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San Diego Zoo – tickets, prices, timings, what to expect

The San Diego Zoo is a world-renowned zoo in San Diego, California, United States.

It is one of the world’s largest and most diverse zoos, with over 4000 animals.

The zoo welcomes around four million visitors annually. 

Many consider it one of the best zoos in the country for its 700+ unique species, conservation programs, excellent visitor facilities, and friendly staff.

The zoo is located in Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre urban cultural park in the heart of San Diego.

The zoo is also involved in conservation efforts around the world, with a particular focus on protecting endangered species and their habitats.

No wonder it is the most visited zoo in the USA. 

This article shares everything you must know before buying San Diego Zoo tickets. 

What to expect

Visiting the San Diego Zoo is an exciting and enriching experience.

The zoo is home to a wide variety of animals worldwide. You can expect to see animals ranging from pandas and elephants to lions, giraffes, and countless other species.

The animal exhibits are designed to replicate the animals’ natural habitats as closely as possible.

The zoo offers various educational programs, talks, and demonstrations throughout the day.

Remember to check the schedule for feeding times, animal encounters, and keeper talks to learn more about the animals and conservation efforts.

The zoo features a botanical garden with a diverse collection of plants. The lush landscaping adds to the overall beauty of the zoo.

The zoo is family-friendly, and there are play areas for children where they can burn off some energy while parents take a break.

The zoo has multiple gift shops where you can purchase souvenirs, and there are dining options throughout the park, offering a variety of food and beverage choices.

The San Diego Zoo is designed to be accessible to visitors with different mobility levels.

Where to book tickets

Tickets for the San Diego Zoo are available online and at the attraction box office window.

Online ticket prices tend to be cheaper than tickets at the venue.

When you buy online, you can avoid the long queues at the attraction’s ticket counters.

Because the attraction sells limited tickets, they may sell out during peak days. Booking early helps avoid last-minute disappointments.

How do online tickets work

Once you purchase the San Diego Zoo tickets, they get delivered to your email address.

There is no need to get printouts of the ticket.

On the day of your visit, proceed directly to the turnstiles and show the e-ticket on your smartphone; you do not have to stand in line at the ticket booth.

San Diego Zoo ticket prices

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

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

Infants up to two years do not require a ticket to enter the zoo.

Ticket discounts

Active military professionals can enter the zoo for free by showing their ID. Their dependents qualify for a 10% price reduction. 

San Diego Zoo offers a 15% discount on the ticket price to seniors (65+ years) and students (12+ years) with valid photo ID cards. 

However, the Military, Seniors and Student discounts can only be availed at the ticket window.

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

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San Diego Zoo tickets

This popular skip-the-line San Diego Zoo ticket gives you access to everything to see and experience. 

You can see all the animal exhibits, indulge in animal encounters, and participate in interactive experiences, animal presentations, and shows.

This zoo ticket also includes:

  • Kangaroo Express Bus, which you can use to explore the zoo
  • Guided Bus Tour, a 35-minute narrated tour in a double-decker bus, covering much of the attraction
  • Skyfari aerial tram, an airborne shortcut over the treetops to the other end of the Zoo
  • Children’s Zoo, which offers play and learn opportunities to kids

Ticket Prices

Adult Ticket (12+ years): US$69
Child Ticket (3 to 11 years): US$59
Infant Ticket (up to 2 years): Free

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park: 2-day ticket

The Safari Park is San Diego Zoo’s sister park located 56 km (35 miles) away in Escondido. The travel time is approximately 45 minutes. 

This combo ticket is popular amongst tourists who love wildlife and are in the region for at least two days. 

This ticket helps you save 20% on the ticket costs and gets you one entry into the San Diego Zoo and one entry into San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park.

You can visit the same attraction twice if you don’t want to try the second location.

Over and above all the previous ticket’s inclusions, you get an Africa Tram Safari and Cheetah Run at the Safari Park with this combo ticket.

You can enjoy the express bus and Skyfari Aerial Tram at the zoo (subject to availability) and take a guided bus tour at the zoo.

Ticket Prices

Adult Ticket (12+ years): US$118
Child Ticket (3 to 11 years): US$108
Infant Ticket (up to 2 years): Free

If you prefer to view animals in large field enclosures where herds roam free, opt for the 1-day Safari Park ticket.

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How to reach San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo is the most visited zoo in the United States.

Address: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, United States. Get Directions.

The zoo can be reached by car or public transportation.

By Train

Santa Fe Depot train station in downtown San Diego on Kettner Blvd and Broadway is closest to San Diego Zoo. It is 4.8 km (3 miles) away. 

You can use Amtrak (Pacific Surfliner), COASTER, or San Diego Trolley’s Green Line to get to the Santa Fe Depot station. 

By Bus

You can board either the Route 7 or Route 215 bus from just outside the Santa Fe Depot along eastbound Broadway in Downtown San Diego.

The buses take you to San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park. 

Remember to get down when the bus announces: ‘Zoo Place – San Diego Zoo.’

The quickest way from Santa Fe Depot to San Diego Zoo is by taxi – it takes only 9 minutes.

Families Save on MTS Family Weekends! On Saturday and Sunday, two children (12 and under) ride MTS Bus and Trolley routes FREE with a paid adult (18 and over)!

By Car

You can travel by car, turn on Google Maps, and get started.

Parking is free in the lot in front of the zoo. Additional free parking is available throughout Balboa Park.

The free parking lot also has four electric vehicle charging stations and a few accessible slots. 

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San Diego Zoo opening hours

San Diego Zoo opens at 9 am throughout the year, including holidays. 

In peak summer months, which see the maximum number of tourists, the Zoo remains open till 9 pm, and in winter, it closes at 5 pm.

How long does San Diego Zoo take

If you visit with kids and plan to attend keeper talks, feeding sessions, etc., you will need 4 to 5 hours to explore the San Diego Zoo.

However, if you are a bunch of adults and want to wrap up soon, you can cover most animal exhibits in two hours.

Some families who pace themselves well, with regular breaks, are known to spend the whole day at the zoo.

Best time to visit San Diego Zoo

The best time to visit San Diego Zoo is when they open at 9 am.

There are four advantages of starting early – the animals are most active early in the morning, the temperatures are still moderate, the crowd is yet to get in, and you have the whole day to explore.

When you start early, you can explore for a few hours, have lunch at one of the restaurants, and then begin exploring the zoo again. 

We recommend weekdays for a peaceful visit because it gets crowded on weekends and school holidays.

At San Diego Zoo, the busiest hours on weekdays are 11 am to 1 pm, and on weekends, it is 11 am to 2 pm.

Trivia: One of the Internet platform’s co-founders shot the first video ever uploaded on Youtube at San Diego Zoo.

Tip: When you buy San Diego Zoo tickets online, you can skip the long lines at the ticket office and save time.

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Activities at San Diego Zoo

Depending on the number of hours and energy left, you can participate in numerous San Diego Zoo experiences. 

We list some of our favorites – 

Guided bus tour

Guided bus tour at San Diego Zoo

The 35-minute guided bus tour is a great way to get a quick overview of the zoo. 

The tours start at 9.30 am and continue till about an hour before closing time daily.

Image: Sandiegozoo.org

The 35-minute guided bus tour is a great way to get a quick overview of the zoo. 

Skyfari aerial tram

Skyfari at San Diego Zoo

The Skyfari is an aerial tram from the zoo’s entrance to its back. It is fun to soar over the treetops and explore the zoo. 

Image: Sandiegozoo.org

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

Access to Skyfari is part of the San Diego Zoo tickets

4D 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 till about an hour before closing time.

Visitors must pay an entry fee of US$8 per person. 

Keeper Talks

Keeper Talks at San Diego Zoo

Also known as Animal Encounters, the Keeper Talks are a great way to learn about the animals and their habitats and see them in action. 

The Keepers Talks happen throughout the day, and for some animals, they happen twice daily.

Image: Sandiegozoo.org

Ask for the day’s San Diego Zoo’s Keeper Talk schedule at the entrance. 

Animal Shows

When you enter the zoo, find the show timings and plan your exploration accordingly. 

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

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

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

Botanical Tours

Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the San Diego Zoo’s spectacular gardens and plant collections. 

The five gardens to look out for are Australian Outback, Elephant Odyssey Trees, Fern Canyon (in Lost Forest), Hawaiian Native Plant Garden (in Asian Passage), and Monkey Trails.

Kangaroo Bus

Kangaroo Bus at San Diego Zoo

The Kangaroo Bus service has four stops, each marked with a yellow Kangaroo Bus banner. A bus arrives at the stops every 15 minutes. 

Image: Maryinvancity.com

Visitors use it to transport within the zoo and save some energy. 

Access to the bus is included with the San Diego Zoo tickets

Tourists on a budget holiday or short visit to the city wonder what it should be – San Diego Zoo or the Safari Park?

With four fantastic zoos, California State is a wildlife lover’s destination. Read about all the Zoos in California.

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Kids activities at San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo has lots of attractions and activities for kids. 

Some of the kids’ favorite animal spots are the Flamingo and Duck Pond and the Otters section in Lost Forest. 

Kid with San Diego Zoo Gorilla
A child trying to interact with a Gorilla in San Diego Zoo. Image: Sandiegozoo.org

They also love spending time with penguins at Conrad Preby Africa Rocks, giant pandas in Asia Passage, gorillas in Lost Forest, elephants at the Odyssey, and polar bears in the Northern Frontier.

The new Children’s Zoo, which highlights four distinct environments, Desert Dunes, Wild Woods, Rain Forest, and Marsh Meadows, is also a hit with youngsters. 

Skyfari allows the kids to soar above the treetops for a birds-eye view of the animals below. 

When it comes to feeding the animals, the giraffes win hands down. Do keep an eye on the giraffe-feeding times so that your kid doesn’t miss them. 

Some other star attractions are – the Discovery Playground and the Petting Paddock.

Outside the San Diego Zoo, you will find two more activities that enthrall kids of all age groups – the Balboa Park Railroad Miniature Train and Balboa Park Carousel.

For more details, check out San Diego Zoo for kids.

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San Diego Zoo animals

San Diego Zoo has the best collection of animals and, at a count, upwards of 3500, many of them too!

Covering approximately 100 acres, it houses more than 700 species and subspecies of animals.

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

Giraffes at San Diego Zoo
A family of Giraffes at San Diego Zoo. Image: Sandiegozoo.org

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. 

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

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 crowd favorites Giraffe and Rhinoceros. 

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Tips for visiting San Diego Zoo

  1. San Diego Zoo gets around 5 million visitors annually, which is around 14,000 visitors a day. Purchase your San Diego Zoo tickets online so you don’t have to stand in long queues. 
  2. The animals are most active in the morning hours, so it is best to visit the zoo as soon as it opens. On hot days, animals hide in the shade as the day progresses.
  3. Take a selfie with Rex, The Lion, at the Zoo entrance. This 8.2 meters (27 feet) tall, 9,070 kg (20,000 pounds) heavy structure is the world’s largest bronze cantilever animal statue.  
  4. If you have reached the zoo early, start with the 35-minute guided bus tour that takes you around. This trip helps you understand the zoo’s layout, which later helps while exploring on foot.
  5. The zoo layout is complicated, so download a copy of the San Diego Zoo’s map.  
  6. Time your Skyfari around dusk to see the stunning sunset over the Zoo, the rest of Balboa Park, and the city.
  7. When tired, use the Kangaroo Express bus for transportation.
  8. If you or your kids feel the heat of the weather, head to the Aviaries in Lost Forest. It is an enclosed area, and is much cooler throughout the day.
  9. If you want to step out for a picnic lunch, get stamped at the gate for same-day re-entry. Since big baskets aren’t allowed inside the zoo, visitors leave their picnic baskets in their cars.
  10. San Diego is typically hot and sunny most of the year, so bringing your hats, sunscreen, and water bottle is better.
  11. Hold on to your San Diego Zoo tickets till you exit the zoo. Sometimes, you must show the entry tickets while boarding the Skyfari tram and Kangaroo Express bus.
  12. Visitors must walk a lot at the San Diego Zoo, including some climbing. It is better to wear walking shoes. If your group may need help with all the walking, rent out the shaded electric scooters, which are available for US$60 on a first-come, first-served basis.
  13. Since steep climbs and long distances can be tiring for younger kids (even up to preschoolers), it is better to rent out a stroller. You can rent a single stroller for US$16, and a double stroller for US$20. 

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San Diego Zoo map

With more than 3500 animals to see, it is wiser to have a copy of the San Diego Zoo map to navigate the various exhibits.

Besides the animal enclosures, a map helps you identify visitor services such as restaurants, restrooms, kids’ parks, souvenir shops, etc.

Carrying the San Diego Zoo’s layout is highly recommended if you are traveling with kids because you won’t waste time finding the various exhibits and, in the process, get exhausted.

You can either download the map (2.5 Mb, pdf) or download the zoo’s mobile apps for android or iPhone

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San Diego Zoo restaurants

San Diego Zoo has around 25 restaurants (some of them are cafes & kiosks) offering a wide range of food and drinks to help visitors recharge themselves.

All these food outlets serve both adult and child portions. 

Albert’s Restaurant: Located in Treetops, Albert’s offers full-service dining and a full-service bar.

Busy Bee Cafe: Is in the Wildlife Explorer’s Basecamp and offers honey corn dogs, triple trouble burgers, pizza, wings, etc. 

San Diego Zoo Sandwich Co.: Located at Front Street, San Diego Zoo Sandwich Co. offers hot breakfast, specialty sandwiches, soups, fresh salads, etc. 

Some of the sections of the Zoo have many food outlets to choose from:

On Front Street

  • Safari Kitchen
  • Sweet Shack
  • Lagoon Terrace
  • Kettle Corn
  • Nestle Toll House Cafe by Chip
  • San Diego Craft Beer & Margaritas

In Lost Forest

  • Treetops Bistro
  • Jungle Java
  • Zoo Brew
  • Ituri Hut

In Outback

  • Sydney’s Grill
  • Boardwalk Beer Garden
  • Koala Cart

On the Asian Passage

  • Hua Mei Cafe
  • Hua Mei Cones
  • Bamboo Bar
  • The Pagoda

At the Elephant Odyssey

  • Sabertooth Mexican Grill
  • The Bridge Snacks & Refreshments
  • Odyssey Oasis

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FAQs about the San Diego Zoo

Here are some frequently asked questions about the San Diego Zoo:

Can I purchase San Diego Zoo tickets online?

Visitors can purchase tickets for the zoo online in advance. Online ticket purchases often come with the convenience of skipping the regular ticket lines at the entrance. When you buy your tickets online, you can avoid last-minute disappointment.

Does the San Diego Zoo have electric vehicle charging stations?

Yes, the zoo has five solar-to-electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at the southeast part of the parking lot. Please ask the parking lot attendant for directions when you arrive. There is a nominal fee at each park for use.

Does the San Diego Zoo offer wheelchair and ECV rentals?

Yes, the zoo has manual wheelchairs and electric scooters available to rent for a nominal fee. Guests must provide a valid driver’s license or San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance membership card.

Are pets allowed in the San Diego Zoo?

No. Pets, comfort animals, and emotional support animals are prohibited at the zoo. The zoo houses significant populations of rare and endangered species; the zoo is considered to be a quarantined facility. State and federal regulations for such facilities do not allow access to pets, comfort animals, or emotional support animals accompanying guests to these facilities.

Can I bring food to the zoo?

Yes! You can bring your single-person food supply in small containers into the parks. No facilities are available for food storage other than lockers. For the safety of the guests and the wildlife, no large coolers, glass items, alcohol, party trays, candles, balloons, or decorations are allowed on the grounds.

# Sandiegozoowildlifealliance.org
# Wikipedia.org
# Tripadvisor.com
# Britannica.com

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.

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This article was researched & written by

Edited by Rekha Rajan & fact checked by Jamshed V Rajan

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