When Is the Best Time
The San Diego Zoo is an awesome year-round destination. You can experience more than 15,000 animals in action each day of the weak. However, if you want to make the best out of your visit, consider our time of day tips as well as our monthly guide. This article was written by our zoologists Andy and Rory.
Best Time to Visit
In general, a weekday is a quietest and best time to visit San Diego Zoo, with average waiting times of around 10 – 30 minutes. Weekends are much busier and tend to be more popular with tourists. On these days, waiting times can be between 30 – 60 minutes, sometimes even longer during busy months. Arriving early in the day can be a good way to beat the crowds, as visitor numbers are usually highest at noon.
Also consider taking advantage of rainy days, which can deter other visitors. Note that longer waiting times than normal can be expected currently due to coronavirus social distancing measures (expect 1 – 2 hour waits during peak times).
Best Time of Day
The best time of day to visit San Diego Zoo is either in the morning or late in the afternoon, as animals are generally most active during these times. This is especially true for carnivore species such as big cats and bears, which will often be napping during the middle of the day. Many zoo species have their main feeding times in the morning and this can be one of the best times to see them up and about.
Midday: If visiting around lunchtime, viewing opportunities can still be good and you can expect to see birds, primates, and large herbivores such as elephants. These animals will usually be active throughout the daylight hours and will become inactive after sunset.
After Sunset: While the darkness can deter some species, it also brings out others that are not easy to spot at other times of the day. San Diego Zoo has several nocturnal animals, including ocelots, sloths, and Tasmanian devils. Aim to visit these animals around sunset or just afterwards for the best chance to see them.
Complete Season Guide | Monthly Details
Regardless of the month, you’re planning to visit San Diego Zoo. Always buy your ticket(s) in advance (San Diego Zoo Tickets – Reservation and Booking) to get in easier and avoid standing in line, sometimes with heavy crowds. Read this TripAdvisor review from an experienced visitor: San Diego Zoo – TripAdvisor – Buy in advance
Gorilla in the winter in San Diego Zoo – In December
Winter is a great time to visit San Diego Zoo. Not only will you avoid the busy summer crowds, you will also benefit from the slightly lower temperatures. Both of these factors make it easier to move around the zoo and will allow you to take your time and really get the most out of your visit. Just be sure to plan for the weather by bringing an extra layer or two.
An added benefit at this time of year is that the animals will also be enjoying the cooler temperatures and many will be more active than usual, especially the carnivores.
Just be aware that the days are shorter around this time of year, with the light beginning to fade at around 5 p.m. (the zoo remains open until 9 p.m.). This means you will have less time if visiting later in the day and animals such as birds and primates might be inactive, particularly after sunset.
December is a colorful month at San Diego Zoo and you can expect many exhibits to be lit up with Christmas lights and decorations. This is also the coldest month of the year and it’s best to dress accordingly. Weather: 64°F (average high) and 7 rainy days.
Although generally a quiet month, the days around Christmas will be busy. For the full festive experience, check out the zoo’s very own reindeer herd, who are most active during the morning when they’re having their breakfast.
January is one of the quietest months of the year in San Diego Zoo. Get to the zoo early and you might feel like you have the entire place to yourself, apart from the animals of course. Temperatures are usually cooler than average and you should be prepared for possible rain. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 7 rainy days.
This month is ideal for viewing the zoo’s polar bears, who will be embracing the winter weather and can often be seen swimming in their enclosure pools. Be sure to check out the underwater viewing room for a potential close encounter.
February offers many sunny days combined with comfortable temperatures in San Diego Zoo. There are also more hours of daylight in February than in other winter months, allowing more time to explore the zoo later in the day. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 7 rainy days.
With visitor numbers low, you can often avoid long queues even on weekends during this month. Keep an eye out for the zoo’s Arctic Foxes, they’ll be showing off their beautiful winter coats and will be perfect for photo opportunities.
Grizzly bears hugging in San Diego Zoo in May
Spring can be a very interesting time of year to visit San Diego Zoo, not least because many species have their babies during this season. Recent years have seen baby rhinos, giraffes, lemurs and even leopards, all of which can be delightful to watch.
Visitor numbers during spring increase slightly from winter and tend to spike in the weeks surrounding Easter and spring break. These dates vary from year to year so be sure to check when they are before visiting. Despite this, average visitor numbers are still low during the majority of the spring season and waiting times will usually be less than at other times of the year.
Another good reason to visit the zoo during this season is the weather, which is often pleasant and strikes a happy medium between the cool days of winter and the hotter days of summer. Animal activity also tends to be high at this time of year, with young animals exploring their enclosures and species making the most of the cooler days before summer.
March is the first month at San Diego Zoo where you can expect to regularly see newborn animals at the zoo. Pay particular attention to the Nubian Ibex herd in this regard. March weather can remain cool, especially in the morning, so warm clothing is advised. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 7 rainy days.
This month remains the off-season for the zoo, meaning you have a good chance of avoiding long queues, even on weekends. Be aware of the dates surrounding spring break, however, as these can become busier.
April in San Diego Zoo often features an annual “Butterfly Jungle” exhibition, where thousands of colorful butterflies hatch inside the zoo’s rain forest greenhouse. Alongside this experience, April offers slightly drier weather conditions. Weather: 68°F (average high) and 4 rainy days.
This month can be a busy time at the zoo, particularly the weeks around Easter. With this in mind, it’s often best to avoid the weekends if possible and try to visit early in the day.
May in San Diego Zoo can regularly be affected by the Californian “May Gray” – a weather pattern consisting of cool temperatures and overcast skies. Warm clothes might be needed but the animals won’t mind and the colder temperatures can encourage activity. Weather: 69°F (average high) and 2 rainy days.
The weather can reduce visitor numbers and May is also your last chance to visit San Diego Zoo before peak season begins, making it an ideal time to go.
Polar Bear in San Diego Zoo – Taken in June
The warmest time of the year, summer often brings long, hot days to San Diego. The temperature can sometimes reach over 100°F, so be sure to come prepared with water, hats and sunscreen if necessary. The zoo itself is very hilly and some visitors find that it can be uncomfortable to get around on particularly hot days. However, keep in mind that the zoo offers a shuttle service and elevators to make travelling between the exhibits easier.
As summer is also peak season, crowds can become large and the zoo will often be busy with tourists and families. This increases waiting times and you can generally expect to wait up to an hour or more in queues, depending on the time of day.
With the warmer weather, the animals will also slow down and spent a lot more time sleeping and hiding in the shade. Many of the desert animals, such as camels and giraffes, will not mind too much and can be seen with regularity. However, the large carnivores – particularly cold dwelling species such as Snow Leopards, will be harder to spot.
June is the first month in San Diego Zoo during peak season and can be quieter than the others, particularly in the first week. Consider paying a visit to the zoo’s Reptile Mesa – an exhibit featuring exotic plants and reptiles that will be enjoying the warmth. Weather: 71°F (average high) and 1 rainy day.
June also has the longest days of the year in San Diego. Consider making the most of this by visiting late in the afternoon, when the zoo will be quieter and the animals will be most active.
July is when visitor numbers to San Diego Zoo are at their highest. Go early or late on a weekday to avoid the worst of the crowds and check out the rainforest areas, where the shade might encourage the Tapirs and Sun Bears to be out and about. Weather: 75°F (average high) and 1 rainy day.
July is a hot month and you will benefit from being prepared with suitable clothing and visiting later in the day when the temperatures begin to drop.
August often boasts the highest temperatures of the year in San Diego Zoo. Many of the larger animals will be inactive during the middle of the day, but there will be perfect opportunities to watch the elephants cooling off and playing in their pools. Weather: 77°F (average high) and 1 rainy day.
Visitor numbers begin to decrease in August and will be at their lowest at the end of the month, when there will be less tourists and waiting times during the week will be short.
Male lion in early November – San Diego Zoo
Fall can be an excellent time to visit San Diego Zoo. With peak season over, visitor numbers return to lower levels and you can expect far shorter queues. This also makes it much easier to view all the exhibits. Just be aware of the zoo’s annual “Kids Free” event in October, where numbers will spike higher due to more visits from families with children.
Temperatures often remain hot during the beginning of the fall season but will start to cool down later on, making it easier to spend time out in the open.
In terms of animal activity, many species have their breeding seasons in fall and you can expect to see an increase in activity as a result. Male animals will be putting on a show to try and attract females, which can make for interesting viewing as they compete amongst each other. Species that have their breeding seasons in fall include Red Pandas, Kookaburras and many species of deer.
September can often be the quietest month at San Diego Zoo, making it an ideal time to visit. Keep an eye out for deer species such as the reindeer, the males of which might be locking antlers and trying to establish dominance. Weather: 75°F (average high) and 1 rainy day.
Along with the lower number of visitors, another benefit of visiting in September is the weather. Sunny days are common and the temperatures are usually warm.
October features San Diego Zoo’s “Kids Free” event, where children under the age of 12 are admitted free all month. It’s possible therefore that the shier animals in the zoo might spend more time hiding during the busiest days, making them harder to see. Weather: 73°F (average high) and 3 rainy days.
The warm temperatures and the regularity of dry days make this a good month to visit, just keep in mind that weekends especially will be very busy with families.
November is when temperatures begin to drop a little faster as winter approaches in San Diego Zoo. Despite this, the weather can still be pleasant and animal activity might be higher than in previous months, especially on colder mornings. Weather: 69°F (average high) and 4 rainy days.
It’s best to come prepared with warm clothes or a jacket on overcast days, but you will benefit greatly from the lower visitor numbers, which will result in much shorter waiting times.
Open Every Day and San Diego Tips
The San Diego Zoo is open every day, regardless of the weather. Parking is always free. Don’t forget to visit other amazing places in San Diego, like the glorious beaches, the fascinating historical attractions, the seals at La Jolla, and so much more. We wrote a full guide with tips for each month in San Diego and the best times to visit the city (the link takes you to our unique San Diego vacation article).
With over 4 million visitors, San Diego Zoo is one of the most visited zoos and truly unique in terms of animal encounters. Read our monthly details and unique tips above. One other must-do wildlife activity is going on a whale-watching trip in San Diego. Whales are present year-round here!