San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park

The San Diego Zoo is known worldwide and often voted one of the best zoos you can visit. With over 3,000 animals and almost 100 acres of land, this zoo is massive, and it’s a great place to explore with the whole family. While it can be expensive, I have always found the price to be worth it, especially if you can dedicate a half day to walking around and seeing all of the fun animals. Here are the details.

Details

  • Cost: As of 2018, $55 for adults and $44 for children
  • Least busy day to go: Tuesday
  • Location: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

Getting There

From Downtown San Diego, You will want to head north on 11th Ave which becomes the 163 North. Merge onto Richmond St then turn right on Upas and right again on Park Blvd. You will see signs for the zoo on your right and parking is free in the large lot.

The Zoo

If possible, I always recommend going on a weekday as it’s way less busy. The last time I went, one of the workers told me that Tuesday is the best day of the week to go, so if you can go that day then do it. After getting your tickets and going past the turnstiles, you will be greeted by a few dozen pink flamingos, which are the first animals you see.

This map will show you all of the animals and exhibits that you can visit around the park. I usually opt to take the sky tram all the way to the back then make my way back from there on one of the many paths. You need a good day to see everything though.

Here are some of my favorite animals to see at the San Diego Zoo.

Polar Bears

As one of the animals I will probably never see in the wild; I have always been fascinated by polar bears. The polar bear exhibit here is fantastic and I have often seen them swimming in the area that lets you see below the water.

Elephants

Its hard not to be excited when you see one of these massive creatures. They have a large pen that you can walk all around the outside of, and since they are so large, you will see them most of the time you visit the zoo, which is not always the case for other animals. I have even seen them playing and squirting water from their trunks.

Camels

While I have seen these before in Africa, its still fun to see these strange creatures in person.

Giraffes

Such an interesting animal, giraffes are especially fun to see when they are eating as you get to experience their massive necks.

Rhinos

Another one of those animals you don’t get a chance to see in real life, they are genuinely daunting, tank-like animals in person.

This is of course just a very small percentage of the animals on display at the San Diego Zoo. There are pandas, lions, monkeys, etc. all scattered around the park. If you live close, consider getting a pass and you can go multiple times during the year to not feel rushed.

I always love exploring the zoo, and I would like to hear what your favorite animals are in the comments.

San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park

The San Diego Zoo is known worldwide and often voted one of the best zoos you can visit. With over 3,000 animals and almost 100 acres of land, this zoo is massive, and it’s a great place to explore with the whole family. While it can be expensive, I have always found the price to be worth it, especially if you can dedicate a half day to walking around and seeing all of the fun animals. Here are the details.

Details

  • Cost: As of 2018, $55 for adults and $44 for children
  • Least busy day to go: Tuesday
  • Location: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

Getting There

From Downtown San Diego, You will want to head north on 11th Ave which becomes the 163 North. Merge onto Richmond St then turn right on Upas and right again on Park Blvd. You will see signs for the zoo on your right and parking is free in the large lot.

The Zoo

If possible, I always recommend going on a weekday as it’s way less busy. The last time I went, one of the workers told me that Tuesday is the best day of the week to go, so if you can go that day then do it. After getting your tickets and going past the turnstiles, you will be greeted by a few dozen pink flamingos, which are the first animals you see.

This map will show you all of the animals and exhibits that you can visit around the park. I usually opt to take the sky tram all the way to the back then make my way back from there on one of the many paths. You need a good day to see everything though.

Here are some of my favorite animals to see at the San Diego Zoo.

Polar Bears

As one of the animals I will probably never see in the wild; I have always been fascinated by polar bears. The polar bear exhibit here is fantastic and I have often seen them swimming in the area that lets you see below the water.

Elephants

Its hard not to be excited when you see one of these massive creatures. They have a large pen that you can walk all around the outside of, and since they are so large, you will see them most of the time you visit the zoo, which is not always the case for other animals. I have even seen them playing and squirting water from their trunks.

Camels

While I have seen these before in Africa, its still fun to see these strange creatures in person.

Giraffes

Such an interesting animal, giraffes are especially fun to see when they are eating as you get to experience their massive necks.

Rhinos

Another one of those animals you don’t get a chance to see in real life, they are genuinely daunting, tank-like animals in person.

This is of course just a very small percentage of the animals on display at the San Diego Zoo. There are pandas, lions, monkeys, etc. all scattered around the park. If you live close, consider getting a pass and you can go multiple times during the year to not feel rushed.

I always love exploring the zoo, and I would like to hear what your favorite animals are in the comments.

Cabrillo Beach Tide Pools & San Pedro Sunken City

Cabrillo Beach sits out on the edge of Point Fermin in the town of San Pedro. This beach has historical significance from the bath house that sits on the sand, but it also has a beautiful collection of tide pools about a quarter mile from the beach and the infamous Sunken City if you keep going around the bend. If you are a fan of tide pools like I am, then make sure to add this spot to your list to check out, here is all the information. Also, I know you are not supposed to access the sunken city from the Point Fermin area, which is what a lot of people do, but I have no idea whether walking up from the beach to the sunken city here is allowed either so proceed at your own risk.

Details

  • Cost: Free, but parking is $1 an hour
  • Less than .5 mile round trip to the tide pools.
  • Location: 3800 Stephen M White Dr, San Pedro, CA 90731

Getting There

From downtown San Pedro you will want to head south on Pacific Avenue. From there turn left on Stephen White Dr. then left again on Oliver Vickery Way. This will lead you down to the beach house and aquarium.

The Trail

After parking, proceed to the right side of the beach, which is where you will be starting the walk from. The beach itself is really nice and it is a great place to spend a half day relaxing in the sun and water. There is also a small pier here that you can walk out on. From the beach there is an elevated platform that will take you over to the tide pools.

This platform ends right at the remains of an old WWII bunker that used to sit on the beach here. The remains have graffiti on them now but it is still interesting to see.

This is where the tide pools begin and the best time to see them is of course at low tide.

When I went the low tide was at about .9 feet and you really want it to be 0 feet or negative to see the best stuff. You can get a tide schedule here.

I was able to walk around and see a lot of sea anemones though.

Also, I got lucky and saw a big sea slug as I was about to turn around and head back. It was fun to see this creature holding onto the rock and looking for food.

If you want to see the sunken city you will continue around the bend until you see some fallen pieces of concrete, graffiti, and trash, which are marks of this popular spot. You can head up the hill here and you will be right in the heart of the city. Do be careful though as the trail is a little steep and there is a lot of broken glass around. Again, I am not sure if access to this spot is allowed from this direction or not.

All in all, this is a fun little adventure in Southern California.  I recommend you pair it with the awesome Cabrillo Marine Aquarium if you go as well. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Cabrillo Beach Tide Pools & San Pedro Sunken City

Cabrillo Beach sits out on the edge of Point Fermin in the town of San Pedro. This beach has historical significance from the bath house that sits on the sand, but it also has a beautiful collection of tide pools about a quarter mile from the beach and the infamous Sunken City if you keep going around the bend. If you are a fan of tide pools like I am, then make sure to add this spot to your list to check out, here is all the information. Also, I know you are not supposed to access the sunken city from the Point Fermin area, which is what a lot of people do, but I have no idea whether walking up from the beach to the sunken city here is allowed either so proceed at your own risk.

Details

  • Cost: Free, but parking is $1 an hour
  • Less than .5 mile round trip to the tide pools.
  • Location: 3800 Stephen M White Dr, San Pedro, CA 90731

Getting There

From downtown San Pedro you will want to head south on Pacific Avenue. From there turn left on Stephen White Dr. then left again on Oliver Vickery Way. This will lead you down to the beach house and aquarium.

The Trail

After parking, proceed to the right side of the beach, which is where you will be starting the walk from. The beach itself is really nice and it is a great place to spend a half day relaxing in the sun and water. There is also a small pier here that you can walk out on. From the beach there is an elevated platform that will take you over to the tide pools.

This platform ends right at the remains of an old WWII bunker that used to sit on the beach here. The remains have graffiti on them now but it is still interesting to see.

This is where the tide pools begin and the best time to see them is of course at low tide.

When I went the low tide was at about .9 feet and you really want it to be 0 feet or negative to see the best stuff. You can get a tide schedule here.

I was able to walk around and see a lot of sea anemones though.

Also, I got lucky and saw a big sea slug as I was about to turn around and head back. It was fun to see this creature holding onto the rock and looking for food.

If you want to see the sunken city you will continue around the bend until you see some fallen pieces of concrete, graffiti, and trash, which are marks of this popular spot. You can head up the hill here and you will be right in the heart of the city. Do be careful though as the trail is a little steep and there is a lot of broken glass around. Again, I am not sure if access to this spot is allowed from this direction or not.

All in all, this is a fun little adventure in Southern California.  I recommend you pair it with the awesome Cabrillo Marine Aquarium if you go as well. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Cabrillo Aquarium in San Pedro

Right on the water in the Port of Los Angeles, the Cabrillo Aquarium is a great spot for the whole family to explore. Of course, young children will probably like it the most, but I found it to be a great aquarium as an adult as well. There was a lot to see in the small area and here is all the information so you can check it out.

Details

  • Cost: $5 suggested donation
  • Hours: Generally Noon – 5 PM but closed Mondays
  • Location: 3720 Stephen M White Dr, San Pedro, CA 90731

Getting There

From the Vincent Thomas Bridge you will head south on Harbor Blvd before turning right on 22nd St. From here turn left on Pacific Ave then left on Stephan M White Dr, which will take you into the beach parking area. Head left in the parking lot and you will see the aquarium. Parking is a dollar an hour in all spots.

The Aquarium

The aquarium is comprised of three main sections and an auditorium. I went into the exhibit hall first, which is the most impressive building.

This structure held over 36 different exhibits featuring all sorts of fish and other sea creatures. Here are some of the highlights.

Kelp Forest

The kelp forest section held dozens of fish and was one of the largest aquariums in the exhibit hall.

Rocky Shores

This exhibit showed how waves interact with sea life like anemones and it featured waves actually entering the tank.

The Jellyfish Tank

The jellyfish tank is always one of the most impressive areas of any aquarium, and it is here as well. It’s fun to see these crazy life forms swimming around in the dark water.

The Deep Sea Fish

This was the highlight to me, this fish was from 1,000 feet deep and had been brought up and preserved. It looked like a monster, and it was crazy to see.

Seabirds

There was an area with lots of information on seabirds. The highlight was a stuffed pelican displayed with its beak open, showing how big its mouth really is.

Whales

This section had a full whale skeleton, and it is crazy how gigantic those animals are.

There is a tide pool touch tank in the aquarium but be sure to check the times for that as it is not always open.

From here you can head over to the aquatic nursery, which is another building that showcases what they are doing to preserve the local species and help them thrive. I had to rush through this area as it was closing time but it would be cool to spend some time in.

The last building was the exploration center, and this building was designed for children. It was a fun spot to see as it was more interactive than the other areas with a tank you could crawl under and sea creatures you could see up close.

Be sure to also head to the Cabrillo tidepools when you are here as well which is a short walk from the beach.

As you can see this is a great spot to explore for kids in the Port of LA, you can find more of my recommendations on the area here.

Rock Hill Trail: Birdwatching in Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge

This two-mile trail in the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge, right on the Salton Sea, is one of the best ways to explore the shoreline and see the vast array of birds that make the area their home during migrations. The trail is a nice leisurely walk with a short climb at the end, and I would recommend bringing a zoom lens or binoculars if you want to see the birds as they are still a decent way from you. Here is all the information on this nice trail.

Details

  • 2 miles
  • 50 feet of elevation
  • Takes about an hour
  • Location: 906 W Sinclair Rd, Calipatria, CA 92233

Getting There

The trail leaves from the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge which is in the South East portion of the Salton Sea. You can put the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge into your GPS, and it will take you there. The trail starts right from the parking lot.

The Trail

The trail is well marked, and it starts at the base of the viewing platform which is right near the parking lot.

I recommend heading up onto the viewing platform before starting the trail as it has some of those binocular stand things that let you look at the area zoomed in (what are these things called, let me know in the comments).

From there you can start the trail which is mainly a dirt road the entire way.

The trail goes around a wetlands type area which has lots of birds hanging out in it, and you can hear them making noise while walking.

The trail then turns right and heads towards Rock Hill, which is your final destination.

Along this portion of the trail, you are walking near the water so you can see all sorts of different birds on each side of you.

There is a small little lake near the hill, and I found a lot of birds there as well.

The last portion of the trail climbs the 50 or so feet in elevation and it should be approachable for most people.

There is a bench at the top that you can relax at and the views provided are 360 degrees in all directions. It is an excellent viewpoint.

I had my zoom lens, so I was able to look down on the birds in front of me along the shoreline.

After hanging out for about 15 minutes, I headed back down the trail. Be sure to stop in at the visitors center when you get back as you can learn more about the area and the birds.

This is a nice little hike at the Salton Sea. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments and learn how to explore more of the Salton Sea here.

LA Zoo Lights: Christmas Lights at the Los Angeles Zoo

Each December I go on a hunt to find all of the new Christmas attractions that I can explore for the website, you can read about them all here. This year I finally checked off the LA Zoo Lights, which is a highly popular attraction in Los Angeles that actually lives up to expectations. The Christmas lights that invade the LA Zoo are located all over the property, and it takes a good hour to see them all. Plus, you can see a few animals like reindeer and reptiles while you explore, giving a bonus to the zoo experience. Here is all the information so you can check it out yourself.

la-zoo-lights-9

Details

  • Cost: $18 for adults, $14 for kids (the deal sites often have deals on the tickets though)
  • Runs through Jan 8th
  • Location: 5333 Zoo Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Getting There

la-zoo-lights-22

The LA Zoo is located in the Northeast corner of Griffith Park, right at the intersection for the 5 Freeway and Highway 134. You can access it easily from both freeways, but make sure not to go right at 5 PM when work is letting out as it can be really busy. The zoo itself has a large parking lot with free parking for the event.

After paying for my ticket, I got in line to wait for the 6 PM opening time. By the time the zoo opened there were probably 300 people behind me in line so I am glad I got there early. After being let in, here are some of the main attractions.

Holiday Monkey Tree

la-zoo-lights-1

Not much to say about this spot as it is just the main attraction when you walk in.

Green Light Forest

la-zoo-lights-21

This was right near the monkey tree, and it was one of my favorite parts. There were tons of green lasers that shown through the dark area and made for some excellent photos.

la-zoo-lights-2

Right after you pass this you can also see an alligator hanging out in the exhibit near by.

International Marketplace

la-zoo-lights-3

This is one of the most well-lit parts of the park and home to the area’s souvenir shopping, as well as another monkey statue.

la-zoo-lights-4

Wild Waterfall

la-zoo-lights-5

This area had a lit up waterfall that was actually kind of cool in the neon blue and green.

Reindeer Village

la-zoo-lights-8

Being that you are in a zoo, it is only right for a few animals to show up like these reindeer. Outside the reindeer area, they had this gigantic green light tree as well which I really dug.

la-zoo-lights-6

Deck the Halls with Disco Balls

la-zoo-lights-12

This is one of the most Instagrammed spots in the whole zoo. The lights here are strung over the pathway with lots of disco balls and purple colors. It’ great.

The Lair

la-zoo-lights-13

I was excited when I realized that you can still go into the reptile lair at night. It also has a big light up snake perched on top of the building as well.

la-zoo-lights-14

Most of the animals were sleeping or hiding, but we did get to see a couple of big snakes.

la-zoo-lights-10

Water Show

la-zoo-lights-15

As you exit the Lair, be sure to stop and check out the water show they have. The show is about 7 minutes long, and it has lots of lights, lasers and water fountains. I was just as mesmerized as the kids while I watched it.

la-zoo-lights-11

Carousel

la-zoo-lights-17

If your kids are into carousels then of course stop by the one they have here. I didn’t go on it personally, but I am sure it is as fun as carousels normally are.

la-zoo-lights-16

Twinkle Tunnel

la-zoo-lights-18

As you near the end of your time at the LA Zoo, you will get to one of the best attractions. This tunnel of lights is fun for the whole family as it is open and has lots of crazy colors.

la-zoo-lights-19

As you exit the tunnel, you will see a large display celebrating the zoo’s 50th year anniversary. Heading on you will also see a large area with blue and white lights that are very pretty in their simplicity.

la-zoo-lights-20

From here you have covered the zoo’s main attractions, but you can go back and explore them again or just grab a hot chocolate and sit down for a little bit. I have to admit that I liked this a lot more then I thought I would. There is something for the whole family here, and it is well set up. Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

Snorkeling with the Leopard Sharks in La Jolla

During the last few months of summer, leopard sharks descend on the cove of La Jolla for the warm water which helps them to speed up the birthing process. This is an amazing natural phenomenon and one that you can experience for yourself with a snorkel, if you feel like you can handle it. I finally got a chance to do it this year, and it was such a cool experience that I highly recommend. Here is all the info.

leopard-sharks-5

Details

  • Free other than parking or renting gear
  • September is the best time, but late August and early October is possible too

Best Times

leopard-sharks-10

September is the best month most years as this is when the highest amount of sharks are in La Jolla. It depends a lot on weather and how calm the water is though. The ideal day is calm waters and sun but calm is the most important and if it is calm you can usually see some sharks even if it isn’t warm.

Gear Rentals

Going in September means that the water can be pretty cold. You don’t need a wetsuit, but some people will find it a lot easier to relax and wait for the sharks if they have one. You can rent a wetsuit from many of the companies along Avenida De La Playa in La Jolla, but I like Everyday California personally. You can also rent snorkel gear there, but honestly, you can buy a pair like I did on Amazon for about the same price and have it forever.

How to See the Sharks

leopard-sharks-8

Ok, so now that you have your gear and are going on a good day, how do you see the sharks?

leopard-sharks-7

The sharks are in waist to chest deep water, right out in the cove. It is best to be away from lots of people though as they are very afraid of humans and will run away with noise.

leopard-sharks-2

I found that it was best when I just went out to about 4 feet of water and floated around. I didn’t see anything for about 10 minutes but after that, I saw 3-4 in a series of 10 minutes. People out there point them out too so there will probably be others helping you see them.

leopard-sharks-3

When the sharks are near, just try to hover around the top of the water and not make much noise, and you should see them swimming around. Of course, don’t touch them or get too close to them, they are still wild animals and do have teeth.

leopard-sharks-9

I went on a cloudy day and saw about 6 in 30 minutes, which is pretty low for the time of year; but I can honestly say it was one of the coolest things I have done in a while. To observe these creatures, some which get up to 5 feet long, in their natural habitat so close to shore is something you won’t soon forget.

Let me know what you think in the comments and if you have any tips I left off.

Micke Grove Zoo in Lodi

When looking for things to do in Lodi, I stumbled upon the fantastic Micke Grove Regional Park, which contains an excellent museum, beautiful Japanese gardens and of course the Micke Grove Zoo. The zoo itself is pretty small, but it has a lot of fun exhibits for the whole family, here is all the info.

micke grove zoo-1

Details

  • $5 to get into the regional park per car, $5 a person for zoo

Getting There

micke grove zoo-2

The zoo is located in the back left corner of Micke Grove Regional Park. After entering the park, you will be given a map that shows you the zoo’s location and from there you can park near the zoo and walk in.

The Zoo

After paying my $5, I headed into the zoo armed with a map of the different animals on display. It is small though so you don’t really need a map to find all of the animals.

micke grove zoo-18

This zoo doesn’t have any of those big ticket animals like bears and such, but there were some pretty fun animals to see. Here is what I saw:

Spider Monkey

micke grove zoo-6

Porcupine

micke grove zoo-7

Turtle

micke grove zoo-11

Golden Lion Tamarin

micke grove zoo-19

Squirrel

micke grove zoo-8

Hissing Cockroach

micke grove zoo-14

Gecko

micke grove zoo-12

The zoo also has a fun aviary where you can walk into the actual exhibit with the birds. There were a half dozen different types of birds in this area and even though it was small, it still offered a fun way to see animals without the cages between you and them.

micke grove zoo-10

My favorite thing I saw at the zoo was the Golden Lion Tamarin; they had such majestic faces on such small bodies and when I was there they were jumping all around and interacting with each other which was fun to watch.

micke grove zoo-4

After about 30 minutes I had seen the whole zoo and made my way out. Across from the zoo you will see the Japanese Gardens and I would recommend that you head over there and check them out as well as they are really beautiful.

japanese garden-1

All in all, this zoo is not something I would make my entire day, but it had enough to see that it easily warranted the $5 cost to me. Check it out if you are in the area and be sure to go to the San Joaquin Museum as well which is fantastic and also located in the same regional park.

Bird Rock Trail in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is by far one of my favorite state parks in all of California. The majestic piece of coastline it protects is some of the best in the area, even comparable to the Big Sur area to the south. I got a chance to do the Bird Rock Trail and Cypress Grove when I was in the park, read all about the Bird Rock Trail below.

Bird Rock Trail-16

Details

  • 1-mile round trip
  • $10 a car to enter the park
  • 50 feet of elevation gain
  • Wheelchair user accessible

Getting There

Bird Rock Trail-1

Point Lobos is located off Highway 1, just South of Carmel. After entering the park, you will be given a map that will show you where to park for the trailhead. The parking lot holds about a dozen cars.

The Trail

Bird Rock Trail-2

The hike begins by taking you up a small hill and from there hugs the coastline for the entirety of the walk.

Bird Rock Trail-3

It then provides views of China Cove below which is a picturesque place that you need to see yourself.

Bird Rock Trail-4

China Cove is a breeding area for sea lions, so it was closed off when I went, you could even see sea lions sitting below on the sand.

Bird Rock Trail-19

From here you can also see bird rock in the distance which is a massive rock out in the water with hundreds of birds sitting on it. This is the destination for the hike.

Bird Rock Trail-6

The trail then bends around a small hill and shows you Gibson Beach below you, another beach you can walk down too.

Bird Rock Trail-7

It then heads around to Pelican Point, which is the ultimate end goal of the trail.

Bird Rock Trail-8

There is another small cove that you will pass here, and that provides another awesome photo opportunity.

Bird Rock Trail-9

The trail then ends at the lookout point for bird rock which is a flat area that provides an excellent 180-degree view of the coast and the birds.

Bird Rock Trail-11

I found this spot to be awesome as there were so many birds and they were all collected on a few small rocks.

Bird Rock Trail-15

I especially liked the seagulls that looked like they were infiltrating the other black birds.

Bird Rock Trail-12

There is also a rock arch in the water to the left of you that you can see as well. It is beautiful and another great photo spot.

Bird Rock Trail-13

After that, you will head back the way you came, but make sure to take your time as this truly is a great wildlife viewing area.

Bird Rock Trail-10

As you can see, Point Lobos is amazing, and this is only one of the many trails. I can’t wait to go back and explore more, let me know what your favorite trail is in the comments below.