Blog · San Antonio · What To See and Do at the San Antonio Zoo

What To See and Do at the San Antonio Zoo

September 14, 2023
San Antonio Zoo Giraffe

The San Antonio Zoo is an award-winning attraction and must-see for any traveler visiting Texas. The exhibits are impressive, and they’re doing great things for animal welfare. In 2022, the zoo was ranked second in the nation for conservation and education. 

Located in Brackenridge Park, one of the city’s biggest parks, and close to the San Antonio Botanical Garden, the zoo is a great way to spend the day learning about the thousands of animals who call it home. It’s great for families, boasting one of the oldest children’s amusement parks in the U.S. Plus, the zoo is easily accessible from the San Antonio River Walk, another San Antonio favorite attraction for visitors!

Here’s everything you need to know about the San Antonio Zoo before you visit, including a little about its history, the best exhibits to see, and some local insider tips to help you plan the perfect day. 

What is the San Antonio Zoo?

San Antonio Zoo Postcard

First, a little history about one of the country’s most visited zoos. 

In 1914, George W. Brackenridge donated a collection of animals to the city. The famous San Antonio colonel donated several buffalo, deer, monkeys, two lions, and four bears, and this assortment of species became what is known today as the San Antonio Zoo. 

In 1929, the zoo opened up one of the first cageless exhibits in the nation. Today, the Barless Bear Terraces and Primate Paradise still let visitors get closer to the animals and offer extraordinary views of the animals. The zoo continued to grow, and in 1948 the Friedrich Aquarium was established. In 1966, the Hixon Bird House opened, inspired by a tropical rainforest where a dozen species of birds are free to fly. 

The zoo is currently home to over 750 species that roam on the landscaped grounds that replicate the world’s most stunning natural habitats. Known for their conservation efforts to save endangered animals, the zoo is one of the top attractions in the states, with over 1 million visitors every year. 

Here’s everything to see and do at the San Antonio Zoo when you go, including the best way to navigate it, when to visit, and places to eat nearby. 

Things to do at the San Antonio Zoo

As you can tell, there are lots of exhibits to see at the zoo. 

Spread out across 56 acres, the zoo is organized in one big loop. You’ll see over 15 different habitats, inspired by some of the most biodiverse places on the planet including the Amazon rainforest, the Asian forest, and the African grasslands. Below, I’ll point out the best places at the zoo, including not-to-be-missed attractions, and places nearby to eat. 

1. Catch a show at the 4D theater

If you want to rest for a while or want somewhere cool to escape the heat, be sure to check out the Project Selva 4D Theater

This newly-built addition to the zoo shows animal-related shows. Plus, it goes a step further than your average theater because of its sensory special effects. Kids will have a blast with bubbles, lighting, mist, wind, seat vibrations, and other surprises that add to your movie experience.

Tickets can be purchased online or at the counter. Just be sure to arrive early to get a good seat. Tickets are in addition to your zoo admission, but they’re not much (around $5 a person), so it’s a pretty budget-friendly way to relax in the air conditioning!

2. Visit the oldest kid’s amusement park in the country

Built in 1925, the Kiddie Park is reportedly the oldest in the U.S. Renovated in 2009, this is a great place to visit, especially for little ones if they need to release some pent-up energy. 

There’s a variety of rides that kids ages 1-12 can enjoy. Plus, adults can hop on the famous hand-carved Herschell Spillman carousel and flying saucers. Unlike other parks, there are no weight or height restrictions for the kids. All the rides have an old-school 1920s feel, like the old-fashioned Ferris wheel.

Budget tip: Individual rides are $3, so opt for the unlimited bracelet instead. At just $14 a piece, it’s the most cost-effective route to go. Check out their website as well before you go. During certain seasons they choose special days, like on weekdays, to offer free rides!

3. Get up close with the animal encounters experience

San Antonio Zoo

The San Antonio Zoo is unique in that it offers a handful of animal encounters so you can get up close to animals and sometimes feed them. A popular attraction is feeding the giraffes: Cosmo, Alan, and Brayden. For $5 per person, you can stand close to these majestic mammals to feed them two leaves of lettuce supervised by a zoo staff member. 

Other animal encounters include mingling with Caribbean flamingos, learning from a zoo expert about rhinos and hippos, and one of the zoo’s oldest residents, the giant Aldabra tortoise. 

Most of these behind-the-scenes educational experiences cost extra, so a bit of homework beforehand will ensure you are getting the best personalized encounter that meets your budget and enhances your visit. 

When to visit the zoo 

The zoo is a popular destination to visit year-round and holds many events and fundraisers throughout the year. Check their busy calendar to see what’s happening when you’re in town.

On Valentine’s Day, the zoo has a Cry Me a Cockroach Fundraiser, where you can donate money to name a cockroach or veggie after an ex and have it fed to an actual San Antonio Zoo resident. 

Other popular events are the Zoofest Music Festival, yoga, and Zoo Boo, the annual Halloween event. In December, stop by the zoo for Zoo Lights, when the grounds are illuminated with thousands of Christmas lights for the holiday season. 

Tip: Be sure to check out the zoo’s official website before you buy your ticket. On certain days, like on weekdays and special fundraising events like the HEB Community Days, you can get discounts on admission!

Where to eat around the zoo

Table of food

Most of the restaurants at the zoo are currently under renovation, so there aren’t a lot of choices to dine inside the zoo, and outside food and drink aren’t allowed in. I’d recommend keeping your ticket and having a staff member stamp your hand so you can get readmitted. This way, you can explore the nearby restaurants for a quick lunch break. 

Alternatively, you might spend only 2-3 hours at the zoo and want a hearty meal afterward. I’ve got options for both here.

It only takes a few minutes to get downtown and then you have even more dining options. If you want to hit the culinary and cultural hotspots at the same time, check out our Historic Downtown San Antonio Food and Culture Tour. This is a great way to see what San Antonio has to offer and is guided by a local expert who will introduce you to the area’s best restaurants. (Come hungry!)

Ready to visit the zoo?

San Antonio Zoo

Since there are so many fun activities to choose from, you don’t have to go to the San Antonio Zoo with an itinerary — just show up and let the day unfold. 

To make an entire day out of it, I suggest spending the morning at the zoo when the weather is cooler and then heading over to the Market Square in the mid-afternoon. You can enjoy some of the best local food and shopping if you sign up for our San Antonio Market Square Tex-Mex tour. It starts at the largest Mexican market in the country and includes a visit to La Margarita, which just happens to be the birthplace of the fajita. There’s authentic mariachi music, history tidbits, loads of San Antonio culture, and of course, plenty of food.

Remember — you walked over 50 acres around the zoo. You deserve a little splurge!Want to learn more about things to do in San Antonio? Learn about our missions.