A local's guide to the San Diego Zoo
The weather was perfect here this past weekend and begged to be enjoyed. The best part of living here is those kind of days are more the norm than not and there are so many options to enjoy it. The beach, golfing, fishing a lake or beach, hiking in the mountains, Sea World, the Wild Animal Park, Torrey Pines Gliderport, strolling Balboa Park, Star of India / Midway; I wouldn’t know where to end this list. Being late June we also had the County Fair, with this weekends International Beer Fest, and the OB street fair to choose from. We settled on one of our favorites, the World Famous San Diego Zoo.
Yes, this is a beer blog. It’s also a blog geared toward helping our guest get the most out of their time here while enjoying some of San Diego’s finest craft beers. My hope is that this post will accomplish both. If you’re visiting, the San DiegoZoo is a must and you don’t have to give up your craft beer.
The biggest recommendation I can give you is to visit the zoo as late in the day as possible. During the summer and certain holidays the zoo has extended hours; right now it’s open until 9pm. Most of the animals are either nocturnal or get more active in the evening as feeding time approaches. We’ve always had our most interesting zoo experiences at night. The added benefit of going to “night zoo” is that most of the tourist and families arrive earlier in the day and spend a lot of time looking for parking far away. When you arrive after 4pm or so you’ll find those people leaving and normally get parking fairly easily and close. We got there at 5 Saturday and parked in the 1st aisle near the entrance.
You’ll find that most of the larger concessions carry at least some local beer offering, available in a plastic cup for enjoyment as you wander the beautiful zoo property. There are open tour buses to help you fit the whole zoo experience into your limited time, but we prefer to pick a route through the park knowing we will only see a portion of the animals; one of the benefits of having season tickets and living nearby I guess.
Our plan Saturday was to work our way down to Albert’s, a fairly nice “tree-house” restaurant in the park, have dinner, and work our way back.
The band that plays at the parks entrance had attracted quite a crowd when we arrived. We watched for a song or two then headed over to the “Urban Jungle” area to check in on the Rhino’s and Giraffe’s. We found two rhinos playing a game of “who’s got the toughest horn”. We also found that the Zoo has added a new attraction where you can feed the giraffes. Unfortunately tickets go on sale at 11am and may be sold out by the time you get there if you took my advice to arrive later in the day.
From the Urban Jungle we cut back through “Center Street”, past all the sleeping bears, and finally down to the recently redesigned Panda exhibit. The pandas have always attracted a lot of attention and there can be long lines (again, not so much if you come in the evening as everybody else is leaving). They have helped mitigate that problem by redesigning the exhibit so that most of the line is inside and there are other animals to see and learn about as you are waiting to get to the pandas.
From the pandas we made the short walk down Park Way to one of my favorite exhibits in the whole zoo, the Monkey & Otter park near map location 14. It can be hit or miss and the whole area depends on the otters. If the otters are out and playing they will brighten your whole day. They are so fun and playful in the water, a real treat to watch. The monkeys in here are pretty fun to watch as well.
Pretty amazing evening at the zoo so far.
It got even better. We meandered up to the Hippo pool and found mama and baby (not so little anymore) playing games and gracefully swimming around. Yes, graceful, in the water anyway. The hippo pool is set up so there is a huge glass wall allowing you to see both above and below the water. If the hippos are in the water when you visit you are in for a treat. My camera didn’t get a quality picture, but these two were swimming laps and, occasionally, mama would have to help get baby to the surface for air. They did quite a bit of crashing into each other too, which looked like big fun.
Finally we made it to Albert’s. I was starving.
Albert’s is named after one of the Zoo’s most famous residents, a Silverback Gorilla who moved to the zoo as a baby in 1949 and was the-big-man-on-campus, delighting visitors and throwing poop at them (as i recall) until he quietly passed in 1978.
Albert’s is actually a very nice restaurant. In addition to a great menu, they keep on hand a fairly impressive beer, wine and cocktail list.
The beer list offered many nice options, including a couple WBC Gold Medal Winners. I settled for the “Big Eye” IPA from local brewer Ballast Point.
For dinner my wife had the Caesar Salas with Shrimp and I had the “Catch of the Day,” pan fried Barramundi with veggies and mashed potatoes. it was fantastic actually.
After dinner we took the elevator to the top of the tree-house and followed the trail to see the gorillas. The leader, A silverback named Frank, normally looks over his troop with his back to the glass. This day he seamed more interested in keeping an eye on his visitors.
The gorillas are normally a sure fire-hit as they are usually out and drawing a crowd by doing fun and interesting things.
From there we were a short stroll back to the parks entrance and the iconic flamencos. The flamencos don’t appear too interesting at first glance, but if you spend a little time watching yo will find a whole lot going on to keep your attention. They are some pretty funny birds.
We were now at the parks entrance and main drag where we found a small parade forming. I don’t know if the parade is new, or if we have just missed it all these years, but it was a lot of fun. A must if you’re bringing the kiddos.
I wanted to go to the Discovery Outpost section of the zoo that is near the entrance to see one of my favorites, the Giant Tortoises, but found it closed for construction. It was about 8:30, but the “Zoofari” sky trams were still running. We stood in line and caught one down, taking in the beauty of the zoo, Balboa Park, and downtown all lit up. Unfortunately my camera couldn’t get a picture to do it justice.
At the bottom we found a long line to catch the tram heading back up, so we decided to walk back. The Koala exhibit is currently being remodeled and the koalas are temporarily by the lower Skyfari station. Surprisingly they were still out and active.
Lucky for us an Express Bus stopped by us and we hopped on for a ride back to the park entrance.
On the way home we stopped by Lappert’s for ice cream and talked about the great evening in the zoo and all the amazing things we got to see. God I love this city.
More pictures we took. The 1st two are a sketch of our path through the zoo Saturday and a recommended path for visitors who might want to see more, including the “Don’t Miss” Elephant Odyssey. I think this would be a reasonable tour to do in 4 or 5 hours. Taking advantage of the tour buses is another great way to explore the park and the bus drivers are full of information about the park, the animals, and the vegetation.
Now, more from our day.
We didn’t spend a lot of time on it this day, but the San Diego Zoo is actually home to more varieties of plant life than animals. It really is a breathtaking park.
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