“‘What shall you do all your vacation?’ asked Amy. ‘I shall lie abed and do nothing.’ replied Meg.”

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Photo Credit: iStock – Kirkikis

The San Diego Zoo was a big part of the reason we chose this California destination as our family summer vacation. One of the twins loves pandas! When the girls were very young, they all gravitated to images of different animals.

Their favorite animals back then are still their “favorite animal.” Having something they identify with as a fun, cute animal makes gift giving easy. It also made this trip planning a little easier as well!

To sum up, this is the reason we made the San Diego Zoo–more specifically the panda exhibit–our #1 destination in San Diego. For our first full day in the sunny city, I planned to hit the zoo bright and early.

According to my days of zoo research, the animals are more active in the morning, and the crowds tend to build up pretty quick!

We arrived at the zoo about 30 minutes prior to opening. Once it opened, we made a bee-line to the panda exhibit. The rest of the of the day we spent exploring at a more leisurely pace.

Day 2: Zoo Day

8:30 am  – Arrive at San Diego Zoo
1:00 pm – Mini Railroad & Carousel in Balboa Park
4:00 pm – Children’s Pool in La Jolla
7:00 pm – Windansea Condo (take-out dinner from The Taco Stand)

Photo Credit: iStock

There are only 4 Zoos in the U.S. with Panda Exhibits:

  • San Diego Zoo
  • Zoo Atlanta
  • Smithsonian National Zoological Park
  • Memphis Zoo

Therefore, we made it a priority to see the pandas as our first exhibit. Before our trip I studied the zoo website and decided on the routes we would take. Mapping out your route, according to your family’s preference, is a good thing to do. This is a large zoo with lots to see.

Although the Pandas were listed as our top attraction, it was the Polar Bears that really stole our attention. The Pandas were just sort of “lazy” as my girls said. However, the Polar Bears were entertaining! They swam up to us, splashed around in the water, and put on a pretty unexpected show.

By the time we made it around the first half of the zoo, it was starting to get hot (record highs for San Diego that week) and everyone was hungry. Since it was a hot day, we decided to splurge on lunch and eat at Albert’s Restaurant.

Albert’s is located in the heart of the zoo. It made a nice mid-way point for us to stop and take a break. They have a good kid’s menu as well as a nice variety on the regular adult menu. Albert’s is located in the Lost Forest Zone. There are plenty of trees to cool off under if you choose to sit on the patio.

We sort of hurried through the rest of the zoo. We’d seen what we wanted to see, and the temperature had reached 90 degrees!! It was time to cool off!

After the Zoo:

After exiting the zoo, we hopped on the Miniature Train in Balboa Park. Then we walked over to the Balboa Park Carousel. It was made in 1910, and has all but two pair of the original hand-carved animals to ride on. According to the website, it’s one of the few carousels left in the world still offering the brass ring game.

I did a lot of my research for our Zoo Day on Travel Mamas, and I highly recommend looking at their zoo day plans to make the most out of your time. It was a great help for me.

We might have stayed in Balboa Park a while longer, but like I said, it was 90+ degrees. We weren’t digging it! So we loaded up the car and headed for the condo.

This would be a good time to stop for a nap/rest, but my gang was ready to hit the beach! I think we all wanted to cool off, but there was no A/C in our condo. Napping wasn’t going to happen in that heat.

As a side note, a lot of condos do not have A/C because, well, it’s San Diego! You shouldn’t need it! Our trip just happened to coincide with record high temperatures.

La Jolla Children’s Pool

We chose to visit the Children’s Pool in La Jolla, and it actually ended up being one of our favorite stops on the trip.

Paige getting water for the mote.

The Children’s Pool was a great place for us. The waves were calmer here, thanks to a seawall built in 1932. Apparently, this is a hot spot for seeing seals, but on this mid-July day, the beach was crowded with families–human families. However, from December-May the Children’s Pool is closed so that seals can have and rear their pups. Pretty cool, huh?

One of the highlights of this stop was a cave you can climb through. It’s pretty slippery, but we watched a few other people conquer the feat, and the big girls and I decided to give it a try. Climbing through was quite the adventure for us!

My youngest daughter, on the other hand, stuck to building a giant sand castle with daddy. She was in charge of getting the water for the mote (as seen above).

Cave at Children’s Pool, La Jolla

It was a full day. We saw a beautiful zoo, cooled off at Children’s Pool, built a sand castle, and climbed through a slippery cave. We were pooped by the end of it.

Dinner: The Taco Stand

Instead of dragging everyone to dinner, we went back to the condo. I ordered take-out from The Taco Stand online. It’s a very popular place, and I highly recommend ordering online. You get to skip the outrageous line and head straight to the pick-up counter to pick up your food. It was SOOOO good! We ended up ordering again another night (out of our 5 night stay). 🙂

Here is what I recommend:

  • Carne Asada Fries
  • Corn on The Cob
  • Sonora Taco


After dinner, we opened all the windows, sat on the balcony, and watched the evening surfers and sunset.

Check out San Diego Family Vacation: Day 1: Travel Day

Stay tuned for San Diego Family Vacation: Day 3 – La Jolla Shores