We got up bright & early to begin our day. As our company-paid stay at the Omni was over, we packed up and checked out of the hotel by 8:00, and checked our bags with the bellman.
We easily caught the trolley on time and stopped off at the American Plaza station for a hit of caffeine at Starbucks. This stop was where we first started seeing adults dressed up in Halloween costumes. San Diegans take Halloween seriously! After getting caffeinated, we caught the next trolley to another trolley stop, where we would catch a bus to the zoo. We were not exactly sure when or where the bus would arrive, but as luck would have it, we found a zoo employee who chatted with us for about 15 minutes, and also made sure we got on the correct bus, and later, that we got off at the correct stop. One thing I have noticed is that we encounter very friendly San Diegoans every day. They seem very eager to assist tourists and are genuinely nice people.
We walked up to the World Famous San Diego Zoo (that’s not my description, that is actually how they describe themselves on every t-shirt and hat that they sell!) a few minutes before 9:00, which was opening time. Because we purchased some special “Go San Diego” cards for Stephanie and the kids for the trip, they got in free, but I had to purchase my own ticket. As I was making my way to the ticket counter, a couple of older ladies hollered out, “Hey! Hold on there!”. It turns out they had an extra free pass that expired today, and they gave it to me for my admission. Whoo Hooo! More friendly folks!
As we entered, we made a beeline for the Pandas, thinking that this would be the part of the zoo that might get most crowded later once the busloads of school kids showed up, which we just assumed would. We literally got to spend 10 to 15 minutes alone with the Panda Zookeeper while we watched the Pandas sleep in their trees, and she answered all of our Panda-related questions.
All Pandas are property of the Chinese government. Any Panda Bear you see outside of China is specifically loaned out by them. So, here’s a question for you. Which zoos in the United States house Pandas? There are four of them, and they are San Diego, National Zoo in DC, Atlanta, and Memphis. We asked the zookeeper how the Memphis Zoo rated Pandas, and she provided an interesting reply. Turns out that a Tennessee Senator was instrumental in getting Favored Nation status for the Chinese government, and in return the Chinese made a gift of the Pandas to the Memphis Zoo. “Doesn’t make much sense to us, but that’s how it works.”, was the Zookeepers final comment on that.
After the Panda Bears, we just tried to take the approach that we would work our way around the zoo, and not just run from one favorite exhibit to the next. This worked out pretty well for us, and we can honestly say that we saw almost every exhibit we were interested in, before we got kicked out at the 5:00 closing time.
Today was Mallory’s favorite day of the trip so far. She is an animal lover extraordinaire, and she was in heaven all day. All by herself, she took 167 pictures throughout the day! Mallory’s favorite animals at the zoo were the Panda Bears, Koala Bears, Hippopotamuses, and the Elephant named Debbie. When we first came across the Elephant habitat, Debbie was confined to a very small holding area, and you could tell she was agitated that she could not get out into the main area, where all of her toys were. She would walk right up to the closed door and shake her body back and forth, then she would walk backward to the other end of her pen.
The Hippos were in a pen with a large “pond” of water, where one side of the pond was a glass wall with an observation area. As luck would have it, the two Hippos were hanging out right next to the glass so the kids got to get up close with these animals. Did you know that Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal?
Miles shared the same favorite animals with Mallory, but also he enjoyed the Orangutangs. Miles managed to take 121 pictures today, which is impressive, but not as impressive as Mallory’s effort.
Stephanie’s favorite animals were the Pandas and Koalas. Several of the San Diego Zoo Koalas had been on loan to the Tulsa Zoo last year, so we had already had an opportunity to get a sneak peak at this exhibit.
My favorite animal might have been the Giant Anteater. The anteater had a baby 5 days prior to our arrival, and the baby anteater was riding around on the back of the Mommy Anteater. Another favorite of mine was the Red River Hog, which had long pointed ears like a Vulcan, and a long whip-like tail. Even though the name suggests this animal is native to the area which divides Oklahoma and Texas, you would be surprised to know that is not the case. This animal was from South America or Asia (I saw too many animals to recall all of their countries of origin).
A few overall observations about the Zoo… The Zoo emphasizes very strongly conservation, research and education. While the zoo did have a few of the “classic” animal enclosures that were built back in the 1930s (fake brown rock lining the rear, sides and front of the exhibit – or just take a look at your own hometown zoo, as that is probably what it still looks like), most every animal in the zoo was living in an environment that closely resembled their native habitat.
The Zoo is just one of many attractions located in Balboa Park. Balboa Park is 1/3 larger than Central Park in New York City, and is the largest Urban Park in the United States. It houses at least 7 different museums, featuring wonderful architecture.
The Zoo got its origins back at the 1915 California-Panama Exposition. The Panama Canal had just opened, and San Diego (as the most southernmost port in the US) wanted to celebrate. They hosted an Exposition and part of that included some wild animals from around the world. After the Exposition, nobody knew quite what to do with the animals, so they started a zoo.
Many (and I mean A LOT) of the exhibits we came across would indicate that the San Diego Zoo was the only zoo in the world, outside of the animals native country, where the animal could be found. The zoo also sponsored outreach and programs in most of these host countries that would promote the growth of the animals population.
The San Diego Zoo has extreme changes in elevation, and other than a few bus tours around the zoo, everybody must navigate these hills on foot. We certainly did not see an abundance of overweight people at the zoo, simply because it would be very hard for them to enjoy it.
After we left the zoo, we checked into our new hotel, the Ramada St. James, also in the Gaslamp District. It is a 100-year old hotel with old, slow elevators and a/c window units, but it has character!
We then caught a bus over to Coronado Island, which is interestingly named since it was neither discovered by Coronado, nor is it an Island. It is more of a stick-out. We had plans to see the Hotel Del Coronado, the most famous hotel in San Diego, but it was too dark. We ended up finding an Italian restaurant and sitting on their sidewalk patio under a heater. Coronado Island is quite the ritzy, upscale place, and it had a neat feel to it. We caught a 10:00 bus back to our hotel, and both kids slept on the bus on the return trip.
On our three block walk from the bus stop to our hotel, the people of San Diego were out in force in their Halloween costumes! Some were more family-friendly than others! We passed a club that was obviously hosting some type of Halloween Party, since there must have been at least 200 costumed folks in line on the sidewalk just hoping to get in.
We had a great day, and it was truly the first full day of vacationing that we were able to spend as a family. Tomorrow we head to Tijuana and a little exploration of Mexico!