​​7 Tips to Maximize your Fun at the San Diego Zoo

Good morning everyone, I hope you all had a great weekend.  I just got back from a great San Diego weekend trip and had an amazing time at the world famous San Diego Zoo, so I wanted to share some tips to maximize the amount of fun you will have at the zoo too.  I am no expert at seeing zoos, but I think some of these tips will help make your visit more enjoyable.  For those who haven’t been to the San Diego Zoo before (or in a long time), the zoo recently celebrated its 100th birthday and made many improvements over the last few years.  Without further ado, here are my 7 tips to maximize your fun at the San Diego Zoo (with 2 bonus ideas at the end).

1 – Buy discount San Diego Zoo tickets online.  The normal price for tickets is $52, but if you buy them through Groupon, you can get tickets for only $39.99.  This deal is only good through December 20, but I am sure the Groupon discount comes around often.  To super charge your Groupon purchase, sign up for Ebates and earn cash back on your Groupon purchase.

2 – Get to the San Diego Zoo early. Naturally, the earlier you start, the more time you can spend at the zoo. We went in mid-November, so the zoo was open from 9am to 5pm. The zoo hours change throughout the year, so check the schedule to see when the zoo opens for your trip. Since we were staying at a nearby hotel in San Diego, we took a short Uber ride to the zoo and arrived a few minutes before 9am. I was expecting huge lines to enter the zoo, but there were only handfuls of people entering at a time.

Grant and Laura at the entrance to the San Diego Zoo

3 – See your favorite animals first (and last). The San Diego Zoo has so many amazing animals and exhibits that it can be daunting trying to figure out where to start and which animals to see first (San Diego Zoo map). The panda was the only animal that I saw that had a line and a special viewing area. Get to the panda exhibit early when the line is short. Unfortunately, several animals (especially big cats, like lions) sleep most of the day, so if your favorite animal is sleeping or hard to spot, try to swing by the exhibit later in the day. You might get lucky and see the animal playing, eating, or sleeping close by.

4 – Bring your own food, snacks, and drinks. Surprisingly, the San Diego Zoo does not have a bag check or X-ray security, so feel free to bring any food or drinks you want into the zoo. There are many tables located through the zoo, so you can relax and have a snack or lunch wherever hunger strikes. I was surprised to see so much alcohol served at the zoo, but I did see lots of parents having a beer as they walked around the zoo with their kids. If you do want to buy a soft drink, all of the restaurants serve 3 different drink sizes. The largest (and most expensive) drink is a San Diego Zoo souvenir cup that includes free refills all day. The medium drink has 99 cent refills. Lastly, the small drink offers no refills. Unless you really want the souvenir cup or drink gallons of soda every day, the medium drink is the best value. We got the medium drink with 1 refill for much cheaper than the cost of the souvenir cup or 2 small drinks.

Flamingos at the San Diego Zoo

5 – Bring a stroller and wear good walking shoes. My girlfriend and I spent ~8 hours at the San Diego Zoo (from open to close) and walked ~6 miles each (San Diego Zoo map). I’m in pretty good shape and walk the hills around San Francisco, but I was still feeling tired after a long day of standing and walking around the zoo. If you have children, I recommend having them in a stroller so they do not get tired and cranky. From what I noticed in the zoo, “Happy kids = happy parents.” This is a given, but wear comfortable walking shoes (no sandals) when you visit the zoo.

Elephant at the San Diego Zoo

6 – Plan your visit around the shows, guided bus tour and Skyfari ride. If you care about the free shows at the San Diego Zoo, check their schedule and location online. In mid-November, there was a kids show called “Dr. Zoolittle and Friends Explore Australia” at the Koalafornia Boardwalk at 12pm and 1pm and an animal exhibition show called “Wild About Animals” at the Wegeforth Bowl at 1pm.  If you do not have kids, you can skip the first show and go to the “Wild About Animals” show to see some of the zookeepers interact with the animals.  If you want to see the zoo without walking, you have 2 great options.  The first is a 35 minute guided bus tour that takes you around the entire zoo (the tour ran from 9am to 4pm in mid-November).  For the best view, sit on the right side of the bus.  Both the top and bottom levels have great views and the bottom level usually has a shorter line (and you will be at eye-level with most of the animals).  For a birds eye view of the zoo, take the Skyfari Aerial Tram from the front of the zoo to the back, or vice versa (the Skyfari ran from 10am to 5pm in mid-November).

Guided bus tour at the San Diego Zoo. Image source: http://zoo.sandiegozoo.org/content/guided-bus-tour

7 – Leave your $20,000 camera at home. Due to zoo engineering, most animal exhibits have minimal fencing or transparent glass, which makes it possible to be 5-20 feet away from most of the animals. You can get great photos with even a smartphone (all the photos in this post were taken by my girlfriend’s iPhone 6S). I’m sure the $20,000 camera takes amazing photos, but the camera, lenses, tripod and carrying cases are probably pretty heavy. Unless you work for National Geography, leave the fancy camera at home and use your smartphone to take great animal photos. Plus, the real beauty is seeing the animals in person (otherwise you could just go to Google Images and see all the animals online).

Grant and Laura in front of the giraffes at the San Diego Zoo

I hope you can incorporate some of these tips into your next visit to the San Diego Zoo.  If you have any other tips you want to share, please leave a comment below.  If you have any questions about any of the tips, please leave a comment below.  Have a great day everyone!

P.S. I can’t remember where I heard or read about this tip, but if you have children who love stuffed animals, you can purchase stuffed animals from Amazon before your trip and give your kids the stuffed animals at the San Diego Zoo.

30,000+ stuffed animals available with Amazon Prime

P.P.S. If you want to see more animals, I highly recommend visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  It is about 30 miles north of San Diego in Escondido, but that is where you can see animals in their “native” habitat on a giant 1,800-acre reserve.  You can also buy tickets to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on Groupon. Don’t forget to earn cash back using Ebates :)

5 thoughts on “​​7 Tips to Maximize your Fun at the San Diego Zoo

  1. caveman

    I will be visiting San Diego Zoo Safari Park on X-Mas day. I presume you did not go there. I am badly in need of some tips for that place

    1. Grant Post author

      I have not been there in 10+ years, but I just booked a trip back to San Diego for next March, so I look forward to visiting that San Diego Zoo Safari Park again soon and I will try to write a post about that zoo. Have a great time!

    1. Grant Post author

      Yes, I’ve been stalking Groupon for this deal for the last 2 months. Before this deal, tickets were $52 on Groupon (same price as buying directly). Prices must fluctuate throughout the year.

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