San Diego Zoo
I am a longtime San Diego Zoo member so will give you my best tips for must-see exhibits, getting around, where to eat, and how to buy tickets.
It is our most popular attraction, at the top of my list of things to do in San Diego with kids, and a world-class facility that has helped save endangered species worldwide. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know before visiting.
Top 5 Reasons to Visit San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo opened its doors in 1916 and is home to over 4000 animals that represent over 800 species. The exhibits across 100 acres are designed around habitats to often feature animals that would normally live in the wild together. You can spend a half-day, full-day, or multiple days enjoying all of it in San Diego sunshine. Five out of a very long list of reasons to visit the San Diego Zoo.
- It’s nonprofit: Every dollar you spend goes toward animals. San Diego Zoo Global has been instrumental in breeding the giant panda, bringing California condors back from extinction, and supporting many, many other conservation efforts in over 35 countries.
- The animals: Of, course, Sadly, the pandas have moved back to China but you can see the largest colony of koalas outside of the United States and many more San Diego Zoo animals.
- Edutainment: San Diego Zoo has done an excellent job of integrating animal and environmental education throughout its website, exhibit displays, on-site docents, and other programming.
- It’s a Botanical Garden: Not only is it an accredited zoo, but it’s a botanical garden accredited by the American Association of Museums for its collection of over 750,000 plants, many of which are rare or endangered.
- Convenient location: San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park, about 10 minutes from the Gaslamp Quarter and San Diego Airport. Its city location near major freeways makes it easy to get to no matter what part of town you’re staying in.
Around the Zoo, you’ll find kangaroos, Galapagos tortoises, rhinos, giraffes, African penguins, baboons, and more. However, my favorite exhibits and experiences include the below.
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Where To Eat
We like to take advantage of table service at Albert’s Restaurant in the Lost Forest where you can have a good fish taco, craft cocktail or glass of wine, and even brunch.
You can pick up gourmet bowls and salads at Sabertooth Cafe in Elephant Odyssey and even a local craft beer to walk the park with at San Diego Craft Beer and Margaritas.
As a chocolate chip cookies lover, I always stop into the Nestle Tollhouse Cafe in the San Diego Zoo Kids store (their gourmet coffees are good, too). Stay up-to-date on San Diego Zoo restaurants.
San Diego Zoo Hours, Address & Parking
While it’s operating at a limited capacity, I would get there early or go after lunch.
Visit 365 days per year.
You can visit the San Diego Zoo 365 days per year. Check the schedule before you go, but normal operating hours are 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
It’s in Balboa Park.
2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92101
The lot is quite large but can fill up. Take a photo of the animal marker near your car so that you don’t forget where it is.
San Diego Zoo Map and Directions
(If you’re looking for a San Diego Zoo park map, use the app or view the most recent copy on their website—they update their paper maps all the time.)
Getting There by Public Transportation
- Both Rapid 215 and Route 7 stop at the Zoo. You can check sdmts.com for more details.
- Use Stop K to get there via the Old Town Trolley hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour.
San Diego Zoo Directions
- From I-5 South (Orange County, Carlsbad, La Jolla): Once you reach downtown San Diego, take the Pershing Exit and follow the signage.
- From I-15 South (Orange County, Riverside, Temecula): Take Route 163 South to the Park Blvd/I-5 exit. Take the Park Blvd exit and turn left (north) and you’ll see the parking lot.
- From I-5 North (Chula Vista, Coronado, Mexico): Take Route 163 North. Exit on Richmond Street (the sign says Zoo/Museums) and follow the signs.
- From I-8 East (Arizona, El Centro): Take Route 163 South to the Park Blvd/I-5 exit. Take the Park Blvd exit and turn left (north) and you’ll see the parking lot.
Know Before You Go
You can read about my tips for visiting the San Diego Zoo in more detail but here is a quick summary.
Health and Safety Measures
- The Zoo is temporarily running at half-capacity and some activities are temporarily on pause. Rest assured that there is plenty to see.
- Guests ages 2 and older are required to wear face coverings.
- Distance markers remind guests to keep appropriate space and sanitization efforts have been increased.
Best Times to Visit
There really isn’t a bad time of day to visit. We’ve been on peak days and weekdays. In either case, I recommend that you come in the morning as this is also when the animals are the most active. They may sleep or seek shade in the afternoons on sunny days. There is always plenty to see though. Peak attendance is usually around midmorning to after just after lunch. Weekdays from Tuesday through Thursday are usually less crowded.
- Download the San Diego Zoo app which will help you navigate the park between its map and daily schedule.
- Strollers and locker rentals in addition to luggage storage are available on Front Street on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Reservations to visit the Zoo are not required. It is first-come, first-served.
San Diego Zoo Live Cams
- Hippo Cam
- Baboon Cam
- Polar Cam
- Ape Cam
- Koala Cam
- Panda Cam (Archive)
I would also suggest that you take a look at episodes from Animal Planet’s The Zoo: San Diego show to understand even more about what goes in to animal care and wildlife conservancy efforts at both San Diego Zoo Global parks.
Where to Stay
I have written extensively about hotels near San Diego Zoo. Most people stay in downtown San Diego hotels. My favorites include:
- Pendry San Diego
- Courtyard by Marriott
- Lafayette Hotel and Bungalows
- THE US GRANT, a Luxury Collection Hotel San Diego