Best Zoos in Southern California 2018

Looking for the best zoo in Southern California? Take a walk on the wild side and check out our list of the best zoos in SoCal. These zoos are family friendly and larger than life.

San Diego Safari Park - best zoos in Southern California

1 – San Diego Zoo Safari Park

15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, CA 92027

Admission: Starts at $52 for adults and $42 for children

San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego and it’s easy to see why. Located near Escondido this large park is 1,800 acres large and hosts almost 2,600 animals with frequent new additions. What makes this zoo so incredible is that it recreates the African safari experience right in California. Not only does Safari Park feature large african animal exhibits but it also hosts animals from all parts of the world!

What makes this zoo so special is it’s signature Safari Tours. Visitors can choose from multiple types of tours from Safari Africa, Safari Asia and Cheetah Safari. Age limits to the safari tours are usually ages 3+ so make sure to plan accordingly if you bring little ones.

2 – San Diego Zoo

2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

Admission: Starts at $52 for adults and $42 for children

Although the Safari Park has already been mentioned, the San Diego Zoo is a separate park that deserves a mention all of it’s own. The San Diego Zoo alone holds over 3,700 animals and is one of the most visited and popular zoos in the world (we dare say the best zoo in Southern California!) The park is hosted on 100 acres and features animals from all around the globe.

We especially love their Animals in Action Experience where visitors can get up close and personal with a variety of animals such as a rhino, exotic cats or flamingos. It’s a great experience for children and adults alike!

3 – Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

5333 Zoo Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Admission: $20 for adults and $15 for children

The Los Angeles zoo is a 133 acre zoo known for it’s variety of animals and conservation efforts. The zoo is also well known for it’s expansive gorilla and monkey habitats such as the Campo Gorilla Reserve and the Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains exhibits where visitors can get up close with lowland gorillas and chimpanzees.

One of our favorite exhibits is the Elephants of Asia of habitat complex. This habitat spans 3.8 acres hosts elephants indigenous to China, India Thailand and more! Elephants of Asia also hosts a variety of elephant-themed art work that represents the respective countries and cultures of where the elephants are from. This must-do exhibit is educational and tons of fun.

4 – Living Desert Zoo & Gardens

47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260

Admission: $19.95 general admission and $9.95 for children

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens is a 1,800 acre park that is split between an amazing zoo experience and fun botanical gardens. The zoo itself hosts over 400 animals from 150 different species. One of the reasons this park made this list as one of the best zoos in Southern California is because many of the profits from zoo tickets goes to rehabilitation and conservation programs that the park sponsors.

Families who visit the Living Desert Zoo can take advantage of tons of great activities and exhibits offered by the zoo. We love their Giraffe feedings which allow visitors to feed the zoo’s giraffe’s. This activity is an extra $5 per person once inside the park, but it’s a very unique experience you wouldn’t want to pass up!

5 – Santa Barbara Zoo

500 Ninos Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

Admission: Ticket prices range from $10-17

Although the smallest zoo on the list, the Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the best family friendly zoos in the area and well worth a day trip. The zoo holds more than 600 animals and tons of exhibits and activities for a full day of fun.

We recommend checking out the Cats of Africa exhibit at the Santa Barbara Zoo. This exhibit hosts a large cat habitat that features African lions and black-footed cats. Big cat lovers will absolutely be thrilled!