Lions and tigers and bears — and much more! Head to the San Diego Zoo for a family-friendly stroll through the 100-acre grounds, home to more than 3,500 rare and endangered animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies, as well as 700,000 exotic plants.
Run by a nonprofit organization, the San Diego Zoo is rated as the best zoo in the world by viewers of the Travel Channel, and it places second in popularity on Hopper and ranks second on CNN, just behind the Singapore Zoo. If this isn’t enough to convince you to go to the SD Zoo, maybe these photos will.
Here are 10 eye-catching reasons to visit the San Diego Zoo!
Not only are these black and white fluffy bears adorable, but they are also extremely rare. Only four zoos in the United States have giant pandas: Atlanta, DC, Memphis and San Diego. San Diego treats their pandas like royalty with two acres for three pandas, endless bamboo gardens and air-conditioned bedrooms.
Giraffes are by far my favorite animal. Not only is the San Diego Zoo home to beautiful Masai giraffes, native to Kenya, with patterns that look like oak leaves. And on Saturday and Sunday you can feed these beautiful creatures for just $10 — and they're quite friendly! Frequently in the spring, baby giraffes will be born at the San Diego Zoo.
Santa left behind a small herd of his reindeer for your enjoyment (none have red noses though). You can find these furry friends on the hillside next to the polar bear exhibit. As the zoo tells us, the creatures, descended from Siberian reindeer in Alaska, are most visible in the morning when eating their breakfast. Fun fact: In most deer species, only the males grow antlers — but reindeer are the exception: Both males and females sprout these bony structures. Males begin to grow antlers in February and females in May.
While you are saying hello to the reindeers, be sure to take a snap of the polar bears playing in their frozen tundra, which in San Diego approximates an arctic summer day. My favorite time to catch these fluff balls is when they are playing with their giant ‘‘beach balls.’’ One of the coolest attractions in the zoo is the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge, where you can see the polar bears cavorting beneath the surface from the underwater viewing room. Sometimes they swim right up to the glass to check out out the human spectators. You can catch the action daily on the zoo's Polar Cam.
Unicorn — um, wait, I mean oryx
I do love antelopes, and the zoo features a number of exotic species, like the rhebok, Cuvier's Gazelle, the South African springbok, addax, sable antelope and kudu. One of my favorites is the scimitar-horned oryx from the deserts of Africa. It gets its name from the shape of its two horns, long and curved like Arabian swords or scimitars. If you're lucky you might be able to spot a young oryx — from the side it looks like a unicorn, and it's thought that this led to the myth of the one-horned unicorn.
In the Australian Outback section, you can find 20 sleepy, cuddly koalas. Koalas are solitary animals that are mostly active at night and spend most of their time napping or munching on eucalyptus leaves. Walk on the elevated walkway in the zoo's Koala Care Center and you'll see males clinging to trees or perches in one area with the more social females and their babies, called joeys, sharing another area. Fun fact: Many people refer to "koala bears" because of their round, fuzzy ears, but actually they're not bears but marsupials like their cousins the kangaroos, wallabies and possums.
The San Diego Zoo houses an assortment of bird aviaries. The Owens Rain Forest Aviary contains about 200 tropical birds representing 45 species such as lories, kingfishers, Bali mynahs and woodpeckers. The Scripps Aviary is home to lots of colorful birds you might not see in your back yard, like the tinkerbird and the sociable weaver. A peaceful vibe fills these spaces with birds flying above enclosed lush green gardens. My favorite part is sitting on the benches and listening to the chirping. Finally, near the Polar Bear Plunge you'll find the Arctic Aviary, home to 25 species of duck.
Don't worry about coming face to face with a big cat: The beautiful, fearsome and endangered Malayan tigers reside in an area designed to resemble a natural jungle habitat, and you can view them from three vantage points along Tiger Trail. Use push buttons next to the tiger exhibit to listen to the different sounds a tiger makes!
Garden trails & Fern Canyon
Throughout the zoo there are several of what I call ‘‘jungle trails.’’ These take you through the different animal exhibits. What I like most about these are the hidden waterfalls in between the gardens. Be sure to check out Fern Canyon, a peaceful rainforest refuge that's perfect for mellowing out. A shady path leads you to lacy canopy of lily vines, honeysuckle and ferns, including tree ferns that can grow to 40 feet high.
10 Why walk across the zoo when you can fly? And it’s free. The Skyride will take you from the park entrance to the polar bear area, which is directly across the zoo. Traveler tip: If you are here all day, take the Skyride around sunset and you will get stunning views of Balboa Park with the sun setting.
If you visit
The San Diego Zoo is close to the San Diego Cruise Terminal and easy to get to by taxi or Uber. (This is a trip you can do on your own.) Located in Balboa Park, just north of downtown San Diego, the zoo contains museums, art exhibits and gardens as well as animal attractions and a safari park.
Admission: A 1-Day Pass ranges from $52 to $58 for ages 12 and older; $42 to $48 for children ages 3-11 and free for kids under 3. See the full range of ticket prices here.
Hours: Hours vary throughout the year and can be found here. It's often open 9 am to 6 pm on weekends.
The zoo is operated by San Diego Zoo Global, a nonprofit committed to saving species worldwide. It's the largest zoological membership association in the world, with more than 250,000 member households and 130,000 child memberships.
How about you? Have you been to the San Diego Zoo? What were a couple of highlights?
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