How to spend one day at the San Diego Zoo with Toddlers

by | Nov 3, 2023 | California | 0 comments

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The San Diego Zoo is a must see attraction when visiting the city of San Diego. It is one of the largest zoos in the United States so it is a good idea to plan your visit before you go. I found it useful to plan out which animals we wanted to see the most and then create a plan from there. Since the zoo is so large and there is a lot to see, we knew that we could not possibly see it all in one day. We only had one day to explore the zoo so we made a list of priorities and things that we really wanted to see.

Things to Know Before you Go:

The first thing I would recommend is buying your tickets in advance. You can save a little money buying them online and you don’t have to pick a specific day to go. You can also save by choosing to go during the week as well. There are a couple of different options on their website so you can choose which one works best for your family.

Another thing to know is that you can bring outside food and drink into the zoo. If you are looking to save some money, you could pack a picnic lunch for your family. The food inside the zoo is not cheap which is to be expected. We brought lots of snacks and water for the kids during our visit and then ended up having them split a meal when it was lunch time. I would highly recommend just packing lunches for everyone if you are looking to save some money.

The next thing to know is that parking is free at the San Diego Zoo which is awesome. The parking lot is huge so I recommend taking a picture of the row you are parking in; this will help you not forget at the end of a long day.

Recommendations when Visiting:

After having spent a good part of the day at the zoo with two toddlers, there are several things I would recommend doing before and during your visit.

The most important thing I would recommend is to have some sort of a game plan for the day. This will help you make the most out of your day at the San Diego Zoo. The zoo is too big to see in one day so it’s important to decide what thing are important to your family. Since we were traveling with toddlers, we wanted to see lots of animals that we couldn’t see at our zoo back home. We also wanted to be able to ride the Skyfari since both our kids love gondolas and seeing thing from above. We also wanted to take advantage of the play areas to give our kids a chance to run around.

Another great thing to utilize when visiting is the San Diego Zoo app. It gives you a map of the whole zoo which helps you get around much easier. If you don’t like looking at maps on your phone, there are plenty of areas to pick up a paper map as well. I really think having some sort of map is super helpful when visiting such a big zoo.

I would also highly recommend arriving right when the zoo opens. If you have little kids, this shouldn’t be a problem as I am sure you are already awake. The zoo typically opens at 9am but you can check their website before you visit to make sure of the opening time. We arrived right at 9am and there was hardly anyone there. We got a front row parking spot and there was no line to get in.

If you are visiting the zoo with young kids, I would highly recommend having a stroller or carrier for them. The zoo involves a lot of walking and even though my kids love to walk, they were happy to be pushed around in the stroller for awhile. The stroller was also a nice place for my youngest to take a quick morning nap in as well.

Another thing to note about strollers is that having a smaller travel stroller can be beneficial when visiting this zoo. Since we flew to California, we traveled with two small travel strollers instead of our larger double stroller. We chose to do this since we didn’t need a stroller all the time for our three year old and it was much easier to travel with two small strollers versus our large double stroller. The main reason I recommend having a smaller stroller at the zoo is so you can easily ride the Kangaroo Bus and the Skyfari while being able to bring your stroller onboard. If your stroller is too big to fit on either of these modes of transportation, you have to leave it in designated stroller parking areas. The problem with this is you have to go back and get your stroller at some point during the day.

Things to Make Your Day Easier:

Before arriving at the zoo, it was super helpful to know what was included with our admission ticket. Your ticket includes access to all the animals at the zoo, the Skyfari, the Kangaroo bus and a guided tour bus of the zoo. We definitely took advantage of the Skyfari and the Kangaroo bus. The guided tour seemed like a great way to get to know the zoo but we didn’t think our little guy would sit still for the 45 minute ride. If you have older children, I would highly recommend doing this tour. It can also be a nice break from the sun in the middle of the day.

As I mentioned earlier, the Kangaroo bus is definitely something to take advantage of. This bus has 4 stops around the zoo and it helps you cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. You are allowed to bring strollers onboard as long as they are not too big. This is another reason to bring a smaller stroller with when visiting. We used the Kangaroo bus a few times to help us get to different areas in the zoo.

The Skyfari is another great way to get from the entrance of the zoo to the back of the zoo. We actually rode this at the end of the day to get back to the entrance of the park. If you are planning on riding it one way, just make sure you have a small stroller. They don’t allow large strollers so if you have a large one, you will have to make it a round trip ride. I still think it is worth the ride as it gives you great views of the zoo and it isn’t very long.

Another thing that will make your visit easier is to make a list of the animals that you really want to see. For our family, that list included some animals that we can’t see at our zoo back home like the polar bear, cheetah, flamingos, koalas, and camels. I had a tentative plan of where these animals were so we could plan our day out. This helped so we could make sure to see all the animals that we wanted to see.

When visiting with toddlers, you should also make time in your schedule for the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp. This is a fairly new play area for kids and it is amazing. Our kids could have spent the entire day exploring this area. If you are visiting on a hot day, be sure to bring swimsuits for the kids as there is a splash pad area as well. This was a great place to let the kids run around and play!

The San Diego Zoo is a terrific place to visit with toddlers. We loved our visit and both our young kids really enjoyed the zoo. I think it is important to have a game plan before visiting to make the most of your day. I really think this helped make our day that much smoother and more enjoyable. My three year old also enjoyed picking out which animals she wanted to see and I think that made her day that much better! 

Have you been to the San Diego Zoo? What things did you find the most useful to know before you visited?