San Diego Zoo Safari Park

USA: Travel: Ruux the Cheetah at the San Diego Safari Park
Corbis/ Getty Images

At the ​San Diego Zoo Safari Park, species mingle a little bit like they do in their native Asia and Africa. That doesn't mean you're going to find lions roaming in the same enclosures with the zebras, but you will see multiple species of hoofed animals roaming in the same large area.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park didn't start out as a tourist attraction. It actually began as a conservation facility. Dozens of endangered species have been bred at the park and re-introduced into the wild. Fees from your visits help them continue that work.

Admission is charged, and there's a separate parking fee. The process for getting tickets and the tips that apply are the same for getting San Diego Zoo tickets.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park Exhibits and Activities

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park covers 1,800 acres, and there's plenty to do and see. Check the daily schedules when you arrive to be sure you don't miss anything. These are the highlights:

Africa Tram: This 30-minute trip may be the closest many of us will ever come to seeing wild critters in their natural environment. You may see deer and antelopes, giraffes, several kinds of rhinoceros, elephants and other types of wild creatures, all roaming in a large area. If you're anxious to see it when you first arrive, the boarding area is on the far side of the park. In fact, it's so far away that you may feel like it takes almost as long to get there as it does to ride.

Lorikeet Landing: Lorikeets are colorful birds slightly larger than a parakeet. Stop at the entrance to their enclosure to buy a cup of lorikeet nectar. Hold it in your hand, and the birds will sit on your finger and drink it up. This activity is highly recommended for anyone, but some children find all the fluttery birds a little scary.

Nairobi Village: Here you'll find the Petting Kraal where you can get some hands-on time with the tamest critters and make a fuss over the babies in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Nursery. There's also a daily bird show.

The names of other areas of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park change faster than a chameleon can go from green to brown, but the basics remain the same. You can see elephants and lions, gorillas and tigers - and California Condors. And a host of other creatures, too. The Safari Park map shows them all and outlines the most accessible routes if you need them

If horticulture is your passion, you'll find some fabulous gardens spread along the trails. 

Special Activities at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park raises money from extra-cost activities. Those may include Photo Safaris, Cheetah Run Safari, Balloon Safari (a 15-minute ride that goes 400 feet in the air), and behind-the-scenes Safari Park tours. Go to the Safari Tours and Experiences links at their website to find a list of what they're currently offering.

What Do People Think of the Safari Park?

We rate the San Diego Zoo Safari Park 4 stars out of 5. We especially like the tram ride and the wide-open spaces filled with animals.

If you dislike the ideas of animals in captivity, you may not enjoy it. It's also quite far from downtown San Diego and takes up most of a full day of your vacation.

Tips for a Good San Diego Zoo Safari Park Visit

  • If you just do the minimum, it takes 1.5 to 2 hours to go in, walk to the tram, ride it and go straight back out. The Safari Park is about a 45-minute drive from central San Diego. All of that means you need to leave wherever you are in San Diego at least 3 hours before the Safari Park closes. Admission is somewhat expensive, and you may want to plan to stay longer to get the most from it. 
  • The park is less crowded on weekdays in fall and spring.
  • In summer, ten to fifteen thousand people visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park every day.
  • The temperature at the Safari Park can be 20°F (or more) higher than it is near the water.
  • During the busiest part of the summer, they offer after-dark hours that make afternoon arrival a good option. You can spend more time somewhere else, and the park won't be as hot. On the downside, some of the animals may go to sleep.
  • In the winter, crowds are thinner, but hours will be shorter.
  • The park is open even in the rain. In fact, it's an excellent time to go, when many of the animals may come out to soak it up. And you might feel like the only person in the whole park.
  • Ride the Balloon Safari early in the morning. If the wind starts blowing, they close it for safety.
  • Walk, take the tram tour, then walk some more. Or to see the animals at their most active, take the tram early in the morning.
  • Any time of year, bring sunscreen, hats, and water. Bottled water costs 2 to 3 times what it does in a grocery store, so bring your own to save money.
  • To make it easy, bring cash to pay the parking fee.
  • Don't try to visit the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park in the same day. It's too far away, and each one offers too much to do.

    Where Is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Located?

    San Diego Zoo Safari Park
    15500 San Pasqual Valley Road
    Escondido, CA

    You can drive to the Safari Park and pay their parking fee. You can also plan a trip using public transportation on the San Diego Metro website. That nearly two-hour journey will include about 30 minutes of walking and two buses.

    If you're too impatient for that, you can call Yellow Cab at 619-234-6161 Orange Cab at 619-223-5555. You could also call up your favorite ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft. Those options will probably cost more than driving yourself, but you can check the current parking fee to decide whether that's a good option for you.