San Diego Zoo and Safari Park#5 in Best Things To Do in San Diego
This 100-acre establishment is one of the most famous zoos in the country. The San Diego Zoo is not only one of the largest zoos in the USA but also houses one of the largest collections of rare and endangered animals in the world (3,500 to be exact). Giant pandas, giraffes, elephants, polar bears, and koalas (the largest collection outside of Australia) are just a few of the many animals that call the San Diego Zoo home. The exhibits are linked by an expansive series of trails such as the Monkey Trail, Hippo Trail or Tiger Trail. On these designated pathways, you'll come face to face with numerous exciting creatures including hippos in the Lost Forest, arctic foxes in the Northern Frontier, rhinos in the Urban Jungle or gators in the Wegeforth Bowl. You'll need plenty of energy – and a map – to see everything the zoo has to offer. Should your feet grow weary while exploring, the zoo offers a 35-minute guided bus tour of the park. There's also the Skyfari aerial tram that transports visitors from one end of the park to the other, offering a birds-eye-view of the exhibits below in between. In addition to plenty of animals to see, the zoo also hosts animal shows and animal encounter programs daily as well as 4-D movie theaters with educational films about the wildlife.
If you want more of the zoo, head about 32 miles north to the Safari Park in Escondido. Here you can view some of Africa's most beloved animals – including lions, elephants and cheetahs – roaming free (well, relatively). There's also meerkats, zebras, gorillas and bald eagles, to name a few. True to its name, the park offers a variety of different safaris, including a zipline safari and a caravan safari.
Travelers almost unanimously agree that the San Diego Zoo is the best zoo they have ever been to. Recent visitors to the park were impressed with the vast amount of animals to see, the various things to do and how close they were able to get to the animals. Many said with all that's available, a day wasn't enough to see everything – the park is really that big. Travelers say bring really good walking shoes, as the distance between some exhibits is as much of a 20 minute walk. Some recommended hopping on the Kangaroo bus (for an extra fee) that stops at four different places in the park or taking the Skyfari just for the views alone. Even though there is lots of walking involved, and some admitted admission is steep, visitors say the experience was more than worth it. The same sentiment is shared for the Safari Park. Visitors say it is an inconvenient trek, but the unique habitat created for the animals is very fascinating to see. Some travelers even went so far to say that it felt like they were on a real African safari.
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 pricey – $56 for adults ages 12 and older $46 and for kids ages 3 to 11 – especially for families. You don't need your own set of wheels to reach the zoo; the Rapid 215 and Route 7 (which stop at Broadway downtown) 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.
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#1 Balboa Park
Home to the renowned San Diego Zoo. this 1,200-acre park is the city's cultural hub. Located in downtown San Diego (about 2 miles north of the city center), Balboa Park is a great place for a stroll, bike ride or picnic. Wander around the park's many gardens while admiring the intricate Spanish-Renaissance architecture that permeates the grounds (the best examples are the California Building and the House of Hospitality). The Botanical Building is a great starting point in Balboa Park. The building is one of the most photographed places in Balboa Park and is one of the largest lath structures in the world. But don't just look at it. The famous botanical building features more than 2,100 permanent plants, including striking collections of tropical plants and orchids. The park also features a cactus garden, rose garden, a Japanese-style garden as well as a palm tree canyon, among many others.
But if you find yourself growing antsy just walking around and smelling the roses, there are plenty of attractions located here (many of them free). Take in a show at the Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre, visit the Spreckels Organ Pavilion to see one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs, or the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater if you got the kiddos in tow. Museums are just as aplenty, with enough to suit all types of interests. Art lovers will enjoy the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts and Mingei International Museum while science enthusiasts will enjoy the Fleet Science Center and the Museum of Man. If you're traveling as a family, take some time to check out the San Diego Air and Space Museum or the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the world's largest operating model railroad museum. There's also an automotive museum and the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum, dedicated entirely to San Diego's sports history.
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