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Visiting the San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California

Updated on April 29, 2013
Gorillas, Azizi pregnant with her firstborn baby, Frank.
Gorillas, Azizi pregnant with her firstborn baby, Frank.
Flamingos, Peacock
Flamingos, Peacock
Balboa Park Botanical Gardens
Balboa Park Botanical Gardens
Rose Garden, Balboa Park
Rose Garden, Balboa Park

History of the San Diego Zoo

After the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park the exotic animal exhibitions were abandoned.

In 1916 the Zoological Society of San Diego formed and by 1921 land had been set aside in Balboa Park for a zoo. The zoo moved in the following year and added animals from the defunct Wonderland Amusement Park. A fence was built and an entrance fee was charged to offset costs.

A zoo director was appointed and The San Diego Zoo became a pioneer in cageless exhibits. In 1975 the zoo’s Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species was founded. The world’s only albino koala named Onya-Birri (ghost boy) was born in 1997. High school kids volunteer each year to teach the public about the animals.

The zoo has guided bus tours that cover 75% of the park, escalators, and an aerial gondola lift with panoramic views of downtown San Diego. Street signs also mark the way to each exhibit.

Exhibits are designed around a particular habitat and range from gorillas in the African Rain Forest to polar bears in the Arctic tundra. Free flight aviaries are also here along with a rare plant collection.

Exhibits to visit:

Monkey Trails and Forest Tales - monkeys, pygmy hippos, crocodiles, tortoises.

Owens Aviary - Tropical, colorful birds.

Panda Trek - Giant panda’s and a cub! The male cub recently got a name: Xiao Liwu, meaning “little gift.”

Polar Bear Plunge - polar bears, reindeer, caribou, arctic fox, raccoon, duck, redwood trees, native manzanita.

Ituri Forest - otters, hogs, hippos, banana trees, bamboo.

Elephant Odyssey - elephants, saber-tooth cats, lions, eagles, jaguars, tarantulas, turtles, camels.

Gorilla Tropics - western gorillas, waterfalls, bamboo.

Absolutely Apes - orangutans, sway poles, trees.

Bonobos - bred since 1960.

Sun Bear Forest - Malayan sun bears, monkeys, a small aviary.

Tiger River - Malayan tigers, crocodiles, the Marsh Aviary, tigers.

Outback - new Australian outback area to open 2013. Koalas, Tasmanian devils, Australian birds.

Clouded Leopard - Two Clouded Leopard brothers that arrived 12/2012.

Tips: Take along comfortable walking shoes and a jacket. It can get cold and windy.

Head over to the giraffe area at 11:00 or as soon as possible and buy tickets to feed the giraffes at 12:00 noon. They sell out fast so make this a priority.

If you are planning on going to the zoo more that once a year consider a yearly pass. Benefits include unlimited admission, unlimited tram and aerial rides, 2 free guest passes, discounts on merchandise, and a free Zoonooz magazine subscription. It's tax deductible and good for admission to the Wild Animal Park in Escondido. Senior and student passes are also available.

There are plenty of great Hiking Trails in this area and surrounding San Diego County.

If you visit the Wild Animal Park in Escondido be sure to visit the San Pasqual Battle Field and the USS Midway Museum if you stay downtown at the zoo.

Be sure to visit Balboa Park. There are museums to visit, botanical gardens, an IMAX theater, and a spectacular rose garden across the street in spring.

Are we there yet? What to take on a road trip:

An ice chest with food, snacks and drinks for everyone. Forget sharing.

Don't forget your chargers, headphones, earplugs, meds, and a trash bag.

Take along your Kindle and cell phone to keep yourself and the kids occupied on long road trips. Down load any e-books and apps that will help you.

Remember to take along a great camera. We found the Sony Nex-5 to be light weight and user friendly.

Freeways, streets, and traffic jams are frustrating. Take along a good GPS system and visit off season.


Have you visited the zoo?

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    • Kathy Atwood profile image

      Kathy Atwood 5 years ago from California, USA

      Thank you!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      We were at the zoo many years ago about 1965 I loved it back then. Great hub voted up and interesting.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful visit. I vote up and share this gem. Enjoy your day.