Originally founded in 1916, San Diego Zoo has become one of the city’s top tourist attractions even after 100 years. Home to the famous Giant Pandas for over two decades, the pandas returned to China in April, 2019. But, this animal sanctuary still has plenty of attractions waiting to be discovered.
Covering 100-acres and home to over 3,500 endangered animals, the San Diego Zoo represents one of the largest of its kind in the United States. Holding over 650 species and 700,000 exotic plants, a visit here is not to be missed during a trip to San Diego.
The facility contains an impressive group of habitats including:
- Australian Outback
- Africa Rocks
- Northern Frontier
- Discovery Outpost
- Elephant Odyssey
- Lost Forest
- Urban Jungle
- Asian Passage
Each area simulates the animal’s natural habitats and ensures they feel right at home; some sharing space just like they would in the wild.
You will have no shortage of things to do and see at the San Diego Zoo. People usually spend 3 to 4 hours exploring the grounds. Designed as an arboretum, the zoo contains rare plant food for the animals and gives that truly exotic experience for visitors. Even though the list goes on for all the great attractions at this animal hot spot, here are some that you shouldn’t miss:
Where Are the Giant Pandas?
If you have previously visited or had any insight into San Diego Zoo, you will know it used to be home to the Giant Pandas. Sadly, these precious species lived here on a 23-year loan agreement with China which has now expired. Therefore, the Panda exhibition has now closed, and the two pandas returned to China as of April 2019.
During your visit to the San Diego Zoo, you should venture through the Lost Forest, home to the lowland western gorillas. Upon entering this natural landscape, you will believe you are in an African rainforest with the native plants all around you. They even have a surround sound system to make the gorillas feel right at home!
Polar Bear Plunge
Come and see these Arctic animals from an underwater view through the “Polar Cam”. You can get up-close and personal with the polar bears through the glass tank where they swim around playfully The Polar Bear Plunge also includes various life-size statues, perfect for a family photo. Get your cameras ready!
Skyfari Aerial Tram
As San Diego Zoo covers a wide space and is naturally uphill, Skyfari Aerial Tram offers an appealing attraction which transports you from one side of the zoo to the other. Not only can you take a rest from walking, but you will also enjoy a stunning birds-eye view of the entire grounds while gliding over the arboretum. It’s a good idea to hop on Skyfari early in your visit for an overview of all there is to experience.
GSD Insider Tips
San Diego Zoo can become very busy, especially during peak seasons such as summer or spring break. It is important to preplan your trip, so you don’t miss out on anything you hope to see. If you want to avoid endless lines, the best time to visit is any weekday during school hours.
By arriving a few minutes early before the zoo opens, you can beat the crowds and even have the chance to witness feeding time. Before reaching the zoo, you can create a personalized itinerary online which allows you to select the areas you’re interested in and map out your route, ensuring you spend your time wisely. You can access all of this from your mobile device while inside the zoo.
The San Diego Zoo itself spans a large area so give yourself plenty of time to roam around the grounds and visit each habitat.
Standard admission is quite pricey but worth it. This includes a Guided Bus Tour, perfect for those who prefer to relax and learn more about the animals on this double-decker.
Family passes are available if you plan to visit with kids. Children will also enjoy the Children’s Zoo, a walkway with a closer view of the animals. If the zoo has recently welcomed any newborn animals, you’ll find them here.
If you want to see specific shows at the zoo, they have a scheduled list at the main entrance of times and locations of where you can view these. The main entrance also displays any sections closed for that day.
A Go San Diego Card is one of the best ways to get the most from your zoo visit. You’ll save up to 55% off regular admission prices, and skip lines. Admission includes the Skyfari aerial tram, Kangaroo Express Bus, Guided Bus Tour, and scheduled shows.
Add-ons that are worth purchasing are the Backstage Pass tour with animal encounters, the 60-minute Discovery Tour detailing conservation efforts, and Inside Look, an exclusive two-hour behind-the-scenes tour of off-exhibit areas.
Don’t forget to check out Zoo at Night (summertime), petting zoo, children’s camps, zookeeper talks, sleepovers, 4-D theater, and so many other fun experiences.