How to see the San Diego Zoo in one day

Being in San Diego for the second time, I knew this time I had to go to the zoo. This is going to be a picture heavy post, so sorry!
Even though we decided to go on a Saturday, I was surprised by the lack of crowds. Of course there were people, but it was nearly as busy as Disneyland (which we went to on a relatively quiet Thursday in September).

The zoo has at least 3700 animals from over 650 species and subspecies, and the park is spread over 100 acres. It can be pretty hard to cover everything in a day, but we were able to see a lot.

The day before we left, I had a look over maps of the park and thought about the routes we could take to try to see as much as we could. Sadly the map I had was out of date since a new route was opened this year, and a section of the zoo was closed for refurbishments.

So, on to our trip. At the end, I’ll share a quick list of tips.

9.15 – Arrival

We arrived at 9.15 and were able to walk straight in. The queues to buy tickets were long, but we had bought ours online the night before and printed them off. When we got in we headed to the right to get the bus tour

9.30-10.15 – Bus Tour

Every day entrance ticket gets access to a bus tour, the kangaroo buses, and the skyfari aerial tram. Taking the bus first thing in the morning means there are shorter queues, and you get a good view of a lot of the animals so you can decide what you want to come back and see again. The tour guides were funny, and it took about 35-40 minutes. It wasn’t too hot early in the morning, but the top deck is uncovered so if you decide to go upstair make sure you’ve got a hat and suncream. The right hand side has far better views of the animals since the bus mainly goes in a loop around the outside of the park, so all the exhibits are to the right.

10.25 – Skyfari Aerial Tram to the top of the park

The route I had planned went from the polar bears to the giant pandas first, so we headed up to the top of the park and saw the polar bears. The skyfari has some great views (and good light for photos)

The journey only takes about 5 minutes and saves a lot of walking up and down hills, and gave us a chance to decide what we were going to see after the bus tour. The Skyfari operates between 10am and 6pm, with the bus tours starting at 9.30 it worked best for us to go on the tour first.

10.45 – Polar Bears

We went to see the polar bears early in the morning because in San Diego it gets very hot and a lot of the animals go in to hide when it’s too warm. Their habitat is also on the way down to the giant pandas.

From now its a bit harder to keep track of when we saw everything. There are so many exhibits that we saw in a very short period of time, so I’ll explain the trails and key points!

Park Way, Hippo Trail and Monkey Trail

We were on our way to the pandas, but took a wrong turn on to the hippo trail (don’t ask!), so we went on down to see the hippos then up through Scripps Aviary, saw the gorillas and some monkeys and finally to Panda Canyon

The grevy zebra was on the main park way, opposite the polar bears.

The hippo exhibit was quite crowded, with the mum and baby together at one corner of the glass.

The gorilla didn’t want to look at us, but he did have a nice butt 😉

Panda Canyon and Africa Rocks

We started with Panda Canyon, a long crowded walk, obviously everyone wanted to see the pandas. Along the route we saw some little red pandas.

But.. Finally we saw the Giant Pandas. There are so few left in the world that it was an absolutely incredible chance to see two of them.

This was especially special for me- I think you can tell by the face! In my opinion it was worth the crowd and the queue.

Next up was along Africa Rocks. We saw a host of things along this walk, first some African penguins, and turtles.. Then a cute fake waterfall

After this we saw three sleepy leopards

And popped into an aviary. I must admit I wasn’t overly excited by the birds we saw, so we moved on to meerkats and elephants!

Which I have apparently put the wrong way round. We did see the meerkats first, then vultures before the elephants, and camels.

Outback and Urban Jungle

In the outback we saw the koalas.. but none of them wanted to pose like the meerkat did

To be honest thats about all we saw in the outback, there was a building that I think they were doing a talk of some kind in.

The urban jungle was a little more interesting. Here they have some of their more popular animals- you can feed the giraffes, see zebra, kangaroos, flamingos, wolves and some more big cats. The wolves have ‘pet’ labradors to keep them company which I think is adorable

The kangaroos were looking a bit lethargic, the wolves were out and we’d seen flamingos earlier. So we kept going to the next section.

Center Street and Fern Canyon Trail

Next we headed up center street to see the bears

After that we veered off into the rainforest! I mean, obviously we didn’t. But we did trek up Fern Canyon

Which was another nice place to take some photos. It was quite steep up a lot of stairs, so if you have kids it may be worth walking down instead of up.

Tiger Trail and the skyfari back down

This is our second to last section, yay! You’re nearly finished, thanks for sticking with me.

Along this trail we saw crocodiles (though they could have been alligators, all I saw were teeth), tapirs, and fishing cats while we were heading over to the tigers.

Finally after all this we went back down on the skyfari because I loved it. This time there was a much longer queue but we’d walked almost 3 miles by then! So we waited in the sun for about 20 minutes for the trip down.

I don’t think you need to see any more of my selfies, so I’ll move swiftly on to our final section

Reptile House

This was the last tiny section and it’s just going to be a bunch of pictures of snakes. So for some of you I’m sorry if it feels like looking back on your yearbooks!

The End!

Well done on making it to the end of our trip to San Diego Zoo. This has been such a long post that that I’m going to do a second for my tips, you can find it here

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