The San Diego Zoo is one of the best zoos in the world. Many long-time San Diego residents visit on a regular basis. For those wanting a more in-depth experience, the Zoo offers a wealth of additional activities. This is our guide to San Diego Zoo Add-On Activities.
Upfront, I will say we have collectively visited the San Diego Zoo many times in its history and have never gone beyond the basic admission activities. There is plenty to see and do already included.
Be sure and read our guide to basic tickets first. As noted in that post, basic admission includes:
- Free parking
- General admission and shows
- Guided Bus Tour
- Kangaroo Bus Ride
- Skyfari Aerial Tram
Note the Skyfari and bus rides used to be add-on options. They are now included with basic admission. Most of the add-ons are in the mega=
-premium category and cost as much as, or more than basic zoo admission.
For people that really want to get into the San Diego Zoo, there are several premium experiences. We have never done any of these experiences. They sound like fun but are out of our price range. Note the prices listed are minimums. Prices can be higher on certain days and are also higher if not bought in advance.
Note all prices are in addition to basic admission. It is best to plan ahead and order tickets online. For many of the special add-on tours, you save up to $10 buying online versus buying at the zoo.
4D Theater ($6)
One add-on that is not too heavy on the budget is the 4D Theater. The 4D Theater is located across from the Polar Bear exhibit on the far end of the zoo where the Skyfari lets out. Programs rotate but have included films based on the animated Ice Age and Rio movies. The seats vibrate and you sometimes get squirted with water.
Inside Look Tours (starting at $109)
There are several Inside Look Tours to choose from. These 2-hour tours take you behind the scenes to places that are not normally accessible to visitors. You are in a small group and it is a chance to really get up close and learn about certain animals.
Currently, the tours include:
- Penguin & Friends
- Koala & Friends: YouTube Video Here
- Elephants & Friends
- Monkees & Friends
Inside Look: Surprise: This one includes a stop at two surprise animal exhibits and the giant panda exhibit
Discovery Cart Tours (starting at $54)
Basic admission includes the Guided Bus Tour and access to an express bus that takes you around the zoo. The Discovery Cart Tour is similar, but you basically get your own personal guide for an hour tour. The route goes to parts of the Zoo not seen on the Bus Tour.
Animals in Action Experience (starting at $109)
The Animals in Action Experience is a one hour tour that allows you to get up close with some of what the Zoo refers to as their animal ambassadors. You can touch, feed and even help train the animals. Which animals you interact with will vary depending on conditions.
Animals we have heard from visitors include a hedgehog, anteater, leopard, rhino, cheetah, flamingos, zebra, sloth and more. You can see a YouTube video of the experience here.
Early Morning with Pandas (starting at $109)
Early Morning with Pandas is a 2-hour tour before the zoo opens. Of course, you get to go behind the scenes with the panda. It also includes a cart tour around other parts of the zoo.
Crazy About Cats (starting at $109)
Crazy About Cats is an early morning behind the scenes tour focused on cats. The tour starts before the zoo opens when the cats are at their most active. Animals will vary but are likely to include jaguar, lion, tiger, mountain lion, fishing cat, leopard, ocelot, or serval. One visitor described getting to watch a mountain lion eat a dead rabbit!
Sunrise Surprise Stroll ($29, ages 12 and older)
Sunrise Surprise Stroll tour is only offered on select weekend dates. It is a 90-minute walking tour before the zoo opens. This is a time when animals are at their most active. It includes muffins and coffee.
Exclusive VIP Experience (starting at $690)
The Exclusive VIP Experience is a 5-hour (or 8-hour) tour that you customize. You get your own personal tour guide and plan in advance what you would like to do. Reservations must be made 72 hours ahead. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has a similar experience.
Keeper for a Day ($850, ages 12 and older)
The most premium experience is getting to shadow a zookeeper from 7:30 AM to 12:30 PM as a Keeper for a Day. This could include feeding animals and cleaning exhibits. This tour is offered on Saturdays for giraffes and Sundays for koalas. You need to reserve at least 72 hours ahead.
For more information on the basic attractions at the San Diego Zoo and tour guides go here.