Visitors’ Guide to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

Planning a visit to the San Diego Zoo? Excellent idea! Our zoo is one of the best reasons to visit San Diego, which is truly saying something — especially given the list of must-see attractions in the area. Since it’s one of the largest and best-rated zoos in the world, there’s simply no better place to observe incredible animals in a natural environment — all while enjoying our famously mild weather during your adventure. Here’s what you need to know about spending a leisurely day visiting your favorite animal friends at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

The Zoo’s History

The San Diego Zoo began as a way to house a collection of exotic animals that had been exhibited in the city during the 1915 Panama-California Exhibition. Famous local wildlife aficionado and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps (who was also instrumental in helping establish the La Jolla aquarium and research institute that also bears her name) donated some funds for early construction. It wasn’t long before the zoo began accumulating an impressive menagerie, largely housed in the “cageless” exhibits that soon became the standard for modern animal exhibits at many of the world’s zoos.


The Zoo Today

The 100-acre San Diego Zoo is justifiably regarded as one of the finest zoos in the country, and reigns as its most-visited. It’s home to more than 12,000 animals of more than 650 different species — including many that are threatened and endangered. The zoo’s exhibits (plus its conservation and education efforts), draw more than 3.2 million visitors every year. The zoo is also home to more than 700,000 unique plant species.


Interesting Experiences

The San Diego Zoo provides visitors with some truly outstanding ways to experience everything it has to offer. Of course, guests are always welcome to simply self-guide their way through the zoo, and check out anything that intrigues them. However, the zoo also makes discovery tours available (on both motorized carts and their Skyfari aerial tram), as well as special VIP experiences like their Crazy About Cats encounters, Animals in Action shows, and many more memorable adventures.


Themed Areas


The San Diego Zoo includes many different areas to explore, each with its own collection of awesome animals to see. The Africa Rocks area features species unique to the continent (such as lions, giraffes and rhinos), while the Lost Forest region is where guests will find the great apes, hippos and tigers. Head to the Northern Frontier to get an up-close look at the polar bears, while Elephant Odyssey features the world’s largest land mammals. There’s truly no end to the exploration!   


Make Time for a Break

While visiting the zoo, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There’s just so much to see and do! So if you want to really enjoy the full experience, you’ll want to make time to grab a bite to eat at one of the zoo’s many restaurants (everything from quick service to grab-and-go, to sit-down fine dining), as well as stop at any of the countless gift and souvenir shops located throughout the grounds — so you can commemorate your trip.  


San Diego Zoo Safari Park  

In addition, the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park is an 1,800-acre preserve that offers guests a chance to see wildlife in a habitat that’s very close to how these species would live in the wild. Located in nearby Escondido, the Safari Park is just a short trip away. Here, the zoo alliance conducts guided tours of the grounds, providing guests with an unparalleled look at countless animal species, as well as valuable information on conservation efforts. 


Getting There

(Photo: @rosen.omer)

The Dana on Mission Bay is a great place to stay when planning a trip to the San Diego Zoo. We’re just 8.5 miles away from the zoo’s Balboa Park location. Parking is available for free at a lot in front of the zoo, and there is also abundant free parking throughout adjacent lots all over the park.   


Stay With Us During Your Animal Adventure

Heading to San Diego to experience the animals? The Dana on Mission Bay is the place to stay. Our superb rates, deluxe accommodations and guest-friendly amenities are the best in the area. Take a look at our Special Offers page to select the travel package that’s right for you — including our “You Belong in the Zoo” offer that includes zoo admission for two adults, zoo transportation, and much more! Please check with the front desk at any time during your stay to purchase tickets.