Engaging Ways to See Animals in San Diego

Panda at the San Diego Zoo
••• Katherine Reed/EyeEm/Getty Images

San Diegans love their dogs, and it’s common to see a Buddy or Rover under patio tables at restaurants or trotting happily down a neighborhood sidewalk in the sunshine. But where can you go to see animals in San Diego of the non-domestic pet variety? Check out this list.

San Diego Zoo

This one may seem a bit obvious, but did you know there’s much more you can do at the San Diego Zoo to interact with animals besides just walking around the exhibits?

You can do an “Early Morning with Pandas” tour during which you’ll get early access to the panda viewing station without the crowds and when they’re likely to be moving around more. Another fun tour before the park officially opens is the Sunrise Surprise Stroll, during which you’ll be taken around to an ever-changing list of exhibits (hence the surprise) where you’ll learn more about the zoo’s operations and conservation efforts while seeing the animals go about their early morning antics.​

Whale Watching

Skip Sea World and instead head out into the big wide ocean between the months of December and April to see gray whales and even dolphins gliding through the waves. Most companies even have a whale guarantee, meaning if you don’t see a whale you can go whale watching again for free on another day. If visiting in the summer, try an excursion to see blue whales if they're passing through while you're in San Diego.

 

La Jolla Cove

When the tide is out, La Jolla Cove is a delightful place to be. Thanks to all the flat, stacked and crisscrossing rocks that border the coast along the La Jolla Cove, little pools of water gather up among the earth when the water rushes back out into the horizon. Within these pools of water, you can find small sea creatures trapped until the tide comes back in.

I’ve seen crab, fish and even an octopus within the tide pools of the La Jolla Cove. The rocks are pretty easy to walk on (just keep an eye out for the wet, slippery ones), which makes this a fun family activity that is usually a hit with children.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

A cousin of the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park takes up acres upon acres of land in Escondido, but this place differs from a typical zoo in that the animals roam San Diego North County almost as if they were on a safari plain. You can take a bus or tram through the park to see the animals close up, or – speaking of safaris – for an especially memorable experience, upgrade to a caravan tour and go for a drive through the animals with a personal guide. You can also zip line over the animals to see them from an exhilarating, bird’s eye point of view.

Bonus: Del Mar Dog Beach

Even if you don’t own a dog, head to the dog beach in Del Mar for an entertaining afternoon of watching dogs both big and small run around in excitement and splash around in the water. It is an off-leash dog beach between September and June, and you won’t be able to help but smile at how much a dog loves life when spending a day at the beach. But hey, that’s like most of us San Diegans, right?