Visiting the San Diego Zoo with kids? Check out 20+ must-know tips and FAQs for families to help you plan the best visit and make the most of your time!

Visiting the San Diego Zoo with kids?  Check out 20+ must-know tips and FAQs for families to help you plan the best visit and make the most of your time!

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This post is sponsored by the San Diego Zoo. All thoughts and opinions are 100% mine.

With 5.6+ million visitors each year (between the Zoo and the Safari Park), the San Diego Zoo is one of San Diego’s most visited attractions. If you have never been before, or are visiting again, you will want to check out these 5 categories with 20+ FAQs for making the most of your time at the San Diego Zoo with kids.

Having gone to the San Diego Zoo with my husband and 4 kids, you’ll find questions and answers that are specific to families, as well as some tips for getting places faster and a few of my own personal opinions.

My goal with this post is to answer the type of questions that I personally wanted to know and things I learned from our family’s visit. (That means this list of FAQs is not comprehensive. So if you don’t see an answer to your question on my post, you can view the zoo’s FAQs here.)

I hope you find this post helpful and informative as you plan your visit to the San Diego Zoo with kids.

Click on any category or question in the table of contents to be taken directly to the answer!

Food FAQ

Can I bring my own food into the San Diego Zoo?

Yes! We all know that food is always more expensive when you buy it at a theme park (or zoo as the case may be). If you are looking to save some money and skip the lines, I highly recommend bringing your own food in with you.

What is the size limit for coolers at the San Diego Zoo?

The Zoo website doesn’t list exact size limits for coolers. However, they say that coolers larger than what can fit a six-pack of soda are not allowed. The cooler we brought in with us is about 12″ x 10″. (this one is similar) We didn’t have any problems and it fit plenty of food for our family of 6.

What type of food isn’t allowed in the San Diego Zoo?

Most food is allowed, with a few exceptions. (For a full list, you can visit the FAQ page.) If you are looking for ideas of what to take in with you, check out this huge list of easy to pack snacks I’ve put together for taking into theme parks.

San Diego Zoo App FAQ

Is it worth it to download the San Diego Zoo app on my phone?

The San Diego Zoo app (available for iOS and Android) has a lot of great features. By turning the location on when using your phone, you can easily see where you are in the park. The app also gives approximate walking times if you want to know how long it would take to get from place to place. Additionally, you can find show times, bathrooms, dining, shopping, bus tour information and more.

Don’t want to download the app?

You can grab a paper map near the zoo’s entrance, or you can look at the large maps they have placed around the zoo. My older kids (ages 9 and 12) liked having a physical map to be able to see where we were and where we were going.

Bus Tour FAQ

Is the San Diego Zoo bus tour included with my ticket?

Yes, the San Diego Zoo bus tour is included with your ticket purchase (both the 1-day ticket and the 1-day value ticket, as well as for season pass holders).

How long is the San Diego Zoo bus tour?

Each tour is about 35 minutes on average. If the zoo is really crowded, it may take longer because part of the tour goes along the same paths that people walk along.

Do I need to make a reservation for the bus tour?

Nope. The tours are on a first come, first served basis.

What is the best time of day to go on the San Diego Zoo bus tour?

The answer to this question will depend on who you are at the zoo with.

For families with small kids, you may want to break up your zoo visit by going on the bus tour part way through the day. Your kids will still be entertained by the animals but they can also get out of the stroller (which needs to be left in the stroller parking at the bus tour entrance). Plus, parents get to take a minute to get off their feet too.

If you are with all adults or older kids, my recommendation is to go on the last tour of the day. By this time, you’ve probably seen most, if not all, of the zoo. But the advantage to the bus tour is that you get to see some animals from a different viewpoint. This is because parts of the bus tour have special routes they take that aren’t accessible to guests unless they are riding the bus.

Where is the best place to sit on the San Diego Zoo bus tour?

My personal opinion on the best place to sit on the San Diego Zoo bus tour is the top level on the right hand side (when sitting and facing the front of the bus). More of the animals enclosures you will see on the tour are on the right side, so you’ll get a better view that is less obstructed by other people.

The only downside is that the top of the bus isn’t covered so you will be in the sun. (We went in January on a partly cloudy day with a temperature of about 63 degrees so the sun felt great to us.) If you want shade AND a good view, sit on the lower level on the right-hand side.

**The bus tour is also a great place to fill out this fun zoo passport printable! You and your kids will learn all types of interesting facts on the tour and it’s easier for kids to write it down when they are sitting.

Zoo Shortcuts FAQ

Skyfari Aerial Tram

What is the best way to get from one end of the zoo to the other?

The Skyfari Aerial Tram is the best way to get from one end of the zoo to the other. It is a one-way trip. If you want to ride back to the other side of the zoo, you have to get off the tram and get in line again. The tram takes about 5 minutes and you can enjoy resting your legs while you get great views of the zoo and Balboa Park.

Is the Skyfari Aerial Tram included with my zoo ticket?

Yes! There is no extra charge to ride the Skyfari Aerial Tram.

Can I bring my stroller?

Yes, however, it has to be emptied, folded up and no more than 23″ at its widest point. You do have the option to leave your stroller in the stroller parking area at either station before getting in line. (This is a link to a stroller that is similar to ours.)

Where is the tram located?

  • Skyfari West Station – The west station is located in the Northern Frontier section of the zoo, next to the polar bear exhibit.
  • Skyfari East Station – The east station is located next to the entrance of the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp.


The San Diego Zoo is not located in a flat area. There are many changes in elevation as you explore the various exhibits, with some being quite the workout! There are a total of 4 elevator towers around the zoo to help people get to different levels. However, the first two listed below are the biggest and will be most helpful with the elevation change. The other two are for specific purposes and will keep you within a limited area.

Where are the elevators located?

  • Treetops Plaza/South End of Bashor Bridge
  • Hippo Trail/East of the Gorillas
  • Spineless Marvels in Wildlife Explorers Basecamp
  • Albert’s Restaurant Access

Kangaroo Bus

What is the Kangaroo Bus?

According to the zoo’s website: “The Kangaroo Bus is a friendly, non-narrated transportation service that lets you hop on and off at 4 stops around zoo grounds.” You can bring a folded stroller on the bus (space permitting). To access the bus, you do have to climb a few stairs. If you have a wheelchair, you can ask the Kangaroo Bus driver to call the ADA shuttle service to assist.

Is the Kangaroo Bus included in my ticket?

Yes! There is no additional fee to ride the Kangaroo Bus.

Where does the Kangaroo Bus stop?

There are 4 stops. Keep in mind the Kangaroo Bus makes a big loop around the northern half of the zoo, however, there are multiple buses running.

  • Urban Jungle
  • Marsh Habitat in the Lost Forest
  • Carnivorous Plants between the Northern Frontier and Elephant Odyssey
  • Elephant Odyssey on the far east end

Bashor Bridge

This 450-foot long bridge, built in 2017, spans the canyon in the center of the zoo. Bashor Bridge connects Elephant Odyssey to Treetops Plaza, eliminating the need to walk all the way around the outer zoo exhibits to get to other parts of the zoo. Plus, you get some amazing views and photo ops along the way.

Penny Smashing Machines FAQ

Like many theme parks and zoos, the San Diego Zoo has a number of penny smashing machines located throughout. Smashed pennies make great souvenirs! They don’t cost a lot, there is variety in designs and they are small which means they don’t take up a lot of space.

How much does it cost to make a smashed penny?

At the time of our visit (January 2024), it cost $1 to make a smashed penny. You do not need to provide a penny, as the machine has them inside.

What designs can I choose from for my smashed penny?

The designs available vary between machines. My daughter chose a koala, but I remember seeing elephants, tigers, monkeys and many others.

Where are the penny smashing machines located in the San Diego Zoo?

I emailed the San Diego Zoo and requested a list with the location of all the penny smashing machines. They kindly provided me with one and now I’m sharing it with you! Below you’ll find a chart detailing where each penny smashing machine is.

*NOTE* As I was advised by the zoo, please keep in mind that some machines may move or could be out of order at the time of your visit. So while this is a pretty comprehensive list, it’s not one that will be regularly updated.

Penny Smashing Machine Locations

Machine LocationPart of the Zoo
Sidney’s Grill RightEntrance to Outback/Urban Jungle
Sidney’s Grill LeftEntrance to Outback/Urban Jungle
Panda RightAsian Passage by the Panda Shop
Panda Left (with change machine)Asian Passage by the Panda Shop
Zoo StoreZootique by the Zoo Exit
Kids Store (2 machines)Kids Store by the Zoo Exit
Bus Exit/Photo BoothBus Tour Unloading Zone
Zoo Brew RightTreetops Way by Mandrill Enclosure
Zoo Brew LeftTreetops Way by Mandrill Enclosure
CamelsEast Side of Elephant Odyssey
Arctic TraderNorthern Frontier by Polar Bears
Children’s Zoo LeftWildlife Explorers Basecamp
Children’s Zoo RightWildlife Explorers Basecamp
Reptile HouseSoutheast Corner Next to Komodo Kingdom
Ituri ForestLost Forest on the Hippo Trail
TuskersBy Tusker’s Trunk in Elephant Odyssey
Skyfari East (with change machine)Southeast Corner Near Entrance to Wildlife Explorers Basecamp
*Provided courtesy of the San Diego Zoo

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Visiting the San Diego Zoo with kids?  Check out 20+ must-know tips and FAQs for families to help you plan the best visit and make the most of your time!
Visiting the San Diego Zoo with kids?  Check out 20+ must-know tips and FAQs for families to help you plan the best visit and make the most of your time!

Hi! I’m Shani,

A stay-at-home mom of 4 and wife. I love sharing easy to follow craft tutorials, kid activities, family-friendly recipes, organization, travel and motherhood. I hope you’ll feel uplifted and empowered by each post, regardless of what kind it is. Join me as I raise my little munchkins and share the sunshine in this beautiful, crazy thing called life! Read more...

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