Safari Park: San Diego, California

Continuing on the theme of “long weekend California road trips” – in September of 2016, our family decided to take a 4 day trip down to San Diego right before school started.

Having already been to the San Diego Zoo, we decided that a visit to the nearby and often overlooked Safari Park (formerly known as the “Wild Animal Park”) was in order. While the San Diego Zoo is great, Safari Park feels much more natural and intimate, both of which are great things as you try to introduce your kids to real-life exotic animals. If you have the opportunity, particularly with kids, take a day trip to Safari Park!

The Logistics

Safari Park is on a 100 acre plot of land located on the north-east side of San Diego. It is designed to showcase as natural of habitats as possible, which means that they have large numbers of both animals and vegetation that are co-existing together. It is really quite neat!

You can get your tickets at the gate, or you can pre-purchase and print your tickets to save some time. If you will be visiting multiple parks in the San Diego area, make sure you look to see if any of the combo tickets make sense. If you are reading this during Covid times, double check the website to see if they are even open. If not, their website does have some webcams that will allow you to observe a few of the animals.

During this long weekend road trip, we chose to visit Safari Park, Sea World, and also made a short jaunt across the border to Tijuana, Mexico. This trip had lighter crowds because our kid’s school didn’t start until after Labor Day (most of the local schools started a couple weeks earlier). If you happen to be in this situation as well, early September is a great time to visit Southern California!

(Re: Tijuana – note that we did that part on foot, parking right next to the border, and taking a couple of taxis during the visit. Driving your own vehicle often requires a very lengthy wait at the border on the way back, and is probably best to avoid unless you’re driving further into the country. Also, research current personal safety issues before going.)

Beyond just taking a beach day, there are plenty of other Southern California options, so look at the map below for ideas:

The Zoo

The Zones

Safari Park is organized into zones:

  • African Outpost
  • African Plains
  • African Woods
  • Asian Savanah
  • Condor Ridge
  • Elephant Valley
  • Gorilla Forest
  • Lion Camp
  • Nairobi Village
  • Safari Base Camp
  • The Grove
  • Tiger Trail
  • Walkabout Australia
  • World Gardens

Lion Camp

One of our favorite exhibits was the Lion Camp. I think I can safely say that this is as close to a lion that I have ever been. The boys were fascinated.

So fascinated that getting a picture with them facing the camera was almost, but not quite, impossible. This was about as happy as I have ever seen lions in a zoo! They were quite active and we really enjoyed watching these delightful creatures.

African Plains

Another really cool area of the park is the African Plains. The pictures we took really don’t do it justice, but imagine herds of animals wandering freely in a very large space. It was pretty interesting to see one herd of rhinos, another of giraffes, plus a bunch of other animals, all together in the same area but showing their true herd instincts. Fortunately, the lions were kept in a different part of the zoo or we may have seen a more grim aspect of true plains life.

The space is so large that it might be a while before the herds get super close to you, but if you happen to have general objections to how animals are treated and confined in zoos, seeing this zone might highlight that there is a way to showcase zoo animals in a better way. If I were a zoo animal, this is the type of cage I would want!

We spent a while imagining what it might be like to experience a real safari. If you know that you are never going to make it to Africa, but you want to experience a safari, consider signing up for one of the Safari Packages. There is even an option to spend the night camping in the zoo!

Experiences – The Cheetah Run

There are also quite a few experiences and shows that are included in the admission price. Our must have experience was the Cheetah Run.

It is truly amazing to watch a cheetah run at top speed, off leash, with just a tiny fence between you and the cheetah. The boys loved it!

The Petting Zoo

And no zoo would be complete without a petting zoo. It wasn’t quite like feeding the hippos in Thailand – “Mom, can I touch the hippo’s tooth?”, but the boys had tons of fun grooming the goats!

Other Zones of the Zoo

The rest of the time, we had a ton of fun simply wandering and enjoying each section.

Safari Park is a really neat piece of Southern California. If your family ever takes a road trip to San Diego, consider this delightful zoo!

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