For my nephew’s 4th birthday we had planned to go to Disneyland (go figure) but with the park closed and not opening any time soon we looked for an alternative and settled on heading south to San Diego for the Zoo and Safari Park. I had not visited the San Diego Zoo in decades (I believe my last visit was in the late 80s). All I remembered was a lot of hill and the bus that takes you around. The San Diego Zoo features over 12,000 animals representing 650 species and subspecies. The Zoo is also an accredited botanical garden with over 700,000 individual plants (13,000 specimens, 3,100 species).
Due to covid 19 the zoo is operating with reduced capacity and all the shows, demonstrations and bus tours are not operating. Also there are some buildings closed. Shops, dining, and exhibit areas are operating with reduced capacity to allow for social distancing. Before you approach the zoo in the parking lot is a large queue and health screening where your party is asked a series of questions such as has anyone had any symptoms, been exposed/around someone with covid-19, and do you agree to wear a mask the entire time you are on zoo property except when eating.
We found a vast majority of people were following the rules when it came to wearing masks. Some I noticed were even following the concept of removing it, taking a sip of coffee or snack then putting it back on right away. The concept of 6 ft separation seemed to be more of a problem for people to do. Even with markers on the ground it did not work out right. There were groups right on top of each and others 10 feet apart. In the zoo as you walked around this was a big challenge with quite a few walkways too narrow for two way traffic and six feet. In some areas with the animals this was also challenging given the size of the enclosure and viewing angles available. Most people tried but some did not see to care and just pushed their way through as they normally would. I noticed zoo staff ask a couple guests but overall not a lot of enforcement going on either. In the dining areas I saw people coming around and wiping things down but I really did not notice that anywhere else in the park. There was plenty of hand sanitizer and hand wash stations as you walked around. Due to reduced capacity in the restrooms those lines were among the longest I saw. Also with the limitations on guests in the stores and dining locations to order there were long lines.
We were expecting a capacity crowd choosing to go on a Sunday with mild weather. Adding to this the month of October kids get in free with a paid adult.
Parking was really straight forward, there is no cost to park at the San Diego Zoo because it is part of Balboa Park. My GPS took us what seemed to be a round about way into the parking lot but there were no delays so that was good. The parking was a free for all and the aisles and spaces felt really narrow given all the large cars and people.
We arrived about 30 minutes prior to the posted opening time and it too us about an hour wait to get into the zoo. Later in the day they were say 2-3 hour waits. This was our longest wait of the day. I thought the screening was a little on the weak side, but it did work to space out the crowd. Not sure if someone was not feeling well or was around someone infected recently the yes/no questions would work to get them to change their mind and go home after traveling there and waiting to get to the screening tent.
Once through the health screening the ticket line and entry lines were straight walk through. As we navigated the park we really did not encounter any waits all day. We skipped the Skyfari Aerial Tram due to the stroller restriction and us not wanting to have to deal with circling back or being forced to re-ride to go get them.
My main goal this visit was to see the zoo and not run my group into the ground with the hills and distance. We had eight people in our party, three of which are grandparents and then two kids. We ended up logging over 7 miles as a group (I did just over 8.3 ). The San Diego Zoo is built on a series of hills. I figured out a plan that involved going in circles around the park and utilizing the elevator and bridge so we would be doing most of our touring walking down hill. This worked out really well as everyone survived and was able to go another nearly 7 miles at the Safari park the next day.
We choose to eat lunch early to try and avoid the crowds. We had no problem finding a set of tables on the far side, in the shade, away from most groups. The line to get food was only a couple groups ahead of ours but the process was so inefficient it too over 20 minutes to get some fast food. By the time we were eating the line had grown and stretched down the walkway. Meal prices were average theme park, beverages seemed slightly higher and you only received a very tiny cup when asking for ice or ice water.
Anyone have any questions? Any aspects of the trip, the zoo, etc.. that you are interested in learning more about. Drop me a comment below, email, tweet, etc.. and I am more than happy to share my two cents and what I observed.
Trip Log: (8.3 miles – 18,264 steps)
We left our hotel around 8am and arrived at Balboa Park area just before 8:30. Found our way into the Zoo parking lot and a space around 8:30 then unpacked and headed for the queue for the health screening. The begging of the queue was just starting to move so our timing was good. We were through the health screening and in line for tickets at 9:30 and inside the Zoo shortly after that. Upon entering we took a right on Front Street and followed it around to Center Street and took a left down the hill to see some of the bears and snow leopard. The trail ended with Colobus Monkeys. We took a right on Parkway and then boarded an elevator up to the Bashor Bridge. Crossed the bridge and took a left onto Park Way stopping to look at the Mountain Lion and a couple other animals before passing the Skyfari which was not running yet. Spotted some more familiar animals from Disney’s Animal Kingdom before reaching the Northern Frontier and the Polar Bear Plunge. After seeing the bears we returned to Park Way and continued around counter clockwise. Took the upper path through Eagle Trail then passed through the Panda Trek. Arrived back at the elevators to the Bashor Bridge. This time took a right at the end of the walkway heading toward the Elephant Odyssey. Stopped for an early lunch at the Sabertooth Grill to avoid the crowd. Then continued through the Elephant Odyssey. Continued around clockwise and back down the hill through the Africa Rocks area. Once we reached the bottom of the hill with the Penguins we took Park Way back to the elevator and once again took it to the top but this time instead of going across the bridge we headed for the Monkey Trail. Took the Monkey Trail to the Tiger Trail then the Hippo trail. Completed the loop arriving back on Park Way. Returned to the elevator and again turned to the left at the top, this time veering to the left and taking Tree Tops Way back up to Front Street. At this point half the group found a bench to relax on and the rest of us took Front Street around to the Outback and Urban Jungle areas to check out that loop before returning to the group and calling it a day. We all walked to the exit then out to the parking lot to find the car and head back to the hotel.
Here are some cell phone pictures from my visit to the San Diego Zoo on Sunday October 18, 2020 –
I am not a huge zoo person. I do really enjoy Disney’s Animal Kingdom so that has always been a bit of a contradiction though. As I walked around there were a lot of varieties of animals and some enclosures were very well themed but it still did not engage me that much. I had a similar feeling a few years ago at the National Zoo in Washington DC. Where as Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the San Diego Safari Park I enjoyed more. As I mentioned in the introduction it had been decades since I last visited and unless the nephews really really want to go it most likely will be decades before I visit again.
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