Disclosure: Our admission to the San Diego zoo was complimentary for review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you.
A few weeks ago, we escaped the Boston winter and headed out on a family vacation to San Diego. Our first stop? The famous San Diego Zoo, where my kids were eager to see turtles, cheetahs, koalas, and their other favorite animals. We visited during a busy time – the Sunday of the President’s Day Weekend, so we definitely learned some tips for visiting. It’s a busy zoo, with loads of families visiting daily.
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San Diego Zoo Tips For Your Family Vacation
Create a Plan for Your San Diego Zoo Visit
When we visit our zoos at home, we just show up, enter the zoo, grab a map, and go. But I definitely recommend creating a plan for your visit to the San Diego Zoo. It’s enormous, and there are lots of different experiences available. If your kids are old enough, pull up the zoo map online, and plot out your plan.
Know the ticket types
There are a lot of different options for tickets – including a standard pass (which is what we had) and a pass plus (includes a 4-D theater ticket). In addition, you can purchase different experiences, including backstage passes, a morning event with the pandas, and breakfast with the koalas.
Since some of these occur before the zoo opens, it’s a good idea to take a look at them before you go, so you don’t miss out. It would be unfortunate to arrive at the zoo and find out that an experience has already happened for the day.
Get Away Today offers discounted tickets to the San Diego Zoo, as well as combination tickets with SeaWorld San Diego if you would like to purchase these in advance of your visit.
Arrive Early to the San Diego Zoo and Start at the Back
These are my standard tips for visiting attractions with kids, and they worked well here. Although we arrived 30 minutes prior to opening, there were still many guests already there. The parking lot was filling up well before it opened. You’ll be able to purchase tickets before the zoo opens, saving time. The panda exhibit is typically the most busy, so be sure to visit them early in the day.
Note that it was recently announced that sadly, the panda bears will be moving back to China and will no longer be seen at the San Diego Zoo.
Utilize Skyfari and Double-Decker Buses
A double-decker bus tour that can take you throughout the zoo is offered. It’s a good way to see the zoo and decide which exhibits you want to return to. On the day we visited, the bus tour started 30 minutes after opening. We ultimately decided against the bus, because we were there at opening and wanted to get started immediately. Heading back to the entrance for the bus seemed like a waste of time. But if it’s running right when you show up for the day, it’s a great option.
The Skyfari, which runs from one corner of the zoo to another, is not only a fun ride, it’s also a great way to get around the zoo with less walking. Admission to the Skyfari is included with some tickets, or you can purchase it for an additional fee. It wasn’t included in our tickets but was worth the additional fee.
Food Options at the San Diego Zoo
I noticed that most of the food kiosks at the zoo opened for the day at about lunchtime (there are a few places open earlier, but they are limited). I’d recommend that you have a big breakfast and bring along a snacks if you’ll need them before lunch. At lunchtime, there were loads of options, with plenty of meal choices. If the zoo happens to be crowded, I’d recommend eating lunch either early or late (before or after the crowds).
There is one sit down restaurant, called Albert’s Restaurant, which accepts reservations. This could be a good way to relax for a bit during the day, and get out of the sun.
Set a Shopping Budget for Your San Diego Zoo Visit
As you’d probably expect, the San Diego Zoo offers a bunch of gift shops with things that will appeal to children. If your kids are old enough to want to shop, I’d recommend setting a budget in advance so you don’t have that discussion on the fly.