Take a Tour – How One Zoo Tour Changed the Way We Getaway
Updated: Jun 9, 2022
Every year, except during COVID, since Itsy Bitsy was 18 months old, our family has celebrated the New Year with a trip down to San Diego. Now, this isn’t the only trip we take to San Diego. You could say it is both the last and first trip we take every year since it always encompasses December 31 – January 1. But in general, this trip closes out and kicks off our travel year!
For us, San Diego is special for many reasons. It’s the perfect distance away from home to feel like we are on vacation but close enough to require minimal advance planning. It’s where Gigi and Dr. Fabby grew up. It’s where Pappy and Gigi met and fell in love. It’s an ideal road trip from Santa Cruz with tons of places to stretch our legs, easy to travel roads, but not so far that we must stop for the night.
It’s also where Fat Papa’s favorite step-aunt lives and works for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance as an Associate Director of Recovery Ecology. While she REFUSES to take the credit, I always tell people that it is her love of birds, the work she does with animals, and her encouragement of us to take Itsy Bitsy to the zoo that started Itsy Bitsy’s OBSESSION with zoos and animals!
It is also Fat Papa’s ornithologist aunt who gave us the best advice EVER. She told us to “take a tour”.
As a zoo employee, she was able to provide our family with free tickets into the San Diego Zoo, which we appreciated GREATLY. Since money was tight for us as new parents, we really appreciated the tickets, especially because she provided them for us multiple times! So, around our third visit we asked, “Since you are getting us in for free, is there something we can do to give back to the zoo?” That is when Fat Papa’s aunt told us to “take a tour.”
“Yes, tours are more expensive than the price of a ticket,” she informed us, “but every penny goes into conservation, research, and education for the animals.” By this time, life with a toddler had settled down and our finances didn’t feel quite so ducking flighty, so we did just that. We booked an Inside Look Tour and our obsession with San Diego, and especially the Zoo and Safari Park was sealed!
Since then, our little family makes sure to take at least two road trips down to San Diego per year, if not MORE. We go so often now that we feel bad constantly hitting Fat Papa’s aunt up for tickets, so we became zoo members instead. But for us, and especially Itsy Bitsy, no trip to the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park is complete unless we “take a tour.” That is still the best advice anyone has EVER given about visiting a zoo!
Visiting the Zoo as a Monetarily Challenged Kid
Before meeting Fat Papa’s aunt, I never would have thought about taking a tour of a zoo. Frankly, it didn’t cross my mind that such a thing would even be … well … a thing. Growing up in Los Angeles County, our family didn’t have much money. When we went to the zoo, it was usually as a field trip to the LA Zoo with school. If it was for a fun day out with the family, we certainly didn’t have the extra cash to spend on something so frivolous as a tour.
One of the reasons I LOVE the San Diego Zoo is that even as a family with little money, you are getting a lot of bang for your duck with the price of admission. While admission is certainly more than when I was a child (but then again so is everything), your $62 adult and $52 child tickets gets you a goodly amount, including access to the Guided Bus Tour*, Kangaroo Express Bus*, Skyfari Aerial Tram*, (*subject to availability), Africa Tram (Safari Park) and all regularly scheduled shows.
Fat Mama Tip: If you plan to visit the Zoo and/or Safari Park for two or more days then be sure to buy a Zoo Membership for ANYOME in your group ages 3-17. The cost of a single-day ticket is $52, a two-day ticket is $94, but a child's membership is only $62! You will pay it off in only two visits, get access to both the Zoo and Safari Park, plus other fun digital content. Adult memberships don't start paying off until your third day at the Zoo and/or Safari Park.
This means that, especially in the summer when the park is open late, you can get in a good 10+ hours of entertainment (that is less than $6 per hour per person, not too bad). But even during the winter hours of 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., a full 8 hours at the Zoo or Safari Park is a great value, especially when you add in rides on the Aerial Tram, the buses, or Africa tram.
As a parent, especially one that remembers being a poor kid, I cannot thank the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance enough for the amount of value they have built into their admission tickets. I can still remember visiting the San Diego Zoo once as a kid and feeling so special for getting to ride the Arial Tram, something the LA Zoo didn’t have. Now visiting as an adult, and with the incredible changes that have happened at the zoo since my childhood, the value seems even more remarkable.
I love that everyone who buys a ticket can also take a guided bus tour, can fly above the animals, can hop on and off the zoo transport, and really feel like it’s something special. Even now, one of Itsy Bitsy’s favorite things to do at the zoo is to ride the double-decker Kangaroo Bus around the zoo at least once so she can see all the animals “from way up high on the roof.”