Activities & Resources
San Diego Zoo Safari Park050in Escondido, CA 92027
about San Diego Zoo Safari Park:
Run by the San Diego Zoo, the park is a huge 1,800 acres in Escondido (not the same location as the zoo) and has a collection of over 3,000 animals from 374 species. It's a unique visiting experience, very different from visiting a zoo. The animals mostly live on hills and savannas that mimic their own habitats - if their native habitats included truckloads of tourists passing through proffering snacks. The only animals in cages are, for the most part, rescued animals, as the facility is also a sanctuary.
The way to experience the park is through a combination of tram riding and walking. A general tram ride (Journey into Africa) is included with admission. We highly recommend springing for one of the family caravan tours if possible. These cost $90 extra, for which visitors get an informative tour with an educator and a meandering ride through the heart of mini-Africa, on the back of a truck that stops to let kids feed the giraffes.
Other creative ways to take it all in include Segway tours (no kids younger than 13), hot air balloon rides (straight up and down), private group tours in golf carts, and Flightline - a remarkable zip line experience that allows guests to fly through the air for nearly a mile, experiencing the flight of a condor first-hand (ages 10 and up).
There's no question that the Wild Animal Park requires an entire day to see; to do it proper justice one could even spend the whole weekend. Hiking offers some great payoffs, particularly the walk to Condor Ridge to see the fruits of the Park's condor rehabilitation program or, at the other end of the park, to see the cheetahs. Both are accessible only by foot.
In the middle of the Park are animal shows throughout the day - offering a welcome chance to sit. Of course, those endearing elephants are fun to watch but the real surprise here is the fabulous bird show.
Right near the bird show amphitheater is a lovely playground with picnic benches, a restroom and snack shack nearby, a waterplay area for small children, and - a valued commodity in the hot summer months - shade. Plan to spend time here for a nice midday break.
The heart of the Park is zoo-like, with enclosures for small animals (including birds, reptiles, and monkeys); lagoons for waterfowl and marsh animals; amazing botanical gardens; and a large gorilla enclosure. Highlights here are the petting zoo and the Hidden Jungle, flush with tropical birds, flowers, and butterflies. Kids can also check out the Discovery Station, where there are projects for a little ones and shows with Robert the Talking Zebra.
Our favorite, though is Lorikeet Landing, where a $3 purchase of nectar buys a real thrill for your child - the chance one of these beautiful tropical-colored bird will land on an arm and drink from the cup.
Camping: The Park offers some unique but pricey opportunities to extend the safari experience, such as Roar and Snore. Here, families can spend the night camping under the stars in the Park. Camp-outs take place Friday, Saturday, and some Sundays, from mid-April through October. Reservations may be made by calling 1.800.934.CAMP.
Photo Caravan Tours: Safari trucks let you get up close to the animals in the Africa and Asia enclosures to take pictures (tours run seven days a week, year-round, weather permitting). Prices for the caravans range from $85 to $105 per person ($70 to $94 for Zoo members), depending on the length of the tour. Call 760.738.5049 or 1.800.934.2267 for details.
Themed Tours: The Park offers a variety of seasonal themed tours, depending on when you visit. Examples are "It Began With A Roar," "Walk On The Wild Side," "Passport to Asia," or "Breakfast with the Big Guys." Tours are designed for ages 12 and up. Fees vary, and reservations are required. Check the Park's website for upcoming themed tours.
Families can also view the park on a Rolling Safari Tour. The two-hour program costs $75 and includes training on and use of a Segway. Participants must be at least 13 years old and weigh between 100 and 250 pounds.
Lunch: You can buy your lunch at a number of places, ranging from hot dog carts to sit-down restaurants. The food is not cheap. If you want to bring lunch, you can store it in lockers near the Park's entrance. There are many beautiful spots to picnic. One of our favorites is at the tables near the lagoon. But if your kids have the stamina to make it up Condor Ridge, you'll find it far less peopled and be rewarded with stunning views of the entire sanctuary.
Savings: This place is expensive, and there's no avoiding it - though there is some comfort in knowing that it's a non-profit, so all money goes to support animal research and conservation. You can save a little bit of money if you're planning to visit the Zoo and the Park within the same week. The Two-Park Ticket is good for five days from purchase. Adult $59, child $39. Also, for less than the price of two days' admission, one can buy a year's pass - well worth it for locals.