Since the zoo didn't open until 9, we went to Balboa park early. We'd wanted to see the rose garden nearby, since the sight of roses blooming in December is endlessly exotic to this Minnesotian. But I was even more impressed by the cactus garden right near it. I'd never seen such a display in my life, understandably since cacti have to be sheltered where I live, while San Diego is a desert region.
As for the zoo itself, words fall short. It was far too huge to see it all in one day--we rushed from place to place from 9 to after 4 (including a bus tour and sky ride and show) and we certainly missed a lot. And that was just the animals--the diversity of plants in that place from all over the world deserve a couple days of scrutiny in themselves!
So I'll just stick with unforgettable highlights. The San Diego zoo is one of only a few in the U.S. to have Panda bears, so watching the little one play with his mom was definitely a highlight of the visit.
The Minnesota zoo had a pair of koalas for a time, but every time I visited, they were sleeping. The San Diego zoo has about 18 of them--so probability dictates at least one or two will be awake at any given time...and that the mom and baby were awake when we dropped by was a special blessing.
I'd never seen a Red River Hog before, I'll certainly never forget them now. And there was Okapi too, which made me think of paantha. (Alas, he would not turn around.)
The Southern Ground-hornbill at the show had an uncontrollable drive to kill plastic snakes...and I took far too many photos of the drop-dead gorgeous Clouded Leopard at that same show.
There was even a wombat (squee) and tree kangaroos (more squee). Lots of birds as well (like the Andean Condor), though by the time we found our way to the aviaries, it was after 3:30 and the lowering sun made it too dim for good photos.