Best Tips for a San Diego Zoo Visit


With more than 3,500 rare or endangered animals that call the San Diego Zoo home, there is always something new to see. Whether it’s your very first visit or you have an annual pass, here are some secret and not-so-secret tips to make your trip even more memorable.

We are proud annual pass holders and highly recommend it to anyone in Southern California!


1-day tickets to the San Diego Zoo cost $56 for adults and $46 for children under the age of 12. If you’re going to be in the San Diego area for at least a weekend purely for animal sight-seeing, you should consider buying the San Diego 3-for-1 pass where you’ll have access to the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Sea World, all for $149 for adults and $139 for children (saving you about $30).

You might be eligible for even cheaper tickets if you are a student, a senior citizen, military dependent, or a AAA member. Each of these groups get 10% off admission prices (~$5). Active duty service members are given 1 complimentary ticket.

Best Route

100 acres is a lot of land to cross in one day, so to start you off on the right (and less sore) foot, take a look at the map I’ve made you for a non-traditional route based on some of the most active animals. I’ve even highlighted some of our favorite exhibits. If you take the Skyfari aerial tram in the middle of your day, it’s a nice relief to sit for a bit and enjoy the views of Balboa Park. The 3D theatres are extra money, but the Skyfari is free as many times as you want to ride!

Giraffe Feeding

If you arrive in the morning, head straight to the Urban Jungle to get tickets to feed the giraffes later in the day! For $5 you get 3 biscuits and come back during feeding times at 9:00am and 11:00am. You’ll wait in line for a little bit at that time and get to feed them treats and take pictures with just your group.

Polar Bear Exhibit and Snack Break

My husband Mitchell and I love saving the polar bear exhibit for the middle of our day and getting an Icee at the end of the pathway near the Arctic gift shop. We cool down and drink our snack while watching the ducks in the Marsh Aviary . If you look closely, you should be able to find a bright red cardinal in the enclosure too.

Africa Rocks Penguins

There’s one spot in particular where I could spend hours! In the Africa Rocks exhibit, there is a tropical ecosystem that has South African penguins and reef sharks from Mexico. You can look at them above the water level and see the penguin roosts and when you turn the corner, you’re under the water and can see both animals swimming laps from top to bottom.

Honorable Mentions

  • Lemurs
  • Fishing Cat (near tigers)
  • Koalas
  • Hippos
Don’t miss out on the Skyfari – it’s free with your ticket cost and overlooks Balboa park!

Bonus Tips from the Varelas

  1. Parking at the Zoo is FREE!
  2. Pack your own lunch and find a bench to eat near any monkey exhibit = endless entertainment
  3. Consider buying an annual pass ($140 for TWO people at both parks)
  4. The zoo’s drink cups make fantastic smoothie (or margarita) cups at home!

Keep an eye out for upcoming posts about the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and other activities for your San Diego visit!

Pinterest: SD Zoo

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  1. Sophie on June 17, 2020 at 6:20 pm

    Wow, I knew San Diego zoo was big but had no idea it covers 1000 acres. That’s insane! I love your tips for stopping at the polar bear exhibition and riding the Skyfari in the middle of the day for a bit of a cool off and break. I imagine this would be much needed!

    • Megan on June 30, 2020 at 11:13 pm

      Its sooo big which makes the Skyfari break so necessary especially during the summer haha! 🙂

  2. Megan on June 17, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    How fun! Thanks for these tips.

    • Megan on June 30, 2020 at 11:13 pm

      of course! glad you enjoyed them!

  3. Olivia on June 17, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Great tips! I’d love to visit San Diego and would definitely add the zoo to my itinerary – sounds like so much fun!

    • Megan on June 30, 2020 at 11:14 pm

      Personally biased but I think its the best zoo I’ve ever been too haha! 🙂

  4. […] out my best San Diego Zoo tips while you’re at […]

  5. […] husband Mitchell and I LOVE the San Diego Zoo. I’ve been to so many zoos over the years and this is still my all time favorite. The […]

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