A Day at the San Diego Zoo


If your family is planning a vacation to San Diego, California, the San Diego Zoo will likely pop up at the top of your search list—and for good reason. Commonly ranked among the most renowned zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo is well-known for it’s commitment to ending extinction as well as global wildlife conservation. Because of year-round, temperate weather, Southern California is a suitable climate for the zoo’s 3,500 birds, reptiles, and mammals.

Ariel View from the Skyfari

Encompassing 100-acres, the San Diego Zoo is one of many popular attractions within the 1200-acre Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the United States. Built into a natural canyon, the park slopes uphill from the main entrance. General zoo admission includes access to Skyfari, an overhead gondola lift built in 1969 by the Von Roll tramway company in Bern, Switzerland.

Passengers on a Guided Bus Tour

Attempting to maximize the most of our kids’ energy, we rode the Skyfari to the top of the park twice – walking first left and then right – downward through the eight different zoo zones, or habitats. We visited in late January and the hours of operation were 10am to 5pm; enough time to see most of the campus but not everything.

Hippo Trail Hippo Sighting

Families planning to participate in one of the featured zoo experiences or a la carte entertainment, like the 4-D theater, animal encounter, or shows, should note the various start times and plan their route days accordingly. Narrated “guided” bus tours cover 75% of the park, providing guests with the option to learn more about the zoo and the exhibits while resting their feet, noting the Kangaroo Bus has four different “hop on, hop off” stops throughout the park.

Elephants in the Elephant Odyssey

During your visit, plan to dine at one of twenty different eateries throughout the grounds. Options range from traditional cafe-style burgers and hot dogs to California cuisine, Asian foods, and BBQ. The zoo’s beer garden is a place to spot mature homo sapiens in a traditionally nocturnal habitat.

Zoo admission is $56/adult and $46 for a child age 3-11. Parking is pleasantly free.

A separate attraction, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located 31 miles north of the San Diego Zoo, just outside of Escondido. As the name implies, the safari park features free-range exhibits for animals that typically thrive in semi-arid habitats, like antelope, giraffe, and buffalo. You would probably want to tackle this adventure on another standalone day.


About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website RoadTripsForFamilies.com. She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine, Roadtrippers.com, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for TravelWisconsin.com, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at www.juliehenning.com.