San Diego Zoo: A Rare Animal Paradise

The San Diego Zoo is the most-visited zoo in the United States. With over 100 acres, 3,700 animals, and unique open-air exhibits, it is easy to see why. Families could spend all day at the zoo and still not have time to see everything it has to offer.

Zoo History

The San Diego Zoo has its beginnings in the Panama-California Exposition. The exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and touted San Diego as a port of call for ships passing through the newly-opened canal. After the closure of the exposition, the city set aside land in Balboa Park to manage the exotic animals from the closed exhibitions.

Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth, founder of the Zoological Society of San Diego, used the zoo to pioneer more natural animal enclosures that replicate traditional habitats and reduce the amount of wired caging. Furthering this idea, the San Diego Zoo also believes in conservancy and actively works to preserve endangered species. Part of this work includes saving habitats so animals at risk can survive in their natural environs. Anyone can contribute and the zoo tells you specifically how your dollars can help.

As such, the zoo contains many rare and endangered species. It is one of the few zoos in the world to house giant pandas, and one of only four in the United States. The San Diego Zoo was also the site of the first American panda cubs to be born in captivity and survive into adulthood, a testament to the zoo’s focus on animal conservation.

Special Engagements

How many times have you had a play date with a tiger? The San Diego Zoo has "Play Days" with animals. Naturally, the danger is minimized, and not all animals can be petted, but some get up close and personal.

During the "Play Days", the zoo is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., so visitors have a better chance to get in on this opportunity. On selected days, the zoo opens at 8 a.m., so check times if you want to take advantage of the longer hours. Along with this feature, there are shows scheduled throughout the day beginning around 10:30 a.m., including a flight-training demonstration of various birds. These shows and demonstrations take place every day. Summer hours are extended: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.


The best deal the zoo offers is annual membership. There is unlimited free admission for a full year for adults and kids for a great price. Visitors 12 years and older can join for $98 per year and kids 3-11 for $47. A typical one-day pass for young children is $36 per day, and $46 for adults so an annual membership is a steal. This is a good way to support the zoo and have a memorable experience whenever the zoo is open. It's the best deal for families, too.

There are online discounts of $2 to $3 per person for kids and adults, but if you live in the San Diego area, annual memberships are by far the best deal. Out-of-towners might save a significant amount with an online source if there are several people going, but the price is not much different than at the gate. Some discount tickets specify arriving before a certain time, but visitors can stay until closing when they go in.

Last Updated: October 23, 2015