San Diego Zoo:
A Photo Diary

      I've been to the zoo many times and all I've got to say is this: it's big and you walk a lot. Make efficient use of your time by realizing that not all exhibits are created equal. Some are must-see while others are what I call "ehck". Take what you like, leave the rest - enjoy!

giant pandas at the San Diego zoo
  Photo: Panda bears are often sleeping but on occasion, you can see them eating or walking around.

      People from all over the world come to see the Panda bears at the San Diego Zoo (Panda Canyon on this map). They are on the endangered list and are certainly rare creatures. It is best to see the giant pandas early in the day before the line-up starts. I usually make it my first stop as I enter the zoo at 9 am.

      Here's the scoop: You need to line up to see the Panda bears. You need to be quiet when you pass through their enclosure. You cannot stand around and watch them for hours on end, the line keeps moving and you need to move along too. The Panda bears are often sleeping, so you can see their shape and coloration, but they are not usually tromping around like lovable cubs. Sometimes they are eating bamboo and that is quite fun to watch and they are like lovable cubs (giant cubs, that is)!

      Like movie stars, the Pandas need quiet, private time: the Panda exhibit is closed during parts of the day so the Pandas can rest (they seem to be sleeping a lot anyway; it is not clear why they need more rest). Ask at the entrance when the Pandas take their break and plan your day accordingly.

House of Reptiles at San Diego zoo
  Photo: tortoises, albino Burmese python, green tree python.

      For those who enjoy snakes, alligators, lizards, iguanas, and frogs, the House of Reptiles is a must-see (bottom left on map). Even if you are not particularly fond of reptiles, this exhibit is still a must-see. First, most of the displays are indoors. So when the summer sun is unbearable, duck into the House of Reptiles and imagine yourself crawling into a dungeon. You walk along the perimeter of the rectangular building and peak into the glass window displays towards the center of the building. The reptiles are camouflaged among their habitats so finding them becomes a game of hide and seek. Two highlights include a kimono dragon and the albino Burmese python - oh and the freaky green tree pythons that drape themselves on the branches like droopy cinnamon rolls.

Kimono dragon at San Diego zoo   Photo: Kimono dragon

Children's Zoo in San Diego
  Photo: petting zoo, mouse house made of bread, "Look ma, I'm a bee!" play structure.

      On the far southeast corner of the zoo (go left after entering zoo), there is a small petting zoo where children can pet horses, goats, sheep, pigs and similar animals. The petting pen is an enclosed area, so the kids (your children and goat "kids") can't run away. Noteworthy is the mouse house where mice live in a freshly baked loaf of bread. The ornamental chickens are interesting: feathery and ornate. As well, there is a glass bee hive: can you find the Queen among the drones? I've seen chicks hatch under a heat lamp, though exhibits change and you never know what you will get. This area may not be interesting for adults, but kids have a blast because it is speckled with hands-on play structures.

San Diego zoo sculptures

    Photo: sculptures of a giant turtle, a polar bear, a gorilla, and a lizard bench.

        While I'm on the topic of kids, keep a look out for sculptures and structures that kids can climb into, on, and around. They are scattered throughout the zoo and your child will be delighted to discover one when they are tired of pounding the pavement from exhibit to exhibit. They're great photo opportunities too.

polar bears at the San Diego zoo
  Photo: Polar bears having a grand ol' time. Center Photo by David Filiatrault

      At the far west side of the zoo (furthest from the main entrance), you will find the polar bears (top of this map). These characters are a must-see: they are big, white, and playful. Don't be fooled though, I bet they are pretty fierce too. About 8 out of 10 times that I have seen the polar bears, they have been active: playing, swimming, splashing, grappling one another, and generally having a grand ol' time. When you see them in this manner, you can't help but smile at their antics. They tend to be sedentary when it's hot (not surprising - they normally live in the arctic, after all). Come to think of it, I too tend to be sedentary when it's hot and I'm from San Diego!

Skyfari gondola ride at San Diego zoo
  Photo: Skyfari gondola ride & views from above (Wegeforth Bowl & Owens Rain Forest Aviary).

      You can explore the zoo casually and weave your way towards the polar bears. Or, take the Skyfari gondola across the park. I recommend this ride: it gives you a bird's eye view of the zoo, it's breezy and relaxing. Words of caution: hold onto your hats; don't jiggle the gondola; don't drop stuff on the people below; and, wish as you may, there is no snow in San Diego and this is not a ski lift. Costs $3 each direction (unless included in your admission ticket).

San Diego zoo sculptures

While you're up in this area of the woods, you should check out the Birds of Prey (top left on map). I'm not really a bird watcher, but these predators are quite majestic and will often strike a pose. They are easy to see because of their coloration and size, but they are hard to photograph. Many times, I have seen the birds perched with a rabbit in their claws - must have been feeding time. The path to see the birds of prey is a boardwalk, so it makes for a pleasant change from the usual concrete paved paths.

monkeys, apes, orangutans
Typically, I take the Skyfari westbound (towards the polar bears) and then walk back towards the exit of the zoo. If you walk down Panda Canyon, you can veer towards the gorillas, monkeys and apes (near Lost Forest on map). These primates are fun to watch. The orangutans and monkeys are active and verbose! They swing, they play, and sometimes they come right up to the glass window and look at you! The path that leads you through Gorilla Tropics, Absolutely Apes and Monkey Trails is pretty confusing so be sure to consult your map and read the signs posted.

Photo: Gorilla looks through the glass at the people on the other side. Bonobo fishing out termites (by Mike). Orangutan hanging in a net swing (by Nehrams2020).

San Diego zoo elephant Odyssey

The Elephant exhibit is quite good (Elephant Odyssey on right side of map). Unbelievably, the elephants are not the interesting part: it's everything else that is interesting. This strip of land is peppered with life-size models of prehistoric animals and mock excavation sites. Sure, there are elephants (and camels, turtles, cheetahs, llamas, tarantulas, snakes and the like) but it's the climb-on structures that the kids love. Hey, when the kids are happy, the parents are happy too, right?<

    Photo: life-size extinct animals and other hands-on displays at Elephant Odyssey.

San Diego zoo elephant Odyssey
      There's much to see at the San Diego zoo but it's just a matter of how much ground you can cover in one day. If you still have energy and time left, I recommend that you see the koala bears (bottom right on map). These characters are cute! Unfortunately, they rest for about 16 to 18 hours per day so most of the time, they will look like they are sleeping. On occasion, if you are lucky, you might see one who is awake and looking around. These creatures have the uncanny ability to wedge themselves at the crotch of trees and they balance like this seemingly forever. One year, an albino koala was born at the zoo and that drew quite a crowd.

San Diego zoo elephant Odyssey
By now you must be exhausted. Time to follow the sign and get something to eat. There are 8 or 9 eating establishments scattered through out the zoo. Most of them serve fast foods like hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches and such. My favorite eatery is Albert's Restaurant (see review). This is a full-service dining room with a indoor/outdoor seating and a waterfall - need I say more? On the other hand, if you have a bunch of kids in tow, maybe hot dogs is just perfect. Kids meals are served in buckets which can be kept as a souvenir or used later at the beach

dolphin show at SeaWorld   All rights reserved
Information is accurate at time of publication but can change without notice.