Visit San Diego Wild Animal Park – A Complete Guide to San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Ever wondered what it’s like to be up close and personal with a cheetah, or to hear a lion’s roar echo through the night? Well, buckle up, because we’re about to embark on a wild adventure at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (aka the Wild Animal Park). This isn’t your typical zoo visit. It’s an immersive experience that transports you and your family into the heart of diverse ecosystems, where you’ll encounter some of the world’s most exotic creatures. So, let’s dive right in and explore the wild side of San Diego!

A Walk on the Wild Side: The San Diego Zoo Safari Park Experience

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, formerly known as the Wild Animal Park, offers a unique experience that sets it apart from other zoos. Nestled in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego, California, the park has a rich history dating back to its opening in 1972. Originally named the San Diego Wild Animal Park, it was a place where animals from the San Diego Zoo could live in large, open spaces.   Housing over 3,600 animals representing more than 300 species in large habitat areas, the park provides plenty of stimulation for its inhabitants, allowing them to interact with various species they might encounter in a natural environment. This 1,800-acre wildlife preserve and botanical garden offer a lot of adventure, and we’re here to guide you through it.

The park changed its name when it shifted its focus to offer more intimate animal encounters and adventure experiences that mimic going on a mini safari. You can even camp out in the middle of the savanna between the elephants and lions for Roar & Snore! Other experiences include zip-lining over animal enclosures, meeting animals up close in a safari setting, or getting a condor’s-eye view of the park from a giant balloon.

What Makes San Diego Zoo Safari Park Unique?

What sets the San Diego Zoo Safari Park apart is its commitment to conservation and its unique approach to animal exhibits. The park spans an impressive 1,800 acres, designed to mimic natural habitats, giving visitors the opportunity to see animals interact as they would in the wild. The park is also home to the world-renowned Institute for Conservation Research, where scientists conduct research to conserve species and habitats. From the African Plains to the Asian Savanna, every corner of the park offers a new adventure.

Planning Your Safari Adventure

Best Time to Visit

While the park is open year-round, the best time to visit is during the cooler months, from September to May. During these months, the animals tend to be more active and the park is less crowded. However, any time is a good time to visit the park, as there are always exciting exhibits and experiences to enjoy.

Tickets and Discounts

Admission to the park includes access to all the exhibits, shows, and the Africa Tram.

As of my last visit, a one-day pass for adults (ages 12 and up) was $69, and a one-day pass for children (ages 3-11) was $59. Children 2 and under are free. Prices may vary, so I recommend checking the park’s official website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

There are also special experiences available for an additional cost, such as the Cheetah Run, Roar & Snore Safari, and Behind-the-Scenes Safari. The park offers discounts for AAA members, military personnel, and San Diego residents. Be sure to check the official website for the most up-to-date information on ticket prices and discounts.

But if you want to head straight to the gate (especially if you are doing any early early safaris, which start before the ticket windows open and you need separate park admission for those) – then you really want to have the tickets ahead of time.

E-ticket from GetYourGuide is the easiest as you just redeem them at the park turnstile.

Go to this for a complete list of various options available to save on San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets.

san diego wild animal park Behind-the-Scenes Safari
Credit: San Diego Wild Animal park Behind-the-Scenes Safari

Directions and Address

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located at 15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, CA 92027. It’s easily accessible by car and there is ample parking available. If you’re using a GPS, be sure to enter the full address to get accurate directions.

Weather Considerations

San Diego has a mild climate year-round, but it can get hot in the summer months. Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather, wear sunscreen, and stay hydrated. Most of the park is outdoors, so be prepared for the elements.
There are a number of experiences that will get you up close and personal with the animals, and it’s best to book those in advance. You’ll save money reserving in advance rather than purchasing in the park — plus you’ll guarantee your spot. Many of these experiences have age restrictions, so keep those in mind as you search for the right experience for your family.

Exploring the Park: Map and Major Attractions

Understanding the Park Layout

The park is divided into different zones, each representing a different region of the world. The Africa Tram, which is included with admission, offers a guided tour around the African and Asian regions of the park, providing an overview of the different habitats and the animals that live in them.

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Map PDF download

Must-See Animals and Exhibits

The park is home to a diverse range of animals, from the majestic African elephants and graceful giraffes to the elusive cheetahs and playful lemurs. Don’t miss the Lion Camp, where you can come face-to-face with African lions, or the Elephant Valley, where you can watch the park’s herd of African elephants. For bird lovers, the park’s Bird House offers a chance to see a variety of exotic birds up close.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to a vast array of exhibits and attractions that cater to all ages and interests. From the African Plains, where you can spot rhinos, giraffes, and gazelles, to the Australian Outback, where you can meet the kangaroos and koalas, there’s something for everyone. The park also features a number of interactive exhibits, such as the Lorikeet Landing, where you can feed colorful lorikeets, and the Petting Kraal, where kids can get hands-on with gentle goats.

Choosing the Right Safari for You

San Diego Zoo Safari Park offers a variety of safari experiences, each providing a unique perspective of the park’s wildlife. The Caravan Safari is a popular choice, allowing you to get up close and personal with giraffes, rhinos, and other African animals. For a more adventurous experience, the Jungle Ropes Safari offers an obstacle course through the trees, while the Flightline Safari sends you soaring over the park on a zip line.

Roar & Snore Safari:

Sleep in a tent in the Safari Park and wake up to the sounds of lions roaring and elephants playing.

San Diego Safari Park Glamping Premium Tent
San Diego Safari Park Glamping Premium Tent

Wildlife Safari:

Enter the actual exhibit and meet Asian and African mammals and birds. You can go at twilight or go for the deluxe version with close-up views of giraffes, rhinos, and other species.

Cart Safari:

Follows a similar path as the Africa Tram around the exhibits, but you can get closer to some areas, ask questions, and request to pause to get the perfect picture.

Flightline Safari:

Soar over the Safari Park to get a bird’s-eye view of the wildlife on the Flightline Safari.

Cheetah Safari:

See a cheetah reach top speed right before your very own eyes on the Sun Up Cheetah Safari.

Balloon Safari:

Get a bird’s-eye view (400 feet in the air!) from a tethered helium balloon modeled after the hot air balloon tours of the Serengeti.

Special Exhibits: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Butterflies

In addition to its regular exhibits, the park also hosts special exhibits throughout the year. Past exhibits have included Dino Mountain, a prehistoric adventure featuring life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, and the Butterfly Jungle, a seasonal exhibit where visitors can walk among thousands of beautiful butterflies.

Preparing for Your Visit

Whether you’re going on a safari or hopping around the park, you’ll need to dress for a workout. Wear layers you can shed as the sun warms things up in the afternoon. Hiking shoes or good walking shoes are a necessity for exploring the park, which is very spread out and hilly. Despite all of the walking, the park is very kid-friendly. There are multiple playgrounds, a lot of shady spots, fun photo opportunities for tadpoles, and limitless chances to hop, skip, jump, and climb around the park.

Conservation Efforts and Educational Opportunities

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park isn’t just about fun and adventure. It’s also a leading center for wildlife conservation and education. The park is involved in various conservation projects worldwide, working to protect and preserve endangered species. During your visit, you can learn about these efforts through informative displays and educational talks. The park also offers a range of educational programs for kids and adults alike, including summer camps, wildlife sleepovers, and behind-the-scenes tours.

Food and Amenities

After all that adventure, you’re bound to work up an appetite. Luckily, the park offers a variety of dining options to suit all tastes. From casual cafes to sit-down restaurants, you’ll find a range of delicious meals and snacks to keep you fueled for your safari adventure. The park also has several gift shops where you can pick up souvenirs, as well as amenities such as stroller rentals and wheelchair accessible facilities.

Comparing San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

While both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park offer amazing wildlife experiences, they each have their unique features. The Zoo, located in Balboa Park, houses a diverse range of animals in a more traditional zoo setting. The Safari Park, on the other hand, is known for its expansive free-range enclosures and safari experiences. If you’re looking for a more immersive and adventurous wildlife experience, the Safari Park is the way to go.

Amenities and Services

Dining Options: Restaurants Near the Park

There are several dining options within the park, including the Savannah Grill, which offers a variety of food options, and the Watering Hole, where you can enjoy a meal with a view of the African Plains. If you’re looking for more dining options, the city of Escondido, where the park is located, offers a variety of restaurants to suit every palate.

Shopping: Gift Shop and Souvenirs

The Safari Park’s gift shop is a great place to pick up souvenirs of your visit. From plush toys of your favorite animals to clothing and unique art pieces, there’s something for everyone. Plus, every purchase helps support the park’s conservation efforts.

Accessibility and Special Services

The park is committed to ensuring that all guests can enjoy their visit. Wheelchair rentals are available, and the park’s tram is accessible to guests with mobility disabilities. Additionally, the park offers a sensory guide on their website to help guests with sensory processing needs plan their visit.

Staying Near San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Hotels Near the Park: Recommendations and Reviews

There are several hotels near the Safari Park that offer comfortable accommodations.

The Rancho Bernardo Inn is a popular choice, known for its beautiful grounds and excellent service. Check its availability here.

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The Hampton Inn San Marcos is another great option, offering clean rooms and a complimentary breakfast. Check its availability here.

For a more luxurious stay, consider the Welk Resorts San Diego, which features spacious rooms and a variety of on-site amenities. Check its availability here.

Best Hotel Packages for Park Visitors

Several hotels in the area offer packages that include accommodations and tickets to the Safari Park. The Hilton Garden Inn San Diego/Rancho Bernardo, for example, offers a Safari Park Package that includes overnight accommodations, two adult tickets to the park, and breakfast for two.

Tips and Tricks for a Great Visit

Making the Most of Your Visit: Do’s and Don’ts

To make the most of your visit, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Do plan your visit ahead of time. Check the park’s schedule and plan your day around the shows and feeding times you want to see.
  • Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes. The park is large and there will be a lot of walking.
  • Do bring a hat and sunscreen. Much of the park is exposed and it can get hot, especially in the summer.
  • Don’t feed the animals. It’s important to respect the animals’ diets and not to disrupt their feeding routines.
  • Do take plenty of photos, but don’t use flash photography. It can startle the animals.
  • Don’t smoke in the park. For the comfort of all guests and the safety of the animals, the park is a smoke-free environment.

Insider Tips: How to Get the Best Photos, Avoid Crowds, and More

  • To get the best photos, consider taking the Photo Caravan Safari, which provides opportunities for up-close animal encounters and photography tips from a professional.
  • To avoid crowds, try to visit on a weekday and arrive early when the park opens. Also, consider downloading the San Diego Zoo Safari Park app, which includes a GPS-enabled map and other useful features to enhance your visit.
  • If you’re planning to see a popular show or feeding, try to get there early to secure a good viewing spot.
  • Don’t forget to check out the park’s special exhibits and experiences, like the Roar & Snore Safari and the Balloon Safari. They can make your visit even more memorable.
  • Finally, remember to take your time and enjoy the experience. The park is a place to connect with nature and learn about wildlife, so there’s no need to rush. Take the time to observe the animals and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Bottom Line

A visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is more than just a day out. It’s an opportunity to step into the wild, to come face-to-face with nature, and to learn about the vital conservation efforts that are helping to protect our planet’s most vulnerable species. So why wait? Unleash your wild side and start planning your safari adventure today!

FAQs

What happened to San Diego Wild Animal Park?

The San Diego Wild Animal Park changed its name to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2010. The name change was part of a shift in focus to offer more intimate animal encounters and adventure experiences that mimic going on a mini safari.

Is there a difference between San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park?

Yes, there is a difference. While both are operated by the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park offers a unique experience that sets it apart. It is designed to give visitors the feeling of being on an African safari, with large, open enclosures that allow animals to roam freely.

How long does it take to go through the San Diego Wild Animal Park?

The time it takes to go through the park can vary depending on your interests and the activities you choose to do. However, most visitors spend between four to six hours exploring the park.

When did the San Diego Wild Animal Park change its name?

The San Diego Wild Animal Park changed its name to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2010.

Do you drive your own car through San Diego Safari?

No, visitors do not drive their own cars through the park. Instead, the park offers a variety of guided tour options that take you through the different exhibits.

Is there a lot of walking at San Diego Safari?

Yes, there can be a lot of walking at the Safari Park as it is very spread out. However, the park offers a tram that can take you around the main exhibits, and there are plenty of places to rest along the way.

What are some of the unique experiences offered at the park?

The park offers a variety of unique experiences, including the Roar & Snore Safari where you can sleep in a tent in the park, the Wildlife Safari where you can enter the actual exhibit and meet animals, and the Flightline Safari where you can soar over the park for a bird’s-eye view of the wildlife.

What conservation efforts is the park involved in?

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is involved in various conservation projects worldwide, working to protect and preserve endangered species. They also run educational programs to raise awareness about wildlife conservation.

What dining options are available at the park?

The park offers a variety of dining options, from casual cafes to sit-down restaurants. There are also several gift shops where you can pick up souvenirs.

What amenities does the park offer?

The park offers amenities such as stroller rentals and wheelchair accessible facilities to ensure a comfortable visit for all guests.

What is the best time to visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

The best time to visit the park is during the cooler months of the year, from September to May. During these months, the animals are more active and the park is less crowded.

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Are there any discounts available for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

Yes, the park offers a variety of discounts, including for AAA members, military personnel, and San Diego residents. It’s best to check their official website for the most up-to-date information on discounts and promotions.

What should I bring for my visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

It’s recommended to bring comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, a hat, and a water bottle. You may also want to bring a camera to capture your safari adventure!

Can I bring my own food and drinks to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

Yes, you can bring your own food and non-alcoholic drinks to the park. However, glass containers, straws, and lids are not allowed for the safety of the animals.

What safety measures are in place at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

The park has a number of safety measures in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all guests. These include strict rules on feeding and interacting with the animals, as well as regular cleaning and sanitizing of public areas.

Can I bring my pet to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

No, pets are not allowed in the park for the safety and comfort of the animals. However, service animals are permitted.

What is the best way to get to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

The park is located in Escondido, California, and is easily accessible by car. There is ample parking available, and the park also offers a shuttle service from select locations in San Diego.

What are the park’s operating hours?

The park’s operating hours vary throughout the year, so it’s best to check their official website for the most up-to-date information. Generally, the park opens at 9:00 AM and closes between 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM depending on the season.

Is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park wheelchair accessible?

Yes, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is wheelchair accessible. The park offers wheelchair rentals and also allows guests to bring their own wheelchairs and mobility devices.

Can I host a private event at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

Yes, the park offers a variety of venues for private events, including birthday parties, weddings, and corporate events. You can contact their events team for more information and to make a booking.

What educational programs does the park offer?

The park offers a range of educational programs for all ages, including summer camps, wildlife sleepovers, and behind-the-scenes tours. They also run programs for schools and community groups.

What is the park’s policy on photography and filming?

Guests are welcome to take photos and videos for personal use. However, commercial photography and filming require a permit. It’s also important to respect the animals and their habitats when taking photos or filming.

What should I do if I see an animal in distress?

If you see an animal in distress, you should immediately notify a park staff member. They are trained to handle these situations and will take the necessary steps to ensure the animal’s well-being.

What can I do to support the park’s conservation efforts?

There are many ways you can support the park’s conservation efforts. You can make a donation, become a member, volunteer your time, or even adopt an animal. Every little bit helps in their mission to protect and preserve wildlife.

What is the park’s policy on smoking?

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a smoke-free facility. Smoking, including the use of e-cigarettes, is not permitted anywhere in the park.

What happens in the event of bad weather?

The park remains open in most weather conditions, and many of the animals are more active during rain or cooler weather. However, certain shows and experiences may be cancelled due to bad weather. It’s best to check the park’s official website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information.

Are there any age restrictions for certain experiences?

Yes, some experiences have age restrictions. For example, the Flightline Safari has a minimum age requirement of 8 years old. It’s best to check the park’s official website for specific details on each experience.

What should I wear for my visit to the park?

It’s recommended to wear comfortable clothing and footwear suitable for walking. The park is very spread out and hilly, so good walking shoes are a must. Also, don’t forget to bring a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.

What is the best time of year to visit the park?

The best time to visit the park is during the cooler months of the year, from September to May. During these months, the animals are more active and the park is less crowded.

What is the park’s policy on feeding the animals?

Feeding the animals is not allowed for the safety and well-being of the animals. However, there are certain experiences, like the Lorikeet Landing, where you can feed the animals under the supervision of park staff.

Can I bring a picnic to the park?

Yes, you can bring your own food and non-alcoholic drinks to the park. There are several picnic areas throughout the park where you can enjoy your meal.

What is the park’s policy on large groups and school field trips?

The park welcomes large groups and school field trips. They offer special rates for groups and educational programs for schools. It’s best to contact the park directly for more information and to make a booking.

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