San Diego Zoo Dining Tips: Where to Eat and How to Budget

by Mommy Frog on August 28, 2022
1 San Diego

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If you're heading to the San Diego Zoo, chances are you’re going to be there during at least one meal time. Expect to work up your appetite trekking through the zoo to see the animals. We’ve hopped around the San Diego Zoo, stuffing our frog bellies, so we can bring you the answers to your burning San Diego Zoo dining questions including how much to budget for food, where to eat and more. Here's our best San Diego Zoo dining advice, along with tips to save money or find your perfect dining location. We'll go over the yummiest food in the zoo, pointing out items even your pickiest eaters will love!

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Boys with Kids' Meals

San Diego Zoo Dining Overview

The San Diego Zoo has one table-service restaurant and several quick-service dining locations and snack stands. Don't worry — you cannot go hungry! There are many conveniently located dining locations all throughout the zoo. You can pick up breakfast, lunch or dinner. And grown-up frogs, you can find adult drinks at every dining and snack booth around the park.

Expect to build up an appetite at this zoo. It's a large park with many hills and trails. You'll want to stay hydrated walking around. Be sure to hop over to our San Diego Zoo Tips post for park plan ideas. You can explore the whole zoo by choosing flat or downhill paths almost the entire way. No need to expend any extra energy climbing hills all day. Utilize elevators, bridges and the Skyfari to avoid climbing.

San Diego Zoo Dining Budget

How much should you plan to budget for San Diego Zoo dining? The kids' meals are all under $10 and include a beverage. They come with an entrée, applesauce, animal cookies, a reusable bag, fountain drink or milk and a souvenir cup. You can add fries to kids' meals (when available) for $1. You can also upgrade a kid's drink to an Icee for $1 (see ... no need to spend $9.49 on an Icee!).

For adult meals, plan to spend between $13 and $20 for most quick-service adult meals without a beverage, and a little more if you plan to eat at Albert's or if you plan to purchase beverages. A soft drink is $7.99 (ask about $2 refills). Depending on the snack, you can expect to spend: $3.99 for chips or a giant pickle; about $5 for pretzels and churros; $6 to 8 for ice cream or snow cones; and $10 for a souvenir popcorn bucket (refills are $2.99). Larger sundaes and shakes are more, especially if they come with a souvenir cup.

Ways to Save on San Diego Zoo Dining

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Boy holds souvenir cupWe have a few tips to save money and stretch your dining budget:

  • Bring food, snacks and drinks with you (no coolers, glass, alcohol, party trays or birthday cakes).
  • Bring refillable water bottles.
  • Drink free ice water from restaurants or ask for ice for your own drinks.
  • Eat breakfast at the Sandwich Company. Breakfast sandwiches are the cheapest meals in the zoo and you can fill up right away so you won’t get too hungry in the zoo ... at least not right away.
  • If you are big soft drink fans, consider the souvenir bottle (starting at $14.49 with discounted rates when you buy more than one) that gets you free refills all day on the day of purchase … but keep that receipt. You can also fill it with Icee or get Icee refills for $2.
  • Eat small meals or heavy snacks such as a corn dog or egg rolls to keep your food budget under $7 or a loaded hot dog for about $10.

Best San Diego Zoo Dining Locations

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Food at Albert's

Here’s where to eat at the San Diego Zoo! Most of the bigger restaurants offer food to order as well as quick grab 'n' go items such as pre-made sandwiches, salads and fruit. Most locations offer a vegetarian option as well. You can get adult drinks at all these locations.

We've divided the restaurants and snack shops up by general location. That way no matter where you are, you know where the nearest food is. We found it hopful to consider our options based on location. When the tadpoles started getting rumbly in the tummies, we could say, "After we see the gorillas, we will stop for lunch." "After we see the Red Panda, we are getting a snack and drink refill." "After we visit the elephants, we can try some Mexican food." "Before we leave, we can get a shake." Knowing when to expect food kept the tadpoles from becoming anxious or "hangry."

There are family deals mentioned below, but they all include four fountain drinks. If you are not planning to buy that many drinks, you may be better off getting the kids' meals (which come with beverages) for the tadpoles and ordering what you actually want to save money. If you want the sodas, then that may be a good deal for you, but we recommend the souvenir cup with free refills if you are a soft drink lover.

Dining Near the Park Entrance

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Breakfast from Sandwich Co

Whether you're coming or going, there are a few dining locations right near the park entrance and exit.

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips: Where to Eat and How to Budget-Monte Cristo Sandwich

  • San Diego Zoo Sandwich Company — We filled up on really affordable breakfast sandwiches and avocado toast here (served from 8:30 to 11 a.m.). The bacon is so gooood! We perused the zoo map and set up a game plan for the day while we ate. During the rest of the day, you can pick up sandwiches, salads and kid-friendly items such as grilled cheese, a turkey sandwich or macaroni and cheese.
  • Lagoon Terrace — This is the spot for pizzatarians in your family (you can also get a meatball sandwich).
  • Safari Kitchen — This is a spot for burgers, veggie burgers, chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches, loaded tots and more (psst ... look for specials).
  • Jungle Java — Get your caffeine fix and baked goods before you start out.
  • Front Street Sweet Shack — There are some fun dishes and treats to be found here. There are doughnut burgers, fried chicken and waffles, Monte Cristo sandwiches, flavored chicken tenders with curly fries and then there are the desserts. You can get shakes, sundaes, soft serve, scooped ice cream, floats, funnel cake and more. Yum! It makes a great sweet stop before you exit the zoo.

Dining Near the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Black Bean Burger from Busy Bee

  • Busy Bee Café — Step into this new eatery for burgers, chicken, gourmet dogs, pizza, wings and family meals. After playing and climbing at the Basecamp, your tadpoles will have worked up an appetite for sure! Kids' meals include chicken strips, hot dogs, personal pizzas and burgers. For dessert, there's a Busy Bee Signature Honey Bun with raw wildflower honey glaze. You can also get soft-serve, including lactose-free vanilla. We also saw honey cupcakes, actual honey and shirts for sale.

Dining in Lost Forest

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - French dip and mac and cheese from Treetops Bistro

  • Albert’s Restaurant — Sit and relax by the waterfall in a treetop forest. It’s the only table-service San Diego Zoo dining location. The menu notes gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. Make advance dining reservations at OpenTable or by calling 619-685-3200.

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Mac and Cheese with Skyfari in background

  • Treetops Bistro — This quick-service location has some fancier foods such as boeuf bourguignon and a charcuterie box as well as hot and cold sandwiches (we had the French dip), wraps, salads, mac and cheese (the tadpoles approved) and kid sandwiches and snack packs. Enjoy the view from the tree tops. This is a centrally located spot just upstairs from Albert's.
  • Ituri Hut — Along the Hippo Trail, you can refresh with drinks and small snacks here.

Dining in Asian Passage

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Pork Bulgogi from Hua Mei Cafe

  • Hua Mei Café — Down on the lower level far below the Treetops is where you will find this location in the middle of the zoo. Enjoy Asian specialties as well as burgers and chicken strips. Look for the specials. We tried a pork bulgogi bowl special, and it was huge! There's a family meal, salads and sides such as egg rolls, potstickers and edamame if you just need a snack. You can also order ice cream, as well as plain white rice even though it's not on the menu.

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Egg rolls dipped in sweet and sour sauce

  • The Pagoda — This is an affordable snack stop in the middle of the zoo with egg rolls, a corn dog or a chicken caesar salad wrap. For the sweet tooth, there are frozen bananas, snow cones, cotton candy, frozen lemonade, Icee and Dippin' Dots.

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Carne Asada TacosDining in Elephant Odyssey

  • Sabertooth Mexican Grill — This is the only food spot in Elephant Odyssey so do not enter this area on an empty stomach unless you plan to eat Mexican. You are in SoCal after all, so it's a good plan. The food is grilled up right in front of you. There is a family nacho and taquito deal. You can get burritos, fantastico fries with all the toppings, tacos and margaritas. For kids, there are chicken strips and beef taquitos. It's not on the menu, but you can get a quesadilla. A word to the sensitive palates, we found the carne asada tacos a bit spicy. For dessert, try Bavarian crème stuffed churros or soft serve. Be sure to check the specials menu for extra items not found on the main menu.

Dining in Africa Rocks

  • Rocks Box — The only food and beverage in this area is a snack stand. (There is a Dippin' Dots stand at the top though.) Rocks Box has hot dogs, chili cheese dogs, super nachos and snacks such as soft pretzels, churros and ice cream treats. You'll probably want to eat a meal in another area before you journey through Africa. You can end your journey at Hua Mei Café if you need something to eat at the bottom.

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Ordering at Sydney's GrillDining in Outback

  • Sydney's Grill — Enjoy BBQ plates of BBQ Brisket sandwiches, burgers (including veggie), pulled pork sandwiches and pulled pork nachos. This location also has fish and chips, chicken strips and a spicy chicken sandwich. For sides, there is a fruit bowl with raspberry yogurt, hummus and pita, onion rings, fries, chili cheese fries and cheese nachos. For dessert, you can cool off with ice cream, root beer floats, an Oreo sundae and more.
  • Boardwalk Beer Garden — Get a cold one. Enjoy a margarita, a souvenir wine or a cocktail. There are snack bites such as a pretzel dog, a Bavarian pretzel (stuffed and not stuffed), an Italian sandwich or a charcuterie and cheese plate.

Dining in Northern Frontier

  • Jungle Snacks — At the back of the Zoo, across from the Skyfari and near the Northern Frontier, you can get frozen treats and snacks such as hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and more. To get to a full restaurant from this area, cross the bridge to the Lost Forest, or take the path (or elevator) down to the Asian Passage.

This is not a complete list of everything to eat or drink in the park, but it does touch on the major restaurants and snack stands. Menu items and prices are subject to change, so always consult the San Diego Zoo app for the current menus and prices.

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips

Here are a few dining tips to make your day and dining experiences easier:

San Diego Zoo Dining Tips - Chicken tenders and curly fries

  • Download the San Diego Zoo app.
  • Look up menus online or in the app. In the app, you can go to the map feature and select “Dining“ at the top. Tap on a dining location to see menus and prices.
  • Have an idea of places you would like to eat when you arrive so you can plan them into your itinerary.
  • Look for signs noting specials that are not on the regular menu at most restaurants.
  • Ask for forks, knives and spoons when you pay. They are available upon request.
  • Do not bring disposable straws to the park. They can harm animals.
  • If you have severe allergies, the zoo suggests bringing food with you.
  • Ask for ice water to keep hydrated whenever you purchase food.
  • Visit in October. Kids get into the San Diego Zoo for free in October, so your only expense for the tadpoles is food ... as long as you can avoid the souvenir shops!

Do you have any other San Diego Zoo dining questions? Feel free to ask in the comments section below. If you are in need of San Diego Zoo or Safari Park tickets, you can find them and other discounted San Diego attraction tickets and hotels at Undercover Tourist.

Related: Not-to-Miss San Diego Zoo Exhibits and Attractions

Hoppy planning!

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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Sep 5, 2022 at 10:32 p.m.
PrBobbi Says...

The good variety and descriptions make me hungry just reading this!


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