Well-known and a major attraction in Southern California, I recommend the San Diego Zoo. We debated it because of the price of the tickets. Our son getting in free (under 2) definitely helped, as did free parking and the decision to not eat at the zoo.
Ticket prices are $42 for adults, $32 for children 3-11 or $76 for an adult 2-visit pass or $56 for child 2-visit pass, which can be used at the Zoo one day and Safari Park on another. The ticket includes the express trams/buses around the zoo and the skytram, though we did not use either.
You can bring in your own stroller and food, but no big coolers. However, most picnic areas are just outside of the zoo (same day re-entry is allowed). Stroller rentals are $11 or $16 for a double, so bringing in your own stroller makes much more sense, especially if you have children who are younger, as the zoo is quite large.
The highlights for us were the variety of animals and the panda exhibit (which did have its own separate line). We got lucky in that there happened to be a baby panda (only 1 other zoo in the world had any baby pandas at the time of our visit).
The zoo has a children’s zoo/petting area for kids and engaging exhibits that highlight the playfulness of the animals — the other favorite animals for us were the Koala bears, red kangaroos (I had never seen any before) and hippos! Recently, they added a ropes course, which looks like fun for older kids. There seem to always be special, live performances (free) going on – we saw an acrobatic act.
While I definitely wish this great zoo were a bit easier on the pocket book, I am glad that we went and would budget and plan to go back — it made my Top 10 of favorite family outings in Southern California. The zoo’s website has details about memberships, hotel & ticket packages and other helpful information.