Traveling to Africa to go on a safari with the fam may not be in the cards, but a trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a must––and the next best thing. This truly amazing Park is as dedicated to wildlife conservancy as it is to creating an atmosphere through which kids will learn about and enjoy animals. Nothing compares to the wow-factor of seeing animals up close in their natural habitats in this locale. Read on for our guide to having a fantastic, totally wild visit to this local gem and for exciting details about two of the Park’s newest additions!
photo: Christina Simmons
Ready for cuteness overload? You’re in for two tons of fun because the San Diego Zoo Safari Park recently welcomed two elephant calves to their family. Zuli (male) and Mkhaya (female) are busy playing together with friendly sparring, climbing and head-butting that you’ll want to rush to witness firsthand. In addition to their mamas, these sweet pachyderms are being raised by their aunties, as elephants employ group parenting to care for their young. (Smart!) Go check these awesome animals out at the Safari Park’s elephant habitat or spy them on the Safari Park’s elephant cam here.
Additionally, read on for our super informative guide to navigating the rest of the Safari Park.
There’s so much to see and do at the Safari Park! Make sure you grab a map at the Park entrance to help you navigate your way to all of the animals and to see the day’s schedule of entertainment, talks, tours and attractions. You can also plan your day before you go online here. We started our visit with a trip through the awe-inspiring Tiger Trail where we watched tigers play and splash in the water and strut straight up to the expansive viewing windows for a humbling and exciting eye to eye encounter.
When you first enter the Tiger Trail, there’s a little nook off to the right where you climb down netted rope to access a small viewing window. Kids will love feeling like they’re climbing through the jungle to happen upon a tiger like we did, as seen in the above photo!
After you stroll through the serene Tiger Trail and see the tigers in action, before you exit the Tiger Trail, kids will relish the chance to play in the Camp Play Area, climbing on logs and ropes.
Good to know: Kids will also love climbing and exploring at the Samburu Jungle gym located in the African Woods section of the Park.
Be sure to take your kiddos to the Petting Kraal to touch and brush the goats. Just make sure you don’t have any food on you before you go in––the goats will eat anything! For a list of all the animal encounters available at the Park click here. We love the Lemur Walk and Lorikeet Landing, where you can come face to face with lemurs and lorikeets!
You definitely want to plan on riding the Africa Tram which runs from 10 a.m.-5:15 p.m. This glorious excursion through the African field exhibits is included with Park admission and allows you to observe animals in their expansive, naturalistic habitats.
The view from the open-air Africa Tram gives kids a thrilling perspective of animals ranging from giraffes to African rhinos. An in-the-know guide narrates the tram ride with both fun and educational facts about animals and what the Safari Park is doing to help critically endangered species.
Insider’s Tip: Shiley’s Cheetah Run is located near the Africa Tram and you can see for yourself how fast cheetahs run at 3:30 p.m.
Giraffes strike an elegant pose as the Africa Tram goes by. You can see the giraffes from the tram or from the African Plains’ Kijamii Overlook. For a special experience, feed the giraffes during a Caravan Safari.
Good news: The Safari Park has had over 100 births of the Uganda giraffe in their African Plains habitat, which greatly helps with the conservation efforts of this endangered giraffe subspecies.
After your tram ride, head to see the nearby lion and lionesses in all their splendor. They’ll most likely be lounging under the Acacia tree since the regal felines can sleep up to 21 hours a day. Don’t miss the large glass panels that let you peer into the habitat with the hopes of coming face to face with the lions.
Meander down the Gorilla Trail through the Gorilla Forest where you’ll behold a band of beautiful gorillas. After, don’t miss the gorilla activity center off to the left of the habitat. Kids can see how they measure up to an adult gorilla, watch a video on how the Park cares for the gentle giants and listen to sounds gorillas make.
Top tip: Posted signs encourage passerby to “shhhh” be quiet because the gorillas don’t like loud noises. This may be a good exhibit to take your kids through after they’ve let off steam elsewhere so they can be quiet around the gorillas.
Don’t miss seeing the exquisite herd of African elephants in the Park’s two large exhibit yards. You may see elephants eating a snack, taking a dip in their pond, or watch the young elephants playing in a mud hole. There’s an Elephant Viewing Patio next to Tembo Stadium, but there are plenty of additional vantage points to get a close look at these amazing creatures.
So Many Ways to Enjoy Being a Kid
The Safari Park has incorporated endless opportunities for kids to interact with the environment into the Park’s design. Plan on making time for your curious kiddos to slither into a tortoise shell, perch atop animal statues, pose in between bat ears and more. Your kids will find an engaging moment at every turn, which enlightens them on an animal’s special features or lifestyle, or just gives them the chance to be a kid and have fun. They’ll have a blast exploring their way through the Park.
There are countless animals to see and habitats to experience and we’ve just scratched the surface with this guide. If your kids love the Safari Park (and they will) consider getting a membership/annual pass so you are sure to experience all of the Park’s offerings throughout the year. The pass provides unlimited admission for a full year to BOTH the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park, so it’s certainly worth it!
Savanna Cool Zone
Nothing beats a water play area on a hot day. Stop by the Savanna Cool Zone (open seasonally) to let your kids splash about and cool off. There are tables with umbrellas nearby, which make for the perfect place to eat a picnic lunch too. Pack their bathing suit and a small towel if they plan on going all-in.
photo: San Diego Zoo Safari Park/Christina Simmons
Coming This Summer: Walkabout Australia
The Safari Park’s newest addition is opening on May 25th. Walkabout Australia transports people to the land Down Under by inviting Park visitors to mingle with kangaroos and wallabies and have close encounters with wombats and kookaburras by walking a backcountry road dotted with eucalyptus trees and red bottlebrush blooms. The habitat also highlights water conservation due to drought issues brought about by climate change. The stream running through the Walkabout’s grassland area pools into a pond and demonstrates the connection between vital water sources and how animals and people depend on water for life. Learn more about Walkabout Australia here.
There are so many places to dine at the Safari Park. As mentioned, you can bring your own food and have a picnic at any of the several tables located throughout the Park, or you can eat a meal at a restaurant or grab drinks and snacks at several stands. For menus and restaurant descriptions click here. From sophisticated salads, specialty cocktails and craft beers to pizza, nachos and sandwiches, there’s something to please every appetite and taste from little ones to moms and dads at the Park.
TIPS ON ENJOYING YOUR VISIT
- Arrive early, at Park opening if possible. Temps are cooler and you’ll see more animals out and about.
- Wear comfortable clothing and walking shoes and bring a stroller for younger kids who won’t be able to walk the Park all day. Strollers are also available for rent at the Park.
- Bring a swimsuit/towel for kids who want to make a big splash in the Savanna Cool Zone.
- Bring snacks, water and a picnic lunch if you don’t plan on buying lunch at the Park. There are plenty of tables where you can eat food you brought from home.
- Wear sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.
- Make sure your camera or phone are fully charged to capture lots of great photos!
In addition to walking the Park on your own, there are also a plethora of Safari tours, experiences and animal encounters led by guides. Visit the Park website and click on Safari Tours to choose your Safari or click Experiences to see all of the amazing opportunities like a Balloon Safari.
The Safari Park is open every day of the year, including holidays. Click here for hours and directions.
Click here to buy your tickets.
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Escondido, Ca 92027
What’s your favorite animal to visit at the Safari Park? Share in the comments.
All images by Beth Shea unless otherwise noted.