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 San Diego Zoo Safari Park Family Friendly Tips

Make it the perfect day with your little ones with these family friendly tips

From the beaches to the parks to the friendly vibe of the people, San Diego is truly one of the greatest destinations in the world for children. To top it off, our amazing city has several fun attractions to choose from! As a local mom of five kids, here are some family friendly tips on how to make the most of three of my favorite places to visit, the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and LEGOLAND California.

1. The San Diego Zoo

Known as the World-Famous Zoo, it truly lives up to the hype as one of the greatest  family friendly destinations to see over 4,000 different animals! Trying to see them all in one day might be a tad ambitious, but here are my recommendations that maximize what you can fit in.

Start with a walking tour by heading down Center Street, checking out the bears along the way until it turns into Park Street and takes you to the pandas! Head there first as the viewing line for an up close look tends to get long. From there, continue the loop along to the polar bears, a truly fun exhibit where you can view the polar bears playing underwater! As your legs begin to tire, avoid the steep hill and hop on the Skyfari that takes you back toward the entrance of the park.

Disembark from your Skyfari bucket and head down Treetops Way to see the orangutan trail, making your way to the Treehouse Café to enjoy the views during lunch.

After fueling up, take Monkey Trail back to see gorillas and more, detouring through Scripps Aviary for some spectacular bird viewing. As you make your way back toward the main zoo entrance, catch the Hippo Trail as well.

By this point, the whole family will likely need a break, but you haven’t even gotten to the lions, tigers, giraffes and elephants! It’s at this time you can rest your feet on the bus tour catching several more great views of the animals.

Finally, if there is any ounce of energy left, head to the Children’s Zoo, truly a treat for the younger set. From hands on exhibits to the petting zoo, it’s a delight and the perfect way to end the day.

Stroller Tips

If you have tiny kids that need strollers, the Skyfari does not let strollers on board. I do recommend parking your stroller and enjoying the sky-high views round trip, then either walking some of the trails or heading straight for the bus tour.

2. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The closest you may come to feeling like you actually are in the wild, this park is not to be missed. Note that during spring and summer, temperatures can heat up so head there early to beat the summer heat. Head straight to the African Tram first thing as lines tend to get long later in the day and it is pretty much the only line to worry about. This tram takes your family on a tour of the park and offers a view of the animals in an atmosphere created to be like their natural habitat - a favorite for my kids and me. Once the tour is over, walk over to see the lions since they also tend to draw a crowd, for a can’t miss, up close view!

From there, follow the path to see the gorillas, keeping an eye on the various show times. A personal favorite has been the bird show for years and a great way to take a walking break.

As lunch time hits, choose the Samburu Terrace and grab one of the tables near the amazing view area!

Also, be sure to check the schedule for animal demonstrations for up close views (and even some petting!) of some spectacular creatures. Speaking of which, the petting zoo is always a fun time for the kids as well.

Grab your map and seek out the rest of your favorite animals, then cool off in the kid’s fun splash area. Note: bring swimsuits and towels.

As the day winds down, hit the carousel near the front entrance.

Family Friendly Hints

Remember, when traveling with kids, make sure to equip yourself with several snacks to keep hunger away and try to go during times when your child will be least tired. Just as you think you might be headed toward melt down city, let the younger kids sit back and relax in the stroller while you take a walking tour as each of my favorite attractions have plenty of areas to stroll! And when all else fails, remember my mantra: relax while watching one of the shows!

3. LEGOLAND California

For Lego fans young and old, this is must-stop destination while in town.

Bring your bricks! If your child has a Lego figurine they are ready to be rid of, they can trade it with any Legoland staff member and continue to keep trading throughout the day! And if you are ready to purchase more, be sure to hit the store early in the day as it can get pretty crowded.

Next stop is to head to the back of the park first to avoid the long lines later in the day.

Be prepared that the height requirements are very strict for the rides, so be sure to measure your child before waiting in long lines only to be turned away (and I have seen that happen to many a screaming child!).

During the warmer months, bring towels and a change of clothes as several rides and the Pirate Shores will get you very wet. Though they have dryers you can pay to use, it’s nice to have a cozy towel handy.

When hunger strikes, eat at the restaurants in the aquarium (get your hand stamped for park reentry) and Mini Town as both have delicious food.

If you run into a “survey taker” during your visit, be sure to participate as you usually get a cool prize.

Once you are ready for a breather, hit the shows. In particular, the “The Big Test,” a.k.a. the fireman show, is a family favorite as are the 3D movies, too.

> Plan your trip with these family friendly itineraries

Do you have any family friendly tips to share? Tell us in the comments below!

5 Responses to Family Friendly Tips to Enjoying 3 of San Diego’s World-Famous Attractions

  1. If you plan on going to either the Zoo or the Safari Park (or either more than once) consider becoming a member of the zoo. My wife and I just joined (for around $109) and now we can go to either park for free! We have a five month old son, so we can get a whole day of animal fun for the whole family for free.

  2. As a P.S. to my previous post about Legoland:

    If you are visiting from outside the area and want to stay overnight, I recommend the Carlsbad by the Sea hotel. It is literally across the street and immediate walking distance from the Carlsbad Outlet shops (NOTE: Parking at the Outlet is packed, so walk from the hotel) and lots of nice restaurants for the family. They have free nightly parking, a decent free breakfast for all guests, free wi-fi and a free van shuttle to Legoland AND the beach. The shuttle dropped us off at the entrance to the park and came immediately when we called for pick up. This saved us money from having to buy breakfast and $15 a day that Legoland charges to park. It’s not the fanciest of places but all we did was sleep there and the customer service was great. The first day, I actually walked to and from the park. It was a little bit of a steep climb with the stroller but it took about 15 minutes, which is not bad if you don’t mind walking.

    Finally, if you do want to make a trip out of it, right down the hill from Legoland is the flower fields where you can ride in a big tractor wagon and tour the fields. It looked pretty busy when we were there. They had signs for fresh strawberries and whatnot. Also nearby the Outlet mall is a place for strawberry picking.

  3. We just came from a weekend at Legoland. Saturday was much more crowded than Sunday. Not only are they strict on the height limit but many of the rides have posted age limits, as well. My 3 year old niece got rejected from a ride for 4+ because they ask the kids themselves how old they are and some kids don’t understand to say they are 4 instead of 3 so they can ride rides, even if they LOOK 5. :) Also, they didn’t search our strollers at all and there are no metal detectors, so we were able to bring in backpacks full of food and big water bottles, so the only money spent during two days at the park were on the apple fries.

    If you can get a second day free on a park hopper, that is probably the way to go. When we went, the park was open only from 10-5 and we found that was not enough time to see and do everything in one day — it was hot on the first day and the kids loved all the water play. Water slides and splash pads inside the park and a large play town distracted them from the rides and everything else. We also came upon a big treehouse play structure with slides and that was hidden in a corner near the apple fries place right as we were leaving, which seemed to be lots of fun. The second day we went to the Aquarium, which was fun and they loved it, but we saw pretty much everything and finished up in a little over an hour. That was disappointing for the money you pay to get in there, so I was glad we had a two day park hopper. We left the Aquarium and went back into Legoland, rode a couple of the rides that they enjoyed the first day, with shorter lines, and saw a few things we missed the first time around.

    Another note about the ride restrictions is that they tend to be all over the place. Some are rides only for kids. Some are for 3+, some are for 4-12, some require adults to ride with kids under a certain height. But the most frustrating thing was that nearly all the rides are for 2 riders. I went alone with my kids the second day and that meant that we could not ride more than 3-4 things total, as my son is 3 is too small for a good chunk of the rides and my daughter met the height requirements but couldn’t ride alone, so be prepared for that if your kids outnumber you. Also, if the sign says the wait for a ride is 5 minutes, it will probably be 20 minutes. Lines move very slow. Beware.

    Even though we had park hoppers, we did not go into the water park. My son did not have a ticket into the park and the water park has different policy for entrance than the Legoland park, which is a gripe of mine. Even if your child can get in free to the Legoland park and Aquarium, if they are 1-2 the water park requires a $5 toddler pass. I asked them if we could take my son in the stroller with our park hoppers just to look around since my kids really just wanted to see what it looked like for when they get older and I was told no. Obviously $5 would not have been a big deal if we intended to actually use the park but I think all three parks need to have the same entry policy. It should be noted that the entrance to the Aquarium is adjacent to the entrance to the Legoland park but the entrance to the Water Park is located in the very back of the actual Legoland park, so you need to spend 10-15 minutes walking through before you even get to the Water Park.

    There are not a lot of shady areas inside Legoland, with the exception of several covered areas in the lines for rides. I also never found any in-park transportation. If you need a little rest, there is a boat ride called Coast Cruise that is next to Miniland. On Sunday they had no wait, so we got right on. It is probably 5-7 minutes cruising around in a “Small World” type boat to see Lego mini structures like the Taj Mahal and the Sydney Opera Hall. It is pretty relaxing but be aware that the boat is NOT covered and never goes inside, so it will be hot.

    If you have first time visitors, stop by guest services and you can ask for a button that says “1st visit to Legoland,” that both my kids loved.Also, they have a Legoland California app for free download. We didn’t end up using it at all but it will give you current wait times at the different attractions. They also have an email address you can send questions to during your visit.

    If you have time to visit the Legoland Hotel, that is adjacent to the park, as well. Inside the main entrance are a few areas with tons of Lego bricks for building and a cute pirate play area that my kids enjoyed running around in. There are also two restaurants for dining alternatives.

  4. Pingback: Tips for Enjoying Legoland, The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park |

  5. Sounds like fun

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