No trip to San Diego is complete without a visit to the world famous San Diego Zoo. Located within the historic Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is unquestionably one of the finest zoos in the world as well as one of the largest. With more than 4,000 animals, 800 species and 700,000 exotic plants from forests and jungles all over the world, the 100-acre zoo is the perfect setting for animal lovers of all ages. The San Diego Zoo is just one of four American zoos to feature the rare black and white giant pandas and has the largest number of koalas outside of Australia.
San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Drive
San Diego, Calif. 92101
Established as part of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the zoo officially opened to the public the following year and moved to its present-day location in 1922. The open-air San Diego Zoo is operated by San Diego Zoo Global, which has the world’s largest zoological membership. Annual attendance to the zoo is nearly five million guests, making it the City of San Diego’s top tourist attraction. The zoo offers guided bus tours with multiple bus stops and gondolas to transport visitors through 75 percent of the sprawling property and a full day should be allowed to enjoy as much of the park as possible. The City of San Diego is the eighth largest city in the country and second largest in California. Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban and cultural park and home to several world-class museums, including the San Diego History Museum, San Diego Air and Space Museum, Hall of Champions and San Diego Automotive Museum. Balboa Stadium was the home field to San Diego Chargers during the 1960s and the Old Globe Theatre holds live performances during the summer and winter seasons.
The San Diego Zoo is located at 2920 Zoo Drive, just north of downtown San Diego. The San Diego International Airport is just five miles away and the train station is one mile away. The zoo can be accessed by motor vehicle via Interstate Highways 5, 15, 805 and State Route 163. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (SDMTS) operates bus service every seven to 15 minutes on weekdays and every 15 to 20 minutes on weekends on Route 7. Much of the greater San Diego area is served by the popular MTS Trolley, with prominent stops at Old Town, the San Diego Harbor and the historic Gaslamp Quarter.
Hours and Price
The zoo is open every day of the year, including all holidays. Summer hours, including the Nighttime Zoo, are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Sept. 2. Summer hours continue from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sept. 20. One-day tickets are $44 for adults and $34 for children ages 3 to 11. A two-visit pass, including a one-day pass to the Zoo and an Africa Tram Safari Pass to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is $79 for adults and $61 for children ages 3 to 11. Parking at the San Diego Zoo is free.
Dining, Shops and Entertainment
There are plenty of options for dining at the zoo, serving a variety of dishes from hot dogs and chicken sandwiches at the Safari Kitchen to American and Mexican entrees at the Front Street Café and farm-fresh vegetables at the Sabertooth Grill. Other restaurants include Italian cuisine at the Treehouse Café and Asian food at the Hua Mei Café. There are several souvenir shops at the zoo, such as the Zagat-rated ZooStore and KidStore. Front Street Rentals provide strollers, wheelchairs and electric conveyance vehicles for rent. The San Diego Zoo has live shows featuring birds, sea lions and four-legged critters, in addition to a 4-D Theater and Dr. Zoolittle Show held on weekends only. All zoo shows require an additional fee for admission.
What to See
The San Diego Zoo is divided into a number of animal zones, habitats and geographic regions, primarily in an open-air environment. The feature attraction is Panda Canyon, home to a handful of the rare black and white giant pandas. The newest baby panda, Xiao Liwu, celebrates his first birthday in July 2013. Other popular attractions include the Polar Bear Plunge, Elephant Odyssey, the Children’s Zoo, Africa Rocks, Asian Passage, Big Cat Trail and the Outback. There are thousands of other mammals, reptiles, birds, arthropods and amphibians to enjoy, such as African elephants, gorillas, orangutans, cheetahs, tortoises, Komodo dragons and the extremely rare California condor. If time permits, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is highly recommended. Home to more than 2,600 animals representing more than 300 species on 1,800 acres, the protected native species habitat is located 30 miles north of downtown San Diego in the San Pasqual Valley, just east of the City of Escondido.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com.