The San Diego Zoo: More Than a Zoo

Growing up in San Diego, California, and not visiting the San Diego Zoo (at least once) is like your family owning an ice cream shop and never enjoying a scoop of the sweet stuff yourself. My own memories and impressions of the zoo span over decades of countless field trips with my school, plus visits with my family during school holidays. I have never, however, regarded my city's zoo as more than an aesthetic display of wildlife until now.

Perhaps I was always too distracted by the petting corral or seeing the polar bears (San Diego's year-round pleasant climate is comparable to an arctic summer) to recognize that the San Diego Zoo prides itself on being more than just a zoo. After paying careful attention during the guided bus tour around the park, I learned that what makes this zoo so aesthetically pleasing is that it is also an accredited botanical garden, with some 700,000 different plants. You'll even find rare and endangered plant species thriving at this zoo. In fact, the San Diego Zoo has its own institute for animal and plant conservation research.

Although the zoo emphasizes its "conservation first" philosophy, that's not what lured me back for my most recent visit. What I wanted to see was the new elephant encounter, Elephant Odyssey, I had read about in my airline's in-flight magazine. I was thoroughly impressed with the exhibit, which includes various animal habitats as well as a care center and educational presentations. Not only is the elephant enclosure much larger, allowing the massive animals more room to roam, the exhibit also highlights the history of ancient animals of the Southern California area.

Docents present the skulls of an extinct bear species next to that of a modern bear to show us the drastic difference in size. Life sized replicas of a saber tooth cat, a ground sloth, and the mammoths help us imagine these animals roaming around San Diego 12,000 years ago. Surprisingly, many of the species presented in the exhibit have stood the test of time or have descendants still thriving in other parts of the world.

I'm glad I wasn't living here 12,000 years ago - I would not want to be sharing a habitat with some of these creatures!
Meet Ranchipur, who came from San Diego's Wild Animal Park. Part of his tusks had to be chopped off so he could fit in the transportation crate.
Here, one of the elephants gets a mani-pedi.
The elephants share their exhibit with other animals such as the jaguar (pictured), condors, and even dung beetles!

With or without the new exhibit, the San Diego Zoo attracts me time and again with old favorites like the flamingos, the big cats, and the monkeys. Unfortunately, even after five hours at the park, I missed the koalas and a new joey. There's just so much to explore!

Oh, the flamingos and their wacky stances...
The tigers were quite active and playful during our visit - lucky us!

If you're planning a visit, be sure to start early and wear comfy shoes. Also, don't overlook the tortoises from the Galápagos Islands - some are over 100 years old!

For your Rolodex:
The San Diego Zoo * 2920 Zoo Drive in Balboa Park * San Diego, CA * (619) 231-1515


  1. LOVE the mani/pedi shot - that is so classic ! ha ha! this brought back such fun memories of my family visit to the san diego zoo when i was little. i remember us all being totally impressed. thanks for the post and all the great info too!

    oh, i also love your analogy about growing up in san diego and not going to the zoo -- likening that to your family having an ice cream shop and never even having a scoop. well said ! :)

  2. How timely, I was about to create a post on people's views on Zoos. Not now, but some time in the future.

    I was always, always, ALWAYS sceptical about zoos, until I went (kind of have been dragged there) to S.D. Zoo. My mind changed.

  3. Kerrin - Thanks, chica! And you're very welcome. I'm glad you were so impressed by MY zoo (yes, it's mine).

    Juanita - I'm still skeptical of MANY zoos. Even when I visit the San Diego Zoo, I feel for the animals all cooped up like that. BUT, the SD zoo does contribute so much by way of conservation research that I feel they more than make up for what may seem like small enclosures. Zookeepers in SD take very good care of their animals and provide them with what they call "enrichment activities" to keep them occupied.

    Don't get me started on circuses...

  4. I miss the zoo!!! Did you ride the telecabins? That's my favorite part there!


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