The San Diego Zoo is an expansive wildlife sanctuary inside the boundary of Balboa Park. Spread across 100 acres, it's home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals and 700,000 plants. It was officially established in Balboa Park in 1921, after exotic animals from the Panama-California Exposition were left without a home. Today, it is privately run by the non-profit San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the largest zoological membership association in the world.

    With over 4 million visitors every year, the zoo is the most visited in the entire USA. It has a variety of bioclimatic zones, enclosures, and exhibitions. You can explore them in several ways, including on foot, bus, gondola lift and guided tours. Most people spend at least 3 to 4 hours inside the zoo, with it being one of the most popular attractions in the city for the whole family.

    San Diego Zoo - one of the highlights of 10 Things to Do With Your Family in San Diego and 10 Best Things to Do in California (Read all about San Diego here)

    photo by Jim1138 (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    What are the highlights of the San Diego Zoo?

    The San Diego Zoo is known for its variety of rare and endangered animals, including many successful breeding and conservation projects. The park is divided into different enclosures and sections. Some of the most popular of these include Africa Rocks, Australian Outback, Lost Forest and Elephant Odyssey. You can expect to see koalas, kangaroos, leopards, giraffes, mountain lions and Sumatran tigers among the 3,700 animals.

    In particular, the Australian Outback exhibition is one of the most well-known. The zoo received the first 2 koalas in the US, donated from Australia in 1925. It now has the largest colony of koalas and the most successful breeding programme outside Australia.

    There are several programmes that you can join at the San Diego Zoo. Special tours, such as animals in action and early morning experiences, as well as educational visits and field trips, are among its most popular offerings. A good way of exploring San Diego Zoo is by joining its 35-minute Guided Bus Tour, which provides an overview of the entire park.

    A brief history of San Diego Zoo

    The world-renowned San Diego Zoo has an interesting and long history. It began as an idea of physician Dr Harry Wegeforth, who discovered that a lion had been left behind from the exotic animal exhibition at the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. From this, Dr Harry formed the Zoological Society of San Diego along with his brother. They assumed responsibility for all the animals left from the exposition which included wolves, coyotes, bears, monkeys and lions.

    The city of San Diego formally granted Dr Harry land inside Balboa Park in 1921, who then began charging visitors 10 cents for admission from 1923. He appointed Belle Benchley the position of zoo director in 1925, a position which she filled until 1953. For most of that time, she was the only female zoo director in the world. The zoo has been one of the world's leaders in "cageless" exhibitions, with the first lion area without enclosed cages opening in 1922.

    Good to know about San Diego Zoo

    Walking is the main form of transport in the San Diego Zoo. There are many walking trails throughout the enclosures and maps provided at the entrance so you can plan your visit. Alternatively, the Express Bus stops at different parts of the zoo so you can reach certain areas quickly.

    There are plenty of services and amenities within the zoo boundary, including lockers, an ATM, restrooms, drinking fountains, cafes and restaurants, and souvenir shops. Free parking is available in front of the zoo and Balboa Park. Otherwise, the Rapid 215 and Route 7 have stops at the zoo, making it easy to reach from Downtown San Diego by public transport.

    San Diego Zoo

    Location: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 619-231-1515

    Elisha Donkin | Contributing Writer

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