The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is unlike any other zoo experience. You will love the Safari Park, which houses over 3,500 animals in large habitat areas. The animals are given plenty of stimulation and in many cases the opportunity to rub noses with many other species they might encounter in a natural environment. As you can imagine, creating an environment where the animals can roam and graze means spreading things out … a lot. This 1,800-acre wildlife preserve and botanical garden offers a lot of adventure. We're here with expert advice and great San Diego Zoo Safari Park tips. If you have high-energy, adventurous tadpoles that you often think belong in a zoo or dream of going on safari in Africa, then this is the right destination for your family vacation.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tips
The Safari Park used to be known as the Wild Animal Park. It changed names when it changed directions to allow more intimate animal encounters and adventure experiences that are kind of like going on a mini safari. You can even camp out there for Roar & Snore! Other experiences include zip lining over animal enclosures, navigating the trees in a jungle ropes safari or getting a condor’s eye view of the park from a giant balloon.
There are a number of experiences that will get you up close and personal with the animals, and it is best to book those in advance. You’ll save money reserving in advance vs. purchasing in the park. Plus you'll guarantee your spot. Many of these experiences have age restrictions so keep those in mind as your search for the right experience for your family. There are caravan safaris (to feed giraffes and meet rhinos), one-hour cart safaris (the Asian one takes you to areas not accessible to the public), a Cheetah safari and a behind-the-scenes tour that takes you to keeper-only areas.
Prepare by wearing proper clothes and shoes for the type of adventure you want to embark on. This is one of those San Diego Zoo Safari Park tips we can't stress enough! And of course, you don’t have to embark on any of them. You can explore much of the park on foot, and if you do that you definitely don’t want to miss the free Africa Tram expedition, which is already included in your 1-day pass ticket. Despite all 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. Getting to pet and brush animals at the Petting Kraal are also highlights for tadpoles. Of course getting to observe and learn about animals throughout the park is why you are going there in the first place.
Map Out a Plan
Welcome to the jungle! It is a bit overwhelming when you enter the Safari Park. You won’t immediately see animals in cages or signs directing you to them, and you might wonder where they are and even how to begin finding them. It is good to enter with a plan in place and tours or adventures reserved to set a framework for your day. At least arrive having an idea of all the park has to offer so you don’t leave wishing you had known about an experience.
The zoo is set up in regions with named loops and trails, and the animals are in the various regions. Arrive wearing serious walking shoes because you’ll rack up some steps on your Fitbit. MOMMY FROG NOTE - I will NOT lose my ranking on the leaderboard. Never. Pick up a park map. You’ll notice that there are numbers (in orange) on the map. Using those numbers will be tremendously helpful in finding your way around the park along with the trails. Think of the numbers as checkpoints. They can help you determine where to turn on to a new trail and assure you that you are indeed still on the correct path to your destination.
You will also want to note show times for Shiley's Cheetah Run and the many keeper talks, which can teach you many interesting facts about the animals. The keepers can answer your questions and often tell you a lot about the individual animals.
If you are not planning to take any safaris, then you’ll definitely want to take the Africa Tram. On busy days, we recommend heading here first because the line builds (usually busiest from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ). Along the way to the tram loading (in African Outpost) you can visit the elephants and lions. If you are visiting during a peak time, you can reserve a place in line (for an additional fee) once you are in the park. But if you arrive early you should have no problem getting on the tram quickly.
Follow a Touring Plan
While we have many San Diego Zoo Safari Park tips, we're putting "have a plan" near the top. That's because things will go smoother if you know where you're headed. Our suggested touring plan for people who do not plan to do any additional safaris or adventures is as follows:
Arrive at Park Opening
Take the Nairobi Walk to the African Plains Trail (past elephants and Lion Camp) to the African Loop to the Africa Tram.
After riding the tram, follow African Loop to the escalators to Africa Walk Eat lunch and let tadpoles play at shady Samburu Jungle Gym. Follow Gorilla Trail to Lagoon Loop to Safari Walk toward the Tiger Trail (there is another playground on the Tiger Trail) and then explore Condor Trail.
That route will take you through almost the entire Safari Park and its residents except for some areas that can only be reached by, well, a safari. You can see shows, listen to Keeper Talks and enjoy animal encounters along the way. If you see a show or talk that interests you on the entertainment guide, you can modify your plan to attend. Keep in mind that nothing is close to anything else, so try to see everything you want to see in an area before moving on. There will be a lot of walking, so try to choose a path that will take you near a show around show time. There are multiple playgrounds and shady areas to rest.
Just like an expedition into the wilds, you will need to take some provisions. That may include a jogging stroller, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, water (it is often hot and very dry out there) and snacks. Pack swimsuits for the tadpoles because there is a small water play Cool Zone, and they might want to visit the old watering hole to cool off. They rent single and double strollers in the park.
Use Disability Services
If someone in your party has mobility challenges, there are elevators and a courtesy shuttle that accesses the African Outpost. There are Easy Access Passes for guests unable to wait in regular lines. You can obtain them at Safari Ticket Booths. The park rents wheelchairs. If someone in your party cannot walk long distances, renting a wheelchair or motorized wheelchair (shaded!) is highly recommended.
There are many ways to enjoy the San Diego Safari Park. Whether you choose to do it on your own or to embark on a safari or other adventure, if you dress well, wear comfortable shoes, and stay hydrated, you will have an unforgettable day in a zoo like no other.
Have you ever hung out with the wild animals at this amazing animal park? Do you have any San Diego Zoo Safari Park tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.
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