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American Way staff

The San Diego Zoo, founded in 1916 in beautiful Balboa Park, is arguably the finest in the world. It's home to more than 3,500 animals across 650-plus species, and a main focus is conservation and saving endangered species. A visit isit here is just as much a feel-good learning experience as it is a fun time. 

Guided Bus Tour

This is the first thing you should do when you arrive at the zoo (and, yes, it's free with admission). If there's a long line, don't fret — it moves fast. Find a seat up top on the double-decker bus and get a lay of the sprawling grounds while an energetic guide shares facts and stories about the animals.

Africa Rocks

The newest exhibit, which opened in 2017 to the tune of US$68 million, covers eight acres and is home to many species of African animals that live across the continent, "savannah to sea": penguins, ring-tailed lemurs, baboons, dwarf crocodiles, leopards, meerkats and many others. The six elaborate regionally specific habitats — from rocky Cape Fynbos to the grassy plateaus of the Ethiopian Highlands — are almost as impressive as the animals.

Elephant Odyssey

You'll get to see Asian and African elephants in this two-acre habitat. The Elephant Care Center lets visitors watch zookeepers train the animals or provide basic care such as scrubbing them clean. Kids will also love the Elephant Play Yard, where they can dig for replica mammoth fossils, climb life-size animal statues and solve puzzles. 

Skyfari Aerial Tram

Tired of trekking back and forth across this very hilly park? Hop the tram for a shortcut, and take in incredible views of the zoo and the city while you're at it. Hot tip: The lines for the tram near the zoo entrance are long; instead, catch the return ride, near the polar bears' exhibit. 

Albert's

Hoping to elevate lunch beyond chicken fingers and a fountain soda? You're in luck. Albert's is a lovely sit-down restaurant in the Lost Forest, where you can dine on Cabernet-braised short rib with white cheddar cauliflower mac 'n' cheese while sitting by a waterfall (reservations are recommended). It's named for a beloved silverback western lowland gorilla that came to the zoo in 1949 at four months old. After dessert, go say hi to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the Gorilla Tropics. 

Gorilla Tropics

You could spend half the day watching the gorillas play here. The park is home to two bands of them — the "bachelor troop" of three brothers, and a family of a mom, dad and son — and they take turns on exhibit for guests. They often walk right up to the glass and seemingly show off for the crowds. 

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