Lesser known than the world famous San Diego Zoo, is their sister property, the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park. Located in Escondido, it’s about 30 miles away from San Diego’s city center.
Tickets to the Safari Park will cost you about $56 for adults and $46 for children full price. Tickets are available for multiple days, but are only worth it if you plan to visit both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park in the same trip. Those tickets will allow you to visit the same park twice, but you can do everything in a full day. See here for the latest ticket prices.
Are you planning to visit Legoland, Seaworld or other attractions in Southern California? Consider buying a Southern California Pass, San Diego Card, or the 3 for 1 San Diego pass. There are other passes out there, but make sure you fully research what these passes include before making any decisions. If you have a family, this is going to serve as your best value.
As with most theme parks in California, riving is probably the easiest way to get to the Safari Park. In the three times I’ve been there, I’ve also rented a car from my base in Anaheim. I never knew how much time I wanted to spend in the park, but driving would allow you to leave at any time during the day. They are typically open 9 to 5 and only closed on major holidays. Parking will cost you about $15 with a car and about $22 for RVs.
What about public transportation? It is possible, but is going to require some planning. I’d recommend using the San Diego Metro Planning site to help you figure out the best route. Everything really depends on where you are based. Be mindful of travel times. It’s going to take you just over 2 hours each way if you are staying in San Diego central. I wouldn’t recommend a taxi or ride sharing. It will make for an expensive bill.
What To Expect
The Safari Park has a much different feel than the San Diego Zoo. It’s about 10 times the size, but doesn’t feel it. The Safari Park has a huge amount of open range exhibits where you have the chance to see animals in the closest place they can get to being “in the wild”. My first piece of advice to you would be to wear comfortable shoes. You will do a lot of walking!
The African Plains portion of the park has the largest exhibit area where you are able to take a tram around the enclosure and see rhinos, giraffes, zebras and other African wildlife. This is one of the first things I would head to when you arrive at the park as the wait times can be long in the afternoon or in peak season days. The animals are on their own schedule and tend to be more active in the mornings.
When you finish, you have the options to hit the African Woods and Lion Camp areas. The main attractions here are the elephants and cheetahs. In the few times I’ve been there, there always seems to be an adorable litter of cheetah babies. The Safari Park has a hugely successful breeding program.
You may see some of the cheetahs walking around with dogs. Why? Dogs help keep the cheetahs calm when they explore the zoo. They are very skid dish animals. The dogs and cheetahs are raised together as puppies and kittens and develop a close bond a best friends.
Several times a day there is a special demonstration where you can see the cheetah run at its top speed chasing a toy. Arrive early as this is another hugely popular draw for the crowds. The dogs run too, but you never realize until you see it in person how fast cheetahs are!
If you are expecting active lions, unfortunately you will be disappointed. Lions are almost always asleep during the day and the same if true of the tigers….if you can find them. They love to hide from the public. I have lucked out twice when the park was closing in seeing the tigers playing in the water. I like to save the tigers for the end of the day.
The last of the major large animals I want to point out are the gorillas. There is a beautiful family unit that I always spend a large amount of time watching. They are so much like humans. It’s a shame when kids are so noisy…gorillas are really quiet animals and don’t like noise.
Birds and other hidden gems of animals are on display, but your trip will be what you make of it. There are too many to name here. Always look at a map and have a plan of attack as it can be overwhelming.
Food, Shopping and New Exhibits
A new Australian Outback area of the zoo has recently opened and is said to include kangaroos, wallabys and other fun indigenous animals of Australia. I don’t have much information on it, but check the official website of the zoo for more information.
You should know what food and drinks are allowed to be brought into the zoo. There are several picnic areas. They do ask that there are no glass containers, straws or alcohol be brought in. I like to buy my food there for fun. It can be pricey, but as part of the experience, I don’t mind splurging and not having to worry about carrying a backpack.
Shopping will also be readily available. The majority of shops are located at the front of the zoo. They do close early so if you are staying until closing, plan accordingly. I would shop at the end as its less to carry around. If you are going to the San Diego Zoo, there are a lot more options of items there for shopping.
The Safari Park is one of my favorite places to go in Southern California. It doesn’t feel nearly as overwhelming as the zoo. So much of their land is behind the scenes for their breeding programs and rehabilitation. They have the largest vert facility in the US there! If you are going to the park, plan on spending the whole day there and bring a camera! Happy travels!