7 Tips to Maximize Your Trip To The San Diego Zoo


About the author: Allison Cuevas of Charlie Tested. Allison is the blogger behind Charlie Tested and is a former high school teacher turned stay-at-home mom of two boys. She is obsessed with baby products, classes and all things to make this mommywood journey easier. When she is not conducting pirate rescue missions with her sons, she is secretly gulping down a chocolate peanut butter cup and writing ferociously until the boys discover her.



San Diego Zoo

When The Hubbs had a business trip on Baby Brother’s 1st Birthday, we decided to make it a family affair and celebrated at the San Diego Zoo! Here are a few tips to maximize your next visit to the zoo:

1. Go Early: This is a no-brainer. The animals (the zoo animals, that is) and our children (the other animals!) do best in the morning while the weather is cool and the crowds are thin. It’s worth the extra effort to get up early and get ready. The park opens at 9:00 a.m.

2. Save Time and Buy Your Tickets Online: The basic 1-Day Pass includes the Guided Bus Tour (get on this one first to get an idea of all that the zoo has to offer!), the Kangaroo Express Bus (for tired feet), the Skyfari Aerial Tram, and all the regularly scheduled programs. If you are in San Diego on vacation, check out the great values on the Go San Diego Card.

San Diego Bus

3. Bring Your Own Stroller: It is certainly true that I am stroller obsessed and feel that I need one all.the.time. However, the need for a stroller at this zoo is legit, it is HUGE. Even a five and six year old is going to need a break. The zoo offers stroller rentals but they don’t look so comfortable…$12 for a single stroller, $16 for a double. We took our Britax B Ready Stroller and it worked out really well. Baby Brother took a nap and Big Brother was able to hitch a ride several times to take a break.

San Diego Stroller

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

4. Pack Your Own Food: The Zoo offers a great variety of food and beverages throughout the park. No matter where you are, you are close to a food vendor, no need to trek all the way to the front entrance to eat. If money is no object it is certainly easy to just order and eat wherever. However, if you are on a budget, as we are, you may want to consider packing your own food. I found the food pricing to be relatively reasonable, but I can never get over paying $5 for a soda or $3 for a bottled water!! You can see some sample pricing in the photos below.

Packing lunch for the entire family is not always “fun” so you could consider:

a) Packing the kids’ lunch and buying parent lunches.

b) Packing drinks and snacks to hold down the total cost. This is great if you are staying in a hotel, just drop by a CVS on the way to the zoo and stock up on sodas or juice, bottled water and snacks.

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

5. Stay Hydrated – Beer For Parents! San Diego is famous for its beautiful, warm weather. While the weather is typically very comfortable, after you hoof it around the zoo for a while (especially uphill, as the “people mover” is currently under construction) you will be super thirsty. Keep yourself and your children hydrated! Also, as a special treat for parents, the zoo serves beer & wine. Yep, you read that right…BEER FOR DAD! Pick one up at Sydney’s Grill.

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

6. Learn Something New: The vast number of animals at this amazing zoo can be overwhelming, especially if you attempt to see them all! Don’t get so caught up that you don’t learn something new and make sure your children do too! Focus on 1, 3, 5…animals or a group of animals to explore.

San Diego Zoo(No, I did not photo shop this image! The Hubbs and I were both laughing!)

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

7. Something to Celebrate? The San Diego Zoo does not offer birthday party packages. However, if your child MUST have a zoo party (I know how that goes!) meet your guests there and bring in your own cupcakes/cake in a wagon or x-large stroller basket! The zoo does provide options for catered events.

*I was not compensated for this post, however I did receive two complimentary tickets. All opinions, as always, remain my own.

Related Posts:

The New Children’s Museum – San Diego!



  1. Do you recall any great exhibits or activities in the evening hours? Since the zoo closes at 9pm, do you suggest any special night activities to go to? THANK YOU!!

  2. Great tips! Looking forward to my next trip to San Diego to visit the zoo. My husband and I will definitely make a pit stop at Sydney’s Grill for a couple of cold ones!

  3. Wonderful tips! I really appreciate someone who will go ahead of me, do the research, and report back all the information I want to know. I also loved the photos and agree that the strollers look a little on the uncomfortable side, though I imagine they use hard plastic for easy cleaning. Thanks for the great, informative review!

  4. I was just planning a trip from Northern California to San Diego and a friend sent this link to me. Very helpful and practical advice. I especially appreciate the budget conscious tips!

  5. I have never been to this zoo and found this information helpful to plan a family visit with our daughter in the future. I enjoyed the author’s writing style and photo evidence from their trip. I hope to see more from Charlie Tested on this site. Now time to go like Charlie Tested on Facebook.

  6. Nice review but a few important facts parents need to know:

    1) Double Strollers are not allowed on the skyfari. If you have an infant and a toddler, best to bring a single stroller and a baby carrier.

    2) The zoo is typically 5-10 degrees colder then other areas of San Diego. This is due to its position in a canyon and ample shady trees. So always bring a sweatshirt.

    3) You can exit the zoo and come back in with a hand stamp. Maybe leave the lunch in a cooler bag in the car. A picnic in Balboa Park is a nice option. There is a grassy area just as you leave the exit. Near the kids train ride ($3).


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