What was the first stop on our California tour? We got off the plane and took the kids straight to the San Diego Zoo. Can you really go to San Diego without going to the world famous zoo? I say no siree Bob and challenge you to some sort of activities duel. It’s good times people.
The zoo is rated #6 of more than 200 things to do by reviewers on Trip Advisor for good reason. Fun for kids of all ages, this zoo will not disappoint with everything from Tigers and Gorillas and Hippos and Elephants to Koalas and Red Pandas and an insect area. Yes, it was totally gross and awesome (at least for my son). Even grosser was watching the hippos poop but the kids really dug that too.
Then there are the things that are just really cool like an awake tiger. Believe me, when you live in the South and go to our zoos, the big cats like to nap big time. I made a huge deal when the tiger at the National Zoo was actually awake and walking around and everyone who goes there totally gets it. Hot days make for tired cats. In good ole’ California they walk around in daylight! I can’t say enough about the temperature from San Diego to San Francisco. I am in love with California.
The San Diego Zoo is 100 acres and divided into areas that allow you to see animals in their most natural habitat. With moatsd and not bars, visitors get to see the animals close up! The zoo is really beautiful and unique, so it is worth a visit even if you hit your local zoo all the time. With more than 4,000 animals, it would be nearly impossible to see them all in one visit, but hey, it is worth trying!
Getting Around the San Diego Zoo
The zoo’s areas are really unique because you feel like you are traveling the world. They are also on hilly land, making multiple levels and many steps. There is handicap access and the staff were always asking people if they needed any help, but be aware, you will be walking up and down a lot and we did get sort of stuck with our stroller a few times. Consider it a workout.
There is a 35 minute bus tour when you arrive that will take you all around the zoo and allow you to choose which areas you want to spend more time in. We got to the park in the afternoon and we knew what animals our kids really wanted to see, so we skipped this, but I think it would be useful as the park is not laid out so you can walk around and see everything. Spend a few minutes with the map and plan your course! There is an express bus that can take you straight to some of the most popular animal areas as well if you want to cut down on walking. After a 5 hour plane ride, we needed to get some energy out. This did the trick!
Our favorite mode of transportation in the zoo was definitely the Aerial Sky Tram called the Skyfari. It came with our tickets the day we went but I did see a sign that said it is normally $2 a ride. It provides a great view of the zoo and of Balboa Park. It does not let double wide strollers on, but we were able to take our Double Sit ‘n’ Stand on without a problem. Kids under the age of 8 must have an adult with them, but I would honestly say that I would not let my kids ride on this until much older without an adult.
You know, because the sides are open people and they could make a stupid decision and you know kids aren’t always making the right choices. So, sit with your kids.
Learning, Playing and Loving the Animals
A great zoo will have more than just viewing of animals. You will be able to learn about the animals, about conservation and also be able to interact in some way with the exhibit, be it through watching a feeding, talking to a zoo employee or playing on the sculptures around the exhibit. The San Diego Zoo does an amazing job of providing a learning experience as each of their areas represents a different bioclimatic zones. There are signs and games throughout the park to teach and entertain.
See the hippos! Really up close. You can totally watch them interact and do their business and all that good stuff. I hope no person gets in that water. But if they do, I would like to see it. Just to see what they have to wear and if they have a mask on and stuff like that. I’ve seen hippos from above before, but never from underwater and it was really awesome.
Then play on a hippo! The zoo is full of animal sculptures to keep the kids happy and your camera clicking! Miles looks afraid this thing might be real! Violet looks like she just got off a long flight and is in shock. Sophia is just thinking this is the beginning of a heck of a lot of photos. Bring it.
See the Elephants!
And explore the amazing Elephant sanctuary the San Diego Zoo has created. From inside their home you can learn all about the elephants and how they live. From outside you can watch them eat and play and interact. You can also explore the amazing Elephant Odyssey exhibit with sculptures, fountains and lots more fun!
You can hug a life size elephant and climb on its tusks. Good times, people! Little girl is not afraid of giant things. I took note. Cars, elephants, she needs a lesson in things that are bigger than her.
I’m always a big fan of gorillas and orangutans and monkeys and all the apes, really and the funny faces they make. Many times you can watch them pick their noses or play games with people, but this big orangutan just stared. Still totally cool.
What was also totally cool was watching the orangutans play number games on an electronic screen in their habitat. I was blown away watching him or her try over and over to get a number sequence right. Hello, this ape was the same age as Violet mentally. I could just tell. 3 year old math brain, and it was awesome to watch!
Then, of course, you can cozy up to the metal apes or, in our case, take them down. One point for Violet. Except, um, she took out the baby too. There were other statues and more beautiful pictures, but this is my favorite.
I was mesmerized by this camel with a lopsided hump. Am I strange? I have never seen this before. I read somewhere that he is old and doesn’t get around much and uses his stored energy from that hump. Poor guy, sagging is no fun! Ladies, can I get an Amen?
The kids had the best time in the Northern Frontier, land of the polar bears and seals, who sadly are their prey. It’s life but I love me some seals! The big guy or gal, and I mean really big, was resting so we had a lot of time to play!
They have a research helicopter you can play in.
The kids had the most fun in the polar bear den. Violet actually hid in there and I almost called security. Maybe the seals have a chance? You can crawl through and pop in and out of the seal holes.
Or you can pop out like a fashion star, ready for your close up. It’s up to you. But I would not show off like that in a polar bear den.
Now you see how you can have a great time seeing animals and playing, but I still have not shown you my absolute favorite thing. I laughed my tush off at the Kangaroo show we saw on our way out. Three adults dressed as kangaroos jumped up and down on this trampoline and danced to pop music, even busting out Gangham style. The kids thought the booty shaking was hilarious and were very impressed by the flips and wall walking and all the tricks. It’s a not miss show for sure!
Check out the booty shakin’!
And the unmistakeable Gangham style. You think it is old, and then you see a dude in a kangaroo costume do it. Rock on Kangaroo, rock on. You know how I feel about grown ups dancing, right? More of it! That’s Totally Vandy!!!! Shake it whenever possible for better health, more fun and a lot more smiles!
There was no better way to end our day at the San Diego Zoo!
Details on the San Diego Zoo
I know, I know, now you just need to go to the zoo. Here’s what you should know. It is one of the best zoos in the world. Yes, just google that and San Diego Zoo will show up all over the place! As such, it is not cheap. And it is not part of the reciprocal zoo programs we love so much. But, I would say it is worth it. I would even go so far as to say it may be worth it to try some of the upgraded tours as I have not seen the like offered at many zoos. A standard adult ticket is $44 and a child ticket (12 or under) is $34. There are packages for multiple San Diego attractions available as well. You can find full information on ticket prices and packages as well as tons of information on the animals and a kids area on the San Diego Zoo Website.
Parking is free, but the day we went we drove around for an hour with no luck finding a spot. It was a nightmare! My husband was worried that all of California would be like this and mentioned getting back on the plane. Yes, it was that bad. It took us forever to figure out that you can park in one of the Balboa Park and take a trolley up to the center of the park. It is a short and gorgeous walk from there and you will get to see a lovely part of San Diego! If we go again, we will park here just so we can enjoy the walk to the zoo and all the sights.
Enjoy your trip to the San Diego Zoo and let me know if you have any questions or other suggestions!
Disclosure: My family was provided with 4 tickets to the San Diego Zoo. Of course, we have 5 people so we bought Violet her ticket. All opinions and photos and basic love of zoos and this one in particular are all my own!