There are several amazing zoos and animals facilities within San Diego that should be explored by both local families and tourists. As home to world-renowned zoos and conservation projects, San Diego is a great location for animal lovers, and it can be a fun way to educate your kids on the environment, nature, and the changing habitats across the world.
Families of all ages can appreciate a day trip to the zoo, and it is something even adults will get joy from. Being able to see and interact with incredible creatures from across the world makes for an unforgettable experience and one that will bring joy to your children for years to come.
If you are from San Diego or are visiting the state for a vacation, the zoos in this guide should be on your list of things to check out. They can be a great way to spend an afternoon or an excuse to travel out of state and see something new, depending on your location.
These top zoos in San Diego are ones that you should check out regardless of how big your budget is or the age of your kids, as there is something for everyone across the area.
11 of the Best Zoos in San Diego, California
San Diego Zoo, San Diego
The San Diego Zoo is a 100-acre wildlife park and home to over 12,000 rare and endangered animals, representing more than 650 species and subspecies. Located just north of downtown San Diego in Balboa Park, the Zoo is also an accredited botanical garden, caring for more than 700,000 individual plants, including a prominent curated assemblage of close to 13,000 specimens, representing 3,100 species.
Guests are invited to take part in exciting educational experiences and create lasting memories, while supporting San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation efforts worldwide.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Escondido
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, an 1,800-acre wildlife park, is home to more than 3,600 animals representing over 300 species. Located in Escondido, California, the Safari Park welcomes more than 1.5 million guests each year to see animals in herds of mixed species, in expansive savanna habitats. Since it is mostly outdoors, you will need to bring sunscreen with you and wear a hat year.
EcoVivarium Reptile Zoo, Escondido
If you’re an adventurer and one who fancies wildlife, then there’s a place for you to visit in Escondido, California. Perhaps you’ve already been to the San Diego Zoo or Los Angeles Zoo, and now you’re itching for something new. You’ve witnessed an incredible array of creatures both by land, air and sea. However, in most cases, you had to witness these beautiful creatures from afar.
But, what if you could change that, and actually see some of these amazing creatures uncaged, where the animals can crawl and wrap themselves around you? Well, now you can at EcoVivarium!
EcoVivarium Living Museum was started five years ago with a vision to educate the public about the importance of reptiles, amphibians and arthropods. This magnificent organization has in many cases rescued at risk animals that were either not cared for properly, were abused or even at the point of death.
Ecovivariums animal population receives dozens of hours of training so that they can be handled by anyone in a safe environment. All of the reptiles are trained for human contact and quite docile, even friendly!
The Oasis Camel Dairy, Ramona
When think you of dairy products, where do you imagine they come from? Cows. Sheeps. Sometimes even goats. But did you know that camels also produce milk? It is a strange concept, but true!
The Oasis Camel Dairy was established over twenty years ago by owners, Gil and Nancy Riegler, as America’s first camel dairy. The Rieglersraise and care over 26 one-hump camels, otherwise know as the Dromedary, on their farm amongst the rolling hills in Ramona, California
Listen to a talk about the animals and receive a group tour of the Oasis Camel Dairy with advance reservations. After the presentation, you get to visit with the camels and feed them some apple treats on a stick. Camel rides are also available for an extra fee.
Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary was originally established in 1981 as a boarding and breeding facility by Dr. Robert Stonebreaker. However, after sometime Dr. Stonebreaker noticed that some of his clients were unable to care for the birds and brought them back to him. Hence, Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary eventually evolved into a one of a kind exotic bird sanctuary in San Diego where birds and people interact together.
Over the years, many birds have come to Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary and have been given a second chance to find a new life and special home. For a small additional fee, visitors are welcome to feed the parrots. Each bird has their personal preference in regards to what they like to eat. Some like tropical fruit, while others prefer vegetables such as brocoli.
Nurtured by Nature, Valley Centre
Swimming with dolphins or feeding a giraffe can be done almost anywhere. But there are only a handful of places across the United States where you can swim with otters.
If you are wondering “Where can I Swim with otters in California?” then head to Valley Centre to Nurtured by Nature. This nonprofit organization and wildlife reserve is a special place that allows you a once in a lifetime opportunity to interact with animals in many ways: you can feed them, cuddle, and play with them. The reserve’s main attraction is the opportunity to go swimming with otters.
The Otter Swim here is a guided three to four-hour program for adults only that gets you into the pool with these adorable otters for 45 minutes to an hour plus interactions with 7 other animals. While in the pool, if the otters like you, they try to stick stones into your swimsuit. Quite cute, eh!
In addition to the otters, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with other animals like kangaroo, sloth, armadillo, porcupine, lemurs, and more.
The minimum age for encounters here is 18 years and guests must be able to follow safety instructions calmly. The fee is $650-$800 a person with a tour maximum of 8 people.
Lions, Tigers and Bears, Alpine
Visit and explore Lions Tigers & Bears in beautiful San Diego County. Embark on a two-hour guided educational visit of the sanctuary and animal habitats. Meet lions, tigers, bears, and other big cats like leopards, bobcats, mountain lions, and servals, along with dozens of ranch animals. Enjoy the most amazing animal encounter in San Diego with their “Feed with a Keeper” Experience or one of their “Exclusive Behind the Scenes” Experiences – where you can help their keepers feed a lion, tiger or bear of your choice, all while learning about their incredible rescue stories. Visits take place Wednesday through Saturday and all ages are welcome.
Home to more than 60 animals, representing 19 species, the ranch has a rich history for you to soak in and explore. Lions Tigers & Bears is located on what was once a stage coach stop. During your visit, you will see the historical adobe structure that still exists on our grounds.
Living Coast Discovery Center, Chula Vista
The Living Coast Discovery Center is a small zoo and aquarium educational facility located on the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, Sweetwater Marsh Unit. The interactive nature center focuses on animals native to the San Diego Bay such as stingrays, sea turtles and more.
Recently, the Living Coast Discovery Center expanded their turtle lagoon exhibit at the aquarium’s entrance to make more room for their four Eastern Pacific green male sea turtles.
Children are highly encouraged to grab a complimentary passport book and stamp their passport at each activity station around the center.
The Living Coast Discovery Center offers field trips for preschool – 12th grade students, homeschoolers and scout troops year round. During a field trip, groups are led by a Living Coast interpretive guide. Depending on your guide’s expertise, he or she may choose to emphasize key topics such as watershed protection, recycling, pollution, native plants and animals, as well as practicing responsible outdoor recreation. Ratio limits include 20 students per tour. Tour prices vary and advance reservations are required.
Wild Wonders, Bonsall
Wild Wonders is where kids and adults can connect with animals from all over the world. Through live tours and interactive programs, their 120 animal ambassadors and educators will take you on a dynamic adventure you won’t forget.
Their motto is “Rescue. Educate. Conserve”, and their educators share the stories behind the animals, the adaptations they have to help them survive in the wild, and what conservation challenges they face.
All of their onsite Animal Experience tours are by appointment only, and must be booked through their website. Your tour will be exclusively for your group, allowing your keeper / educator to focus only on you!
Happy Field Tripping,