When I was raising my own children, visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was a regular occurrence. Only back then, it was called the San Diego Wildlife Animal Park. And while my children were young, there was a limit to how much we could endure — both parent and child. Sometimes it was all we could manage to ride the monorail, watch a show, and then head back to the parking lot before the children’s patience and tiny legs wore out. My children are now grown and have children of their own. On a recent visit to San Diego, my daughter and her children, ages 7 and 9, decided to check out San Diego’s Safari Park highlights. My husband and I joined them, and what a wonderful adventure we had! If you haven’t been in a while, it’s definitely time for you to return.
Many things have changed
Yes, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is basically the same place we visited many years ago. But there have been changes, too. Besides the name change, there are additional exhibits such as the Tiger Trail, Lion Camp, and Walkabout Australia. The Africa Tram replaced the former monorail. It’s always nice to see something new! And many of the exhibits we visited were not new, but we’d just never been able to venture out that far with young children. The Safari Park is a large place (1800 acres), with exhibits, gardens, enclosures and miles of walking paths. There’s no shortage of hills, either. Our grandchildren had plenty of energy and the desire to see as much as possible!
It feels like you’re on a safari
If going on an African safari is on your bucket list, visiting San Diego’s Safari Park highlights just might allow you to check it off. The effort that has been made to make every detail just right is amazing. From the architecture of the buildings, to the landscaping, to the animal exhibits themselves. Thatched roofs, tree-lined paths, a lagoon, gardens, hands-on learning centers, even themed tot playgrounds and shops — all evoke the feeling (and the excitement) of going on a wildlife safari.
When you’re riding on the Africa Tram, it is easy to imagine you are on the plains of Africa — especially when you see rhinos and giraffes, zebras and wildebeests. And like a guided safari, you are constantly learning about the animals you see. The tram guides are so knowledgeable and share a wealth of information. Definitely one of the Safari Park highlights! It really is incredible when you also understand the scope of animal conservation that takes place here.
It’s perfect for children!
From our experience, one of the Safari Park highlights is how perfect it is for children, especially in the 6-12-yr old range. While the park is large, distances from one exhibit to another are not far, and there is always something new and interesting for children to engage with, whether it’s petting animals in the Petting Kraal, building huts, playing at a splash pad, looking for birds in the Aviary, laughing at the fighting flamingos, or climbing the bridge over the fishing river. Playgrounds and interactive activities are also well-spaced to keep the kids entertained.
There’s even the Conservation Carousel featuring many rare animals the kids can ride. My grandson was excited to ride on a tiger! The cost is only a few dollars, and that includes unlimited rides, so it’s a great deal. We used the Carousel as a place to let the kids unwind a little while the adults rested too.
Even the gardens appeal to children. Our grandchildren were especially interested in the Bonsai Pavilion, where there are many beautiful miniature Bonsai trees, ponds, ducks, a small waterfall, and benches to sit on. A lizard darting here and there kept my grandson entertained for quite a while!
Shade is another great feature at the Safari Park that makes it easier for children to visit. Escondido is always warmer than the San Diego coastline, and in the middle of the summer, it can be quite hot. But with all the trees, canopies, structures, and the tram, there is always a place to get out of the sun.
Don’t just take my word for it!
My 9-yr old granddaughter, Skye, agreed to share her thoughts about visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Here’s her rendition of our Safari Park highlights:
“My experience at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was amazing! First of all, the gorillas. They were hilarious! The first gorilla that came out was tall and skinny. He walked around for a little bit then went inside and then came out again. Then the second gorilla came out. He was tall and big. The big gorilla turned around and showed everyone his butt! Then he started posing like he was at a photoshoot! Fun Fact: Gorillas will try to avoid eye contact because it means they are challenging each other to a fight.
Now you have to know about the cockatoo. My brother would whistle something and the cockatoo would whistle back! Then there was the flamingo fighting. First nothing would be happening, then, all of the sudden they’d be pecking each other’s necks! Fun Fact: Flamingos get their pink color from the shrimp they eat.
Now there are the vultures. Because vultures have incredible immune systems, they are being studied so people can make vaccines with their DNA.
Then we saw the white rhinos. Fun Fact: There are only two white rhinos left in the world and they are both females so that makes them practically extinct. Scientists will attempt to use frozen samples to help the female white rhinos have babies. Wouldn’t that be neat if we could save them from extinction!? I loved learning all these things at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park!”
Thank you, Skye! I loved learning these fun facts as well. The Safari Park is as educational as it is entertaining. At the end of our grandchildren’s visit to San Diego, we asked them what they liked best. Between going to the beach twice, walking along the San Diego waterfront, visiting the Carlsbad Flower Fields, and visiting the Safari Park, the Safari Park won hands down! Even my daughter was excited to see parts of the park she had never seen before.
My personal favorites
So now you know Skye’s favorite Safari Park attractions. Want to know mine?
- Africa Tram — This 30-minute tram ride is probably a highlight for everyone. Who doesn’t enjoy riding in comfort and seeing so many animals you would never be able to see anywhere else?
- Condor Ridge — I was quite fascinated with the opportunity to see a California Condor and learn about the success of pulling them from the brink of extinction.
- World Gardens — an area I had never before seen at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. It was just too far to take my children when they were very young. The succulent garden was incredibly beautiful and diverse. The Bonsai Pavilion was very peaceful, and I was intrigued with the Bonsai creations. There was even a miniature grove of pine trees. I liked imagining I could shrink and walk into that tiny grove!
- Tiger Trail — This lush area has a bamboo forest overhead and a waterfall you can put your hands into. But it was made especially amazing by seeing a majestic tiger close up (at least with the zoom lens of my camera!)
- Australia Walkabout — This area is pretty new. I loved being able to walk close to the kangaroos at the Kangaroo Walk. I’d always thought they would be dangerous, but I guess they don’t feel threatened here. A themed building with a snack bar, gift shop and lots of indoor tables and seating was just the right place to get out of the sun. The Australia Walkabout has the only Platypus exhibit I have ever seen.
- My Grandchildren — Of course, being with my grandchildren was another Safari Park highlight. Seeing everything through their eyes and enjoying their delight and fascination was really a treat. Their laughter and interest made going to the Safari Park wonderful.
Tips for visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
- Definitely wear good walking shoes and use sunscreen.
- Plan your itinerary to allow for resting time in between exploring different areas (riding the tram or enjoying some interactive play). Here’s a PDF map of the park.
- Plan to stay most of the day. We arrived at 9:30 am and left at 3:30 pm. We got to see everything and have time for eating snacks, riding the carousel a few times, and playing.
- You are allowed to bring your own water bottles. Stay hydrated!
- You can bring in lunch or snacks with you. I guarantee that will save you money. However, we also splurged and bought a treat for everyone. The kids loved the churros and cotton candy. I found the frozen banana to be refreshing.
- Save up to go to the Safari Park. It is worth it. The Safari Park is an experience you cannot duplicate anywhere else in southern California. Knowing your ticket price is helping with animal conservation increases the value. You can buy passes that allow you to visit both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Don’t try to go to both in one day!
Create your own list of Safari Park highlights
If you are a San Diego resident who has not gone to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in a long time, I’m urging you to go again. See the new exhibits and enjoy the changes in the old ones.
If you are traveling to San Diego, visiting the Safari Park should be among your top three places to visit. According to my grandchildren, anyway!
Please share your comments or insights below. I love to read your comments!
As is common in the media industry, I was given passes to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park so I could visit and share my highlights with you. All opinions are my own, based on our experience, and not reviewed or subject to editing by the San Diego Zoo.
I really liked my walkabout inches from the Roos too!
I was so surprised they let us do that!
It was a fantastic day!
It really was! Glad we got to share that experience…
How fun! It’s always great to revisit places with children–they bring such joy, curiosity, and new perspective to the experience!
It really does make it fun to see it all through the eyes of a child!
The San Diego Safari Park is an adventure for young and old. I love it, that the animals have a lot of space to roam. Amazing that they have tigers and rhinos! I did a similar train ride through an safari park in the Netherlands and loved it!
Yes, I’m glad the animals have so much room — it makes their behaviors more natural too.
I am not a fan of zoos because I don’t agree with animals being closed, taken away from their natural environment. It’s good that at the San Diego Safari Park the animals have plenty of space to move around and that you feel you are on a safari rather than seeing caged animals. Your photos of the Californian Condor reminded me of my trip to Peru, where I have seen condors flying above the Colca Canyon.
Seeing them in the wild sounds amazing, and of course, preferable. Unless it’s a tiger!!
I’m sure your granddaughter will hang onto that memory for a long time. It sounds like a great family tradition passed onto the generations.
What a fantastic adventure! This is a wonderful environment for children to visit, not only for the cute animals, but also because of the play areas and unlimited rides. I also gained knowledge from those fun facts — you have such a brilliant grandchild.
I was at a similar safari a long time ago. You certainly opened my eyes to visiting the San Diego one because of the California condor and white rhinos. But it would also be interesting to see the platypus and the bonsai garden.
Definitely children around your grandkids age range love this place a lot. The age where they intrigued with animals from all over around the world. It’s so funny reading your granddaughter wrote about the gorilla’s butt. Haha.. Wish we could go to San Diego when my son was at this age, but he got to visit the safari park in Bali and Bogor, Indonesia.
That was fun to read about your visit with your grandkids to the San Diego safari park. I have visited the San Diego sea world but not the safari park. Heard a lot about it. Loved the clippings on the different animals wandering captured by you. Your grand kids seemed to be enjoying the carousel and the park visit. Skye’s version of her visit was fun to read too.
I like how the animals can roam around freely. It surely gives a safari vibe. Any day, better than a zoo where animals are caged. Surely a great place for children to learn about animals.