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San Diego Zoo Safari Park: Strategies for a Great Day

Updated on February 25, 2014

Thrifty Strategy vs. "Party" Strategy : Both Are Great Fun

I love the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Excuse me, the "San Diego Zoo Safari Park". (They changed the name in 2010, but I keep forgetting.) The Safari Park is located in Escondito- 40 miles away from the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, which has the pandas.

Compared to amusement parks with rides, the Safari Park left my kids bursting with new knowledge. My girls returned with a passion for animals around the globe- which channeled into their free play and school work. They developed an understanding of ecosystems, which couldn't be replicated by watching animals confined in cages.

I have been visiting Safari Park for years, even before I had kids. In fact, my husband had his mom's 80th surprise birthday party at the Safari Park. (Some people even get married there!) As a part of the birthday celebration, we took his Mom on a safari tour. Back then, there was was just one "safari". We all piled into the back of a truck with a zoo keeper and drove off into the wild open African plain. Well, we were actually in the open California southern wilderness, which mimics the African plains. With no small cage enclosures, the animals wander freely in herds. Our zoo truck brought us right up to the animals, and we fed them from big buckets. I will always remember the giraffe's long purple tongue reaching out to take greens out of my mother-in-law's hand. It was an experience like no other.

The park offers many other "safaris" now. I suppose that is why they changed the name to the "San Diego Zoo Safari Park". The safaris range in price from $45 per person with an hour long guided tour, to the deluxe package at $599 per person- the ultimate back stage/zookeeper pass.

For now, my family has a great time participating in the free stuff. I'd love to share our experiences from my very favorite park. I hope this information helps you plan your day.


The Map - This park has wonderful signs everywhere, so it was very easy to get around.

Just walking the park makes for an excellent day.  Safaris and shows are merely icing on the cake. photo:
Just walking the park makes for an excellent day. Safaris and shows are merely icing on the cake. photo:

Sun Hats Please.

Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat, Sagebrush/Charcoal, Large
Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat, Sagebrush/Charcoal, Large

This company makes the best sun hats- functional and stylish, completely appropriate for a safari.



FREE Tram Ride - Safari or No Safari- Take this ride.

A tram looks like a truck cab pulling a bunch of open passenger cars. When we first visited the park many years ago, there was a monorail instead. The tram ride lasts about an half hour, circling the open plains of the zoo.

The tram driver entertained us with great animal stories and facts. I recommend taking the tram as the sun is setting because the animals are active after their afternoon naps. During our last safari, I thought the driver played a recording of a lion roaring. It was so loud. But actually, it was the big guy himself! The lion decided to tell us exactly where he was up on the hill, the true "Lion King of the Safari". Even though the tram stayed on the outside loop, the animals were close for great picture opportunities. In hindsight, it would have been fun to have binoculars.

Binoculars - Got to see those cute hippo babies up close.

FREE Frequent Flyers Bird Show

We LOVE this show. We have gone every year. We arrived at the amphitheater early and sat in the very front row on the left hand side. As planned, my son was picked to go on stage to help with one part of the show. He got to do tricks with the birds in front of a huge audience!

Other great places to sit include the upper right side of the stadium, and upper center. During different parts of the show, great majestic birds fly overhead to the zookeepers waiting at those high spots. Sit near those keepers, and it seems like the birds are flying to you.

We stayed after the show to learn more about the birds. Only a few people stay, so the conversation is intimate, just perfect for bird lovers.

Wedding! - We celebrated an 80th surprise birthday party. Some people get married at the Safari Park!

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Safari Park

Have you visited the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

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Balloon Ride - My kids said this was their favorite part.

This was my big splurge. We went up on this balloon hoping to see the cheetah run. This balloon is filled with helium, so a cable lets it go up and down. It is tethered the whole time. There is no hot air burner, because of the helium. We missed the cheetah, but still loved this ride. We went up 400 feet and had a view of the whole park- wow.

Cart Safari

This is the cheapest of the safaris at $45 a person. The other safaris are more expensive, but there are more perks too.

Ropes Safari

This one has an minimum age limit of 7 years old, and a maximum of 2 children per adult. It looked pretty scary. Two of my kids weren't interested- takes a certain personality.

Caravan Safari

This safari looks very similar to the one we took at the 80th birthday party. Fun.


The teacher in me would love to go on this safari. They say it changes every time... you never know what it going to happen at the zoo.

Roar and Snore Safari

I'd love to do this one too. The tents look more like hotel rooms to me. They call this "glamping" because it is so fancy.

Cheetah Safari

Love cheetahs?

Zip Line Safari - 13 year old age limit

My birthday party present, I hope.

Have you been on a safari...anywhere?

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Only within the confines of a park of some sort in the U.S. My husband and I make a point of visiting the zoos and animal attractions in each place we visit. If we ever end up in San Diego, this would probably be somewhere we would go.

    • Michelllle profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @CampingmanNW: I agree. Oh, I love this park too. We always try to visit when we are in the San Diego area. I feel it is always worth the money. Compared to theme parks with rides, my kids come back with knowledge...bursting with new love for animals. (Gosh, I think I'll include this epiphany in the intro!) Thanks for reading!

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 

      4 years ago from Lakewood New York

      I've been to San Diego many times on business trips, and have seen a lot of the sites and area. Sadly I never visited the Zoo. Now I wsihed that I had!! Thank you for the tour and fantastic photos:)

    • Old Navy Guy profile image

      Old Navy Guy 

      4 years ago

      We loved the zoo and the Wild Animal Park when we were visiting San Diego and I highly recommend both. Very nice of you to share a bit about this truly awesome place.

    • CampingmanNW profile image


      4 years ago

      I haven't been to the San Diego zoo in years, but we were members for years. But since we moved from Poway we have not had the opportunity to return. We used to visit not only the Balboa Park Zoo, but the Wild Animal Park (as it was then called) as well, with relatives who came to visit. Everyone was always amazed at the different habitats and animal sanctuaries that were incorporated in making that park. Animals seemed to be available to photograph up close in all parts of the trip. It was as if you were transported to a different section of Africa as you visited each individual part of the park. Years later, watching Big Cat Diary, I was struck by the similarities in what had been created at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Thanks for sharing and well deserving of the Purple Star award you received. Cheers.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 

      4 years ago

      No, but I would love to go anywhere that I can get decent photos of the wildlife. The problem with most safaris is that the animals are too far away. I like them more up close and personal.


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