SAN DIEGO ZOO ON A BUDGET – ULTIMATE GUIDE
TPC’s Ultimate Guide to the San Diego Zoo on a Budget
So you and your party are craving a themed entertainment experience that’s a little less constructed. You want exposure to nature without leaving Southern California; or you are visiting SoCal but craving a more natural experience. Hiking and camping are fun, but don’t afford you an up close look at the wildlife without endangering yourself in the process. How do you get the up-close experience? With a trip to the San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Safari Park!
Unlike most major SoCal entertainment, the San Diego Zoo is a bit further south in San Diego, and offers year-round up close animal and adventure experiences for guests of all ages. While prices can be steeper than the average zoo, SDZ is world-renowned for its quality and diversity of wildlife, and is a must-see experience for anyone in the area. While a zoo has less ‘categories’ of ways to save compared to SoCal’s more IP-heavy theme-park experiences, there are a wealth of savings on admissions, especially for anyone considering a multi-day visit in a given calendar year. This post addresses these nuances in-depth.
Park Tickets: note that the Zoo is comprised of the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, each requiring their own separate entrance/ticket. One day passes are in the $50-60 range, but two-day passes (able to be used with one day each or two days in one!) are $89, and do not need to be used concurrently—this is a better value for most individuals looking to visit both parks for one day in a given calendar year. Many colleges, military offices, and employers do offer slightly discounted tickets (on average, we saw $5 savings), but for anyone traveling with a family member (or other person in their household), a 2-day visit crosses the territory in which an annual pass is a better value.
Annual Passes: For those of you who love animals and are local, the annual passes are a good offer for anyone planning multiple visits, or trips to both parks. $112 for one adult means a 2-day pass is better for a quick experience of each park, but $174 for two adults in the same household makes an annual pass a compelling deal for a couple (or a parent with an older child) planning to visit both parks even once each—the price beats two two-day tickets!
Keeper’s Club: If you plan to go with friends, consider the Keeper’s Club, where your 2-adult same-household annual pass includes discounts, benefits, arial tram rides, parking, as well as 2 one-day guest tickets available for use for the duration of your membership for $234. If that wasn’t compelling enough, you also get 50% discounts on additional guest admissions. At the time of writing, the price for for a two-adult household pass was the same as a one-adult plus guest pass, which allows you to bring your household member or any other person each time—thus we’d recommend that option.
Merchandise: as with other theme parks, outside shopping is key. If you know your little ones’ favorite animals, an online plush purchase given the day of your trip will go a long way in decreasing the must-have appeal of similar offerings in the park.
Dining: the Zoo itself has standard park foods as well as some upscale options like Albert’s and Prados, but really, we recommend packing sandwiches and snacks for home. Especially since the bulk of visitors will benefit from an Annual Pass, shorter visits should easily fit around mealtimes or packed lunches and you won’t be as bombarded with enticing smells as you would at a Disney or Universal park.
Bottom Line? It’s a zoo, which means sack lunches will fit in the theme and outside animal-themed merch will blend in well. If you’re going for more than 2 days (aka. plan to visit each park at least once), it behooves you to consider an Annual Pass or Keeper’s Club. For those set on just one day, the Zoo frequently offers deals to students, military, and corporate offices, so it doesn’t hurt to check with your ticket vendor