Located in Balboa Park, a vast expanse of parkland located just north of downtown, San Diego Zoo is home to thousands of animals and is one of the most visited zoos in the United States, so it’s important to plan your visit accordingly. Spot tigers, hippos and gorillas in the Lost Forest and visit the Komodo Kingdom to get your giant lizard fix. There are also Arctic landscapes, massive tropical aviaries and over 700,000 exotic plants to explore. In short, it’s impossible to see all 100 acres of it in a single day, even with the help of the guided bus tour and Skyfari cable car. Get the lowdown on how to dodge the crowds and maximize your time at San Diego Zoo with our guide to the best times to visit.
San Diego Zoo is open every day from 9AM to 6PM, even on holidays. Your pass is accepted for admission until 5:30PM and, once inside, all guests are welcome to stay until closing.
Note that hours may vary slightly by season, with gates open until sunset during holiday seasons in winter and summer; please check direct with the San Diego Zoo website for the latest information.
Best time to visit San Diego Zoo
The best time to visit the zoo is on weekday mornings, when crowds are thinner and the animals are at their most active. This is also the time of day you’re most likely to see them feeding. It’s a fair bit busier on weekends but mornings are still the best time to go, especially on hot days when the critters will be more inclined to hide out in shady spots to avoid the midday sun.
Those hotter afternoons are best spent exploring the Lost Forest aviaries, where dense foliage helps keep temperatures more bearable and animals more active.
We also recommend taking the bus tour early in the day as long lines form for this from around 11AM onwards.
Top tip: kids go free every October, making it a great time for families to visit.
Getting to San Diego Zoo
Drivers arriving via interstates 5, 8 and 15 will find Balboa Park and San Diego Zoo well signposted. There’s ample free parking in the lot out front of the zoo and throughout Balboa Park.
San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) makes getting around the city a breeze. Route 7 and the Rapid 215 bus connect Downtown to Balboa Park and the zoo. Rush hour is between 7AM and 9AM, then again from 4PM to 7PM. Traffic is particularly busy around Downtown at this time.
Top tip: up to two children (aged 12 and under) can ride MTS bus and trolley routes free with a paying adult on weekends.
Pre-book tickets direct on the San Diego Zoo website to receive a small percentage off the gate price. You can also download the San Diego Zoo app where, as well as being able to import your pre-purchased tickets, you can access maps, activities, animal feeding times and more.
Save money with a Go City San Diego pass, which includes entry to the zoo as well as stacks of other top attractions in Balboa park and around San Diego. These include the San Diego Museum of Art, Belmont Park rides, SeaWorld® San Diego and dozens more.
Where to eat
You’re unlikely to go short of places to eat inside San Diego Zoo. There are plenty of fast food takeaways and kid-friendly options dotted around and all are marked on the zoo map. Expect the usual mix of sandwiches, burgers, Mexican and Asian food, as well as sweet treats and ice cream. The zoo’s signature restaurant is Albert’s in the Lost Forest, where you can pause for a proper sit-down meal with a glass of wine or craft beer. Try the fish tacos, a regional specialty. But be sure to book in advance, especially if you’re planning to visit during school holidays or on the weekend.
The zoo also permits small coolers in case you fancy a family picnic. But note that glass, straws and alcohol are not allowed, for reasons of animal safety. Large coolers will also have to be left outside so, if your brood tend to be as hungry as lions come lunchtime, you’ll likely be better off using the zoo’s eateries. Alternatively, there are some picnic tables just outside the main entrance as well as those located throughout the zoo. And you’ll find some excellent restaurants around the nearby South Park, North Park, and Banker’s Hill neighborhoods.
If you’re planning a visit to San Diego Zoo, aim to arrive by opening time (9AM) on weekdays to see animals at their most active in the morning and avoid some of the queues that tend to start developing from around 11AM. Yes, you’ll have to negotiate the city’s morning rush hour but, trust us, it'll be worth it to maximize your time in the zoo and have the very best experience possible.
Get the Go City attraction pass to make big savings when visiting this and other top attractions in San Diego!
Get the Go City attraction pass for San Diego
Official San Diego Zoo website