12 Tips for Bringing Kids to the San Diego Zoo

12 Tips for Bringing Kids to the San Diego Zoo

My mom and I have taken a mother-daughter trip to San Diego every year since I was little. We do the same things every year, but we love it, and it’s a nice long weekend break from real life

One of our favorite stops is the San Diego Zoo, and now that I have my daughter, it puts a whole new spin of fun on the trip! The zoo is HUGE, so if you’re a first time visitor with a kiddo, here are my 12 tips for having a blast at the San Diego Zoo:

1. Bring a Stroller

Yes, you can rent strollers at the zoo, but it’s not the same as bringing our own and having all your own stuff in its own place! We bring a travel stroller since we’re from out of state, but I’d recommend a jogger. Like I mentioned, the zoo is pretty big, there’s a lot of hills, and in my opinion the jogger would be the ideal mobility vehicle!

2. Wear a backpack

Backpacks are the absolute best for any type of park. I packed my JuJuBe Admiral bag and it was amazing (I also saw a mama with the EXACT same bag, and I wanted to say hi to her but my introvertedness got the best of me)

3. Get on the Bus first

To the right of the entrance is the Safari bus. It’s best to do this first, because the tour guides give you amazing tips on what’s happening that day, and you can see tons of animals in a 35 minute span! Take the bus, read the map and figure out your game plan while you’re on it.

4. Bring your own lunch, or buy kids meals

Food at the zoo can be expensive, but it’s GOOD. Everywhere I’ve eaten at the zoo we’ve always had really yummy food (this trip we ate at the Safari Kitchen by the flamingos and I had a bacon chicken club, my mom had a BLT, and my daughter had a chicken strip kid’s meal. All were delicious!). If you don’t want to pay $8.29 for a kid’s meal (which is a decent deal and includes a choice of cheeseburger, hotdog or chicken strips, along with applesauce and cookies in a Zoo souvenir tote) or almost $11 for a sandwich and fries (a one-size soda is $5.49, with $1 refills anywhere in the park), I would recommend packing a lunch. Normally we’d consider this, but since we’re in from out of state, eating at the park is part of the experience for us. Plus, like I mentioned…the food is really yummy, so it’s not a disappointment is quality or amount served given the cost.

5. Get a picture strip

There’s tons of places to get your picture taken—the staff will take your pic against a green screen almost anywhere (Safari bus, Polar Bear exhibit, etc.), but the cost is pretty high for the picture packet. If you want a good, cheap picture that has the Zoo logo on it, get a picture at the Photo Booth locations (two I know of are on the exit from the Safari bus, and right by the Skyfari). For $5, you get three strip photos. We’ve done this every year and have a nice little collection to look back on!

6. Bring LOTS of water and sunscreen

In case you’re from out of state and visiting in the summer…San Diego can get HOT. Maybe it’s not hot to you natives, but this pasty white ghost-lady from Minnesota doesn’t do well in the heat or sun. Make sure you pack a water bottle (get free ice water in any of the areas of the park!!), and bring your sunscreen to reapply! The sun gets brutal!!

7. Pack snacks

What’s one thing toddlers seem to want a lot of? Snacks. Also, I want snacks. So I just pack a ton for everyone and we’re good. My JuJuBe Fuel Cell has been my go-to for these. Plus, cotton candy, kettle corn and all the other sugary snacks at any park are expensive (and not super great for you!).

8. Don’t forget the new exhibits

Africa Rocks just opened last week, and the exhibit is awesome (lemurs, fossa, honey badger, oh my!). The best way to get there is to make a right as you enter the park, and then make a left when you see the “8” sign for the Kangaroo bus (this bus will take you from place to place around the park if you don’t want to walk). You’ll walk down a hill past the Panda Trek (but you can’t enter from there…Panda Trek is a one-way road), and it will be on your right-hand side. When you come out, head back down and then up the Panda Trek! When you’re done, take the escalator walkway all the way back up the hill (because walking up that steep hill is insane).

9. Use the restrooms inside Sandwich Co.

Sandwich Co. is air conditioned (YAY), and the indoor bathrooms are nicer, in my opinion. Sandwich Co. is to the right of the park entrance, and there’s also a gift shop attached to it. The sandwiches there are pretty good too!

10. Find the hidden humming birds

The hummingbird enclosure is a bit hidden, and there’s not really any huge signs for it. In fact, whenever we’ve been at the zoo, we’re always the ONLY ones in there! I’m sure this is for good reason, that they don’t want tons of people in and out of the exhibit. Anyway, it’s on the right-hand side as you walk to the children’s zoo, right past the reptiles and some caricature bungalos. Definitely worth a visit to see these little birdies!

11. Don’t forget the children’s zoo!

There’s a whole bunch of stuff in the children’s area, from a playground to a mouse-house to the petting zoo. The petting zoo has goats and some sheep, and they provide brushes to pet the goats. There’s no food to purchase, but if you arrive during a feeding time, they’ll give you some hay to feed the goats, and my daughter got a kick out of it.

12. Do the Skyfari last

The Skyfari is awesome, and it’s a great end to the day. You do have to get off, but we take it one way from the entrance to the park, get off and take a right to see the polar bear exhibit (those guys are literally always out and about!), and then come back to get in line to head back over. Don’t leave without doing the Skyfari, it’s so cool to ride over top of the animals’ exhibits!!!! (the gorillas are especially awesome to see from this view!)

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  1. October 19, 2017 / 2:22 PM

    This sounds so fun!!! I thought the Denver Zoo was huge and this sounds even bigger. Love these tips!

    • Meredith
      October 26, 2017 / 7:56 PM

      Thanks!! I’ve never been to the Denver zoo but I’d love to go someday!