San Diego has two world-class zoos. The San Diego Zoo is in Balboa Park right by downtown and the airport. Meanwhile, the much larger San Diego Zoo Safari Park is about 45 minutes to the north. This is our guide to San Diego Zoo Tickets.
The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park, right by downtown and the airport. The Zoological Society was founded in 1916 by Harry Wegeforth. The Zoo opened with leftover animal exhibits from the Panama-California exposition which was held the previous year. It moved a short distance to its current home in 1921.
The San Diego Zoo is considered one of the best in the world. I first went to the Zoo in 1976 and have been coming on a regular basis since I moved to San Diego in 1991. It is safe to say that in that time period the Zoo has undergone a complete overhaul. This is a place that is constantly improving as it ages.
The San Diego Zoological Society opened the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1972. The name was changed to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2010. The original idea was to use the park as a breeding and conservation facility. Now it has become a major attraction in its own right. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located about 35 miles north of the Zoo near Escondido.
For many tourists, there is the issue of which zoo to visit. We have a complete guide to both attractions and an article discussing which park may be better suited for a given audience. However, in general, we recommend the San Diego Zoo for first-time visitors. This is not only because the Zoo is more convenient, but also because it has more diversity of animals.
Buying tickets for the San Diego Zoo can be confusing. There are several add-on options and the choices can be overwhelming. This article focuses primarily on how to get the best ticket option for your situation.
The basic price is $54 for anyone over the age of 12. Ages 3 to 11 cost $44. For $86.40 for adults ($76.40 children 11 and under) you can visit both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park once (or visit one of them twice). There is also a $149 ($139 children) pass that also allows you to visit Sea World.
The good news about the basic ticket is it now includes the Guided Bus Tour, the on-and-off Express Bus and the Skyfari. Previously these were add-on options. You should never have to pay full sticker price to the Safari Park.
The San Diego Zoo is one of San Diego’s major attractions. However, being in Balboa Park you can also visit the many museums with walking distance. If you are in San Diego for 3 or more days you should consider a Go San Diego Card. This includes admission to the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Safari Park, all the museums in Balboa Park, plus many more attractions.
The Go San Diego Card allows visitors access to up to 40 attractions for either 1,2,3,5 or 7 days. This is not a cheap option and we generally recommend it for 3 days or more where it is $209 adults/$189 children age 3 to 12. A 7-day pass is a very good value at $299/$269. The 3-day or more passes also includes admission to the very big attractions like the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, Belmont Park, SeaWorld, and Legoland.
If you are in San Diego for only a day or two you can still use the San Diego Go Card. This is through the Build Your Own San Diego attraction pass option. If you add two or more attraction you automatically get a 20% discount. We use this option frequently for many San Diego attractions, especially when we have out-of-town guests. Note, because of the built-in discount for visiting both parks, this option is better used when visiting other San Diego attractions such as the museums in Balboa Park or Legoland.
If you live in San Diego, you should definitely invest in an annual pass. An annual pass for 2 adults in the same household is $166.50. Children age 3 to 17 are only $54. The catch? You need to live in a Southern California zip code.
If you plan ahead and shop around you can usually find online discounts for $5 to $15. This is especially true in the off-season. Groupon has had offers for $40, but they are not valid during the holidays.
Unlike the Safari Park, parking is free at the San Diego Zoo. There is a large parking lot and usually, there is plenty of parking except mid-day during holidays or on weekends.
Our first recommendation is to buy your tickets online (hopefully for a discount). The line to buy tickets can often be quite long. Buying online allows you to go right in. For many of the special add-on tours, you save up to $10 buying online versus buying at the zoo.
In another post, we look at all the add-on options for the San Diego Zoo. Our recommendation for first-time visitors is simple. Stick with basic admission. Safe extra tours for repeat visits.
Until a few year5s ago, the Skyride, Bus Tour and Kangaroo shuttle bus were add-on options. They are now included in the basic price. This makes visiting the zoo less complicated, even though overall prices have naturally increased.
The one activity that you may want to consider is the 4D Theater. This is only $6. The other activities are generally major purchase decisions. Another lower cost activity is the Sunrise Surprise Stroll. However, this is only on certain weekends for those age 12 and older.
For more information on the basic attractions at the San Diego Zoo go here.