I was in San Diego on business and booked an extra day so that I could visit the zoo. I teach conservation biology, and this zoo is known worldwide for its conservation research and advocacy. I went early and bought one of the package tickets that allowed me to have a private 2-hour tour with a small group (6 of us total) and see some of the exhibits up close. It was pricy (about $70 above the price of entry) but for the experience, was worth every penny.
Our first stop was the Okapi exhibit, and we were taken behind the scenes to see where they are kept, fed, and cared for. We got to walk right up to the fence and when the animals came over, we could pet them! There is a baby okapi in the exhibit who is very friendly and it was wonderful to see them so close. The keepers in the area came up and told us about the birth and we learned a lot.
We also went behind-the-scenes with the elephants (no petting, though!) and the giraffes (which we got to feed). The tour also included going to a special area (no lines!!) to view the pandas, which was a major plus, since we didn't have to stand in line. We rode around on a small tram, and since one person on the tour was disabled, we got driven right up to the gates of the exhibits in most cases.
The tour guide was very well informed and told us all about the vegetation on the zoo grounds, which provides food and habitat structure for many animals. San Diego has one of the only exhibits of koalas outside of Australia, since they are able to grow their own eucalyptus. The guide had over twenty years of experience and had a lot of stories about how the zoo has changed and grown. Very interesting!
After the tour I was able to visit the rest of the zoo and see other exhibits - it was amazingly well organized and just gorgeous. I was there on Halloween and apparently in October, kids get in free, so there were a LOT of school groups there since it was the last free day. It was fun to see them but crowded in some areas. The zoo is very hilly so wear your walking shoes!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.