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Backstage Pass at the San Diego Zoo

I am not a big zoo person. I love the animals, but there is just something about them being in enclosures that makes me sad. I know all the reasons why it is good to have zoos, but I get bummed anyway.

Backstage Pass at the San Diego Zoo

Mr. Misadventures and I had no plans to go to the zoo the day we headed to Balboa Park, but after just a few minutes of walking through the gardens and seeing sign after sign for the zoo we decided, “why not?”

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It has literally been at least twenty years since I had been to the San Diego Zoo (and about as long for the San Francisco Zoo, to be honest) so I was excited to go again because by reputation they are supposed to have one of the best zoos in the country. I figured if I was going to go one, why not the best?

While waiting in line (a long line, after all, it was the Christmas break) I began studying the ticket board and notice the mention of a Backstage Pass. Backstage passes to concerts are cool. Backstage passes to shows are pretty cool. Why not a zoo?

It was the coolest thing I have done in a long time and I think I have I do my fair share of cool things.

The Backstage Pass is a custom program allowing 90-minutes of up-close access to a wide range of animals. It is a daily event that is limited to a small group of people. I think the maximum group size is 40, the day we went there were about 25 people – the $99 per person probably keeps a lot of people away (P.S. going to the zoo is not cheap! but all the money goes to supporting the animals and the zoo).

I learned interesting things about each of the animals and had the opportunity to take some great up-close photos. I used a 100 mm lens and got these amazing photos. We got to feed and touch two rhino brothers.

San Diego Zoo Backstage Pass Rhino

We got to get near a precocious zebra who's best friend is a donkey.

San Diego Zoo Backstage Pass Zebra

We got to check out a wolf with a distinct personality. I learned how cool aspect of how wolves howl. The trainer had also do our best wolf howl and while we were doing that the wolf listened. She had us do it a second time and then the wolf howled back, but he howled back in a tone that was missing from the group…who knew they were that “musically” inclined!

San Diego Zoo Backstage Pass Wolf

And isn't this utterly adorable?

San Diego Zoo Backstage Pass

The markings on these cats were impressive.

San Diego Zoo Backstage Pass

Another highlight was learning about the cheetah and his best friend, a pound puppy. Cats of all shapes and sizes are nervous by nature and the zoo matches them up with dogs that are unflappable which calms the cheetah. Since they are buddies since they were babies, the cheetah doesn't see the dog as a meal!

San Diego Zoo Backstage Pass Cheetah and Dog

It was such an awesome experience and if you have the extra dollars to set aside to do this on a future trip, do it. It is well worth it.

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  1. Bobbi Lee Hitchon says:

    I feel the same way about zoos, but this does look really cool. The photos are amazing and that cheetah and dog friendship is so cute! I thought I saw a wolf in Yosemite, then found out there are no wolves in California, so it was most likely a coyote. Since then I have a burning desire to see a wolf, preferably in the wild, but it be cool to see one in a zoo too.

  2. Mikki Cross says:

    I have been to That zoo years ago but never got a “backstage pass” . It sounds awesome. I don’t know that I would let any of them drape themselves along my shoulders, but it would be fun to watch someone else allow it to get that close .

  3. Rachel A. says:

    I love the zoo! The animals are so beautiful.

  4. My little wildboy adores the zoo; having a backstage pass to such a fab zoo would make his year! Lucky, lucky you!

    1. @Kris, I am sure your son would love it!

  5. Oh the memories! We had an annual membership to the SD Zoo for years, which included the Wild Animal Park too! My kids loved visiting their favorite animals that would have never had a chance to see in real life there. We no longer live in CA, but thanks for taking me down memory lane for a few minutes!

  6. Zoo’s always make me sad, I want to go see them but I feel so terrible for them 🙁

  7. Rachel Salinas says:

    I love the San Diego Zoo, but I bet it would’ve been so much more awesome if we had backstage passes!

  8. dawn johnson says:

    That cat is gorgeous!

  9. Anita Leibert says:

    I totally love animals, but just as yourself, It makes me sad to see them in cages or in small quarters. I visited my local zoo aprox. 7-8 years ago and it was just awful how small of areas the animals had. I’ve never been to the San Diego zoo, so I can only hope the animals there have more space. You took some very awesome photo’s while you were there! I especially love the one with the wild cat on the woman’s shoulders. Is that you? Must have really been a fun experience. Thanks so much for sharing!

  10. We love the San Diego zoo. Such beautiful animals!

  11. MD Kennedy says:

    So cool! Five years ago my half-brother, who works for the Padres, arranged for our whole family to get a “back stage” tour at the SD Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. We got to feed blood to baby tigers, saw the lions up close (they were really eyeing the little ones – FOOD!) and pet endangered species. One of the most memorable events of our lives! I am torn about zoos, but do appreciate the work that the SD Zoo does for research and breeding – and the Wild Animal Park has spaces that are so much more like their natural habitats….even though fenced in.

  12. I haven’t been to a zoo since I was a kid and that is a very long time ago. The cheetah is a very pretty animal and I love the wolf. I love tigers and their markings are amazing. Even the zebra and its markings, they are so uniform. The world is awesome with all the different animals in it. The zoo is the best place to see a lot of these animals.

  13. carla bonesteel says:

    I’ve been to the SD Zoo many times, but never got to experience it this way! You are so lucky…I would LOVE to talk to wolves!

  14. Mary Dailey says:

    I love zoos and I would love to see this one!

  15. Very cool experience, love the photos

  16. What an exciting way to see the zoo! I never knew they had such a tour.

  17. Kyla Hickey says:

    My first trip to San Diego was last year, but I wasn’t able to make it to the zoo. I had heard such amazing things about this particular zoo and now I’m even more interested in checking in out, especially with this “backstage pass”! It’s so cool that you were able to get up close to some of these incredible animals.