San Diego Zoo, California – Family Visit

Kelsey P. Gonzalez August 24, 2011 No Comments

Kids at the San Diego Zoo California

My son and daughter at the San Diego Zoo, California.

On our recent family trip to San Diego, California my husband and I took our 3-year old son and 10-month old daughter to visit the San Diego Zoo.  Having just trekked through Sea World the day before we were tired but ready for another adventure!  Like Sea World, the Zoo was also located just a few minutes from our hotel at Hotel Circle but unlike our previous destination, parking at the Zoo was free.  After getting our stroller loaded up and picking up our tickets at the Will Call window (we’d booked our vacation through a travel website so our tickets were there waiting for us) we headed off to explore!

Koalas at the San Diego Zoo California

Visiting the Koalas at the San Diego Zoo, California.

The Zoo has their exhibits grouped together in large sections with each section housing a variety of animals.  Our son was anxious to see the elephants and our path to see them took us by the “Outback,” “Urban Jungle,” and “Africa Rocks” portions of the park which meant we got to see among other things the giraffes, camels, koalas, and vultures along the way.  Although most of those exhibits were ‘stroller friendly,’ the koala enclosure was a bit tricky.  I had to take the stroller up through the exit and it was so crowded that navigating through all the people without running over anyone was a challenge.  It would have been easier to have parked the stroller outside the exhibit and carried the baby up; something I saw many other people doing!

My husband and son with the elephants at the San Diego Zoo, California.

By the time we finally reached “Elephant Odyssey” we were tired so we stopped for a few minutes to pull out some snacks (the Zoo does allow snacks and drinks to be brought in to the park as long as they’re kept in small personal bags) and watch the elephants from a near-by bench.  Their enclosure is huge with many different viewing areas and our son really enjoyed seeing them all close up!  He was especially captivated by one huge male that was pulling apart a large tree trunk!

My son visiting the lion at the San Diego Zoo, California.

As we left “Elephant Odyssey” and continued on around the Zoo, we came to a small glass-enclosed exhibit where a jaguar, lion, and lioness were housed.  Unlike the outdoor enclosures, this one allowed visitors to view the huge cats through just a pane of (hopefully very thick) glass.  It was an extremely popular exhibit and was quite crowded so we had to wait a bit to squeeze our son up front so he could see them.  It was worth the wait though!  He was fascinated (and a little intimidated) at seeing them so close but it turned out to be one of his favorite parts of the day!

Myself with my son and daughter hanging with the Flamingos at the San Diego Zoo, California

The rest of our afternoon took us through the “Polar Rim” and “Asian Passage” parts of the park as well as past the “Panda Canyon” section of the Zoo.  Although we’d hoped to see the Pandas, the exhibit only allowed a certain number of people in at a time so those who were waiting stood in a very long line outside the doors.  With the wait close to forty minutes, we decided to pass so we could see the rest of the park instead. We had a quick lunch at the near-by “Canyon Café” then decided to see the gorillas.

My son in the Polar Rim section of the San Diego Zoo, California.

This turned out to be the most confusing part of our day.  The Zoo is not only separated into sections but also has a number of walkways and ‘roads’ that run through it.  The gorillas happen to be located high up one of the hills at the Zoo and the path that eventually leads to them winds past a number of other animals as well and then requires a change onto another path half-way up.  We wandered around for quite a while until we finally found them and in the process, discovered that of all places, this was not a stroller friendly exhibit either.  One of the walkways is almost a vertical incline and for safety reasons the Zoo doesn’t allow strollers on it.

The Children's Discovery Playground at the San Diego Zoo, California.

This further delayed our visit to the gorillas but once we finally got there, we found there had been another, much easier way to reach them.  It was rather confusingly located near the exit of the gorillas by the “Treehouse Café” and didn’t go past all the other animals.  An elevator allowed strollers as well as wheelchairs easy access to the third and highest level where the gorillas were located.  Even here though there were a series of stairs that made it difficult for strollers to get by.  Fortunately they were shallow enough to get up and down easily so for those of us who were determined to take our strollers, it was possible.  Others chose to park their strollers near the grill and carry their children to see the gorillas.

The Disovery Playground at the San Diego Zoo, California.

My son with his tiger face paint at the San Diego Zoo, California.

After our adventure to see the Great Apes, we stopped to visit the Insect house (which was somehow disgusting and fascinating at the same time and something our son loved) then ended up accidentally coming across a children’s play area called the “Discovery Playground.”  It had a good sized playground and just beyond that, a petting zoo called the “Petting Paddock.”  Our son really enjoyed playing on all the equipment while my husband and I rested on one of the shaded benches and our daughter napped.  Then we visited the Petting Paddock together where he got to feed some of the animals.  Afterwards he had his face painted and enjoyed being a ‘tiger’ so much that he was sad to have it all washed off at the end of the day!  Like the play area at Sea World, this was also one of his favorite places of the day.  It gave him a chance to run off some of his energy while his exhausted parents sat down for a while!

My husband and daughter on the Skyfari at the San Diego Zoo, California.

As one of our final adventures of the day we took a round trip on the “Skyfari” sky gondolas.  It passes high above the park over the “Lost Forest,” “Panda Canyon,” and “Polar Rim” sections of the park.  It does not allow strollers so we parked ours along the fence before boarding and picked it up again after our return trip.  In addition to the “Skyfari,” the Zoo also has a series of busses that are available.  Some of them allow guests to get on and off at stops across the Zoo while others provide 40-minute guided tours.  This last option looked interesting but we weren’t sure that we could keep our kids occupied for that long so we decided to save it for another time!  On a side note, both the “Skyfari” and bus were included in the price of our tickets so we didn’t need to pay extra to take advantage of them.

Just before we left we had a quick dinner at the “Front Street Café,” a restaurant we enjoyed much more than our lunch at the “Canyon Café.”  Although both places were somewhat expensive, they were still less than our meals had been at Sea World!

All in all, our kids both seemed to enjoy the Zoo more than Sea World and my husband and I did as well.  While our daughter was still too young to interact much, she was much more engaged with the animals we saw at the Zoo.  There was just as much walking (if not more) as there had been at Sea World but there was a lot more to see and experience in between exhibits; there was always something else just around the corner and our son was never bored.  There was also more shade at the Zoo which made the day a lot more enjoyable.  Since the weather in San Diego can be a bit iffy at times, we packed extra clothes for our kids just in case; they started out wearing shorts but ended up in jeans as the afternoon went on.  Aside from the problems with stroller access, we all had a great time and are looking forward to a return trip!

For more information on the San Diego Zoo including hours, admission prices, shows, and special exhibits, please visit their website at

My husband, son and daughter at the Petting Paddock at the San Diego Zoo, California.

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Kelsey lives in Southern Utah with her husband, their 3-year old son, and their newborn daughter. They enjoy the adventure of exploring new places together and love building memories through family travel.

Tags: Travel Excursions

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