After visiting San Diego Zoo, we can now see why it’s the most popular zoo in America, its easily the best zoo that we have visited.
With 3,500 rare and endangered animals spread across 100 acres of Balboa Park it’s not only the best but also one of the largest zoo’s in the world.
We arrived for the zoo opening at 9am and made a beeline for the first bus tour of the day at 9.30am which gave us a good overview of the zoo and just how big it was.
It was going to involve a lot of walking and a whole day to visit. The girls excitedly made a dash for the top deck of the double-decker bus ready for our tour to start.
Tip – If you plan to ride the bus tour, try and get on the first bus at 9:30 to avoid the long queues that build up throughout the day. Sit on the top right side of the bus for best views of most exhibits, except for the polar bears, koalas and giraffes.
During the trip our driver provided knowledgeable commentary on our journey and as the 30 minute bus tour came to an end we hopped off to explore on foot and discovered much more.
Tip – Check the timings on the zoo map for daily zookeeper talks.
The bus tour had been recommended to us but in hindsight I would recommend taking the Sky Safari across the zoo first.
The zoo is amazing at ground level, and totally spectacular from the air and was such a fun way to get around the zoo. Best of all, birds-eye view of the animals below and the surrounding Balboa Park and downtown San Diego are breathtaking.
The zoo is organised into animal areas with trails connecting each area showcasing some of the most interesting animals on the planet.
Starting at the Australian Outback we followed the trail we reached the colony of 25 koalas, the largest outside of Australia.
We were lucky that the koalas were active during our visit, and the views from the elevated walkways gave us the perfect view of them climbing their eucalyptus trees. They were so cute!
What was great about the San Diego Zoo were the amount of interactive play structures around the zoo and the girls loved practicing their koala-climbing skills inspired from watching the real thing.
Elsewhere there is plenty to see and do, from viewing the fascinating African elephants at Elephant Odyssey , watching the Giraffes having their lunch whilst spotting zebras, baboons, tigers, bears and more as we explored this magnificent zoo.
Each animal enclosure has facts on display giving you the opportunity to learn more about these wonderful creatures who are so important to our ecosystem.
We were lucky enough for plenty of the animals wanted to come and say hello, which was an amazing experience for our girls to observe wildlife so closely.
As well as the animals, San Diego Zoo ticked lots of boxes with fun learning activities for children too.
Both of the girls really enjoyed the prehistoric talks and showing what animals you would have encountered in Southern California thousands of years ago.
After lunch overlooking the canyon, it was time to find the Lost Forest, another highlight of our visit.
The natural habitat that the zoo has recreated for the animals, had me at times forgetting we were actually in the middle of San Diego, especially when we walked through the rainforest full of lush greenery and waterfalls.
Home to a family of gorillas, their lush habitat was filled with plants that you would find in the African forest and was cleverly set out so we could see these remarkable creatures from various vantage points.
They were so much fun to watch and the girls loved watching the baby gorillas.
Tip – Wear comfortable shoes – The zoo is huge so expect a lot of walking and hills, as its actually located within a canyon.
Late in the day, after walking thousands of steps according to our fitbits and with the girls getting tired we climbed aboard the Kangoroo bus.
This hop-on hop-off shuttle service has four stops around the zoo which allowed us all to have a little rest on the way to see the zoo’s most popular residents, its pandas.
Panda Trek is home Xiao Liwu, Bai Yun, and Gao Gao the zoos three adorable giant pandas.
Tip – Check the zoo’s panda cam to see if the animals are active. It’s available online and on the zoo’s free mobile app
This is one of the most popular exhibits in the zoo and although we had a 30 minute wait by the time we arrived in the afternoon it was worth the wait, these animals are adorable.
Tip – The mistake we made was not visiting in the morning – visit the Panda’s as soon as the park opens to miss the queues.
It was fascinating to learn that the zoo grows the pandas favourite meal on-site which is handy especially since they eat their way through 300 kilos of it every week!
The zoo has moving escalators that help you avoid some of the steepest climbs out of the canyon which was another form of fun transportation for the girls.
Likewise the relatively new 450ft Mesa Bridge spanning the canyon below provided spectacular views of the zoo.
What makes San Diego zoo stand out from most other zoo’s around the world was just how beautiful it was, with flowers and trees from across the world.
The scale and range of plants on offer across the park is so impressive that the zoo is also one of the most impressive botanical gardens in all of California, which is worth a visit in its own right.
Tip – Look out for the volunteers wearing red shirts. They are really helpful and knowledgeable about the animals and can point you in the right direction if you are lost.
The children’s zoo close to the exit was the perfect way to finish our visit. It’s funny how tired kids can summon extra energy when they see a play area and that’s exactly what happened when the girls came across the Discovery Playground.
Tip – Check the daily schedule for animal encounters in this children’s zoo area.
A highlight for Holly was the petting paddock where she got close to goats, sheep, pigs and other farm animals.
There was a last chance to see the flamingos before we said goodbye to by far the best zoo that we have ever visited.
If you are visiting San Diego, a visit to the zoo should definitely be on your list, it was one of our favourite days out during our holiday.
We have been to lots of great zoo’s however, San Diego Zoo is on a completely different scale – it was so enjoyable and educational for all of us but especially for the children.
The best prices for tickets for San Diego zoo can be found online on the San Diego Zoo website in advance.
If you are planning on visiting several attractions in San Diego then I would recommend looking at the Go San Diego card.
This can bring savings of up to 50% off the gate prices – you can read our review of the card here.
Alternatively if you are planning on visiting Disneyland during your holiday to California then check out the Southern California CityPASS.
The easiest way to get to the zoo is by car, which was less than a 10 minute drive from our hotel the Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego and parking was free with plenty of spaces available. If you don’t want to drive then you can take the Old Town Trolley Bus which stops off at the zoo.
We were guests of Visit San Diego and San Diego Zoo for the purposes of this review, but our views are our own