San Diego Zoo
The jewel of San Diego’s vast interconnected wildlife park system, the San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Dr., 619/234-1515, www.sandiegozoo.org, summer daily 9 a.m.–8 p.m., rest of the year daily 9 a.m.–4 p.m., adults $34, children $24) lives up to its reputation and then some. The 80-acre zoo actually doubles as the state’s largest botanical garden. The zoo grows lovely plants from around the globe that serve as shelter, hiding places, and food for the hundreds of exotic animals that inhabit state-of-the-art enclosures.
You’ll see perennial zoo favorites including elephants, lions, polar bears, and you’ll also meet a host of other famous and exotic species, such as meerkats, one-foot-tall deer, pythons, and parrots. For the comfort of the human visitors, ample restrooms, benches, concessions, and gift shops scatter through the zoo.
To get the best zoo experience possible, stroll its meandering paved walkways, stopping whenever and wherever you feel a need to watch the birds and beasts as they sleep, eat, and play. Some of the paths can be steep—if you’re visiting with kids or folks who have trouble walking, keep that in mind when you plan.
The map provided by the zoo can help with good walking routes for your party’s endurance levels. If you can’t do it all, pick the paths that take you to your primary points of interest—be those pandas, birds, or big kitty-cats.
For another great way to enhance your experience, pick up one or more of the fliers that describe the park’s extensive flora in detail. Plant lovers love playing Spot the Acacia as they enjoy the animals.
If walking the whole zoo just isn’t for you, consider one of the bus rides. The Guided Bus Tour takes you to many of the highlights of the zoo, letting dozens of animals show off for you as you snap photos from the coveted upper deck of the two-story bus. Friendly and knowledgeable docents drive the buses and describe each of the animals and their habitats as you pass. If you just want to get from one section of the zoo to another, jump on an Express Bus.
For a special treat, take the Skyfari from the front of the park to the rear, where the polar bears play in their pond. You’ll get a lovely view of the whole of Balboa Park out to the sea as you traverse the length of the zoo in less than 10 minutes.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition