This article is part of a series about a road-trip we took from Santa Fe, NM to San Diego, CA and up the coast, via Sedona, AZ. Read the previous article, read the next article.
Friday morning we are off to the San Diego Zoo with the rest of the family. The kids are really looking forward to it. If you are an old fan of the Tonight Show going back to the Johnny Carson days, you know the San Diego Zoo. Joan Embry, then spokesperson for the Zoological Society of San Diego used to bring some of the zoo’s animals on the show and it was always unpredictable and often funny.
The zoo, located in Balboa Park, owes its existence to the 1915 Panama-California International Exposition. This event commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal. San Diego was the first port-of-call on the west side of the new passageway, for boats heading north and they were celebrating. Exotic animals had been imported for the Exposition and were scattered throughout. One day in 1916, Dr. Harry Wegeforth, a local physician, was driving past the Exposition and heard a lion roar. According to the history page on the Zoo’s website he remarked to his brother Paul, “Wouldn’t it be splendid if San Diego had a zoo! You know…I think I’ll start one.” The first step was founding the San Diego Zoological Society. He was able to get the city to give him land in Balboa Park and the Zoo finally opened in 1922. Frank Buck the legendary, collector of wild animals and author of Bring ‘Em Back Alive, was the zoo’s director for a brief period in 1923. Because he and the zoo founder did not get along his tenure was short-lived, a mere three months. In 1927, Belle Benchly became the zoo’s director and held the post until 1953. She was the first woman zoo director in the country.
These days, the zoos biggest attraction is the Giant Panda exhibit. These rare animals are there through the efforts of the These rare animals are there through the efforts of the zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. The group’s mission is to work with animals on the verge of extinction. Only a few zoos in the country have Giant Panda exhibits. The zoo advises visitors to schedule this exhibit early in their day to avoid lines. Other popular attractions are the Polar Bear Plunge, the koalas (they have the largest collection outside Australia) and Elephant Odyssey. Our 8- year-old grandson enjoyed the River Otters the most, “Because they are cute,” he says. His second favorite thing was the Polar Bear Plunge because it is interactive. His was disappointed that he did not see a Fennec Fox. These residents of the Sahara Desert are the smallest breed of fox and, “they have the biggest ears of any animal with full body fur,” he says. (Yes he is 8, but he reads a lot and retains it). He says that the only animal with bigger ears is the elephant. It turns out they do have one; it’s in the Children’s Zoo. We’ll put it on the agenda for our next visit.
You can walk around the zoo, or take a 35-minute tour on one of the zoo’s tour buses to get a feeling for where exhibits are located. There are also Express buses that pick up at designated areas around the zoo if you get tired of walking. For a bird’s-eye view, ride the Skyfari, an aerial tramway that takes you above the action. All of these rides are included in the general admission ticket. If you get hungry while at the zoo, there are six restaurants offering a variety of fare. There are also food carts and stands located throughout the facility.
There is so much to see that it is hard to see it all in a day. Choose what you want to see, or plan to spend a long day if you want to see it all. They offer a discount pass if you want to do it over two days. If you are a zoo fan, definitely put the San Diego Zoo, one of the top zoos in the country, in your literary when you visit America’s Finest City.