San Diego Zoo and Safari Park
- Type: Zoos and Aquariums
- Time to Spend: Half Day to Full Day
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This 100-acre establishment is one of the most famous zoos in the country, known for its expansive natural habitats. Nearly 4,000 critters call the San Diego Zoo home, from pandas to elephants to polar bears. You'll need plenty of energy — and a map — to see everything this zoo has to offer. Exhibits are linked by an expansive series of trails like the Monkey Trails and Forest Tales walk. On these designated pathways, you'll come face to face with our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, as well as colorful African and Asian birds on the tree-top walk.
If you haven't gotten your fill of animals and the outdoors at the zoo, head about 30 miles north to the Safari Park in Escondido. Here you can see some of Africa's most beloved animals — including lions, elephants and cheetahs — roaming free (well, relatively). True to its name, the park offers a variety of different safaris, including a zipline safari and a caravan safari.
Should your feet grow weary while exploring, both the zoo and Safari Park offer guided bus tours. Recent travelers highly recommend hopping aboard the bus tour to orient yourself. "We took [the] bus ride and it helped us to get an overview of the complete area. On this basis we decided what trail we wanted to take," offers one TripAdvisor reviewer. The zoo also features a Skyfari aerial tram, from which you can get a bird's-eye view of the habitats. When it comes time to refuel, there are several eateries scattered throughout both the zoo and the park. Recent visitors say the food is tasty, but costly. Save some money by bringing your own snacks into the zoo.
The San Diego Zoo is located in the northwest corner of Balboa Park. Hours for both the zoo and park vary by season, so consult the zoo's website for the most up-to-date information on opening and closing times. Admission is a bit steep — $46 for adults ages 12 and up and $36 for kids ages 3 to 11 — especially for families. Recent travelers are divided about whether the experience is worth it, especially since the food and drink prices within the zoo are just as high. You don't need your own set of wheels to reach the zoo; the route 7 bus stops there. However, if you're hoping to visit the Safari Park, you'll either need to drive or take a taxi as the city doesn't offer an efficient mode of public transportation between the zoo and park. Parking at the zoo is free.