San Diego zoo

San Diego Zoo, a Mom’s Review

If you’re head to San Diego, you might consider a pit stop at the San Diego Zoo! This is the perfect spot to spend the entire day here with the family, weather permitting!

During our visit to the zoo, we were with a group of adults and 3 kiddos under the age of 5. Here’s our review of the San Diego Zoo, pros and cons, and tips for your visit from a mama.

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is a 100-acre wildlife park, home to over 12,000 rare and endangered animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies.

Located just north of downtown San Diego in Balboa Park, the Zoo is also an accredited botanical garden, caring for more than 700,000 individual plants, including a prominent accredited collection of close to 13,000 specimens, representing 3,100 species. Guests are invited to take part in exciting educational experiences and create lasting memories, while supporting San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation efforts to save wildlife worldwide.

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2920 Zoo Drive
San Diego, CA 92101

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

For your convenience, the Zoo offers additional free parking at the Inspiration Point parking lot (located at Park Blvd. and Presidents Way, just 5 minutes south of the Zoo).

Ride the FREE SHUTTLE directly to the Zoo entrance from the Inspiration Point parking lot at Presidents Way. The weekend shuttle will run from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays beginning May 27, through September 3. No shuttle available on June 17 or June 18.

San Diego zoo


Operational hours vary dependent on season. See their website for exact hours on the day of your visit. As of this post hours are as follows:

  • 9am – 9pm | through Mid-August
  • 9am – 6pm | Mid-August – October 31
  • 9am – 5pm | November to December w/select dates 9-7/8


  • $69 Adult / $59 Child | 1-Day Pass Any Day
  • $67 Adult / $57 Child | 1-Day Pass Value Day
  • $76 Adult / $66 Child | 1-Day Pass Any Day
  • $74 Adult / $64 Child | 1-Day Pass Value Day
  • Multi-Day / Multi-Park Tickets

1 Day Pass ticket includes: One visit to the San Diego Zoo®, Guided Bus Tour, Kangaroo Express Bus, Skyfari Aerial Tram, and all regularly scheduled experiences. Experiences subject to availability.

1 Day Pass Plus ticket includes: Includes all the features of the 1-Day Pass, plus one 4D Theater Experience. Subject to availability.

2 visit Pass includes: One visit to the San Diego Zoo and one visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park -or- Two visits to the San Diego Zoo -or- Two visits to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Two total visits by the same person on any and all days.

The website looks like it always has a small discount happening, but under our Tips for Your Visit we have included a bigger discount we’ve found.

While you can definitely spend a couple days there, one day is pretty exhausting. But they do have multi-day options.

San Diego Zoo Pros and Cons

Whenever we do reviews, I like to give all the details but then also give you a quick breakdown of the pros and cons as well as tips for your visit. Here’s my take:


  • Tons to do, lots to see
  • Get the ice cream while visiting Asian Passage – its so good!
  • Take all the photos and videos
  • Free guided tour, free express bus, and free skytram included in tickets!
  • Entire area for kids called Basecamp including a splash pad!

San Diego zoo


  • Be prepared for the weather! It was so HOT when we went and it is a ton of walking if you don’t take the shuttle – which I was fine with, except you need lots of water and a hat for some shade.
  • So much to see, not enough time.
  • If you go when it’s crowded, there may be a slight wait
  • Food and drink is pricey and subpar
  • Lots of walking

Tips For Your Visit

Download the Map Ahead of Time

The zoo has a mobile app if you want to take full advantage of your visit. We personally just used the paper map which was nice so we didn’t have to have our phones out the entire time since it was so hot. You can check out the map here.

Take Advantage of the AAA Discount In Person

This is what we did and it was cheaper than any online promotion or discount being offered.

AAA Members: show your valid membership card at any ticket window year round to save 10 percent on the 1-Day Pass at the world-famous San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park (limit six people per card).

San Diego zoo

Bring Your Own Shaded Stroller & ADA Accessible

While you can rent a plastic stroller/cart there, it has zero storage, little shade, and isn’t very comfortable to push around. Bring your own stroller with shade! We had the Wonderfold Wagon and it was great to hold everything although it was a bit heavy lugging up and down some hills. We like this umbrella that hooks onto your stroller if you don’t have a nice shade.

If you choose to take the bus tour, you will have to bring a compact stroller to pack up while on the bus.

While you can bring your own scooter, you also have the ability to rent an electric scooter

Bring Water & Snacks

Whether it is hot out or not, just bring your own large water bottle! We love this water bottle to keep drinks cold and leak-proof. This one is great for kids.

Bring all the snacks and drinks (just no glass!). While you cannot bring a cooler, we had a backpack cooler like this that kept things cold all day long with a couple of ice packs. Food and drink are pricey there and to be honest not really that good, except the ice cream in “Asian Passage”, so good!!

Here’s some snack ideas for the whole fam. 

You can also shop our favorite snacks on Amazon direct to your doorstep.

San Diego zoo

Nursing Friendly

I was so happy to see that the Zoo has an a private room for nursing! Located near the First Aid office, which is located next to the Reptile house, there is a room for diaper changes, nursing, and taking a break from over-stimulation. There is NO air conditioning, but there is a fan. This is great for nursing mamas or messy diaper changes. They also have diaper changing stations are also available in most restrooms.

Plan to Spend the Day at The Zoo

Okay, on their website they say to plan for at least 3-4 hours, but realistically you can be there all day long after you factor in snack and bathroom breaks, walking etc.

You can take a 35-minute Guided Bus Tour that gives a good overview of the Zoo, along with a Kangaroo Bus that stops at several locations to assist guests in accessing different areas. This can help you identify what areas you want to spend more time in, however, with a large group, a map, and walking shoes, we chose to explore on our own.

We got their when gates opened at 9am and didn’t leave until 4pm.

San Diego zoo

Wear Walking Shoes, A Hat, and Sunscreen

While there is some shade, while walking you will most likely be out in the sun! Wear comfortable walking shoes, a hat, and sunscreen! You can see some of our favorites to stay cool during the summer and year round here.

They also just opened up a SPLASH PAD inside the new Basecamp at the San Diego Zoo! Bring some water clothes or an extra change of clothes while your kids explore and play.

Check out Basecamp for Kids!

Discover the wildness of Basecamp for the kids! This area houses four innovative nature play areas, each designed around unique habitats and includes a splash pad! Don’t forget the extra clothes!

Step into a waterfall grotto and get drenched as water pours over eroded bluffs. Look out for splashing jets that unexpectedly fill a stream.

Have You Visited the San Diego Zoo?

While we’ve shared some of our favorite tips and tricks and tried to answer your questions, you can find more answers to commonly asked questions on the San Diego Zoo website, here.

Let us know how your experience was at the San Diego Zoo in the comments below or over on social media!

San Diego zoo

Leanna Carson is an expecting mama via IVF and a serial entrepreneur.

Born and raised in Las Vegas, she loves sharing all things family-friendly as well as local spots most don’t even know about! She co-founded Nevada Moms in 2018 and it has become the #1 Family Guide to Nevada experiences, activities, happenings, and more.

Connect with her on social media or IRL @mrsleannacarson on Instagram.