San Diego Safari Park
formerly Wild Animal Park

The San Diego Safari Park (formally called the Wild Animal Park) is, first and foremost, a conservation facility. This establishment is designed for the study and preservation of wild animals and endangered species. The main goal of this facility is to provide a wildlife sanctuary where animals can live in a protected environment.

san diego safari parkGiraffes seem to roam free at the Safari Park. Enlarge photo

wild animal park
Enlarge photo.
wild animal park
Enlarge photo
That being said, the San Diego Safari Park is open to the public to enjoy, educate, and experience. Before you start, you should know that the park is very large: 1,800 acres in size and contains over 3500 animals from Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. It is unlikely that you will see everything in one day, but a judicious sampling of the "good parts" of the park will give you a glimpse as to what the Park is all about. Alternatively, get a 2-day pass or a year-membership so you can come back for more.

Animals are placed in habitats similar to what they would find in the wild.

Before you embark upon your safari, be sure to remember where you parked your car. In Swahili, the word "safari" means "a journey of mind and soul". However, at the end of the day, you will really need your car for your journey back home.

The front gate looks more like an African village. Read the signs and line-up to buy day tickets (to the right), or yearly memberships (to the left). If you have your tickets already, go straight to the turnstiles and start your adventure. san diego safari park

The first thing you will encounter is the "Wings of the World" aviary. Although this may seem like a side trip, it is worth going through. Large and colorful birds will pose for you while you let your body and mind adjust to the safari mentality. This caged enclosure will lead you to Flamingo Lagoon. The viewing area has a platform which is perfect for photos. [Flamingo Lagoon. Enlarge photo.]

Once you exit the aviary and get back onto the main walkway you will see various eating establishments, gift shops, and the Conservatory Carousel. The Thorntree Terrace is the main restaurant in this area of the San Diego Safari Park. It's a nice place to sit down and eat (read more here). Or you can grab a drink and a quick snack at any of the kiosks along the way. The Conservatory Carousel is free if you have a day pass, otherwise it is $2 per ride.

san diego safari park

At this point, you can veer towards the right (south) towards "Heart of Africa". Or, you can veer towards the left and enter "Condor Ridge". There's much to see regardless which route you take but for first-time visitors, I recommend going to the Heart of Africa.

As you walk south towards the Heart of Africa, a major landmark is a man-made lagoon and waterfall. You can choose to walk on either side of the lagoon and it will allow you to see different things.

  • West Side of the Lagoon:
    To see the western edge of the lagoon, veer towards the right and you will find a log-cabin style stairway; benches with pleasant views; and winding paths. Here you will see various waterfowl, information plaques, and a 25¢ vending machine where you can buy food to feed the ducks. Children love feeding the ducks since it allows them to see the waterfowl up close. This route will eventually meet up with the east route. [Enlarge photo]

  • East Side of the Lagoon:
    san diego safari If you choose to walk along the east side of the lagoon, you will see the lagoon only a little. The major attractions on this side are the nursery and the Petting Kraal. For 25¢, you can buy food to feed the deer. "ZooWerks: The Ride" is located in this side of the lagoon. This is a 4D simulator ride; tickets are needed and the show changes frequently. As you stroll along this shaded walkway, you may also meet people who do caricature drawings, face painting, and/or hair braiding.

One option is to take the east route on the way to the Heart of Africa, and then take the west route when you leave the San Diego Safari Park. Either way, the two routes come together to a rather busy section of the Safari Park: at this junction, you will find washrooms, ice cream shop, and numerous paths.

Be sure to look into "Lorikeet Landing". This is an aviary but the interesting part is that you can buy a small container of nectar ($3) and the lorikeet birds will perch on your arm to drink the nectar. Photographers are on site to capture this pretty amazing close encounter of the bird kind. Be aware though, what goes in also comes out. Hand washing station is available just outside the aviary. See another photo.

wild animal park As mentioned above, there are numerous paths leading to and from various sections of the San Diego Safari Park. Consult your map to find the shortest route into the Heart of Africa. For the most part, follow the signs to the "Balloon Safari" ride. This tethered balloon ride is similar to the hot air balloon rides available in the Serengeti. At $20 per ticket, this ride will give you a bird's eye view of the entire Park.

Eventually the path will lead you to the Great Rift Lift. This wooden structure has an elevator which will take you to the upper platform offering a panoramic view of the Heart of Africa. It's breathtaking and worth the walk!

san diego safari park
Take note of the structure on the left which looks like power lines; these are actually ziplines. The one visible from this platform is Flightline Landing 1 (photo). This is the smaller (470 feet long) of the two ziplines and it is used primarily for practice. Once you're familiar with this wind-in-your-face, fly-in-the-air ride, you advance to Flightline 2 (160 feet above ground; 2/3 miles long; $70 per person).

san diego safari

san diego safari
[Enlarge photo]
Forward march! You will walk by the African Lion exhibit where large cats may be seen lounging among the grass.

Keep walking along the paved road and you will reach Simba Station. Here you can stop walking because you can choose to take a guided tour.

Tours range from $40 (50 minutes) to $150 (3.5 hours) and can be in a private van, in a caravan, or in a mini-bus. You can even tour the San Diego Safari Park on an off-road Segway (photo; $80 per person)! As you can see, these special activities cost extra.

Here's a nice change: the Africa Tram Safari (also called Journey into Africa), is free. This tram ride takes you around the Heart of Africa where you can see many animals including giraffes, rhinos, gazelles, antelopes, gnus, ostriches, and more. The narrated tour is about an hour long and thank goodness because it would take much much longer if you had to cover the same route by foot.

After the tram ride you can continue to explore the Heart of Africa by foot. See map of park to find your way around this south-most region of the San Diego Safari Park. Be sure to see the Okapi which look like zebras but are really relatives of the giraffe.

[Above: free tram tour. Center: Wildebeast as seen from the tram. Below: Okapi, photo from San Diego Safari Park. Enlarge]

wild animal park
san diego safari
san diego safari

wild animal park

wild animal park

The San Diego Safari Park offers a glimpse of wild side in a protected and safe environment. It is a pleasure to see animals in enclosures so large that they seem to roam about freely. With the added attractions such as the Segway tours, the Flightline zip lines, and the photo caravan, this place is certainly more than just a zoo.

A trip to the San Diego Safari Park is relatively expensive (see below); however, most of the money goes back to preserving and servicing the endangered species. So, all in all, it is a good cause.

There is much walking in the San Diego Safari Park, this is because the enclosures are large so one needs to walk far to get to the next exhibit. However, the walk is peppered with snack shops and effects to keep the kids walking and engaged.

Hours of Operation: The San Diego Safari Park is open every day of the year including holidays. Typical hours are from 9 am to 5 pm though the Park can be open until 7 pm during peak season.

Parking: Parking is plentiful in the parking lot just outside the entrance. Prices are as follows:
  $7 per vehicle (members), $10 for nonmembers,
  $12 for RV (members), or $15 (for non members)

Price of Admission:
One day ticket:
  $40 (adult) or $30 (child under 12)
Includes unlimited rides in Journey Into Africa tour, and unlimited rides on Conservation Carousel

Yearly membership:
  $85 (adult); $106 (2 adults); $35 (child <12); $39 (child >12)

Two day tickets and 3-day tickets also available which includes admission to San Diego Zoo and/or SeaWorld. Inquire at ticket booth.

  San Diego Safari Park
  15500 San Pasqual Valley Road
  Escondido, California 92027-7017
  map of park
It is approx 35 miles northeast of downtown San Diego. Barring terrible traffic jam, expect travel time to be 45 - 60 minute.