Among my fondest memories as a child are family visits to the zoo. I was fascinated by it all! The sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, and especially by the exotic animals. It seemed a grand adventure and I think may have helped germinate the traveler seed in me -- I wanted to see these animals in the places they'd come from.
I've since visited many of these animals in their homelands over the years and as I've grown older my perspectives on zoos have changed somewhat, especially after seeing some terrible ones in poorer nations where animals are kept in small square metal cages (prisons really). I've developed a great empathy for these captive animals and believe they must be well cared for and given a decent place to live (ideally a spacious enclosure mimicking their natural habitat, although I understand this is not always possible). I also think zoos have a critical roll in public education and conservation, so I continue to visit and support them. I'm not someone who thinks zoos should be abandoned.
There are a lot of GREAT zoos in the world and the San Diego Zoo is said to be one of the finest (and maybe the best zoo in the world). Many consider it one of the "MUST DO" attractions in San Diego. The zoo is almost 100 years old but is kept fresh and modern, and is set on 100 acres (40 ha) of the green hills of Balboa Park close to downtown San Diego; it's an urban oasis. The land is leased by the nonprofit Zoological Society of San Diego, from the City of San Diego (which owns the the animals, equipment and other assets), and the exhibits are kept in a "natural" state as much as is possible. In fact, the San Diego Zoo pioneered open-air, cage-less exhibits intended to re-create the animal's habitat.
You'll want to spend a full day visiting the Zoo (from its opening to closing time or until you're tired) because there's so much to see. The zoo is home to over 4000 animals representing more than 800 species, many of which you likely won't see anywhere else in the world. These include such rarities as the great Giant Panda and California Condor exhibits. But there's lots of other interesting animals to see like gorillas, tigers, polar and grizzly bears, elephants, koalas, tapirs, leopards and tigers, exotic birds, and so on. The animals tend to be arranged by country of origin and you're guaranteed to have tired and sore feet by the end of the day.
A visit to the zoo is not cheap anymore but what is? For a family of five it will run between $150-$200 for the day, depending on ages, discounts, etc and not counting the cost of any souvenirs or food. The restaurants within the park are quite good and considering the captive audience are reasonably priced. And all moneys raised by the park support it and help care and feed all those hungry zoo mouths, so your admission goes to a good cause. There are optional double-decker bus tours and an aerial gondola (Skyfari). Zoo-keepers in different exhibits talk about their animals on a schedule you can obtain when you enter and there are options for feeding and interacting with certain species.
It's certainly a worthwhile destination. I hope you enjoy this photogallery of animals at the zoo. Scroll your mouse over a photo for it's legend, or click on the thumbnails at the bottom of the post,