Best Zoo in California: From world-class restaurants to vibrant nightclubs, California offers something for everyone. If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, the Golden State is also home to several zoos. One of the most impressive ones is the famous San Diego Zoo.
Sprawled over 100 acres and home to over 12,000 animals and 700,000 plant species, this top-rated zoo draws children and adults alike to witness exquisite wildlife creatures up close.
It was opened in 1916 and today, it is considered one of the best zoos in the world.
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Planning your fun excursion to this impressive place?
Here’s everything you need to know to make the most out of your trip to the best zoo in California.
How to Reach?
Just North of Downtown, The San Diego Zoo is nestled in Balboa Park. The exact address is 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92101.
If you’re traveling via road, you can easily access it from State Route 163.
There is free parking in the front.
Got an electric vehicle?
You can also charge it from one of the numerous charging stations in the parking lot.
Using public transit? Rapid 215 and Route 7 stop here.
What to Do Before You Visit?
Download the San Diego Zoo App
Get updated information on the app on admission timings, ticket prices, and special events.
You can even choose your favourite animal from the map on the app. Save them to your planner. That’s not it.
If there’s a wildlife care specialist talk on your chosen animal, the app has alerts for it.
You won’t miss the opportunity to learn more about your favourite creature.
Book Tickets in Advance
An easy way to skip the long lines is to book your tickets in advance. You can buy a single-day or a multiple-days pass.
You can also get a combined pass for the San Diego Zoo, Safari, Park and SeaWorld San Diego to make the most out of your trip.
Booking online won’t just save you time but you can also get discounts.
What to See?
How about a trip to the diverse terrain of Africa?
Located near the main entrance, this fascinating exhibit will make you feel like it.
Featuring rocky shores, and highlands to Savannah, this is one of the most popular exhibits to witness in the zoo.
From monkeys and lemurs to leopards, hundreds of exquisite creatures call it home.
Watch these gigantic but graceful creatures roam freely in this large exhibit. You’ll find African and Asian elephants in their natural habitat here.
If you’re lucky, you may even find the zookeeper taking care of them.
From monkeys making mischief to beautiful colourful birds chirping, tigers roaming and great apes relaxing, you’ll find many different animals and birds from the Asian and African rainforests here.
It is also home to bonobos. They are believed to be one of the rarest & intelligent creatures in the world.
True to its name, the exhibit will make you feel as if you’re wandering in a rainforest as you try to make your way through the extensive trails that wind through it.
From humid rainforests to the icy cold north pole environment, the zoo makes you feel like you’ve been across the globe.
Northern Frontier exhibit houses animals such as Polar Bears, the Arctic Foxes, and Zebra amongst others.
If you’ve never seen a reindeer, prepare for a pleasant surprise here.
The long lines at this exhibit attest to its popularity. Being one of the only places in the country to witness the Giant Panda, this exhibit offers a memorable experience.
It houses one Red Panda and three Giant Pandas. Get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
There are many other fascinating exhibits to explore in the zoo. Prioritise the ones that attract you the most.
Go for a Special Interactive Experience
Looking for an interactive experience?
The zoo offers a variety of special experiences.
Some of the most notable ones include Keepers for a Day where you can learn from the Zoo’s best keepers; Inside Look Tours where you get a behind-the-scenes look and information about how animals are cared for here; Exclusive VIP Experience where you get interactive animal experiences and access to off-exhibit areas with personalized service.
The prices vary as per experience.
Other Major Attractions in the Zoo
Skyfari Aerial Tram
One of the must-have experiences is riding the Skyfari Aerial Tram.
It offers stunning views of the Zoo and the surrounding area.
It’s also great as a shortcut as it will take you from the Children’s Zoo to Elephant Odyssey.
Wildlife Explorers Camp & Other Kid-friendly Areas
Visiting with kids? Head to Wildlife Explorers Camp. It has a large play area and outdoor animal exhibits. There are many interesting features where toddlers can climb and explore.
There are also water features here to escape the heat.
The Zoo also has numerous other play areas such as Elephant Play Yard, Koala Klimber, Polar Play Area, and Discovery Playground.
You can also take the kids to the Balboa Park Miniature Train which is operated by the San Diego Zoo but is outside of the zoo entrance.
Get a hand stamp for the re-entry before you go.
Guided Bus Tour
One of the best ways to witness more exhibits in a shorter period of time is to take the 35-minute Guided Bus Tour. You can see a lot of animals from the bus and also get information related to them.
If the weather is pleasant, get on the top deck to enjoy great views.
The best part?
The bus tour is included in the admission fee.
The Northern Frontier and the Children’s Zoo each has a 4-D Theatre. Experience amazing special effects as you enjoy a family-friendly movie here.
You can check the daily schedule on your map.
Where to Eat?
There are over 20 restaurants in the Zoo to satiate your cravings.
If you wish to dine with views of a tropical waterfall, head to Albert’s.
It is a full-service restaurant and features an outdoor deck.
From gourmet food to craft beer, there is something here for everyone.
Craving Italian food?
Head to Treetops Cafe in the Lost Forest.
Dig into chicken parmesan, relish spaghetti, and meatballs or go for chicken Caesar wraps, there is a range of delicacies to choose from.
San Diego Zoo Sandwich Co.
Just at the entrance of the zoo, this cafe serves breakfast classics and snacks including specialty sandwiches, fresh salads, soups, ice cream, and more.
Sabertooth Mexican Grill
Located within Elephant Odyssey, this restaurant is the go-to spot in the zoo for Mexican-style cuisine.
From tacos, wraps, and burritos to nachos and craft beer, you can get a host of delicacies to indulge in here.
Is the Zoo accessible?
There is special parking, restrooms, ADA pathways, and elevators for guests with disabilities. An ADA shuttle service allows guests with mobility-related disabilities to explore easily.
The zoo also offers free admission for a personal attendant of the guest who needs some help to access the facilities of the zoo.
Wheelchairs and motorised scooters are available on rent.
The Kangaroo Bus is a free mode of transportation with four stops within the zoo.
So, get your explorer mode on and head to this world-renowned zoo for an unforgettable experience.
Q. What is the #1 US zoo?
Home to over 12,000 animals from around 650 species, the San Diego Zoo is the #1US Zoo.
Q. What is the #1 best zoo in the US?
Owing to its impressive exhibits, attractions, and facilities, San Diego is considered the #1 best zoo in the US. The Zoo has one of the largest animals and bird collections in the world.
Q. Is LA Zoo better than San Diego Zoo?
San Diego Zoo is bigger and has many more fascinating attractions than Los Angeles Zoo. Although more expensive than LA Zoo, San Diego Zoo certainly is superior.