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  • Writer's pictureLisa Marley

San Diego - San Diego Zoo

Updated: Jul 7, 2019

My first trip to the USA! I was so excited that it was to not only California but San Diego, a city that I really liked the sound of and with a star attraction - San Diego Zoo, known as the best zoo in the world.

We (my coworker and friend, Matt and I) managed to arrange to go out a couple of days early to have one day visiting the zoo and another just exploring the city.

The US was a place I'd honestly never been that excited about visiting, at least relatively. Not so much in terms of natural attraction - boasting beautiful natural parks with varied environments from state to state - but more in terms of culture, particularly with current politics. So I was a little hesitant at how I would find it.

However our trip got off to a very welcoming start with two lovely human encounters on the very first morning.

Firstly, our taxi driver surprised me by talking about the great LGBTQ+ bar scene in San Diego - a relief to my not-very-progressive image of the US as a whole. Secondly, we were hardly out of the taxi when a woman in a jogging outfit with a visor and small dog approached us outside the gates of the zoo. She asked if we were tourists - which was probably written all over us while we cooed at the palm trees and birds of paradise lining the sidewalk - and asked whether we had tickets bought already. When we said we were indeed tourists from the UK and didn't have tickets, slightly confused about why she was asking, she presented two guest tickets and explained as members they got a certain amount every year. Since it was December they wouldn't have time to use them, so wanted to give them away as a random act of kindness. Gushing, we accepted gratefully, taken aback at the generosity of this stranger considering tickets are usually $54 each!

I am lucky to be able to travel with someone who is much of a nature nut as me, and a much better photographer than I am meaning I have someone to learn from. We spent a fantastic day wandering around (in an organised way, you've got to plan that route!) taking pictures not only of the captive animals but also the wild hummingbirds, a bird I've never seen before. Each area of the zoo is themed to be like the natural environment of the animals that are there, so the African area has aloes and succulents planted around the walkways, which the area near the pandas has bamboo growing along the pathways, and the rainforest areas has lush greenery. This really added to the experience, although it wasn't quite as integrated as Poing, (the wildlife park from my previous post in Munich).

The expanse of the zoo and species it hosts certainly makes the zoo impressive. It clearly has

good quality enclosures suitable for each species, with plenty of enrichment and informed staff / volunteers placed around to spread conservation messages. While we were there on a weekday, it felt relatively quiet and spread out - you were rarely very crowded. The one criticism I had was that it is a shame there is so much fencing around enclosures. I know there is a movement - at least in the UK - to make exhibits as open air as possible, trying to banish 'bars' of any kind and the connotations they carry in zoos. Saying this, the newest Africa area was much more of this style, so I imagine it's something they are working towards but due to the large amounts of enclosures they have will take some time to update and implement.

Unsurprisingly, we were there from opening to close, ending our day with several trips on the gondola that goes over the whole expanse of the park. I got some great pictures and learned a lot from Matt. One of my favourites was of this Spoonbill in the huge 3 story aviary (I had some Jurassic Park III flashbacks), as I love the shadow that it's unique beak makes on the lower half. You can see more of my pictures from the trip on my instagram (see my social page!).

The second day we explored more of Balboa Park. I was really excited to see the Museum of Man, which had really thought-provoking exhibitions on human-animal relationships (my favourite topic), cannibalism (particularly interesting was the labelling of indigenous peoples as cannibals in colonial times), and the Post Secret exhibit, which got people to make confessions via anonymous postcards - something that was both hilarious and emotional at times. The park is beautiful and I wish we could of had another day just to walk around and explore it, maybe visiting a few more of it's museums. We stumbled across the Spanish Village on our way back and walked past the beautiful exterior of the botanical gardens, both of which I would love to visit again if ever I return.

The rest of my trip was spent staying in the trendy Gaslamp district and working at the convention centre, probably best known for the huge Comicon it hosts each year. It was also spent eating as much Mexican food as possible - it is probably my favourite cuisine so since we were so close to the border I was not going to miss that opportunity!

At the time of writing I've been to America a few more times, and San Diego is still my favourite city that I've visited. It's manageable size, list of attractions and laid back vibe make it perfect to me. I feel like it's often overlooked when people do the classic California road trip, but I would recommend not skipping it - in fact, maybe start or end there. As with most Californian cities, the flight in was pretty fantastic. Aside from the fact that to get over to the east coast we had flown over the icy landscape of Greenland and Hudson Bay, moving diagonally down across North America, as you descend towards the city you are met by a rapidly changing landscape all in a very small space of time. The flat Anza-Borrego desert changes dramatically into the mountains of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which fall away suddenly to the sprawling city that hugs the coast line. We happened to land at sunset which made the view unbelievable.

It was a great ad surprising first impression of America. This wouldn't last long though, as directly after San Diego I was off to Texas...


It has to be San Diego Zoo.

Places to eat:

Tocaya - a great Mexican restaurant in the Gaslamp district. Get the taco board along with a strawberry and basil lemonade! We ate there twice. Really beautiful space and great food that caters for most diet restrictions - it is California after all.

Places to stay:

We stayed in AirBnBs near Balboa Park and then the Gaslamp area. The second was admittedly a lot better, but mostly because our first place was so close to the airport we involuntarily cowered when planes went over! Always check the reviews for comments about noise if they're near airports or train stations.

Vegan friendly?

For sure! Tocaya has vegan options and you won't have too much of a problem finding vegan options, particularly in the Gaslamp and trendier areas. Matt even managed to find something to eat at the zoo. Not being vegan myself (though I am actively trying to minimise the animal products in my diet) travelling with him is one of the main reasons I include this bit!

December 2018

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