A Christmas Adventure - The San Diego Zoo

11:54 AM

Always say yes to adventures...
...especially when they involve anything in San Diego! If you read yesterday's post, then you already know our Christmas adventure found us in San Diego! Well, if you know anything about San Diego, most people know it's the home of an awesome Zoo and Safari Park. 

Thanks to J's Mom we purchased 2-day passes at a discount, which was a perfect baller-on-a-budget way to make adventure what it was! This pass allows you to go to either park on each of the two days, in an combination you'd prefer. We chose to do one day at each park. This was also the exact reason our destination was SD. Basically, this would be a brand new experience for all of us -- seeing as how J and I weren't sure we'd ever been to the Zoo before OR if we just can't remember it!

Before I get into the details of our first day, I feel like I should address my internal conflict about Zoo's. I love that they create a place where the public can go to educate themselves and see amazing and exotic animals, especially animals on the verge of extinction. It is also sad to see animals in enclosures that are nowhere near the size of their natural habitat. I struggle with the knowledge that if it weren't for zoo's certain species would become extinct. Also, knowing that zoo's work hard to preserve the blood lines of these animals, but with that comes enclosures and somewhat domestication of a species that should be in the wild. I did feel better knowing that both 'parks' are not for profit and that all of their funds, obviously after operating costs, goes to saving animals from extinction. Along with millions of dollars donated by various generous humans. I also am not dumb to the fact that there is a lot of consumerism at both locations too. But in the end, I think their ultimate goal is admirable and I don't mind spending money to visit these two awesome locations, knowing they are trying to preserve animals/species.

On to the adventure...

I woke us all up bright and early with many phone calls to a variety of rental car locations to try to source us a car. Finally, I was able to find one with Avis. Screw Budget! So, we decided to just get ready for the day and start our adventure. A quick Uber ride to grab our car and we were off to enjoy the rest of our Christmas Adventure.
We decided to grab a big breakfast to fill ourselves up. We heard the food at the Zoo was mediocre so we thought we'd skip it, eat snacks while there, then grab dinner somewhere outside of the park. Thanks to trusty old Yelp, we found our way to Werewolf for breakfast, which is an American Pub that had a good rating to review ratio. I was a little skeptical, but after all was said and done I was NOT anymore!

Their menu had something that read "Homer Cakes" - AKA Donut Pancakes. Four mini fluffy pancakes, glazed donut icing, sprinkles, raspberry jelly filling. We suggest sharing them as a side! Do it!

Normally I don't order super sweet things for breakfast, but J made an executive decision to order these as an appetizer for all of us. They were amazing! Like, really amazing! The donut glaze on top was perfectly complimented by the tart raspberry jelly in the middle layers. These were seriously breakfast crack, no joke!

Of course we also ordered main dishes too. L went with the small stack of (more) regular pancakes. J went with the Chilaquiles Roja with steak, which was really good, besides the kick that would have been too much for me to eat the entire order. I decided on the Country Fried Steak, as our server said anything with the gravy was good. However, their gravy was too bogie for me, I like mine more down home style, this was what they'd deem 'Southwestern' style I guess. I should have went with the Steak Quesadilla, thanks to hindsight! The first cup of coffee they serve you, then it's self serve from there. That's all bad, for a coffee drinker like myself. I'm pretty sure I got up about five times!
This spot looks like it would be really fun to come to at night too. Their bathrooms cracked me up...and imagine an eight year old asking about the door image and gender neutral bathrooms! I love Pat!
We knew we could bring drinks and snacks into the park, so we found the local CVS and stocked up on chips, crackers, water, and tons of candy to keep us well fed for the day. The technical rule is nothing in glass! Maybe I'm really jaded, but they didn't even search anyone's backpack or purse, everything was so free flowing...it was nice for a change!

If you don't know much about either park, then here's a small tidbit -- the Zoo is in the city and the Safari Park is in another city in the suburbs(ish) about 30 mins separate these two locations. We didn't have a long drive to get to the Z, which is nestled in Balboa Park. When we got there, I was really surprised that parking didn't cost anything. I think this is normal, given that things seemed to be different for the holiday season. We chose to splurge and valet park the car for convenience and bypassing the long line to enter the self parking area. I guess it did cost to park ;)
Okay, so apparently the week between Christmas and New Years is one of the busiest. It is also the time that the Zoo extends its hours from closing at 5PM to 8PM, which was not listed on their website when I checked prior to coming. Also, prior to coming I had been given tips for the zoo, since it is so large. 

It's overwhelming! All the people didn't help either. But we wanted to know what was free to us with our ticket and what cost additional, so we spoke with the volunteers that were hanging out in the front.
We decided to skip the Kangaroo tram, which has four stops throughout the zoo, and go straight to the Skyfari. The Skyfari is a sky tram that takes you across the entire zoo with a great aerial view! On this day it was free, but signs posted said it does cost $4 at certain times.
We were still a little scrambled and didn't really know what we wanted to do or where to go. So we kinda just started to walk. We walked toward the Elephant Odyssey, where I would have loved to watch the trainers with the Elephants, but that show was still 25 minutes to go. L really wanted to see the Polar Bears, so we retraced our steps to the Skyfari and saw the awesome PB exhibit! This was a really awesome exhibit and the PBs were really active and playful while we were there. I loved all the interactive stuff they had for visitors -- seal holes and igloos to poke into, a huge book to read about PBs, and fun statues to pose with (and take photos with to buy).
 
After that we wandered toward Panda Canyon, which was being renovated and moved past the Asian Passage on a new 'Panda Trek'. Again, you could take professional pics with a green background and they would superimpose you holding pandas. This pics are hilarious, but actually kinda cute! There are two lines for the panda trek -- the one on the left is where you wait to snag pics, the line on the right is where you speed through to take a peek and keep walking, NO pics allowed! We took the fast route and J even snuck a quick pic that probably didn't turn out well. It was cool, but not worth the long wait in the other line.
 
We took a little break and munched on our snacks and rested our legs! L was obsessed with the super huge escalator we saw earlier, so we took her back there to ride it up to checkout Owens Aviary. If you are into birds this is your spot, but I was more worried about them pooping on my head, versus enjoying them. There are different levels and entrances to the aviary, which was really convenient. They have double doors at each entrance and they ask you not to open them together so birds don't escape. I didn't once, see any trying to escape though ;)
 
Then we got ourselves lost in the 'Lost Forest,' which was okay with me, because this is where my fave animals resided -- monkeys, gorillas, and orangutans.  After roaming around for a long time, we decided to hop on the Kangaroo tram and take it back near the Polar Bears, where we'd go see the rest of the zoo that we didn't see yet.
 
We finished our walk through the Elephant Odyssey, tried to peek into the new African rocks opening in 2017, then spent some time in the Urban Jungle. By this time, the sun was setting and it was getting cooler. But we were going strong after a coffee and hot cocoa to keep us warm. This is also where we saw the rhino, which I've decided is probably my spirit animal. Not my fave animal, but my spirit animal!
 
At this point, we'd seen most of the Zoo and were happy about that. We wanted to go see the Reptile House and stopped at whatever floated our boat along the way. This RH is outdoors and is awesome and allows tons of people to mill about. We also checked out the Centennial Plaza, which was also a really cool thing to experience while we were there. 2016 marks the centennial celebration for the SD Zoo. We were able to read about how the zoo started, the huge milestones, and also take a peek at the huge birthday cake they had on display!
By this time it was dark and most of the animals weren't out anyways. However, L wanted to take one more trip on the Skyfari, so we did. The line to get on was short and the ride across was cold. Then when we arrived at the other side, we weren't allowed to stay on. So we got off and waited in a fairly long line to get back.

As we tried to warm up, we ran into one of the shops to see if there were any souvenirs we wanted. I always want mugs, but we don't have space for any more, since we have so dang many! But some were really cute. And lucky me, baller-on-a-budget, a lot of the Christmas and Centennial items were half off! I ended up with the perfect souvenir, a centennial Christmas ornament to remember our trip every year when I add it to our tree!

Like most large attraction places these days, the Zoo had system to track all of the professional photos you take while there for the day, called storipass. Instead of waiting in lines at the Zoo, I could look at pictures at home and then buy them later or do it on my phone with the QR code provided on each card. Also, you can add different cards to your 'stori' if you didn't use the same one each time AND both locations could be on the same 'stori'! If convenience isn't King, I don't know what is! In addition to this service, there are tons of fun photo booths, all costing $5 (which take credit card), that are themed to your liking of animal.

Since we used valet for our car, we were able to text them that we were on our way and they had the car waiting for us when we arrived. We could have also paid prior to getting to the car, but just decided to pay when we got to the car. As I write this, I realize I never tipped the valet driver. What a jerk! I paid the fee and got into the car, gah!

It was way past 8 o'clock and we were staving...and cold! I was going to use a recommendation for a long list from people on FB, but J wanted to grab something quick. So we used Yelp again, and he found the Carnitas Snack Shack! 
Nestled in a little neighborhood, lies this house transformed into the CSS. All seating is outdoors with heat lamps, so we decided to take it to go and eat at the hotel. We ordered the daily special, Snack Poutine. A kids cheese quesadilla for L, the Carnitas Torta for J, and the 2 Carnitas tacos for myself. We didn't want to wait to try the poutine, so we all dug into it in the car before we left. It was pretty amazing. Their carnitas are bomb. I know they should be with the namesake, but do yourself a favor and get over there if you're in the area! I loved whatever their corn and crema salsa was all about. That's my name for it, I have no clue what they call it! Their kids quesadilla was made with corn tortillas and left something to be desired. For taking the food to-go, it was still super good!
 
Finally, fed and showered, we all went to bed exhausted! We knew we were in for another long day ahead of us.

We were able to see almost everything in an almost full day at the Zoo. We didn't get there until about 11AM and left at closing, which is a solid 9 hours of Zoo going antics. We all had an amazing time, luckily we are all animal watching people. Everything was interesting from the animal interactions, to the facts and information posted everywhere, to all the additional activities that were available. We didn't spend too much money in the park, because we didn't eat there. Some of the food actually smelled and looked good too, but I think waiting to eat really good food was a better option for us.

The volunteers who guided us were really sweet, as were all of the employees we encountered. And, a huge bonus for all of their bathrooms being well kept. They weren't gross public bathrooms as one might assume, they were all nice, clean, and full of supplies! So random, but makes a small difference in an experience.

I can safely say that our first adventure of our trip was a great experience. From the Homer Cakes to the Polar Bears, we all enjoyed ourselves...even if we all walked almost 14,000 steps that day. Breaks were taken when needed. Snacks were snacked on when needed. Most importantly, new memories were created and pics were taken to remember...

Let the adventure continue... 

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