to different areas around the park and saving time so that you can see more.

Some of our favorite animals in the park were the giraffes!  There were 3 babies, and they were so cute!

There are several giraffe, including 3 babies at the San Diego Zoo!

Caleb like the rhino…

Rhino at the San Diego Zoo.

And we all liked the elephants tho we only saw them from the top of the bus.  Because the San Diego Zoo is so massive, we were only able to see about 1/3 of the park while we were there!  Now, we could have been a bit more organized, and I could have pushed the kids harder, but that’s just not how we visit places, so instead we prioritized our top animals/experiences, and made sure to get them in.  Anything extra we considered a bonus! lol.

Another benefit that comes with your tickets, is a ride on the sky tram that soars over the park.  We were not able to take it as there is a 4 person/tram limit, and there were 5 of us.  Emma doesn’t like heights anyway, and didn’t want to go, and at 9 I certainly did not feel comfortable leaving her to wait for us alone.  I intended on dragging her along anyway (she’s not deathly afraid), and we stood in line for some time before seeing the sign that stated 4 people; the sign specified that that included infants and children, so I got the impression that there would be no exceptions.  With so many other things to do, we didn’t wait to get to the front of the line to ask, but ducked out of the line and went next door to the Polar Bear exhibit instead!Polar Bear playground at the San Diego Zoo.At the entrance to the polar bear exhibit, there is a little park for the kids.  It offers these fun bears that make great photo ops, and a couple of large picture books.  Each book has a couple of large pages that turn, then the same story continues on a different book next to the first.

Oversized story books at the San Diego Zoo polar bear exhibit.

There were 2 fun photo op areas like this one for posing with the seals!  There was also a little cave that the kids enjoyed climbing through, and I couldn’t get Caleb out of!

Part of the polar bear exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.

In the polar bear exhibit, we learned that polar bears are the world’s largest carnivore.  They are able to be here in the warmth of so cal thanks to ice cold water circulating through their exhibit, and diet changes that lowered the bears’ fat intake, thereby thinning their coats!

The kids always have to check out anything that is hands-on!

lots of hands-on activities at the San Diego zoo!

We walked back by the elephants…

loved the elephants at the San Diego Zoo.

Isn’t he massive!

the kids always love the elephant exhibits at zoos!

Checked out the Tasmanian Devil exhibit…

Part of the Tasmanian Devil exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.

and the kudu…

The San Diego Zoo has lots of babies!

and stopped at every one of the pressed penny machines that we came across scattered throughout the park, which was a lot – the kids were thrilled!  They each pressed several pennies, no duplicates, and had a hard time choosing because there were so many different designs.

There were tons of pressed penny machines scattered throughout the San Diego Zoo!

The zoo has 2 sets of escalators – both go up, and take you on a climb up the uneven terrain of the park.  The kids loved these (and I loved not having to push Caleb’s stroller up the hills!  getting a free ride up hill at the San Diego Zoo!Caleb did great walking all day!  He was seldom in the stroller, but I was glad that I bought it anyway if only for hauling our stuff around.  We took water bottles, a packed lunch, and jackets (it was chilly when we arrived).  We took an umbrella stroller; when you ride the buses/tram, you either leave your stroller in the designated stroller parking, or you can take it with you.  If you chose to take it with you, for example you want to ride the kangaroo bus and get off somewhere else in the park, you can fold up the stroller and put it in the seat behind the driver (that is what we did, so I appreciated having a more compact stroller).

Caleb had the choice to come with us girls to the zoo, or go with the boys to the Midway.   While sending him to the Midway would have saved us $33, he REALLY wanted to see the hippos!
And see them he did!

The San Diego Zoo has a great up-close-and-personal hippo exhibit!

I love this photo – not that there is anything special about it, but every time I look at it, I can see the look on his face!  He was so tickled and excited!!!
One of the hippos just relaxed in the water a ways away from the glass observation area, but this one was swimming circles, coming right up to the glass in front of the kids and then swimming the length of the deck, out into the pond, and back around.  It was an incredible experience to see that massive animal moving with such ease in the water, just inches from our faces.

We loved the hippos at the San Diego Zoo!

The girls had to check out the turtles

We all loved the San Diego Zoo!

One of the things that the San Diego Zoo is famous for, is their panda exhibit!  They have 3 Giant Pandas, and we were able to see 2 of them.  One was snoozing, and the other (her son) was busy eating…

The panda exhibit at the San Diego Zoo was fabulous!

We went through the Giant Panda exhibit last – at about 4:20 – not sure if it is typically slower then, but there were not the lines that we had seen earlier in the day, and we were able to walk right through.  Don’t wait too last minute tho -they start to put the pandas away at 4:30.

The pandas a the San Diego Zoo were so close!

There are multiple restaurants and gift shops throughout the park…

There are several restaurants and gift shops scattered throughout the San Diego Zoo.

The park begins to notify visitors that the park closes a half hour before it does. Because it is so massive, you cannot just head to the exits 5 minutes before they close! lol.  We spent a good hour working our way towards the exit; we ended up getting lost, even with our map (which just meant that we got to ride the same escalator a second time), but still made it to the entrance in time for a parting shot…

Photo op at the San Diego Zoo.

and a few more pressed pennies!

Pressing pennies at one of the many machines in the San Diego Zoo.


We had a great time at the San Diego Zoo!  Now that we’ve done it, here’s our list of tips for visiting:

GO!  This zoo is massive.  If we had more time to spend in SD, and if it were in our budget, we would have looked more into the San Diego 3 for 1 Pass; it gets you into the zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and/or SeaWorld every day for 7 consecutive days! (ends up being about $22.50/adult/day and $18.25/child/day!).  We could have easily spent 3 days at the zoo alone, and had multiple people tell us that the Safari Park is even better!
Can’t or don’t want to swing the 3 for 1 pass, then look for $5 off of a 1 day visit coupons at your hotel or campground brochures display. (parking is free at the zoo)

Do take bottled water, snacks and a lunch if you are on a budget…Sunscreen if it’s a sunny day out.

ourtravelingtribe.comConsider park hours when chosing when to go!  We went on a day that the zoo closed at 5, and we would have loved to have more time.  If you have a choice, and love zoos, go on a day with longer hours if possible!  You can find the 2015 calendar of hours here.

Do look at the map above, or on the SDZ website, and the list of animal listed under their ‘plan your day’ tab, and prioritize your list of what you would like to see.  We mostly just wandered, and almost missed the pandas because we ran out of time.
When you first arrive at the zoo, and pick up you printed map, flip it over and check out the schedule on the back.  There are a few keeper talks (as of 1/15:maned wolves @ 1, pangolin 1:30, lions or jaguars 2:30) and there are also some shows that happen throughout the day.  We did not attend any of these, but they could easily be fit in if you are more organized than I was!

There are treed areas of the park, and more open areas, so plan your visit around the shade.  Plan your visit to the treed areas during the hottest part of the day to take advantage of the cooler temps under the trees!

HAVE FUN!  The San Diego Zoo is such a fun, family-friendly destination!  We were in awe of its size, but really enjoyed our laid-back day just appreciating what we were able to see.  No littles?  You should be able to cover much more ground than we did!

Want to learn more about the zoo?  You can find their website at

*disclosure:  Our visit was partially comped by the San Diego Zoo.  All opinions expressed here are ours.

Lilla Rose

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  1. Nice article. We just did the park and it was so much fun. We did the bus tour then the aerial tram and we prioritize what we wanted to see. We didn’t get to see the whole park with my toddlers. We got to see the major attractions well.

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