Did you know that bloggers sometimes get free passes to places? I know! Me neither! And by the time I realized this, the night before we left for San Diego, it was too late to contact anyone for any exclusive treatment. This was why, when we arrived at the ticket booth of the San Diego Zoo with our online tickets that we had purchased on our phones, we had no idea what we were doing and they would not let us in.
Let me rephrase that so it doesn’t sound like the extremely helpful and courteous zoo staff were doing us an injustice. We bought tickets from the wrong website and we were in the wrong place. The San Diego Zoo is part of the vast museum system that is Balboa Park (2nd in scope only to the Smithsonian here in America). Since we had decided to purchase special multi-spot passes from the Balboa Park website, we needed to go have them scanned at the Balboa Park visitor’s center. Had we purchased our tickets from the zoo’s website, we would have been fine to have them scanned at the zoo. This actually made total sense, and everyone there was very understanding as they marked our actual destination on an area map. And this gave us the chance to have a lovely walk through beautiful Balboa Park on a sunny morning. Maybe we did the right thing after all.
Simply walking through the area led us to giant fountains, climbable sculptures, eye-catching architecture, and a renewed sense of adventure as our side-quest brought us to the heart of the museums. We got our tickets with no further problems, and in a few short minutes were back at the zoo, ready for a day of family fun!
Our timing, thanks to our detour, couldn’t have been more perfect. We arrived just as an animal encounter was beginning at the main gate. A woman came out to show us some birds, and the children were immediately entranced. Ruby got to throw a grape to a Hornbill to the sounds of the flamingos behind us greeting the day, and then we were off, heading straight for my daughter’s number one must-see exhibit. And if I tell you that her favorite book in the world is The One and Only Ivan, then I don’t need to mention that we were on a path to the Gorillas.
On the way to those great apes we passed by orangutans and hippos, walked through a bird sanctuary, and got very jealous of the skyfari cars gliding by over our heads. We put that on the “must do” list and continued on to our destination.
Since Ruby got to pick the gorillas, it was Edward’s turn to choose our next stop. He looked at the map and decided on the polar bears, which meant we had quite a hike ahead of us. The polar bears are in the far corner of the zoo, so we plotted a course past the reindeer and zebras, the tigers and monkeys, and of course more bird sanctuaries. There are a lot of birds at the San Diego Zoo, and you can walk right in to the homes of most of them. Just don’t stand underneath them!
When we arrived at the polar bear habitat, we were treated to our favorite moment of the day. It may have even been our favorite moment of the whole trip. I don’t know quite how to describe the joy and wonder of watching a powerfully magnificent creature glide effortlessly through water in the act of pure play, but luckily I captured a bit of it on video. It’s not the same as being there of course, but you must agree after seeing this taste that it is worth a trip out there just for a few moments like this.
After that bout of cuteness we managed to get onto the Skyfari and rode back towards the front of the park, and towards lunch. The day was only half over! We still hadn’t been to see the pandas, the lions, the elephants, the camels, the giraffes, or even half of the birds! But the one place we really wanted to find was a small building that had been recommended to us by a friend, and which proved very difficult to find. Tucked away behind a food cart near the children’s area, seemingly unlabeled and undiscoverable from the main pathways, sat the hummingbird house. We asked several employees where it was, and the answers were cryptically exciting. It was a treasure hunt for the tiniest of treasures, a room where you can walk in and be surrounded by hummingbirds. I tried to get a good video or picture, but those little living helicopters were just too darn fast. But they were amazing. Since I didn’t get a good picture of them, here instead is a picture of a sleeping koala, which was moving much more slowly.
There was so much to see and do at the San Diego Zoo that we didn’t have time to see it all while we were there, and I don’t have time to write about it all right here but, from the house of tiny insects to the largest of creatures, every exhibit was captivating, educational, and (most importantly) kept my children interested and engaged. If we are ever back in San Diego, I can assure you that we’ll be returning, and maybe with an extra day planned for the Safari Park next time!