Open every day of the year and through rain or shine, the San Diego Zoo is a 100-acre wildlife park and popular attraction in Balboa Park. You can visit to see over 12,000 endangered and rare animals of over 650 species and subspecies. The zoo also offers educational experiences and guided bus tours for exploring the park.
As a must-visit attraction in downtown San Diego, you’ll want to make sure you are prepared to have an amazing time there. This San Diego Zoo visitors guide covers all you need to know, from visitor tips and zoo rules to their policies around cameras, bags, and food.
San Diego Zoo Rules
You will be expected to follow plenty of rules during your trip on top of the policies later detailed in this article. Here are the important ones to take note of:
- You cant bring any drones, remote-controlled toys, frisbees, balls, or skipping ropes.
- Smoking, including vapes and e-cigarettes, is not allowed on the zoo grounds or in Balboa Park.
- Pets, emotional support animals, and comfort animals are not allowed at the zoo. They also don’t have kennels available.
- No cremated remains are allowed in the zoo.
Make sure to get your hands stamped at the exit if you need to leave the zoo for any reason, including for a quick smoke. Same-day re-entry is allowed through the main turnstiles when you show your hand stamp and ticket.
San Diego Zoo Food Policy
You are allowed to bring single-person food into the park in small containers. The food should also be pre-prepared and not likely to disturb the animals or other guests when eaten. This includes glass containers that can be hazardous if they break. There will be no facilities for storing food, so don’t bring more than what you plan to eat.
Items you are not allowed to bring into the zoo include:
- Party trays
- Birthday cakes or decorations
If you prefer to eat there, the San Diego Zoo has food you can purchase, ranging from quick bites and beer stands to casual or restaurant dining. You can find a list of the zoo’s available food options here.
San Diego Zoo Camera Policy
You are encouraged to bring your camera and capture amazing photos during your visit. Camera accessories, monopods, or tripods are also allowed if they are collapsible or small enough to fit into the allowable standard-sized backpack. Drones are not allowed.
While recreational photos are allowed, if you are a professional photographer or videographer planning to use your images commercially, you will need prior permission from San Diego Global representatives. You can contact them here for permission.
San Diego Zoo Bag Policy
The San Diego Zoo allows you to bring in small backpacks and bags. However, you are not allowed to bring coolers or glass containers. Since the experience involves a lot of walking around, it’s probably best to travel light during your visit and safely store your bags at a secure luggage storage facility.
San Diego Zoo Luggage Storage
There are self-service lockers available at Front Street, but they are more suitable for small valuables. For pieces of luggage that don’t fit in the lockers, you can store them with the San Diego Zoo at $5 per small luggage and $15 per large luggage.
If you want a bag storage option that is budget-friendly and more secure, check out one of Stasher’s luggage storage options in the area. From $6 per bag per day, you can store luggage with no height or weight restrictions. Stasher also lets you make online bookings in advance so you can rest assured there will be a place for your luggage and you won’t have to compete with the crowds at Balboa Park.
San Diego Zoo Transportation
If you plan to drive, the parking lot in front of the San Diego Zoo offers free parking and is shared by visitors of Balboa Park. However, this parking lot can easily get full during peak attendance days, so you’ll want to try different locations nearby, such as Inspiration Point.
The Amtrak railway travels along the coast between Los Angeles and downtown San Diego. If you don’t want to get a taxi to Balboa Park from the amtrak station or airport, you can use bus numbers 120, 215, and 7 that have routes passing Balboa Park. Once you’re at Balboa Park they have a tram service that can take you around, including to the San Diego Zoo.
Do note that if you are visiting the zoo’s Safari Park, it is around a 40-minute drive northeast of the San Diego Zoo. There will be a parking fee of $15 per vehicle and $20 per RV at the Safari Park. You can find more information on visiting the Safari Park here.
San Diego Zoo Visitor Tips
Last but not least, here are 3 tips when visiting the zoo to help your experience be a memorable and enjoyable one.
1. Arrive Early
During peak hours in the middle of the day, the bus tour lines and dining options are generally packed. By arriving early, you can beat the crowds and explore the zoo when it’s not too hot out. You can find zoo hours for the day you plan to visit here.
It’s also best to arrive early if you need to rent a stroller during your visit. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll want to get there and secure one before the crowds.
2. Plan Enough Time to Explore
It is recommended you plan a visit time of at least 3 to 4 hours, so you can see all the animals and take in the various experiences available at the zoo. Make sure to wear walking shoes, since you’ll be on the move a lot.
Paper maps aren’t always available at the zoo. Instead, you can download the San Diego Zoo app that includes a map and other helpful information as you explore. Sometimes habitats, tours, services, or entertainment change or close due to various reasons, so make sure to check the daily listing of changes or closures at the main entrance upon arrival.
3. Make Some Reservations
In addition to general admissions, you can purchase reservations for special experiences during your visit. These include:
- Going behind the scenes
- A zoo tour in a VIP cart
- Watching animal ambassadors and trainers
- Being a zookeeper for the day
While you don’t need a reservation at the zoo’s restaurants you might want to make one. Especially during weekend brunches, holiday dining specials, or other busy days. Securing a table at Albert’s for their open-air patio seating is worth it to take in the waterfall sights while you dine.
Also, make a bag storage reservation online through Stasher to ensure you can enjoy the San Diego Zoo without any baggage holding you back.