San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo is in Balboa Park, San Diego, California has been called the best zoo in the world and is the most visited zoo in the United States.

A Gorilla in San Diego ZooA Gorilla in San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo is one of the many attractions in Balboa Park, and one of the most popular things to see in San Diego. It attracts millions of visitors each year, and is the most visited zoo in the United States. It's been called the best zoo in the world and was a pioneer in creating natural habitats for animals in cage-free open-air enclosures.

Antelope in San Diego ZooAntelope in San Diego Zoo

When Did San Diego Zoo Open?

San Diego Zoo began to open in 1922 to look after animals that had been a part of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. It grew from the founding of the Zoological Society of San Diego in 1916.

The founder of this society, Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth, believed from the start that animals should not be kept behind bars, and in 1922 the lion habitat was opened, with the lions being separated from visitors by the building of moats.

Elephants in San Diego ZooElephants in San Diego Zoo

Fun Fact about San Diego Zoo

The first video to be uploaded to YouTube was by YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim and taken in front of the elephants at San Diego Zoo. And here it is... count those views!

How Many Animals in San Diego Zoo?

There are over 12,000 different animals at San Diego Zoo, representing over 650 different species, according to the zoo's owners, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. There are also over 700,000 plants, with some - like bamboo and eucalyptus - especially grown to feed some of the animals.

Flamingos in San Diego ZooFlamingos in San Diego Zoo

How Long to Spend at San Diego Zoo?

Well, how long have you got? On our first visit we allowed a full day, but we then had to change our plans so we could return for another half-day at this remarkable place. Even then we didn't see everything.

We recommend downloading the San Diego Zoo app which you can use to store your tickets and also plan how you're going to spend your time there. You can also download a PDF map. App and map are both on this page of the zoo website.

Lion in San Diego ZooKing of the Jungle
(Except Lions Don't Live in Jungles)

How is San Diego Zoo Organized?

The zoo is organized like the world, into its different continents, habitats, and regions. These include:

  • African Forest, where you'll see things like gorillas, chimps, and forest elephants.
  • Amazonia, with its jaguars, bears and giant otters.
  • Savanna, with elephants, rhinos, lions, giraffe, cheetah, and many more.

Other features include a hummingbird aviary, the Reptile Walk, an insect house, the very popular Polar Bear Plunge, the Tiger Trail, and the Sun Bear Forest. And believe us, this is simply the tip of the iceberg.

Leopard in San Diego ZooLeopard in San Diego Zoo

Fun Fact about San Diego Zoo

The zoo has the largest outdoor aviary in the world, home to over 200 species of birds.

Giant Panda in San Diego ZooGiant Panda in San Diego Zoo
(Though They No Longer Live There)

Giant Pandas

The San Diego Zoo has always believed in conservation, and one of their great successes was in breeding giant pandas in captivity. Over the years their panda population grew so much that the zoo had the largest number of giant pandas outside China. In 2019 the animals were all returned to their natural habitat in China, so you won't see them there today.

Panda toys in the gift shop at San Diego ZooDon't Miss the Gift Shop!

Endangered Species

The zoo is home to many endangered species, and these include the California condor and the African painted dog, also known as the African wild dog. The zoo has helped to release 44 endangered species back into their native habitat.

The Polar Bear Plunge at San Diego ZooDon't Miss the Polar Bear Plunge!

Feeding Time at San Diego Zoo

We mean for the visitors, not the residents! You'll be spoiled for choice as there are all kinds of eating options from smart restaurants to food stalls. There's Mexican, Asian, an Aussie-style grill in the Australian Outback area, the Treetops Bistro, Albert's Restaurant with full-service dining and a full-service bar, and lots of options if you prefer 'quick bites' like sandwiches or hot dogs.

Tiger at San Diego ZooTiger at San Diego Zoo

A Virtual Visit to San Diego Zoo

If you want to get an advance look at San Diego Zoo then they have a number of webcams you can access via their website, at both the zoo and their partner, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They broadcast live from 7.30am-7.30pm Pacific Time, and then the live footage is repeated from 7.30pm-7.30am. Visit the Live Cameras page on their website.

Polar Bear at San Diego ZooToo Tired to Plunge?

A Real Visit to San Diego Zoo

To make the most of your visit, a little advance planning helps. As we mentioned above, you can download the app and a map to your phone ahead of time, and you can also store your digital tickets.

The zoo also has a number of really cool Special Experiences, which you can book ahead. These include:

  • Early Morning Explorers: a chance to see what goes on before the zoo opens for the day.
  • Early Morning Cheetah Experience: see the cheetahs run and play before the day gets too hot.
  • Discovery Cart Tour: zoo highlights on a 60-minute tour with an expert guide.

Find all the details on the San Diego Zoo website.

Where to Stay in San Diego



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