San Diego Zoo Tips + Walking Route

San Diego Zoo is a 100-acre wildlife park with lots of hills and different paths. It can get overwhelming just hearing that alone and when you see the zoo map, you’ll be even more overwhelmed. We’ve listed our San Diego Zoo Tips for the best walking route, how to utilize the available bus and aerial tram, and so much more so you can plan your trip ahead.


1. Arrive Early and Plan a Whole Day at the Zoo

San Diego Zoo is one of the biggest zoos in California. It is 100 acres big so I would recommend arriving early to make time to see everything. Arriving early, especially during peak attendance days like holidays and weekends also means you’ll most likely get a spot on the parking lot in front of the zoo versus the overflow parking where you would have to walk further or ride the tram back to the zoo.

It took us about 4 hours to walk around San Diego Zoo which included the guided bus tour and an additional 1 hour for lunch and an ice cream break in between.

San Diego Zoo Must-See

If you’re wondering if you can visit San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park in 1 day – I do not recommend it. I think you should spend a day at each park coz’ both are really big and it will tire you out. Also, San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park are located 35 miles from each other so the 45 minutes to 1-hour drive is not advisable. It’s best to visit the other park another time, you can check out our Tips for Visiting San Diego Safari Park for your future visit.

2. Buy San Diego Zoo Discount Tickets

San Diego Zoo tickets are cheaper online than at the gate by $1 dollar if you purchase them online directly from the San Diego Zoo’s website BUT you can buy discount tickets to San Diego Zoo to save $5 per ticket. Using our San Diego Zoo promo code SAVE5, your tickets will only be $54 for a child ticket (3 to 11) and $64 for an adult ticket (ages 12+) from AresTravel (authorized ticket seller).

Check out all your option to buy cheap San Diego Zoo tickets below. Don’t forget to use the promo code to save $5 off:

To check out more deals, visit our post – San Diego Zoo discount tickets for 17 available ticket deals including free military tickets, Kids Free admission every October, and how other groups and entities can claim a 10% discount.

If you’re planning to visit the Safari Park, you can also check out San Diego Safari Park discount tickets for different ways to save.

3. Ride the Guided Bus Tour First

The San Diego Zoo guided bus tour is free – included in your admission ticket. I would recommend taking the free bus tour first to have an idea of what you want to see and partly to know where everything is. The loading and unloading zone is also near the entrance so it’s best to ride it 1st before you go deeper into the zoo.

The Guided Bus Tour is a double-decker bus and you will see more if you ride the bottom as most of the animals will be on that level versus riding at the top. The top deck is also open so on a sunny day, it may be a little hot.

San Diego Zoo Bus Tour

3. Pick up a San Diego Zoo Map

San Diego Zoo maps are available right when you enter the park and you’re going to need them to navigate the zoo as it is really big and for a first-time visitor, it can actually be overwhelming. If possible, you should check the map ahead to pre-plan.

The San Diego Zoo map will also indicate which path is the most accessible route as indicated by dotted lines on the map. The zoo has a lot of hills so you may end up going uphill if you don’t plan your trip properly.

San Diego Zoo Must-See

Here’s the best San Diego Zoo walking route to avoid the uphill slopes. After you take the guided bus tour, walk on Front St. towards the Urban Jungle/Outback area. We walked around the Urban Jungle loop clockwise then ended up in the Outback area to see the koalas. Next, we walked through Africa Rocks and ended up in Asian Passage. From Asian Passage, we walked to the tower that houses the elevator that took us up to the bridge. We crossed Bashor Bridge to get to the right side of the map. We turned right to see a little bit of the Elephant Odyssey then turned back and headed to the Northern Frontier to see the polar bear. Once we finished the Northern Frontier area, we walked the loop from Upper Park Way to Lower Park Way, saw more exhibits on the Lower Park Way then rode the elevator again to this see the left side of the zoo. Now here is the crazy part, we got lost on the left side of the zoo so see my next tip (Tip #4).

San Diego Zoo Walking Route

4. Download the San Diego Zoo App

The San Diego Zoo app is GPS-enabled so it’s handy in case you are lost or need to immediately locate the nearest bathroom. It will also help you with restaurant locations at the zoo including menu, attraction hours, show schedules for wildlife presentations and wildlife care specialist talks, habitat updates & closures, and more.

San Diego Zoo Tips

The actual paper map is helpful in planning your route while the app is helpful for locating where you are in the zoo, I recommend having both. If you want to help the zoo with its conservation effort in reducing waste, stick to the app only.

5. Ride the Skyfari Aerial Tram

The San Diego Zoo Skyfari Tram is included with admission (weather permitting) so use it as a way to get from one part of the zoo to the other and while you’re on it, enjoy spectacular views of the zoo and surrounding Balboa Park.

San Diego Zoo Tram

Note: Children younger than 8 years old must be accompanied by an adult.

6. Ride the Kangaroo Express Bus to Get Around

Another way to get around San Diego Zoo is via the Kangaroo Bus. It is free (included in your admission ticket) and is a friendly, non-narrated transportation service that lets you hop on and off at four stops around the zoo grounds.

San Diego Zoo Kangaroo Bus

To find the nearest stop, look for a yellow kangaroo on your map or a yellow kangaroo sign at the zoo. Just wait at any of the designated stops and a Kangaroo Bus will be there shortly to pick you up.

Guests may bring folded strollers on board with them, space permitting. Access to the Kangaroo Bus is via stairs. Guests using wheelchairs and other mobility devices may ask the Kangaroo Bus driver to call for assistance from our ADA Shuttle service.

7. Take Young Kids to Play at Wildlife Explorers Basecamp

If you are visiting San Diego Zoo with toddlers or young kids, take them to play at the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp which is located at the bottom left of the map. The kids crossed the rope bridge multiple times at the Tree of Dreams.

San Diego Zoo Play Area

Other play areas at San Diego Zoo include Polar Play Area at Northern Frontier, Elephant Play Yard at Elephant Odyssey, and Koala Klimber at Australian Outback.

8. Bring a Stroller & Wear Comfortable Shoes

There is a lot of walking involved when visiting San Diego Zoo, make sure to wear comfortable shoes and if you are with young kids, bring their stroller.

Stroller Rental is also available at San Diego Zoo near the entrance on a first-come, first-serve basis.

San Diego Zoo Stroller Rental

9. Plan Where and What you Want to Eat

One of the best things about San Diego Zoo is there are a lot of dining options. Try to plan your lunch break around your route or your route depending on what you want to eat.

San Diego Zoo Food

We were already hungry after riding the guided bus tour so we ate at Sydney’s Grill in the Outback area then the kids has Dippin Dots ice cream at The Pagoda in the afternoon.

San Diego Zoo Dining

10. Visit when there is a San Diego Zoo Event

The best time to visit San Diego Zoo is when there is an event going on as it is included in your admission ticket. The operating hours will be longer during an event and you get to enjoy more activities. HalGLOWeen in October, Jungle Bells in December, and Nightime Zoo in the summer are some of the events at San Diego Zoo.












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