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San Diego Zoo for kids – favourite animals, activities, child discounts

With more than 4 million visitors annually, San Diego Zoo is the most visited zoo in the USA.

Located in Balboa Park, this 100-acre zoo with more than 3,500 animals has lots to offer to kids. 

This article discusses why young visitors love the San Diego Zoo and how parents can make it a comfortable visit. 

Top San Diego Zoo Tickets

# San Diego Zoo tickets

Best time to visit San Diego Zoo with kids

If you visit with kids, stepping into the San Diego Zoo as soon as they open at 9 am is best.

Here are our four reasons – 

  1. Animals are most active in the morning, which is good because your kids will love interacting with them.
  2. The temperatures are still moderate, so your child won’t be irritated.
  3. The crowd is yet to enter, and you can avoid waiting in line with your kid.
  4. When you start early, you can pace yourself and explore more of the zoo. 

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San Diego Zoo ticket discounts for kids

The San Diego Zoo ticket costs US$69 for all 12 years and above visitors . 

Kids aged between three to 11 years get a US$10 discount on the adult ticket price and hence pay only US$59.

The best way to save money on your tickets is by opting for the Go San Diego Pass. You can visit San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SeaWorld, and 30+ other city attractions for free with this one pass. 

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Free San Diego Zoo entry for kids

Every year, in October, in honor of the zoo’s founding, children aged 11 and younger can enter for free. 

However, an adult (18+ years) with a valid ticket must accompany the children.

Up to five kids can enter for free with one ticket-holding adult.

Infants for up to two years don’t need tickets to enter the zoo throughout the year.

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Tips for visiting San Diego Zoo with children

  • Buy your San Diego tickets online and in advance. It helps you avoid the long ticket counter queues at the venue.
  • San Diego can get hot. It is better to carry hats, sunscreen, and a bottle of water. 
  • Ensure your kid is wearing sneakers because exploring the zoo requires a lot of walking (and some climbing)
  • Usually, kids up to five years or so struggle with all the walking required to explore the San Diego Zoo. Consider bringing a stroller or renting one at the attraction.
  • If your child loves taking photographs, don’t miss ‘Rex, the Lion’ at the zoo’s entrance. It is a massive metal lion standing on one paw.
  • At the entrance, note the various animal show timings and remember them while planning your walking route through the zoo. 
  • Take the 35-minute free guided bus tour when you enter the zoo. It helps you understand the attraction’s layout and plan your walking route.
  • San Diego Zoo has around 25 food and drink outlets. Take a break at regular intervals so that the family stays recharged.
  • The Skyfari is an aerial tram from the zoo’s entrance to its back. Your child will love spotting the animals from the top. 
  • The free Kangaroo Bus service has four stops and is a great transport option within the zoo. Look out for bus stops marked with a yellow Kangaroo Bus banner. 

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San Diego Zoo animals that kids love

San Diego Zoo has more than 700 species (3500+ animals), and it is impossible to see all of them during your visit. 

Even though the youngsters love all animals, they love some more than the others. 

That’s why discussing with your kids and prioritizing the zoo’s different sections makes sense.

Once you know the must-see animals, you can plan your path using the San Diego Zoo’s map and be ready. 

The animals in the San Diego Zoo are divided into numerous sections. 

At Africa Rocks, visitors can experience six types of terrains and hundreds of animals, including Leopard, Fossa, Gelada, Baboons, Lemur, Meerkat, Monkey, Penguins, etc.

The Asian Passage section has animals such as the Leopard, Grizzly Bear, Red Panda, Snow Leopard, Sun Bear, Takin, etc. 

Discovery Outpost is primarily reptiles, and you get to see the famed Anaconda, Chinese Alligator, King Cobra, Mang Mountain Viper, Rattle Snake, Galapagos Tortoise, Turtle, etc. 

The name Elephant Odyssey is misleading because, besides Elephant, this part of San Diego Zoo is also home to the Lion, Jaguar, Camel, Two-Toed Sloth, Capybara, etc. 

The Lost Forest has kid attractions such as the Hippo, Gorilla, and Otter. The other animals in this section are Babirusa, Bonobo, Monkey, Okapi, Tapir, etc. 

Gorilla Tropics, which houses the Scripps Aviary, is also part of the Lost Forest enclosure. Children love spending time inside the Aviary. 

The Northern Frontier consists of animals such as the Arctic Fox, Mountain Lion, Polar Bear, Reindeer, Zebra, etc. 

Here, your child will spend much time at the Polar Bear Plunge.

Infant looks at Polar Bears
An infant enjoys the bears at Polar Bear Plunge. Image: Mommynearest.com

The Outback is a smaller section displaying animals such as Koalas, Laughing Kookaburras, and Tasmanian Devils. 

The two superstars at the Urban Jungle are the kid favorites Giraffe and Rhinoceros. 

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Kids activities at San Diego Zoo

Depending on the time you plan to spend inside, you can participate in numerous San Diego Zoo experiences. 

We list some of our favorites – 

Keeper Talks

Keeper Talks are an integral part of every zoo visit, and they are both entertaining and educational. 

Keeper Talks at San Diego Zoo

The best part is that since the zookeepers have food with them, the animals are most active during the keeper talks. 

Image: Sandiegozoo.org

We suggest you request the keeper talk schedule at the entrance and plan your exploration around them.

Kids generally love keeper talks of Giraffes, Polar bears, Lemurs, Meerkats, etc. 

Animal Shows

When you enter the zoo, find the show timings and mark the ones you want to attend. 

The San Diego Zoo has a couple of top-rated shows suitable for visitors of all age groups. 

Dr. Zoolittle and Friends Explore Africa are scheduled at 4 pm and 5 pm. 

The show, ‘Wild About Animals,’ happens at 1 pm daily. 

Guided bus tour

Guided bus tour at San Diego Zoo

It is better to board the bus tour at the beginning of your visit because it is a great way to understand the zoo’s layout.

Image: Sandiegozoo.org

The 35-minute guided bus tours start at 9.30 am and continue till about an hour before closing time daily.

Skyfari aerial tram

The Skyfari is an aerial tram from the zoo’s entrance to its back. 

Skyfari at San Diego Zoo

Kids love soaring over the treetops and trying to spot animals below. 

The tram service starts at 10 am, and the zoo closes at 9 pm (in winter, much earlier). 

Image: Sandiegozoo.org

It is included in the San Diego Zoo’s entry ticket

4-D theaters

San Diego Zoo has two 4D theaters – one at the Northern Frontier and another at the Children’s Zoo.

Be ready for gusts of wind, vibrating seats, and surprise sprays of water in your face, immensely enhancing the movie-watching experience.

Movies run daily until about an hour before closing time; the entry fee is US$8 per person. 

Kids Playgrounds

Besides the fantastic animals, the San Diego Zoo has nice playgrounds for toddlers.

The open-air Elephant play yard is opposite Elephant Odyssey and has puzzles, play fossil digs, etc. 

The Koala Klimber play area is in the Australian Outback, and kids love to copy the koalas and climb up like them.

The Polar Play Area will surely wow your child, for it has supersized illustrated storybooks, life-size statues of polar bears, and even a cave to crawl into. 

San Diego Zoo Children’s Zoo

Girl with Armadillo in San Diego Zoo
A girl pets an Armadillo in the Children’s Zoo at San Diego Zoo. Image: Sandiegozoo.org

Soon, a newer version of San Diego Zoo Children’s Zoo will come up. 

This zoo’s four distinct environments will be – Marshlands, Desert, Woodland, and Rain Forest.

Kids will explore animals via interactive learning, close-up encounters, modern technology mesh fun, etc.

San Diego Zoo Kids Store

We recommend you keep the kid’s store for the last – when your child is upset about leaving the zoo. 

The shop has plush animal toys, T-shirts, games, educational activities, etc. 

Giving your child something to remember about the San Diego Zoo is a great way to end the day.

Balboa Park Railroad Miniature Train

The miniature train is just outside the San Diego Zoo and replicates a real diesel locomotive. 

The train station is just outside the zoo’s exit, and at regular intervals, the train pulls out for 3-minute rides around a portion of Balboa Park. 

Children under one-year-old ride free; the others pay US$4 per person.

Balboa Park Carousel
Balboa Park Carousel with all its colourful animals. Image: Tripomizer

Built-in 1910, the Balboa Park Carousel is another attraction outside the zoo but an integral part of the zoo visit. 

Kids get to pick the animal on whom they will sit – horse, camel, lion, or zebra.

It is a historic ride and may even remind the parents of their childhood. 

Still not sure? Check out a San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park comparison.

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Strollers for rent

The San Diego Zoo allows almost all kinds of baby carriages.

If you have a stroller at home and are visiting with a younger child, it is better to bring it to the zoo. 

Kids below five years usually have trouble walking the distances expected at San Diego Zoo. 

Visitors can also rent strollers at the zoo’s entrance. 

A single stroller costs US$16, and a double stroller is US$20. 

These are one-size strollers where most children can comfortably sit. 

All strollers have cup holders and a storage pouch in the back. 

However, if you plan to rent a stroller at the San Diego Zoo, arrive early in the day because they get rented out on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Stroller on the Guided Tour Bus

While riding the 35-minute guided bus tour, you must leave your baby carriage/stroller in the designated parking area.

But don’t worry, for the bus returns to the same place.

Strollers on Skyfari

The Skyfari aerial tram has stroller-size limits.

Baby carriages that fold smaller than 60 cm (23.75 inches) can be accommodated, and visitors must leave the bigger ones in the parking space close to the tram.

If it is your stroller, you can pick it up on your way back, and if it is a rented stroller, you will get one when you get off the Skyfari. 

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Baby Nursing station

San Diego Zoo’s First Aid office is next to the Reptile House, and mothers often use it to nurse their infants. 

The facility also has a microwave for preparing your child’s meal. 

Some mothers prefer to sit outside the First Aid office on one of the provided benches. 

# Sandiegozoowildlifealliance.org
# Zoo.sandiegozoo.org
# Wikipedia.org
# Sdzwildlifeexplorers.org

The travel specialists at TheBetterVacation.com use only high-quality sources while researching & writing their articles. We make every attempt to keep our content current, reliable and trustworthy.

# San Diego Zoo
# Legoland California
# USS Midway Museum
# San Diego Safari Park
# SeaWorld San Diego
# San Diego Harbor Cruise

Other zoos in California

# Los Angeles Zoo
# San Francisco Zoo

Check out all the things to do in San Diego

This article was researched & written by

Edited by Rekha Rajan & fact checked by Jamshed V Rajan

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