I’ve been visiting the Safari Park since 1980, back when it was called the “Wild Animal Park.” My grandparents moved to Escondido then and took us a couple times. Once I had kids of my own, I was anxious to show them the “wild zoo” I loved as a kid. We toured the park for two days in 2011, but the boys have no recollection of that trip (why did we do so much when they were little?), so we had to go back and make lasting memories.
I wanted my boys to be entertained, but also to absorb the conservation message. While it’s cool to see these animals up close, it’s also important to understand that these critters (and all creatures) need habitat protection in their native ecosystems. Whether that means mitigating global warming or stopping poaching (or both!) my kids and I have a role to play. That may be the most powerful part of visiting the Safari Park.
Visiting the Safari Park
Most people think of big African animals when they think of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. And that makes sense, since the mission of the park is to conserve and educate about those animals.
In addition to the elephants, giraffes, okapi, gorillas, and other critters, we were lucky enough to be there when there were several babies around.
The tiger cubs were the cutest and we watched them wrestle and play for a long time.
The rhino baby was pretty cute, too, as cute as a rhinoceros can be, anyway. It had been ten years since the Southern white rhino named Holly gave birth before this little one came into the world. Turns out the food Holly had been eating had high levels of phytoestrogen, which inhibited pregnancy. They switched the food and the baby was born. The take home message? Be careful what you eat.
Gardens and Natural Areas
The animals are neat, but I love the gardens. In addition to the Bonsai Pavilion, Conifer Arboretum, Epiphyllum House, Herb Garden, Jungle Garden, Nativescapes Garden, and other designated gardens, there are plants everywhere. Visiting the Safari Park is as much a visit to a botanic garden as it is a zoo. And there are acres and acres of southern California chaparral that are left undeveloped in perpetuity to protect native plants and animals.
Keeping Cool and Playing
Southern California can get hot. Fortunately, there are several splash pads and water play areas strategically places around the park. Kids LOVE that kind of thing, so find them on the map and plan accordingly.
There are also dry play areas throughout the park. Because sometimes kids can’t take another step, but they do have the energy to climb all over the monkey bars.
There are a lot of ways to experience the park, what they call “Safari Tours.” We took the Africa Tram, which is included with admission. The balloon, cart, zipline, ropes course, behind the scenes, and all the other safaris are an extra charge.
Since we went on a spring weekday, we didn’t wait long for the Africa Tram, but on summer or weekend days it might be worth paying the reservation fee to skip the line. Don’t miss this tour – it’s the most iconic experience in the park. And you get to rest your feet while cruising the African savannah.
Know Before You Go
Buy them at the park or online.
The Safari Park website has a page where you can plan your day so you don’t miss anything. Then print it out and take it with you. Alternately, grab a map at the entrance and go for it. That’s what we did.
The park is open every day of the year, but check the website for specific hours as they change seasonally.
Food and Drink
There are a zillion places to buy food and drinks, but it is pricey. We brought our own lunches and water and splurged on ice cream.
Parking is not included in the entrance fee. There is a parking shuttle, so don’t worry if you end up parked at the bottom of the hill.
Strollers, lockers, and motorized wheelchairs are available for rent on a first-come, first-served basis near the entrance.
More in Escondido
Thanks to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for complimentary tickets. The opinions expressed here at TravelingMel are always my own.