One of the earliest memories of my life is visiting the Zoo in Nürnberg, Germany, which is about a 45 minute drive from where I lived at the time. Observing and learning about animals quickly became my greatest interest, this passion lead to my frequent disappearing in the Bavarian forrest for hours at a time, seeking natural behaviors of the European wildlife, which ranged from rabbits, to wild boar and deer.
Although my interests shifted as I matured, as it does with most people, the desire to surround myself with, and observe animals never subsided. Today, about 22 years after that first defining trip to the zoo, I happen to live about 1.5 miles from one of the best zoos in the entire world; #3 according to escapehere.com. In fact, one of the first things I accomplished after moving to San Diego, was buying an annual membership to the zoo, and is still one of the best investments I’ve made…ever! In the last 13 months of living the flip-flop life, I can conservatively estimate my zoo visits at around 40-50, and I’m not ashamed of admitting it.
Although there are ethical issues that accompany most animal lovers when visiting any zoo, the San Diego Zoo’s globally unprecedented effort towards conservation and animal welfare, becomes very evident as you’re exploring the park, promptly extinguish any feelings of guilt or pity within even the most conservative animal rights activist.
Not only does the zoo house over 3,700 incredible animals, its 100-acre lot is composed of a botanical collection of over 700,000 exotic plants, that all contribute in creating a beautiful lush environment you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere outside of an actual tropical rainforest. Once you combine the vast vegetation with perfectly understated paths that lead to enclosures fit for landscape artist’s dreams, you will promptly realize that the San Diego Zoo is in a category entirely of its own.
- Bring water/food
It’s a gigantic park that will take you at least 4-6 hours to completely view. They don’t check your bags at the entrance, so don’t stress contemplating bringing anything.
- Take a systematic approach
Again, the zoo is gigantic and its sheer size can easily lead to your missing some of its treasures. It took me nearly 20 visits before I discovered every rewarding nook and cranny. I recommend separating the park into a left and right half and utilizing the skyfari as needed. (It’s free)
- Consider the time of day
As most of you know, animals vary in behavior and activity based on the time of day. If you’re lucky enough to be able to devote an entire day to the zoo, I’d recommend showing up first thing(9AM) in the morning, taking a break and refueling from the action around noon, and coming back in the evening to view the animals that are nocturnal in nature. During the summer the SD zoo operates on extended hours, giving visitors until 9pm with the animals.
- Bring sunscreen/hats/sunglasses
This one is self explanatory, you’ll need these doing most things in So-cal.
- Visit on weekdays
The common downside of visiting anything incredible within the U.S. is that there are just too many people! A great way to circumvent the massive crowds of strollers, toddlers and oblivious tourists is to visit Monday through Thursday. The only time I visit now is during the week, removing the crowds from your park experience really amplifies the incredible, meditative properties of natural emersion.
- Buy a membership
If you’re planning on visiting the Zoo more than once a year, or would like to check out the Safari Park as well, you’re best off investing in a membership. A basic membership equates to a little more than 2 one-day passes. Remember how many times I said I’ve been to the zoo? I’ll let you do the math.
- Talk to volunteers
Most of the major animal enclosures have assigned volunteers, who’s sole job is to answer your questions. This is a valuable resource I love taking advantage of, not only do the volunteers tell you all about a certain species, but they offer a wealth of knowledge about animals as individuals, conservation efforts, and insider information on zoo operations.