I was 5 years old the first time I visited San Diego Zoo in California. The wonderment I experienced back then continued some 20 years later when I finally returned as an adult.
San Diego Zoo officially opened in 1915 and pioneered the concept of open air zoos. A practice they have perfected to this day. The animals are free to roam around their enclosures and explore their surroundings without the need for cages and obtrusive fencing. The park is laid out into various zones. The Panda Canyon is right by the Asian Passage and the lizards and snakes are together with other creepy crawlies and amphibians.
The zoo houses more than 300 species, from giraffes and zebras, right down to the smaller animals such as monkeys and meerkats. The kids will love running down the tree lined pathways exploring the jungle like enclosures of the big cats and primates. Along the way they can stop at the information boards to learn some wacky animal facts!
My favourite area of the San Diego Zoo is the Africa Rocks and Elephant Odyssey. With just a moat between you and the animals, you can really get up close to the action. I grabbed lunch at the Sabertooth Grill restaurant near the elephant enclosure. I was actually able to eat my lunch while watching the elephants munch on theirs!
The food available within the park caters to most with vegetarian and gluten free options on the menu. You can bring your own food too, and there are picnic areas dotted throughout the park. Prices are upwards of $10 for a sandwich in all of the eateries but the profits go towards the running of the zoo.
As you walk through the park, you will notice the colour of the pavement changing under your feet as you move from one region to another. The Lost Forest is green to reflect the jungle and the Northern Frontier is pale blue, a nod to the chilly Arctic climate. I never got lost, even though the park is one of the biggest in the world.
I escaped the Californian sun near the end of the day, by ducking into the reptile house, which was full of snakes and lizards. This exhibit was a favourite among the boys I noticed, but not so much for me. Just outside was a large komodo dragon and a python enclosure, they were scary enough!
Something really memorable you can do as a family is book the Sleepover package. This allows you to stay overnight in the park and observe the nocturnal animals at their most active. Your kids will talk about the experience for years to come as they spend the night in a tent and wander the park with flash lights. They will be kept awake with the sounds of lions roaring in the distance, and be awoken by the squawks of the resident parrot population.
My big day finally ended with a trip through the gift shop. I brought a cute soft toy sea lion as a momento from a great day out at San Diego Zoo!
If you are seeking your own San Diego adventure, contact Rachel Cunningham on 03 8626 4500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Rachel is a consultant at Escape Travel’s store on Collins Street, Melbourne.