San Diego Zoo

A San Diego institution and for good reason, the San Diego Zoo offers visiting and local families alike an escape from the city into an extensive and beautifully maintained animal kingdom. If San Diego is your family’s vacation destination, you won’t want to miss this featured attraction.

Note: The San Diego Zoo has a Kidscore of 100. Learn more about Kidscore.

Given Southern California’s temperate climate, there’s really no bad time to visit this world-class zoo. Visitors will want to try to avoid summer’s warmest days, but due to the layout of the exhibits and the lack of ‘rides’ or other attractions, crowds are usually a non-issue. We’ve visited on a mid-summer weekend and haven’t had a problem.

We love not only the wonderful (and world-famous) array of exhibits, animal habitats, and expert programs at this zoo, but the ease (and fun!) of transportation through the park. Your admission ticket includes unlimited use of the guided bus tour (for when you’d like park guides to show you around) and the express bus (for when you know exactly where you want to go), and the Skyfari Aeriel Tram (my kids’ favorite mode of transportation in the park!). Less time hoofing it (pun intended) makes for more time and energy spent on making new animal friends (and for far less whiny travel companions…and I’m not just talking about the kids).

What you won’t want to miss: No trip to the San Diego Zoo would be complete without a visit to the Giant Panda exhibit in Panda Canyon (but there are days when they can’t be disturbed, so prepare your young panda lovers beforehand). While there, be sure to tour their panda research center as well!

In Asia Passage, the Sun Bear exhibit is one of our favorites for its meandering trail through dense forest. You’ll leave the sun of San Diego behind as you explore this awe-inspiring area!

Discovery Outpost features the Children’s Zoo (no, there are no children on display), reptile house, and insect exhibits. (The entrance to the ariel tram is nearby, too).

san diego zooTravel Tip: A good way to beat the heat, crowds, or tired feet is to take in one of San Diego Zoo’s animal shows. Most are only 30 minutes or less, giving kids just long enough to rest and rejuvenate before hitting those exhibits again.

Date last visited: August 2009.

Distance from the interstate: Just a few minutes off I-5!

Admission Fee: Ticket prices vary by age and number of days, and whether you want to add admission to San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park. Current pricing information.

A word on the San Diego Safari Park: When purchasing tickets, families have the option of adding entrance to this partner park to the price of admission. It’s well-worth the money, but bear in mind that it’s not located on-site, but 35 miles (1 hour driving time) from San Diego Zoo. Be sure you have an extra day to devote to it before purchasing!

Hours: The zoo is open every day of the year, from 9 am to 6 pm (seasonal nighttime hours extend closing time by three hours to 9 pm on select summer days).

Dining: There are a lot of restaurants to choose from within the park, but our favorite is the Treehouse Cafe. Located in the Lost Forest section, the cafe’s multi-level decks offer great views of the park, entertaining the kids while they wait for their food and orienting adults as they plan the afternoon.

Directions: The San Diego Zoo is located at 2920 Zoo Drive in Balboa Park, just north of downtown San Diego. From Interstate 5 (Los Angeles and Orange County), take the Pershing Drive exit and follow the signs. From Interstate 15 (Escondido and Riverside), take State Route 163 south to the Park Blvd./I-5 South exit. Exit at Park Blvd. Turn left on Park Blvd. and head north; Zoo entrance is off Park Blvd. at Zoo Place.

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