The San Diego Zoo, located just north of downtown San Diego in historic Balboa Park, is one of the most popular and well-renowned zoos in the world. The 100 acres to explore by foot or tour bus is home to roughly 10 distinct sections with 9 trails of over 3,700 rare and endangered animals. Not to mention a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 exotic plants. But this is not your average zoo. You'll be face to face with world-class animal research, knowledgeable and approachable caretakers and animals that may have side jobs in Hollywood based on the tricks that they can perform. The array of animals is unprecedented and you'll be seeing these creatures from intimate vantage points not possible in other zoos (including viewing hippos swim underwater). Plus, large, shaded walkways, impeccably designed landscapes, interesting animal habitats, and eateries that offer adult beverages (like local craft beer) make this zoo experience one-of-a-kind. Of note, the San Diego Safari Park is a completely separate attraction from the Zoo that is located in North County San Diego about 30 miles away.
Locals' tips: The SD Zoo is open every day of the year, including all holidays. Best time to see active animals and avoid throngs of kids on school field trips is right at 9:00am when the zoo opens. If you're visiting late June to early Sept, come between 5pm and 9pm during Nighttime Zoo hours. You can be in the middle of the zoo and not see a passer-by for 10-15 minutes! It's quiet and the temps cooler. Walking the zoo is the best way to absorb the atmosphere and not miss any exhibits. The hop on-hop off bus is a good option if walking isn't your thing. Just be sure to wear very comfortable shoes. The Zoo's hills can be a workout. Take the Skyfari air tram which is free with admission. Its cross-the-park route provides a different perspective of the park and can help avoid some of the uphill climbs. The Elephant Odyssey and Northern Frontier sections are particularly cool. The Discovery Outpost and Children's Zoo sections should be low priority. Go to Sabertooth Grill for a good variety of meal options (burgers to wraps to vegetarian) and to hunker down with a local craft beer like Stone or Ballast Point.
Hey Locals! Other suggestions for seeing the Zoo right the first time? Chime in below.