Zoos are where you take your kids to show them that animals aren't just something created for TV, right? Well, they're probably good for that, too, but as an actual, full-fledged grown up, one of my favorite places for a day visit down south has become the San Diego Zoo.
To tell you the truth, I first went a few years ago with my GF (reluctantly, I have to admit), thinking it was going to be a bunch of concrete cages with sad animals lying around. Man, was I wrong!
I really had no idea how big and diverse it actually is. Since then, we've gotten the annual membership, and it's on our regular list of things to do for a relaxing, weekend-day outing.
Working together with the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, they are involved in all sorts of breeding, study and conservation projects for endangered animals all over the world. Because of all their extensive efforts, they have put a lot of thought into the layout and environment for the animals that permanently reside at the zoo. The whole park is divided into regional zones, which smartly group the animals into areas that more closely represent their natural habitats. Not only does that make for a more pleasant, immersive viewing experience for all of us, it makes the animals happier, and frankly more active and playful. And isn't that how we really want to see them?
On a recent Father's day visit, we got there early and immediately headed for the newly updated Polar Bear Plunge exhibit (of course taking the short cut via the Skyfari sky buckets... one of my secret favorites). It's a short but pleasant flight over the park, and landed us right there in the Arctic with a huge, open viewing glass area, giving us an Arctic Seal's eye view of the
awesome white bears. Getting there early seemed to be the perfect time, since they were already playing, jumping and wrestling at full speed. I have been a few times, but hadn't yet seen them so exuberant. While we were standing there, the huge male lumbered out of the water several times, only to spectacularly dive back in, right in front of the crowd as if on cue.
The little kids in front were squealing with surprise, and their wide-eyed parents ooh’d and ahh’d. Yeah okay, I know, I'm supposed to be an adult, but it was really cool, and even I might have let out a gasp or two. Massive polar bears making huge belly flop splashes, and swimming under water so close you could easily reach out and touch them (if not for the three inch plexiglass, of course).
Well needless to say, as a complete camera nut, it was photo gold. I was firing off shots like crazy, and though feeling like I could have stayed right there a lot longer, we had to move on to see more. It was Father's Day after all, and I had to be reminded a few times that it wasn't my day to decide what to do (cue the stern looks and hands on hips from my GF).
Sadly we had to leave the Arctic behind and moved quickly into the ancient savannah of the Elephant Odyssey exhibit.
Starting with a short pathway that takes you back in time to when mammoths roamed free, and a replica fossil dig display showing you the bones of huge saber toothed cats, you enter the all new elephant exhibit area.
The largest residents of the zoo now have two and a half acres to roam around and do all the stuff that elephants do, with plenty of space and a big water lagoon to boot. Again, our timing was perfect, and the zoo handlers were right there, hand feeding the elephants some treats, directly in front of us. Since the day was warming up a bit, I thought for sure that the elephants would want to stay in the cool water for a while, but no, they soon moved out of the lagoon, and of course started covering themselves in much more comfortable dirt… go figure.
Once again we had to press on if we were going to see more of the animals, so to make a long story… well still kinda long, but not as long as it could be if I talked about every part of the day, we ended up seeing pandas munching on bamboo, rainforest sun bears playing in the trees, gigantic hippos cruising the lake, gorillas watching us as though we were the ones on exhibit, and tons and tons of other awesome, exotic animals and cool stuff. Not all the animals are active all day long or every time we go, but that is actually one of the reasons we like to visit fairly regularly now. Each time we go, we get a different experience, and always something that really stands out as special for that day.
So I say go for sure if you can work it into your schedule. Plan for the whole day (water bottles, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and camera), and enjoy! It’s definitely not just for the kiddies, but don’t feel bad if you end up acting like one when you get there.