America’s finest city may be synonymous with sun, swimming, and surfing but San Diego is so much more than beaches.
Besides boasting over 70 miles of coastline, this urban paradise is home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
An international leader in conservation and wildlife protection, the San Diego Zoo has been educating and entertaining visitors of all ages for over a hundred years.
With over 100 acres of lush botanical gardens, native habitats, and exotic species to explore, there's never enough time to conquer the USA's most visited Zoo.
A full day of spying Komodo dragons, cruising the sky in the Skyfari®, Aerial Tram, and, of course, cuddling up to everyone's favorite marsupial is sure to build an appetite.
Are you searching for a quick cafe bite or a full-service restaurant? If so, follow along with our handy guide to discover everything you need to know about San Diego Zoo Restaurants.
San Diego Zoo Food Policy
So you've pre-purchased your San Diego Zoo tickets, and you are roaring and ready to kick off your entire day of animal adventure. Next, check out our helpful tips on how to have the best San Diego Zoo day ever in our Insiders Guide.
However, for the hungry foodies in a hurry, we'll jump to the San Diego Food Policy. Thankfully, the San Diego Zoo allows all guests to bring in their own food and/or drinks. Although, they must be packed into small nonglass containers.
Guests should be forewarned that they do not permit into the park:
- Glass containers
- Party trays
- Birthday cakes
Additionally, the Zoo provides no facilities for food storage, so pack accordingly.
Lastly, to uphold the safety of all park guests and the animals, the Zoo asks that you do not bring glass, alcohol, or straws into the park premises.
Our takeaway? Pack picnic-friendly snacks and meals that don't require refrigeration and won't perish in the balmy San Diego Sun.
Sandwiches, pre-sliced veggies, chips, and fruit are all great options. Bring a refillable water bottle, plenty of juice packs for the kiddos, and hightail it to one of the Zoo's designated picnic areas for a fantastic al fresco lunch.
If you lack the time or motivation to preplan your day of San Diego Zoo dining, don't fret! There are boatloads of flavorful food options to be found within the Zoo's limits. From formal fine dining to internationally inspired casual fare, San Diego Zoo Food has no shortage to choose from.
San Diego Zoo Restaurant Option
While Zoo newbies might be skeptical over a 'fine dining establishment' sharing the same space as kettle corn stands. San Diego Zoo members know that Albert's is the real deal.
Albert's boasts a magical treehouse-like ambiance complete with a private waterfall and a full-service bar. Therefore, a reservation at Albert's is an ideal way to commemorate any special Zoo visit or occasion.
Located in the Lost Forest Zone of the Zoo, Albert's is known for its deliciously creative and inventive cuisine.
If you take a closer look at this San Diego Zoo menu, you'll discover a wide range of zoological influences. Inspired, of course, by the diverse range of cultures and areas represented by the Zoo's conservation efforts.
Before you begin your culinary safari, please note we highly encourage making reservations for Albert's. Since it is the Zoo's only formal dining experience, it's extremely popular and always busy!
Albert's gorgeous open-air deck and weekend brunch are an unbeatable combination. So if you are going to do breakfast at the Zoo, you can't miss their Bloody Marys or bottomless mimosas.
For a divinely delectable lunch or dinner, we suggest starting with everyone's favorite Cheesy Garlic Bread. This fluffy delight is served with two different types of whipped butter, black garlic, and roasted. As well as crispy garlic chips and a tantalizing sherry vinegar sundried tomato pesto.
Vegetarians should opt for the surprisingly substantial Roasted Vegetable Garden. A lovely symphony of roasted zucchini, summer squash, bell pepper, and sweet cipollini onion. All served with lemon vinaigrette and olive tapenade.
Carnivorous or pescetarian folk can't go wrong with the flavorful Crispy Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich. Accompanied by a delightfully crunchy kale slaw, or the San Diego staple of Baja Beer-Battered Fish Tacos, elevated by pico de gallo.
Lastly, if you choose to imbibe, the cocktails here are top-notch and feature the cutest critter names. Our favorites are the Baboon Blackberry Smash' or the 'Porcupine Pomegranate Skinny Margarita.'
San Diego Zoo Food Options
Albert's restaurant may hold a monopoly on fancy. Meanwhile, there are tons of other options when it comes to San Diego Zoo food for more casual grub.
Busy Bee Cafe
Buzz on over to the Zoo's newest eatery to feast on elevated American bar and grill fare. This San Diego Zoo menu is stacked high with kid-friendly favorites such as honey corn dogs, triple trouble burgers, pizza, and wings.
In addition, chowhound families can feed a whole posse of finicky eaters by purchasing a family-style meal. This includes a hot dog or pizza entree, sides, and four fountain sodas.
At this cheeky cafe, located in the Zoofari Party area, a standout is the BBQ crunch dog. A polish kielbasa served with smoky bbq sauce, coleslaw, and french-fried onions on a fluffy lobster roll. In addition, we also recommend the Italian truffle parmesan chicken wings.
End your meal with the Busy Bee signature honey bun dripping with raw wildflower honey glaze for a sweet treat.
San Diego Zoo Sandwich Co.
Calling all early birds! Hitting the Zoo early to sneak in even more time with the tortoises, koalas, and bonobos? If so, we highly suggest fueling up at the San Diego Zoo Sandwich Co.
One of the few Zoo eateries open early, the breakfast sandwiches served here are downright crave-worthy.
Opt for a bacon, egg, and cheese on your choice of English muffin or bagel. Or keep it light by savoring their avocado toast drizzled with balsamic glaze and bacon on sourdough bread.
For a later in the day meal, their Cobb salad is fresh and filling. Or their vegetarian sandwich with brie, artichokes, red bell peppers, and caramelized onions is a delightfully cheesy way to sneak in some more veggies.
Front Street Sweet Shack
After you get your fill of all things creepy, crawly, and scaly at the Reptile House, head on over to the Front Street Sweet Shack for some mouthwateringly hearty and sugar-fixing fare.
A far cry from health food, but sinfully delicious nonetheless. The Shack boasts crafted shakes, sundaes, toasted sandwiches, and the Zoo's famous doughnut burger.
Unless you are looking for some serious carb-loading Instagram content, we'd suggest skipping the overindulgent doughnut burger. Instead, save those calories for their superb Monte Cristo sandwich.
A dynamic power play between sweet and savory, this brioche bread sandwich is stuffed with ham and gruyere cheese filling. Then fried in egg batter and topped with a light dusting of powdered sugar and a drizzle of raspberry sauce. Served with a side of curly fries, this is a Shack favorite.
Looking to keep it simple? You can't go wrong with their most popular dish, the hand-breaded buttermilk brined chicken strips. Available in three different flavors: Smokehouse BBQ, Nashville Hot, and Thai Chili.
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Saddle up for some sizzling safari fun at this homey hotspot, dishing out gourmet burgers, crispy chicken sandwiches, fries, and loaded tater tots. Safari Kitchen is right next to the Monkey Trail. Therefore, making it a popular option for some post primate gazing fuel.
It also offers a great deal of shade in the afternoon, making it a cool place to seek some refuge from the San Diego sun.
Cranky kids will be assuaged by the fun-filled children's meals offered here. They even include a souvenir package. Meanwhile, adults will appreciate the sweet and spicy Honey Sriracha Chicken Sandwich.
Rumor also has it that the Safari Kitchen's bacon cheeseburger is one of the best in the park. The Angus beef patty is stacked with applewood bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomato you'll need to load up on napkins!
Take a trip 'down under' when you stop by Sydney's Grill for some super satisfying BBQ, fresh salads, and ice cream treats.
This cheery yellow cafe has plenty of space in which to spread out. So feel free to take your meal to either the front or back patio.
Dinner and a show? You can even catch acrobatic or special shows being performed on the back patio on rare occasions.
Finger licking good BBQ is the specialty here. Therefore, the BBQ brisket sandwich dressed with BBQ sauce, coleslaw, and onion rings is a must.
For another filling entree perfect for sharing, the BBQ pulled pork nachos easily feed at least two. It is piled high with gooey cheese sauce, green onions, black beans, sour cream, and even more shredded cheese.
Not feeling particularly hungry? The Charcuterie and Cheese Plate is a lighter option. Complete with various meats, savory cheeses, fruits, dried cranberries, crackers, and a locally sourced honey stick. Pro Tip: It pairs excellently with a glass of wine.
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Hua Mei Cafe
Asian-themed delicacies abound at this delightful cafe named after the first US-born giant panda cub to survive stateside.
Hua Mei and the rest of the Giant Pandasmay be long gone, but their cuddly black and white memories remain. So it is still well worth exploring the Asian Passage to say hi to their cute rosy-haired cousins, the Red pandas.
Some of the most creative San Diego Zoo food can be found here, and we love Hua Mei for its wide range of menu items.
Sample their pork potstickers, vegetable egg rolls, and perfectly salted edamame when you order the taste of Hua Mei appetizer, or keep things more traditional with their stupendous Chicken teriyaki. Made with smoked chicken and crispy vegetables, it has an addicting flavor that will keep you coming back for more.
For those not watching their figure, the Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger is well worth some extra steps around the Zoo! Its fiery sriracha bourbon glaze packs quite a punch, and the smoked applewood bacon is as crisp as can be.
In need of some slightly healthier fare? The Asian Chicken Caesar salad puts a unique spin on this traditional dish by swapping croutons for crispy wontons and toasted sesame seeds.
Sabertooth Mexican Grill
Mexican-inspired cuisine will always reign supreme in San Diego, and the Zoo's Sabertooth Mexican Grill is a serious contender for some of the best food at the San Diego Zoo.
The Sabertooth's excellent location within Elephant Odyssey makes it an ideal place to relax in some shade and watch these gentle giants do their thing.
Over-stimulated kids will also relish the opportunity to climb the sabertooth tiger statue. Finally, parents can snap some fridge-worthy photos of the whole family in front of the short-faced cave bear.
Zesty, south of the border, options abound on this San Diego Zoo Menu, from tacos, to burritos to nachos, in addition to craft beer and house-made margaritas for mom and dad.
Starving sabertooth tigers should order the California burrito, liberally stuffed with your choice of carne or pollo asado, pepper jack cheese, Mexican crema, guacamole, and pico de gallo. While taco pursuits might prefer the pollo asado tacos served with fruity pineapple pico de gallo and accompanied by rice and beans.
Larger zoo groups, or especially hungry families, can feed well over four people with the Family Nacho & Taquitos Meal Deal.
Tempt your sweet tooth with the heavenly sugar-crusted and bavarian creme-filled churros served with both Mexican chocolate sauce and dulce de leche.
Looking for lunch with a view? Treetops Cafe claims the best views in the Zoo, and rightfully so! With its multi-level decks, you can soak in the Museum of Man tower, the Bashor Bridge, the green of the canyon below, and even the planes landing at Lindbergh Field.
Smack dab in the middle of the 'Lost Forest' section. This canopied oasis delivers quality-style Italian dishes like flatbread pizza, meatball sandwiches, and spaghetti.
Grab a seat on the outdoor deck and polish off a meat lover's pie or Hummus vegetarian wrap.
Families trying to save a bundle should check out their 'family meal deal,' including four Flatbread Pizzas, one Caesar Salad, four Garlic Bread Sticks, and four fountain sodas.
Has the hangry crying started before you've even entered the Zoo? Conveniently located next to the Zoo's entrance, Lagoon Terrace is an easy stop for when the kiddies (or adults) are crying out for pizza.
Choose from several different personal pizza options, including meat trio, veggie, pepperoni, or cheese paired with a refreshing frozen lemonade.
Not keen on the 'za? Dripping in marinara sauce and mozzarella, the Meatball Sandwich is a tender and uber filling option to keep you energized for hours of Zoo fun.
Lastly, the family meal deal here is pretty respectable (and ideal for children who despise sharing) since you can order three different pies, one salad, and four fountain sodas for one low price.
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Hitting that 3 pm slump already? If you're hankering for a caffeine fix or looking to relax with an ice-cold draft beer, Zoo Brew is the place to be! Situated halfway down Treetops Way, this cute and cozy cafe pours out the best coffee drinks and brews.
For a real energy boost, treat yourself to an expertly brewed latte with a side of fresh mini doughnuts.
Hua Mei Cones
You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream! So give the people what they want when visiting the famed Hua Mei Cones.
Cool off post-Asian Passage stroll with one of their Instagram-worthy super sundaes. Try the cinnamon churro or warm cookie crumble, which showcases creamy soft serve, crushed sandwich cookies, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and sprinkles.
Not feeling the dairy? Ditch the ice cream and enjoy a cinnamon sugar-dusted churro sans crazy toppings.
Best Restaurants Near San Diego Zoo
Scratching your head trying to come up with the best places to eat near the San Diego Zoo? Stop your endless scrolling and leave the research to us! Thankfully Balboa Park's many amusements and attractions have enticed several first-rate eateries to open their doors.
Feeling a bit fancy? Elevate your San Diego Zoo day with an exceptional meal at the Prado. Equal parts historic and homely, this charming restaurant is located in the House of Hospitality in Balboa Park and features four main dining areas.
Break bread on the terrace and enjoy outdoor seating or sample cocktails in the Solarium. Wherever you choose, you are guaranteed creative Californian-style cuisine and specialty cocktails. For example, try their Spicy Mezcal Margarita made with real serrano peppers!
First, prime your appetite with an order of Spicy Calamari Fries, served with Korean chili sauce. Then, swoon over their pan-roasted sea bass or Kvaroy Salmon & Short Ribs. Finally, round out your luxurious meal with a plate of yummy Banana Chocolate Panna Cotta to share.
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A side of art with your ale? Panama 66 is an uber-hip bar and restaurant that occupies the open-air setting of The San Diego Museum of Art's Marcy S. May Sculpture Garden.
Besides delivering a delicious array of local beer, wine, and seasonal cocktails, they create simple and satisfying dishes centered around locally sourced ingredients.
Raise a glass with one of their specially mixed house libations, such as the 'Bears Knees,' which features bourbon, amaro nonino, Aperol, lemon, blackberries, and honey, before moving on to the food.
Please your tablemates by offering to share a Mediterranean-style hummus board and then move on to sampling their addictive chicken banh mi sandwich, garnished with the most fantastic shoyu aioli.
If possible, check out their live music schedule before you visit, as you could be treated to some incredible jazz and jam sessions.
The Tea Pavilion
Embrace your inner peace and tranquility at the Japanese Friendship Garden's Tea Pavilion. But, dishing up way more than just tea, this serene oasis bestows the most magnificent views of the beautiful Japanese gardens.
Marvel at the majesty of the Japanese maples as you tuck into sushi, Japanese noodles, rice bowls, miso soup, salads, and snacks. Slowly sip a piping hot green tea and linger over mouthfuls of chewy Yakisoba noodles served with carrots, cabbage, ginger, onions, and nori.
For a more filling option, try a curry rice bowl with your choice of tofu, grilled chicken, beef, or salmon.
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Contemporary Italian cuisine married with the bounty of California's local seasonal ingredients, what could be more delicious? Cucina Urbana puts a flavorful twist on traditional Italian staples with their from-scratch menus.
The Cucina team is dedicated to perfecting inventive and seasonal dishes in addition to running a comprehensive in-house program where they make all of their charcuterie, sausage, cheese, artisanal bread, and pasta entirely from scratch. In addition, their robust wine program highlights over 200+ labels from around the world, making it an excellent place to sample many Californian and Italian varieties.
Snuggle up to your Zoo companion and get ready to share small plates of fried squash blossoms, grilled octopus, and burrata with tomato conserva before contemplating your main.
Feeling spicy? Split a calabrese salami, pineapple habanero jam, and provolone topped pizza or gush over the incredible Brandt beef bullseye steak served with creamed spinach, roasted cherry tomatoes, and carb-rich crushed fingerling potatoes.
Conclude your food-gasmic affair with an infusion of dolce when you share a traditional tiramisu topped with toasted hazelnuts.
The San Diego Zoo provides 365 days of wildlife wonder and excitement to California residents and visitors from all over the globe.
From checking out the creatures that roam the savannah at Africa Rocks to kicking back at a 4D Theater show or gleaning invaluable animal knowledge from a Rhino specialist, there's never a dull moment.
However, meandering through 100 acres of jungle, plains, and desert can really cue those hunger cravings.
Satisfy growling tummies by grabbing a snack, meal, or full sit-down dinner at any of the exceptional San Diego Zoo restaurants.
Whether you choose to dig into a delicious double-stacked burger or experience the sophisticated flavor profiles of a pan-roasted sea bass, there are bountiful meal options to be had at the San Diego Zoo.