5 Favorite Animals at San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo is unquestionably fantastic. With amphibians, birds, insects and spiders, mammals, and reptiles, it’s home to over 3,700 rare and endangered animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies. It’s impossible to choose favorites when there are so many unique animals to see, but we chose our top 5 favorites of the day based on our interaction with them, their cool behavior, and the fond memories we created base on our experiences with them. Do any of our favorites make your top five list? 

Number 5: Gorillas 

In the very heart of the San Diego Zoo, are western lowland gorillas in a natural landscape of cascading waterfalls, an open meadow, and climbing areas. This majestic looking gorilla appeared tame and pensive. He almost seemed cuddly. Then, showing us his power, he ran along the glass wall. As I watched his massive, muscular arms move much more quickly than I’m capable of moving, I gained a new appreciation for his power and speed. I knew I wouldn’t want to mess with that guy.

Gorilla San Diego Zoo

Gorillas at the San Diego Zoo

 Number 4: Pandas

Who can resist the endearing face of a giant panda? These animals are so popular that there was a wait to see them but it was worth it. Such a playful, lovable creature, Athena instantly fell in love. As it chewed on the bamboo and leaves, Athena sang “You brush your teeth, ch ch ch ch, ch ch ch ch,” and mimicked his actions. The other guests were just as entertained by Athena as the pandas. She was the star attraction.

Panda at San Diego Zoo

Number 3: Grizzly Bears 

The animal personalities were shinning through and the grizzly bear was no exception. He rolled over and around a log like a child playing with a toy. Athena tried to climb inside to play with him and we had to remind her that you can’t pet all animals. Her lack of fear is astounding, encouraging, and frightening all at the same time.

Bear at San Diego Zoo

Number 2: Elephants

One of the highlights of our day was hanging out at Elephant Odyssey. Athena loved playing on the rocks next to the elephants and when an elephant sprayed us with water, she let out a boisterous laugh like an adult. I had never heard her laugh so long or so hard. We stayed for an additional 30 minutes with hopes of having a similar experience while Athena talked to the elephants and followed them around. It might have been a highlight in her life.

Elephant at San Diego Zoo

Number 1: Hippos 

I don’t have a particular affinity for hippos. Actually, I think that they are repulsive animals, but our hippo encounter was the funniest situation of the day. We got close to the glass and Athena had an inquisitive look on her face. When I asked her what she was looking at, she said, “Look at the big hippo poopies.” We laughed which only encouraged her more and she spent the rest of the day saying, “Big hippo poopies.” When her Gymboree teacher asked her about her weekend, she said, “I played hippo poopies.” When I asked her what she wanted in the grocery store, she yelled out, “Hippo poopies.” Although it’s rather embarrassing, I have to giggle every time. I don’t know who is more of a child, me or her?

Hippo at San Diego Zoo

46 thoughts on “5 Favorite Animals at San Diego Zoo

  1. Leslie, if you haven’t already….hope you get a chance to check out the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido. It has a very natural environment, involved in conservation and saving these precious animals that are endangered. We were just there a few weeks ago. 🙂


  2. We are so blessed with our zoo! They did such an amazing job with the Elephant Odyssey. Yes – if you have a chance, go see the Zoo Safari Park. It is our favorite. Beautifully done. Not to be missed. (Okay, so I may be a little biased)


  3. My personal favorite is the polar bear enclosure, I love that you can watch from above the water and underwater, with lots of levels so kids at least have a chance to see something!

    Strangely, I like the Zoo better than the Safari Park. Even though it’s a nice change to get to drive on a tram through the giant enclosure, and it does seem slightly more natural (larger) than a zoo exhibit… I dunno. When I went summer 2012, it just seemed like a lot of exhibits had no animals, or hadn’t been updated since I went 25 years ago (or it wasn’t obvious).

    I enjoy the bamboo forests and their arboretum of plants, the huge variety of terrain, and the awesome views you get on the various tours/tracks of the Zoo. (The sky buckets are my favorite, maybe I’m a little biased. 😉 ) Gotta love the pandas, and the koalas too. 🙂


  4. I have yet to find a zoo where I live that houses pandas and grizzly bears! I’ve come across countless red pandas (even though they’re not technically in the same group as black and white pandas – which is pretty cool!) and sun bears. I went to the zoo a few weekends ago and they have a huge selection of gorillas, they’re fascinating to watch! xx


  5. This brings back such memories, thanks so much for posting. I took my son to the San Diego Zoo when he was young and he loved it. We had such fun. P.S. I think the hippo is cute. P.S.S. Athena sounds like a riot.


  6. I have been a zoo member in San Diego for many years. I’m always amazed at the new tings I find with each new visit. For my money though, it’s the best botanic gardens I have ever been too!


  7. Oh, hippo poopies! I remember the Bronx Zoo as a child and been there a couple of times as an adult. I’ve also visited the Tucson zoo. I find the animals and information to be quite fascinating, however, there is something inherently wrong with organizations caging animals for profit and human viewing. Studies performed on animals are, some believe, beneficial to the species, but humans will do so for their benefit entirely and continue to encroach on animal habitat no matter what, without any respect. By the way, the Tucson zoo is immensely saddening. The conditions are extremely poor!!

    Field biology from a distance, studying animals in their natural non-human habitat, is respectful, and should remain the only form of viewing and understanding of how these creatures have survived as long as we have.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if these zoo’s donated 100% of their profits to the retention of all natural habitat, and preventative measures from encroachment and destruction.

    Hippo poopies… I see nothing but sadness in the eyes of caged animals. Athena’s perspective may have put a smile on my face though, temporarily.

    Sorry for the sad thoughts, it’s how I feel about innocent animals completely unable to enjoy, and ever experience, their natural surroundings.


  8. Hippo poopies. Ha ha. That gorilla is a handsome fellow. In fact, before I scrolled all the way down for the whole picture, I thought he might be a replica. 😀
    I agree about the hippos: not attractive at all. 😦


  9. I just went to the San Diego Zoo yesterday after work. It’s a great place to visit for a nice stroll if you have a season pass. I always seem to discover something new every time I go. Most of all I always leave wanting to do more gardening. They really have amazing landscaping.


  10. Yes! Go to the wild animal park too (I think it’s the Safari Park or something like that now). I used to be an overnight camp tour guide there and it was the best job I ever had. I love that place! Lion Camp is the best part. 😀


  11. Quite a zoo. I love the poopies. Would really like to see hippos under the water – amazing that they can’t swim! When they get to a deep spot they have to run really fast on the bottom.


  12. Living in San Diego County since ’73, the zoo is one of our annual visits– oftentimes with relatives from back east coming out for vacation. The komodo dragon and the rhino(which I’ve used in illustrations) are my favorites. Though the one that really gained my respect was the hyena– having seen one there that could have handled its own with any big cat. Glad you enjoyed your visit.


  13. I have heard a lot about the Arctic foxes at San diego..a small, round body, thick fur and a cute fluffy tail to survive the cold…did u say hi to them…would love to visit the zoo once….keeping fingers crossed….


  14. Love your stories about Athena with animals and bringing her to zoos and aquariums is a fantastic way to encourage her to love and appreciate the amazing animals this world has to offer. I can’t wait I’m going to visit the San Diego Zoo for my first time in about 2 weeks time!


  15. Just wondered if you had an opinion on canned hunting is South Africa. This is where they breed endangered species, like Lions, to be shot by so called hunters, in a penned area where the animals have no chance of escape. They would not run away anyway because they have been reared by humans and trust them.


    • Here’s the thing… I don’t agree with it at all. I think it’s not much of a hunt and there is no purpose for hunting animals for sport. Quite honestly, I think it’s sick; however, I also don’t agree with caged animals in zoos and marine parks yet I visit the zoos and I swim with the dolphins, whale sharks, etc. so who am I to judge?

      Humans are entertained by repulsive things and if we don’t draw the line somewhere we’ll end up thinking things like “Hunger Games” are ok. I don’t have an answer and I hope that more and more laws are passed against these types of things, yet I just swam with dolphins in the Bahamas. Am I just as sick as the “hunter”? Are pet owners just as sick as me? I don’t know.


  16. This is my favorite zoo! I love their concept of buddies for some of the animals in order to assist in reducing the animal’s stress. I saw a leopard and her buddy, a dog, being walked together through the zoo. I had a very interesting talk with one of the handlers about this pilot program and how they have found the buddies to be beneficial to the other animals and the bond that had developed between them.


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  18. sometimes i feel like gorillas are actually humans who are trapped in the body of an ape-like animal. i feel sad when i see them. their eyes seem to say that they are trapped, with no where to go, thus surrendering to the faith of becoming a display for other humans to look at and point at and made fun of. of all the animals mentioned above, i favorite has got to be panda. the cuddliest creature ever created, next to a puppy.


  19. I haven’t been to San Diego; but when I lived in Singapore my favorite animals to watch were the raccoons. They had fifteen, I think, in an enclosure and that’s enough to make sure that someone’s always doing something, and, boy have raccoons got personality.


  20. Mr. Craves and I do not have kids, so we debating a bit about the price in seeing the San Diego Zoo. I am so glad we did not let price stop us – GREAT ZOO to EXPLORE!!! I love the elephants and actually got to see a giraffe having her baby:) Thanks for sharing your experiences and loves.


  21. I love wild animals much & did I missed many of the countries going to the zoo but I”m not aware too much about San Diego Zoo so please suggest me how to reach there from India in a short way. Thanks for!!


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