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3-Day San Diego Zoo-cation Itinerary

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Zoo-cations (that’s a vacation centered around a zoo visit) have to be some of my favorite vacations. But for our family, there is NO BETTER Zoo-cation then in San Diego. That is why you will find us in San Diego visiting the Zoo and Safari Park nearly every 3-day weekend scheduled by Itsy-Bitsy’s school.

Itsy Bitsy loves all the monkeys along the Monkey Trail at the San Diego Zoo (Sep. 2018)

We’re Going to the Zoo – Zoo – Zoo, You Can Come Too – Too – Too

Once you have made the decision to book your fabulous Zoo-cation, there are a few things you will need to prepare before heading down to San Diego. First, you will want to choose an amazing place to stay. Luckily, I can help you narrow down your choices with my blog Where to Stay When You’re in San Diego. Additionally, if you are flying in, I highly recommend that you rent a car. San Diego is much easier to get around with a car, especially if you are going out to the Safari Park.

Aside from where to stay and how to get around, you should also make choices about tours and safaris. Not sure if purchasing a tour is worth it? Please, let me dispel you of that illusion with my blog Take a Tour – How One Zoo Tour Changed the Way We Getaway. Planning ahead and booking your extra experiences before you go will make sure you not only maximize your zoo time but also insure you get the best choice of tours and times.

Itsy Bitsy and E-Man loved seeing the animals early in the day, the animals all seemed more active (Dec. 2021)

Fat Mama Tip: If you are an early riser or are just looking to get even more Zoo out of your Zoo-cation then I highly recommend booking an early morning tour or safari. Both the Zoo and Safari Park offer tours that start before the parks actually open to the public. This not only provides you with bonus Zoo time, it also gives you a great overview of the park, without the crowds, and allows you to visit exhibits in a nearly private experience.

I also highly recommended purchasing your Zoo and Safari Park tickets in advance. As regular Zoo-cationers, Fat Papa, Itsy Bitsy, and I all have San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Memberships, which will save you more money than you think during a 3-day Zoo-cation. But there are a variety of cost-saving ticket options to choose from. Check out my post How to Get the Best Deal on San Diego Attraction Tickets for my advice at covering costs for your Zoo-cation.

For easy reading, and because tours are ABSOLUTELY NOT NECESSARY for having an amazing Zoo-cation (though highly recommended), I have set up this 3-day itinerary without the inclusions of tours or safaris or anything extra you must buy. BUT I will include Fat Mama Tips throughout with my suggestions about great times to add pay-to-play activities and plenty of dining recommendations.

Fat Mama, Fat Papa, and Itsy Bitsy have been Zoo-cationing since Itsy Bitsy was 15 months old (Sep. 2017)

Additionally, in this blog post, I am assuming typical Zoo and Safari Park hours of 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. However, throughout the year, both locations run programs that extend their hours well into the evening. Jungle Bells (select dates around the winter holidays) and Nighttime Zoo (June-September) are two of our favorite extended hours programs offered by the Zoo and Safari Park. During these programs, the facilities stay open late, not closing until 8 p.m. (Jungle Bells) and 9 p.m. (Nighttime Zoo).

How to Use This Itinerary

Itsy Bitsy and E-Man map out their day (Dec. 2021)

Check out each day and the corresponding map. Day – 1 is marked in teal, Day – 2 in coral, and Day – 3 is yellow. Solid lines of color are my recommended routes around the Zoo and Safari Park with the colored dots representing bus or tram routes. The numbered ducks are points of interest, animals, or exhibits that I will provide greater detail and stories about in a post next week called 3 – Day San Diego Zoo-cation Highlights.

But even if you don’t read 3 – Day Zoo-cation Highlights, the ducks are still helpful reminders of fun places to explore. Each duck on the map represents a feature in the Zoo or Safari Park that I really enjoy. Most of the time, I have a funny story or memory that makes it special. I hope you enjoy each of my duck stops and have fun making your own memories across the Zoo and Safari Park.

Day – 1 Jungle Exploration

When you look at a map of the Zoo, you will notice that it is divided almost evenly by Upper and Lower Center Street. This divide makes a great landmark for mapping out your time at the Zoo. In general, I like to spend Day-1 exploring everything to the left of Center Street and Day-2 exploring everything to the right (with a few exceptions).

Solid teal lines are Fat Mama's suggested Day-1 route - teal ducks are places you should explore - teal dots represent the Kangaroo Bus route between Stop 2 and Stop 4

This means that our first day at the Zoo is going to be spent in some of the oldest parts of the Zoo, the jungle biome and the Reptile Walk. In which order you decide to tackle these parts of the Zoo doesn’t matter so much. But if you are looking to get the most out of your day, I recommend making a beeline for the jungle then ending with the tortoises, lizards, and crocodiles.