San Diego Zoo Backstage Pass? Yes, yes, yes!
Want your kids to pet, feed, and howl with the animals at the San Diego Zoo?
San Diego Zoo visitors can’t help but be wowed by its 3,700 animals and 650 species — the pandas and gorillas alone are totally worth the high price of San Diego Zoo tickets. But after a few hours of climbing the hills, exploring the trails, and gazing at the creatures in the world famous — but seriously huge! — San Diego Zoo, your kids are going to be exhausted.
Which is why the Backstage Pass Special Experience is such a good idea for families with young kids (even if it’s not covered by the San Diego zoo tickets you already bought).
For $99 per person, you get to sit in a shady, comfortable, private area for 90 minutes where you’ll meet the San Diego Zoo’s animal ambassadors face to face.
The Backstage Pass experience
You actually don’t get to sit for the entire 90 minutes, but trust me, you aren’t going to mind.
Guests are invited up in groups to pet and be photographed with many of the animals. You also take a short walk to some of the adjacent exhibits to feed and meet other animals.
The theater itself is small, and the San Diego Zoo limits the program to 40 guests at a time. We visited midweek in July, and there were fewer than 30 in our group.
Although there isn’t a bad seat in the house, it’s worth arriving 20 or so minutes early at the Backstage Pass Gate in Urban Jungle to try to get seats in the front row.
You’ll want to bring your camera, but go ahead and leave your zoom lens at home because the animals are practically in your lap!
Every day is different, and the trainers are quick to point out that the animals don’t have to work if they don’t want to.
The day we visited, we saw a bearcat, a serval cat, a leopard, a tiny baby sloth, a cheetah, and a wolf. Our walking field trip took us next door, where we got to feed a rhino and pet a zebra.
Even my kids were impressed, and they’ve had some pretty awesome animal encounters over the years, since I’m a total animal lover.
For me, the highlights were howling with a wolf (the audience has to get him started) and meeting the cheetah and her adorable roommate — a rescue dog from the Humane Society. All the animal ambassadors have a lifelong domesticated animal buddy to lower stress and improve quality of life.
Backstage Pass fine print
The program is available for guests 5 and older, and there is a maximum of 2 paid kids per paid adult. The shows are at 12 and 2:30 — I definitely recommend the later one, because that’s when you’re really going to want to sit down and rest.
At almost $100 per person, this isn’t cheap. And it doesn’t include San Diego Zoo tickets either.
Console yourself with the fact that your money will be combined with other donations to help save rhinos, tigers, gorillas, cheetahs, condors, pandas and hundreds of other endangered animals.
Also, you’ll get priority boarding for the zoo bus and 10% off in the gift store all day. Your ticket also includes one photo of you with an animal ambassador of their choice. On the day we visited, it was the bearcat. The other photos “your family with animals” are available for purchase too.
Unfortunately, kids can’t stand next to the animals without you, so it’s impossible to take your own if you’re the only adult there. If you’re there with two adults, split up and take your own shots over the photographer’s shoulder!
San Diego Zoo tickets are $44 for adults and $34 for children. Although I was provided with San Diego Zoo tickets and complimentary Backstage Pass tickets, all opinions are my own.