Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens is a 133-acre home to a range of animals, and is located in Griffith Park, one of our favorite places in all of California. In this LA Zoo review, we’ll share photos, cover the good and bad of the L.A. Zoo, how it compares to the San Diego Zoo, and more! (Updated March 26, 2021.)
Let’s start with an update as California continues its reopening efforts. The Los Angeles Zoo is now open with a modified experience and health safety rules. Specifically, face masks are required for guests 2 and older, physical distancing needs to be maintained at all times, and visitors should remain stationary and appropriately distanced while eating or drinking. There are also other minor logistical changes, such as some one-way traffic flow areas and modified access to certain exhibits.
Most significantly, advance timed-entry reservations required for all guests in order to control attendance as the Los Angeles Zoo is currently operating at a reduced capacity. Simply select the day and time you’d like to visit and make reservations here. Tickets will be sent to your email address that will be scanned from your mobile device or a printout at the entrance. Time slots arrival times are valid until 30 minutes after that time. Once you arrive within that time frame, you are welcome to enjoy the zoo as long as you want until park closing at 5 pm…
To be entirely honest, it took us a while to visit the LA Zoo. Even after living in California for several years and being members of the San Diego Zoo, we still hadn’t gone. This was despite living closer to the LA Zoo and visiting Griffith Park more times than I can count.
We just always had this perception of the LA Zoo–and I’m not even sure what it was based upon–that it was inferior and second rate as compared to the San Diego Zoo, so why bother? Well, we had that question answered for us when we finally visited the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens and discovered that our preconceptions were pretty off-base…
Before we dig into the inevitable San Diego Zoo v. LA Zoo comparison, let’s begin with an overview and review of the Los Angeles Zoo…
Today, the Los Angeles Zoo is home to more than 1,400 mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. These creatures represent more than 270 different species, including 58 that are endangered.
In addition, the LA Zoo’s botanical collection spans several planted gardens that contain over 800 different plant species and roughly 7,000 individual plants.
The City of Los Angeles owns and operates the LA Zoo, its land and facilities, and everything inside. The zoo opened in 1966, replacing the now-defunct Griffith Park Zoo, which is still in existence and home to more urban explorers than animals.
Current photos of the old Griffith Park Zoo circulate with regularity and wow what a difference a few decades makes it terms of zoological standards.
While there’s a stark contrast between today’s Los Angeles Zoo and the Griffith Park Zoo of 50+ years ago, the reality is that some areas of the current LA Zoo still feel like vestiges of the past.
While walking around, you can tell that some aspects of the zoo are a few decades old, but there have been plenty of modernization efforts to keep things looking–and feeling–fresh.
More importantly, the LA Zoo is clearly a modern zoo from the perspective of evolving beliefs about the humane treatment of animals.
The facilities appear, to us at least, to be humane and spacious for the creatures, and we saw nothing that raised any concerns about animal treatment.
Of course, we are hardly experts in this realm, but it’s worth noting that the Los Angeles Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. I do know that the LA Zoo has done extensive work to aid in the recovery of California Condors.
In 1982, the zoo launched California Condor Recovery Program (CCRP), which then focused on building a captive breeding population. Now that the species has recovered, the LA Zoo assists with monitoring and maintaining the populations of wild condors that have been re-established in California.
One of the most engrossing exhibits is Campo Gorilla Reserve, which is home to six western lowland gorillas. Here you walk along a forested pathway for views of two separate troops of gorillas, a family and a bachelor group, living among waterfalls and lush plants.
The LA Zoo’s latest attraction is the Rainforest of the Americas. This exhibit features detailed sculptures, educational graphics, and architectural elements create an immersive experience for visitors, while animal highlights include piranhas, giant otters, harpy eagles, and cotton top tamarins.
Elephants of Asia is one of the LA Zoo’s main (and newer) draws. This exhibit is aimed at familiarizing visitors with the challenges Asian elephants face in the wild, including their shrinking natural habitat. This is an interesting and illuminating exhibit.
This Elephants of Asia tracks the history and culture of the animal through Cambodia, China, India, and Thailand. There are bathing pools, sandy hills, varied topography, and several different viewing areas offering varied perspectives into the exhibit.
Another favorite area of ours is Australia, which is home to the Zoo’s kangaroo and koalas. These marsupials are displayed in the Australia section of the L.A. Zoo.
This area is also home to the Australia Nocturnal House, which features a rare Southern hairy-nosed wombat, a species that can only be seen in four other Zoos in North America.
The koalas share two separate habitats with kangaroos, wallabies and echidnas. It’s cool to watch the baby koala and kangaroo joeys in this area.
Although tangential, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share one of my favorite stories about P-22, who is suspected in a “koala heist” at the LA Zoo a few years ago.
This was the area of the zoo where we spent most of our time, completely transfixed by those marsupials. With that said, we spent a lot of time at various areas throughout the zoo, finding a number of lower profile exhibits just as compelling as the big name ones we specifically list here.
Time flew by, and before we knew it, we had been at the LA Zoo for roughly 5 hours.
It’s tough to find much to criticize about the Los Angeles Zoo, especially for its relatively inexpensive admission fee. One thing we did notice was that none of the food looked even remotely worthwhile, but this is hardly unique to the LA Zoo.
We anticipated this, eating before arriving and again immediately after leaving. It’s Los Angeles–even with decent zoo food, you’re obviously going to do better dining at a real world restaurant.
The Los Angeles Zoo receives nearly 1.8 million visitors per year, making it one of the most popular attractions in Southern California. Thankfully, the sprawling complex and 100+ acre grounds make it good at absorbing crowds, but it still can get busy.
To avoid crowds, the best option is visiting right at opening on a weekday morning. Weekends are consistently the busiest time to visit, but weekdays can be bad if you choose poorly and visit on a day that multiple school groups have field trips to the LA Zoo. Visiting in the morning also offers the upside of seeing the most animal activity.
No matter when you visit, one of the big upsides to the Los Angeles Zoo is the lush grounds. Throughout the zoo, the pathways are frequently lined with mature trees that provide ample shade and a cool environment.
Likewise, many of the viewing areas offer shade and reprieves from the heat. This is a big deal on a hot day.
As for how the Los Angeles Zoo compares to the San Diego Zoo, the latter still reigns supreme. However, it’s a much closer call than you might expect, especially with the San Diego Zoo being world renowned and receiving all the accolades.
San Diego Zoo is superior thanks mostly to its “other stuff” like the aerial tramway, bus guided tours, and more. The wildlife lineup likewise gives it an edge, but not a pronounced one.
With that said, base 1-day tickets to San Diego Zoo cost nearly triple the price of those to Los Angeles Zoo. Quite simply, it’s not that much better than the LA Zoo. So, if money is an issue, we’d recommend the Los Angeles Zoo.
If money isn’t an issue, it probably comes down to whether you’re planning on visiting San Diego in addition to Los Angeles. (Arguably, the San Diego Zoo is not worth a special trip. The San Diego Safari Park, on the other hand…)
Overall, we were shocked by just how much we enjoyed our time at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. It’s one of the best zoos we’ve visited, and while not quite on par with its formidable and far more famous counterpart in San Diego, it’s deserving of praise and tourist’s attention, too.
The Los Angeles Zoo is also conveniently located in Griffith Park, making it easy to spend the morning and midday at the zoo before heading Autry Museum of the American West for the afternoon, and then to Griffith Observatory for sunset and dusk (potentially even Hiking to the Hollywood Sign). That’s one great, jam-packed day in L.A., and all without having to fight any freeway traffic!
If you’re planning a trip, check out our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles or our California category of posts. For even more things to do, The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas is an exceptional resource, which is written by other locals. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you been to the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens? If so, what did you think of experience? If you’ve been to both the LA Zoo and San Diego Zoo, how do you think they stack up to one another? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Would you visit the LA Zoo again, or do you think it was a ‘one and done’? Was it worth your time and money? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!