CaliforniaFamily TravelTravel

A Visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

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Growing up as a kid in San Diego, I can remember begging my parents to take me to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. I actually can’t recall ever visiting, but whenever I drive anywhere near Escondido, I always think of what lies nestled in those hills. Renamed in 2010, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is the lesser known sister property to the world famous San Diego Zoo. At a whopping 1,800 acres, it’s been an incredibly successful animal sanctuary and breeding grounds over the past 40 years. The facility focuses on conservation efforts and offers it’s animal residents large open expanse to roam in their “natural environment” and also boasts the world’s largest veterinary hospital.

Aside from walking along paved pathways, The San Diego Zoo Safari Park also offers families the chance to get up close and personal with animals in their habitat. The Africa Tram is included in your paid admission and provides a tour of the Asian Savannah and African Plains. You should definitely plan on hopping aboard for a nice break from walking and also to get a small glimpse of what it’s like to be on a safari.

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If you’d like to upgrade your visit, you can choose from a variety of tours to suit your interest and budget. From a 1 hour Cart Safari tour around African Plains or Asian Savanna, to a ride on the longest zip line (2/3 of a mile) in the contiguous United States via the Flightline Safari over animal exhibits, you won’t be disappointed!

Did you know there’s more to the Safari Park than most guests see? When you choose a behind the scenes safari you will go off exhibit and off the beaten path for an inside scoop on how the animals are cared for, enclosures are designed, and a better look at how the zoo carries out conservation and research work here in San Diego and around the globe.

I was so excited to be able to take Whistler to check off a childhood bucket list item that I wanted to make our visit extra special. We chose to take the 2 hour Jungle Journey Behind the Scenes Safari and highly recommend the experience. We met our tour guide at a designated location and hopped aboard a 10 person golf cart for our journey. We headed straight out to one of the highlights of the tour, an up close encounter with the giraffe of the jungle, an Okapi.san diego zoo safari park 16We took a few minutes to learn about the Okapi and how we can do our part to help in their conservation efforts before getting the opportunity to feed these mysterious animals.

The forests where the Okapi live are affected by coltan mining. Coltan is a mineral used in all cell phones so we can do our part to help simply by recycling our old phones!

From there, we drove by the Balloon Safari (take a 10-12 minute ride up to 400 ft for an extra fee) on our way out to Africa and Asia.

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We saw a huge variety of animals just being, well animals, out on acres and acres of land. It was incredible! Whistler and I have visited many animal parks and zoos and have never seen this many Rhinos. We found out the reason why is because the San Diego Zoo Safari Park actually has the world’s most successful breeding program for Southern white rhino!

For those of you that love Giraffe, the Safari Caravan experience looks like a blast as well. We saw one of the trucks as it stopped to feed the Giraffe and Rhinos and I was a bit jealous.

san diego zoo safari park 22Right around the corner we made a stop for our second animal encounter – the tigers. Although we checked a few different off exhibit enclosures, unfortunately, we were out of luck and the tigers avoided being seen. No worries though because we had a nice viewing of the King of the Jungle as he enjoyed the sun.san diego zoo safari park 23

The third and final stop of the tour was at the Education Compound to meet a surprise animal ambassador – Luna, the Anteater.

san diego zoo safari park 25Whistler was thrilled to get a chance to pet Luna during an open Q & A session about Anteaters. We learned that they have a prehensile tail that can be used for balance and gripping. It is also interesting to note that the muscles in their hands in the “relaxed” position are closed. This is how they are able to sleep hanging from a tree and also why they walk on the sides of their fists while on the ground.

In addition to offering a unique way to see your favorite animals, park admission includes access to a variety of animal shows. They are a great way to learn more about the animals and many of them offer a chance to interact with animals and/or their keepers. For instance, Training Talk offers the chance to get an up-close look at free-flight bird training and once a day at Shiley’s Cheetah Run, the only place in America where Cheetahs run OFF LEASH at full 70 mph!

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Our favorite parts of the day were stopping by the Animal Encounter locations throughout the park to learn about and see varies species up close. Our first encounter was with a Fossa. An unusual creature that is only found on Madagascar, it appears to be a mix between a cat and a mongoose.

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We watched her play, climb, drink and play some more and then were surprised to learn that she is completely blind! Abandoned by her mother due to the birth defect, she was raised by hand and has a permanent job being one of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s animal ambassadors. She is actually one of only 4 fossa’s known to work on a leash in this manner so it was a privilege to get to meet her!

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Taking on the park alone with a young child was more aggressive than I had thought. Luckily, we already had the really large part of the park taken care of since we took the Behind the Scenes tour. So we took our time meandering around the Gorilla Forest and Nairobi village for the rest of the day.

The gorilla enclosure was one of the largest I have ever seen and it had about 6 or 7 gorillas, including 2 babies! The large silverback walked around for a bit but mainly spent his time doing what boys do best – rolling around in the grass and pondering what his next move will be.

The Petting Kraal was full of sweet goats so we grabbed a brush and spent a good amount of time grooming. Whistler got a kick out of learning their names and trying to speak to them in “goat”. baaaa!
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The nursery had two baby lion cubs that I just wanted to hug, but of course had to settle for ooing and ahhing at instead.san diego zoo safari park 7

Always fun to watch are the antics of the meercats. Always looking off into the distance, what do you think they are thinking about?

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Don’t forget to stop by Wings of the World. We had quite a few up close visits by the beautiful large birds that live in there. They were really curious and had everyone laughing.

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As our tired feet started telling us to make our way for the exit, we got a great glimpse of a mother flamingo feeding her baby. san diego zoo safari park 1

Here is a fun fact for you – notice how the baby is brown in color? Flamingos are a great example of “you are what you eat”. They get their color from the carotenoids in what they eat, like shrimp, thus producing the pink/orange color. This actually can and does happen in humans as well. Your skin will get an orange tone if you eat a lot of carrots!

Thank you to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for providing us with tickets for entry into the Park. We paid for our Behind the Scenes tour and all opinions remain our own.

Jeana S

Jeana S

Research lab rat turned travel mom, Jeana S writes about gadgets, tech, entertainment, weddings and of course, travel. When she's not using her powers for social good, she enjoys photography, cooking and playing robots with her son. On occasion, you may also find her crocheting cute things to hide in Ben's underwear drawer.

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34 Comments

  1. May 14, 2015 at 6:38 pm — Reply

    It’s great to visit a different Zoo when you can. Not all zoo’s have the same animals. My first close-up of a rhino was a zoo in Japan. I’ve never seen a Topaki at a zoo, and that beautiful anteater, I would love to cuddle him/her. The Safari ride looks an exciting idea.What a wonderful Zoo.

  2. February 22, 2014 at 5:01 pm — Reply

    What awesome photos! I’ve only ever visited a couple of zoos, but we love them. The San Diego zoo would be awesome!

  3. February 21, 2014 at 10:02 am — Reply

    You guys have some awesome animals at your zoo! I would love to have a zoo around here that had such a variety of healthy, and happy, looking animals :)

  4. February 19, 2014 at 5:45 pm — Reply

    Oh my! This zoo is awesome! My little one hasn’t been to a big zoo yet, but we have a membership to our local zoo (it’s 10 minutes away).

  5. February 19, 2014 at 4:27 pm — Reply

    I love the pictures. I think my favorite is him with the bird. Oh the face he made. I want to see a fossa.

  6. Eliz Frank
    February 19, 2014 at 2:51 pm — Reply

    Your pictures are amazing… Some of them were truly up close and personal. I’ve heard of the highly rated San Diego zoo..

  7. Jacqueline
    February 19, 2014 at 1:48 pm — Reply

    The Balloon Safari should be at every zoo! That looks amazing and would be reason enough for me to go to the San Diego zoo. I am not normally a “zoo person,” but this place looks like it has top-notch care for their animals!

  8. February 19, 2014 at 1:44 pm — Reply

    I love zoos! The San Diego Zoo Safari Park looks like a must do when visiting San Diego!

  9. February 19, 2014 at 1:39 pm — Reply

    Your pictures are gorgeous. I’d love to see a rhino up close and personal.

  10. February 19, 2014 at 11:52 am — Reply

    What beautiful pictures! I love them. I haven’t been to the San Diego zoo in over ten years. We live on the East Coast. You are really making me want to go back very soon.

  11. February 19, 2014 at 8:55 am — Reply

    Really close-up adventures like that are fun! Whistler was clearly having a most wonderful time. That fossa is wild looking!

  12. February 19, 2014 at 5:02 am — Reply

    He’s always adorable but I love the photo of Whistler feeding the anteater!

  13. Amy Desrosiers
    February 19, 2014 at 4:57 am — Reply

    I have never heard of the Okari animal before! This looks like such a fun site to see!

  14. February 19, 2014 at 4:50 am — Reply

    It looks like you guys had so much fun at the zoo! I love when zoos have wide open spaces like that for the animals so you don’t leave feeling sorry for them!

  15. February 19, 2014 at 4:33 am — Reply

    Your son gets right in there and interacts, I think that’s cool!! I’ve never seen some of these animal, nor did I know about the mineral Coltan being used in cell phones.

    Cool pics, cool adventure, cool story!

  16. February 19, 2014 at 12:29 am — Reply

    I went there this last summer &had a blast! I can’t wait to go back. We didn’t get to see so many animals up close though, I’m jealous!

  17. February 18, 2014 at 9:13 pm — Reply

    oh my girls would just have a heart attack if we were to visit! They love animals so so much.

  18. February 18, 2014 at 6:37 pm — Reply

    My kids would go nuts there! That is so cool how the animals just come right up for the food. The giraffe popping his big old head in the cart is hilarious!

  19. February 18, 2014 at 6:32 pm — Reply

    We’ve heard so many great things about this place! Love the pictures you took too, it’s like you were right next to the animals.

  20. February 18, 2014 at 6:27 pm — Reply

    How fun! I LOVE all of the pictures. I have always wanted to visit the San Diego Zoo.

  21. February 18, 2014 at 6:21 pm — Reply

    Looks like Whistler had lots of fun! I am sure my 3 year old would enjoy getting up close and personal with the animals too.

  22. February 18, 2014 at 6:07 pm — Reply

    I have been to the zoo several times, but never their safari park. Looks like so much fun!!

  23. February 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm — Reply

    Oh wow, that looks like such a blast! My boys are big animal lovers so they’d love to get to visit.

  24. February 18, 2014 at 5:12 pm — Reply

    I have heard about san diego zoo as long as I can remember. I WILL get there one day!

  25. February 18, 2014 at 5:06 pm — Reply

    Your photos are AMAZING. I can’t believe how close they are! We were just discussing zoos last week, and San Diego is one of my must-see cities. I will most definitely be checking this out if/when we make it to San Diego one day.

  26. February 18, 2014 at 3:44 pm — Reply

    Those rhinos are so beautiful. So tough, too!

  27. February 18, 2014 at 3:06 pm — Reply

    My twins would absolutely love this! It’s cool that you were able to go behind the scenes and see all that!

  28. February 18, 2014 at 2:09 pm — Reply

    I LOVE zoos and this one looks fantastic! Also, giraffes are my fave animal but I’ve never heard of the Okapi. They’re kind of freaky looking, haha!

  29. February 18, 2014 at 12:20 pm — Reply

    I would love to get back out that way and see the park. We were out there years ago, but weren’t able to do a lot due to wild fires in the area. Love seeing the park!

  30. February 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm — Reply

    I LOVE zoos! Looks like you guys had a great time and captured some amazing shots!

  31. February 18, 2014 at 12:09 pm — Reply

    I am so excited that you wrote about this. We will be in San Diego in April and were considering doing this. It’s the price that gets me – it’s pretty costly. When we were in SD last year, we did the zoo and it was AMAZING.

    • February 19, 2014 at 6:28 pm — Reply

      I agree, the cost was a definite consideration, but in the end was worth it to me because a portion does also go to research/conservation efforts. Getting as many up close and personal experiences (2 hours) and being able to take as many photos as we wanted was great. They could have tried to make more money there like other parks, but they don’t! I really feel that having such up close experiences makes the visit take on a whole new meaning/feeling. You feel more connected to the animals you meet and it really makes you more concerned about their plight (if any) – if that makes sense? Rather than being a simple “day spent at the Zoo”, we got so much more information not only on the animals themselves, but the ways in which we can make small changes in what we do and what we buy in order to help! Totally worth the money!!

  32. February 18, 2014 at 11:59 am — Reply

    Great photos. It looks like your son had a wonderful time.

  33. February 18, 2014 at 11:13 am — Reply

    This reminds me of WDW Animal park! How very cool! I would love to go on the safari ride!

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