I have a kid who is donning a zookeeper costume for the second Halloween of his young life, so I tend to spend a lot of time at zoos with my little animal enthusiast. We have seen more elephants, giraffes, and lemurs than I’d like to remember. But since I’m here to share our adventures, I will remember our few trips out to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly known as the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park). Here are our favorite San Diego Safari Park experiences:
1. Elephant Overlook
There are not many places where a kid can see an elephant herd in California, so the Elephant Overlook exhibit is definitely worth a visit. There are eight baby elephants to ooh and ah at. Be sure to follow the elevated pathway alongside the huge exhibit until you get the best close-up views of the pachyderms. We found these guys hanging out in a corner of the exhibit, but the enclosure is pretty big so keep looking, you won’t miss them. Ha.
2. Lion Camp
This not the place where you want to set up your tent and roast marshmallows, but it is the place to go find the kings of the jungles lazing around just inches away from you (through the thick glass window, of course). This exhibit lets you and the kids get safely and uncomfortably close to the lions, much closer than most zoo exhibits. They looked quite cozy on their bed of boulders, but I wouldn’t go tapping on the window.
3. Journey Into Africa Tour
The park’s main visitor draw is this 25-minute tram tour through the Heart of Africa exhibit. Among the many African animals, you will see the giraffes, rhinoceros, gazelles, and impalas out the tram windows. This is not a tour that will let you experience a closer interaction with the animals (you will have to pay for the photo caravans if you want the giraffes to come up to the window), but it will let kids get a glimpse of animals wandering around more freely in their bigger enclosures.
4. Lorikeet Landing
This is the place to go if you like green-naped lorikeets swooping down on you and your kid. The lorikeets are not afraid of people, mostly because the homo sapiens come into the aviary with cups of nectar for them to dine on. The people may be afraid of them though, so this is not the place for kids who don’t like lorikeets climbing-or potentially pooping-on their heads. My kid, a.k.a the crocodile hunter, feared no lorikeet and loved every minute of it. So much so, that we had to go get another cup of nectar. It does make for a great photo opportunity though.
This park is part of San Diego Zoo, but it’s about 35 miles away in the inland city of Escondido. Don’t expect to do this park and the zoo in one day unless you have some sort of death wish. Give yourself at least a good half-day to explore the Safari Park, we’ve been twice and still not seen the whole thing, mostly because it involves a lot of walking in the California desert heat.
It’s hot, so plan to go early in the morning during the summer or just avoid that season altogether.
Plan to do a lot of walking because there are fewer but larger exhibits that are spread out throughout this huge zoo park. But don’t let that stop you from exploring at least some of the park by foot, there is much more than the tram tour.
Check the website for special events, additional experiences and the occasional deal (kids get in free this October, for example).