Hip, hop, hooray! The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are roaring back to life. As of June 15, 2021, the zoo and safari park will no longer require dated San Diego Zoo tickets (or a reservation) to visit. In more hoppy news, as of June 15, masks will no longer be required (although people not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 are recommended to wear a face covering) and buses and tours will open back up. Overall, the zoo and park will lift most COVID-19 restrictions, bringing your visit back to normal. Special experience tours will no longer be limited to household groups, which allows for individual pricing and more availability.
It feels so good to tell you that these changes coming June 15 will make most of this post pretty much out of date and hopfully part of our past. If you are looking to visit the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park, you can get your tickets from your favorite froggy friends! Hop on over to our other posts for tips and ideas:
- 16 San Diego Zoo Tips for a Roaring Good Time
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tips for Amazing Animal Adventures
- 10 Not-to-Miss San Diego Zoo Exhibits and Attractions
We had the most frogtastic time hopping about the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park. Even though some exhibits and experiences were temporarily closed, we found that it gave us the opportunity to explore some areas and spend time with some animals we've somehow missed before.
You may be wondering what visiting the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park will be like under the evolving safety and health guidelines. You can expect some changes in terms of limited hours and on-ground capacity during the reopening period. While the changes promote social distancing and disease prevention, the good news is both of these properties are large, outdoor spaces. We may miss a few rides, play areas and animal close-ups, but much of the visit is just like before. The employees do a great job of promoting social distancing and keeping everything clean. Some exhibits may have floor markers to show visitors where to stand in order to stay a safe distance away from other guests. We appreciated the "High Touch Area" stickers on glass at the zoo to remind us to sanitize our toddler's hands.
Here's a quick look at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park as it reopens to the public.
San Diego Zoo Reopening Dates and Details
Both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park reopened June 20, 2020. The zoo hours can vary by day, so check the Zoo hours and Safari Park hours before you visit. Expect longer hours during the holiday season, when the zoo lights up at night! The biggest changes are the reduced capacity and the limited shows, shopping and dining experiences in both parks. The zoos are reopening in phases. As the risk decreases, the zoos may also increase capacity.
The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are frogtastic and unique zoos. With lush plant life, hills and trees, there is so much more to do than just seeing the main attractions — the animals. Kids love all of the interactive play and learn areas. The kids miss those, but they were so distracted when faced with their favorite furry and scaly creatures. At the Safari Park, we had fun meeting Safari Parker, who taught us about bird feathers and animal poop (the tadpoles got a good laugh). So look for surprising opportunities for learning and fun in the Safari Base Camp.
We have some toadally awesome San Diego Zoo tips and Safari Park tips. However, you’ll need to slightly modify the plan during this reopening time to expect more walking and be flexible if some experiences are unavailable. Many play areas and hopful transportation were closed during the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park reopening, but the Africa Tram at the safari park and the Kangaroo Bus and the Guided Bus Tour at the zoo have returned. The Skyfari Aerial Tram is also open Thursday through Sunday. It's a great way to travel between the front of the zoo and the back.
During the park's initial reopening phase, weekend late morning and afternoon wait times to enter the San Diego Zoo were quite long — up to three hours! Visit during a weekday or arrive early on weekends to skip the lines.
Modified Zoo Touring Plan
The San Diego Zoo is very hilly, but you can use this to your advantage. We came up with a plan that will have you hopping downhill all day. When we entered the zoo, we made a right toward the Outback and Urban Jungle. We saw the koalas, giraffes, rhino and other exciting animals before entering Africa Rocks. We followed the path downhill, stopping to visit the exhibits along the way. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, it was lunch time and a chance to remove those masks. We sat at the restaurant tables by Hua Mei Cafe and took a break.
After lunch, we rode the elevators up, crossed Bashor Bridge (getting a glimpse of San Diego's skyline) and then we made a choice. To the right is Elephant Odyssey and to the left is the Northern Frontier. Having just visited the elephants at the Safari Park, we opted to go left toward the polar bears and down to the Asian leopards and Panda Trek to see the red panda. That placed us right at the bottom of the elevator again.
Standing at the bottom, it was choice time again. We could have ridden the elevator up for two options: to see either the apes on the way to the park exit or to head to the back of the zoo to visit the elephants. Or we could hop on the Hippo Trail to see hippos, monkeys, apes or tigers. We were getting tired, but we chose the walk. An elevator ride up would ensure you never really climb uphill though. We love the shady trails of the Hippo Trail and Monkey Trail so we ended our day exploring that those areas, hanging with our favorite apes and even saw a baby pygmy hippo. OMG! Cuteness overload! It was nice to know you can still have a toadally downhill day without the Skyfari Aerial Tram or buses. The Skyfari is a fun transportation option that has reopened Thursday through Sunday (subject to change).
Get a view of the baby pygmy hippo in action and a whole herd of other exciting animals in Tad's video on our YouTube channel. He shot it just after the San Diego Zoo reopening.
San Diego Zoo and Safari Park Safety Measures
During the initial reopening stage, the zoos looked a little different with physical distancing guidelines, sanitation measures and rules to protect employees, visitors and its animal residents from COVID-19. But aside from a few signs and hand sanitizing stations, it was the same old zoo and safari park we know and love.
The San Diego Zoo follows state and local government plans for safely reopening, as well as guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. The San Diego Tourism Authority produced a San Diego Attraction Reopening Health and Safety Plan. The plan incorporated the sanitation strategies and protocols for the San Diego Zoo and other major San Diego County attractions.
You can purchase San Diego Zoo and Safari Park admission tickets and tours before arriving. (You can purchase on-site but buying online reduces contact.) It's recommended to wear face coverings for unvaccinated family members ages 2 and up. Other changes, such as health screenings prior to entry, are no longer required.
Employee Screenings and Protection
- Employees underwent COVID-19 training.
Social Distancing Measures
- Capacity is limited to less than half of the usual number of guests.
- Parking lot capacity is controlled.
- Capacity is limited in gift shops.
- Markings on the ground note where to stand in lines and in front of some exhibits.
- At the Safari Park, look for fun signs that request, "Please maintain a lion's territory, stay 6 feet apart."
- Some exhibits may distribute a visitation time to your party and give you a time limit to observe the animals before asking you to move on.
- Increased signage shares health and safety information.
- Indoor spaces, interactive spaces and narrow paths are closed.
- Caravans and Safaris are limited to household groups only.
- No indoor dining.
- Play areas and some exhibits are not available.
It's up to you to keep your distance. You cannot control other people, and your tadpoles may not be able to read the signs to stay away. So you will need to take responsibility for keeping your family at least 6 feet away from others. It's easy to get excited to see the animals and froget to stay away from people!
Another issue is high touch areas, such as the glass enclosures commonly encountered at the zoo. Chances are, if your toddler has his or her hands and face agains the glass to get a good look at the animals, other kids have too. You might see signs that say "High Touch Area" to remind you that it might be a good time to pull out those wipes and sanitizer.
Reduced Contact Measures and Face Coverings
- Purchase admission tickets online in advance.
- Purchase tickets for tours, safaris and other premium experiences before arrival.
- Be aware that capacity is limited to less than half of the usual number of guests.
- Parking lot capacity is also controlled.
- Face coverings are no longer required for guests 2 and up (but are recommended for unvaccinated guests).
- Admission is first-come, first-served. As guests exit, waiting guests can enter.
- Touch-free entry is in place to minimize contact.
- Plastic or plexiglass separates guests from guides and drivers on safaris and caravans.
Disinfecting and Sanitation
- Additional portable sinks and hand sanitizer units are around property for guest use.
- Chairs and tables are disinfected after each use.
- Commonly touched areas are frequently sanitized.
- Frequently touched areas, such as enclosure glass (these areas may have reminder signs).
- No indoor dining is currently available.
- Chairs and tables are disinfected after each use.
- More grab-and-go options are available to eat.
- Plexiglass separate employees from guests when ordering.
- Some tables are unavailable.
Safety Measures for Animals
The San Diego Zoo has measures in place to protect not only employees and guests, but also the animals who live in the zoos. We do not yet know how COVID-19 affects other mammals. In an excess of caution, the San Diego Zoo Global added heightened biosecurity measures to protect all mammals (including people). You can expect the following changes when visiting the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park (some may be behind the scenes):
- Maintain social distance between people and susceptible species.
- No animal feedings with guests.
- No petting zoos.
Shows, Tours and Rides
- Skyfari is open at the zoo limited days (Thursday through Sunday).
- Plexiglass separates guests from guides and drivers.
- Shows may be canceled temporarily.
San Diego Zoo Reopening Tips
Be sure to purchase dated tickets or make reservations in advance. You'll want to plan your arrival to avoid a wait to enter the zoo. Once the zoo hits limited capacity, guests will have to wait outside to enter until other parties leave the zoo. That wait can reach hours midday on weekends. Arrive early!
The bright side of all these changes is that with limited capacity, the zoos may feel less crowded than normal, especially if you can visit midweek. This may be the perfect time to book a caravan or safari (in advance). Call 619-718-3000 to book. Also, if you are visiting the Safari Park, those are the only ways to access certain animals and exhibits normally seen from the Africa Tram. We hopped on a Cart Safari and it was toadally worth it. Although now, the Africa Tram has returned and it is fully operational.
Even though many shows are canceled, you can learn valuable information from employees near major exhibits. Keep your eyes out for keepers who wander around with cool information.
Take frequent breaks. Bring snacks and water, since not all restaurants and food stands will be open. Remember to drink often to stay hydrated.
Be sure to check out these not-to-miss San Diego Zoo Exhibits and Attractions. Finally, share the expected changes with your tadpoles before they visit to prepare them and help set expectations.
Are you excited for your first trip back to the zoo? Remember to buy your San Diego Zoo and Safari Park tickets before you arrive. The San Diego Go Cards include admission (and many other popular attractions), as well. Do you have any further questions about the San Diego Zoo reopening? Please ask them in the comments section below.
Related: SeaWorld San Diego Reopening