We’re big fans of San Diego Zoo tours for the valuable insight you’ll receive from keepers and staff in a small group or private environment.

These special experiences are fantastic for animal enthusiasts, families, locals who are already familiar with general admission activities, those who want to minimize walking, and guests who have a limited time to visit.

Some even start 30 – 60 minutes before the Zoo opens to the public which means that you’ll start the day by having some exhibits mostly to yourself.

There are six upgraded San Diego Zoo tours to choose from, described in detail below. However, offerings may temporarily be modified.

Tour tips:

  • Prices for San Diego Zoo tours can fluctuate depending on the season. I’ve listed starting prices here where applicable.
  • Read the safety restrictions carefully as not all tours are suitable for ages 5 and below.
  • You will still need to purchase Zoo admission separately. Here’s how to buy discounted San Diego Zoo tickets.

1. Inside Look Tours

Price: Starts at $92 per person
Time: 2 hours

San Diego Zoo Inside Look Tours provide visitors with guided access to off-exhibit areas for an “inside look” at how zoo staff members care for animals.

These tours involve walking in between exhibits though some take guests by cart into keeper-only areas. Therefore, it’s wise to prepare for more walking and standing than rides.

Inside Look: Surprise

This tour grants visitors a special, up-close experience at two animal habitats. Which two animals will you see? That’s THE surprise!

This tour can start at 8:30 a.m., which is before the park opens (recommend), or at a few other times during regular San Diego Zoo hours.

Inside Look: Giraffes and Friends

Feeding a giraffe at the San Diego Zoo
We fed giraffes during an Inside Look Tour

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the giraffe habitat to learn what the San Diego Zoo is doing to help giraffes in the wild. You’ll then take a spin around the Zoo to enjoy keeper insight on other animals.

Inside Look: Polar Bears and Friends

This tour will give you exclusive access to the polar bear habitat. You’ll learn how the bears are cared for at the Zoo and how the Zoo is supporting their survival in the Arctic. This two hour adventure is recommended for all ages. 

Inside Look: Flamingos and Friends

Would you like to learn more about these flamboyant feathered friends? Then, this tour is the ticket! You’ll learn about the flamingos’ unique role in their environment, how they grow and change, and what you can do to help keep them safe in the wild. 

Inside Look: Baboons and Friends

A baboon chills on the grass in the Africa Rocks exhibit at San Diego Zoo.
The baboons in the Africa Rocks exhibit are fun to watch.

This tour will allow you to meet with a wildlife care specialist and learn all about baboons. You’ll be given a unique view of the baboons from a special viewing area and learn more about what the Zoo is doing to help support their survival in the wild. 

Inside Look: Wild Canines and Friends

If you’re a dog-lover, then this NEW tour is for YOU! Foxes, wolves, and even a singing dog are all some of the canines you may have the opportunity to see up close during this tour. You’ ll also learn now domestic dogs are enlisted to help the Zoo protect wildlife worldwide. 

Inside Look: Twilight Tour (Seasonal)

The Twilight Tour is a special nighttime experience that showcases the animals’ nightly habits that daytime visitors don’t typically get to see.

2. Early Morning Experiences

Aside from the early Inside Look Tours, there is an Early Morning Experience that guests can enjoy. This tour starts before the zoo opens to the general public, at 8:30 a.m.

Early Morning Cheetah Experience

Price: Starts at $92 per person
Time: 1.5 hours

The second early morning experience is all about the fastest land animal, the cheetah. Well, you visit several African animal habitats on the Early Morning Cheeta Experience cart tour but the main attraction is the close-up cheetah experience and access to off-exhibit areas.

3. Discovery Cart Tour

Price: Starts at $55 per person
Time: 1 hour

The Discovery Cart Tour takes place during regular park hours. It is an opportunity for guests to see several areas throughout the park, including some that aren’t available on the Guided Bus Tour. Close-up experiences and special photo ops are sprinkled in along the way.

This is a very popular upgrade when visiting San Diego Zoo with kids as you can see quite a bit and conserve energy for other fun activities in the park.

4. Crazy About Cats

Price: Starts at $92 per person
Time: 1.5 hours

Enjoy a cat-centric for all ages experience with the Crazy About Cats tour by cart. Specific animal availability varies from day to day. What’s certain is that you’ll be spending time in the company of the most exotic cats in the world.

This isn’t limited to big cats, like lions, tigers, and leopards either. You may also view fishing cats, servals, and ocelots, to name a few.

This tour is another of your early-admission options, usually starting as early as 8:30 a.m. It’s only offered on select days. This tour is recommended for guests ages 5 and up.

5. Animals in Action

Price: Starts at $99 per person
Time: 1 hour

As the name implies, this San Diego Zoo tour isn’t your typical animal viewing. In this tour, animal trainers demonstrate what these awesome creatures can do while sharing stories about each one.

See several different species jump, climb, play, and perform other tricks for you to record.

Even more amazing is that some of the Zoo’s animals are exclusive to the Animals in Action tour. If you want to see them, you have to book it.

This tour is recommended for guests ages 5 and up. It is one hour long, and offered on select days

6. San Diego Zoo VIP Experience

Price: Starts at $675 per person
Time: 5 hours

Finally, those who would like a top-of-the-line day should book the Exclusive VIP Experience. This private tour lasts 5 hours and gives you more animal close-encounters, more off-habitat access, and more privacy than any other San Diego Zoo tour.

The San Diego Zoo VIP tour is customized for you and your party based on your personal interests. You’ll need to call no earlier than 72 hours in advance of your visit to check availability for this luxury experience.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can You Hold Animals at the San Diego Zoo?

Typically, no, but you can occasionally touch them while participating in certain upgraded experiences like the Animals in Action Tour which involves the San Diego Zoo’s trained animal ambassadors. The best advice though is not to expect to touch or hold animals.

The Children’s Zoo is closed for renovation and this area used to have a petting zoo.

How Much Is the Bus Tour at San Diego Zoo?

The Guided Bus Tour is free! It’s included with general admission and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

However, annual pass members need to purchase tickets ($13 per adult and $10 per child, ages 3 through 11) that cover unlimited rides on the Guided Bus Tour and Kangaroo Bus on the day of their visit. Donor level memberships do not need to purchase an additional ticket for the Guided Bus Tour.

How Long Does it Take to Tour the San Diego Zoo?

With upgraded experiences, a plan, some quick walking, and using the Kangaroo Bus, it can take three to four hours to tour the San Diego Zoo.

However, I recommend at least five to six hours so that you can move at a more leisurely pace. Arrive when the Zoo opens, eat lunch, and spend a few hours after that exploring the areas that you missed in the morning.

Can You Take a San Diego Zoo Virtual Tour?

Yes. There are a few ways to see San Diego Zoo from home. The first is by watching the live animal cams available in certain exhibits at both San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Additionally, you can book a virtual event hosted by a Zoo Educator that will include animal encounters with Wildlife Ambassadors ranging from sloths to penguins including the ability for you to ask questions.