Most people who visit San Diego know about the world renowned San Diego Zoo, but did you know that they have a second park just 30 miles outside of town called the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (or Wild Animal Park by the locals)?
Opening its doors over 40 years ago, the Safari Park sits on 1,800 acres of land. Just to give you some reference, that’s equivalent to 180 San Diego Zoos or over 21 Disneylands!
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Last Updated: June 17, 2021
San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park - What You Need to Know
Let’s start off by comparing the difference between the two parks. We’ll then share our experience at the Safari Park and what we loved about it.
What's the Difference Between the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park
Besides the sheer size difference between the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, there are a few other aspects you can compare to help you decide which location you want to go to. If you love animals, they are both worth visiting.
The San Diego Zoo is in Balboa Park right in Downtown San Diego close to other attractions. Because of its central location, it’s easy to get to by car, walking, or public transportation. Parking is also free.
The Safari Park is located north of San Diego in Escondido. Depending on where in the city you’re coming from, it’s anywhere from 40-60 minutes away by car and 2+ hours on public tranportation. There is also a parking fee.
Although it covers a smaller footprint, the San Diego Zoo has more animals than the Safari Park. This covers both, the number of animals and the number of species.
The San Diego Zoo features animals from Australia, Asia, Africa, Central and South America with over 3,700 animals and over 650 species. The Safari Park focuses on animals from arid environments like African and Asian Savannas. They have over 2,600 animals and over 300 species.
The San Diego Zoo is what you would imagine a zoo to look like. You can explore everything on your own since most of the enclosures are generally smaller and made for visitors to see them from walking around the zoo.
The Safari Park has larger spaces for the animals giving them more free-range. When you see the animals here, it almost feels like they are in their natural environment. The highlight of this park are the safaris.
The Safari Park Safaris
Unlike the traditional zoos, the Safari Park offers a wide range of really unique ways to encounter the animals. Although there are exhibits that you can walk around to, if that’s all you see, you’re really missing out. The highlights are definitely the safaris!
- Wildlife Safari – covered, open-air safari truck in the expansive habitats.
- Behind-the-Scenes Safari – learn more about wildlife care and conservation.
- Cart Safaris – 60-minute guided tour on a deluxe Safari cart.
- Sun Up Cheetah Safari – early morning guided stroll ending with watching a cheetah run at top speed.
- Ultimate Safari – a customized tour tailored to your interest.
- Roar and Snore Safari – sleepover adventure.
- Flightline Safari – zipline 130 feet above the ground while seeing the savanna and animals below you.
- Safari Cabanas – enjoy your private cabana with amazing views of the animals.
Our Experience on The Caravan Safari Twilight
We decided to do the Caravan Safari Twilight (now the Twilight Wildlife Safari), which is a 2-hour adventure in a covered, open-air safari truck. Because there isn’t a particular track, they drive through the field enclosures and get you up close and personal with the animals. We even got a chance to feed giraffes AND rhinos!
The feedings are based on the mood of the animals. They told us it is very rare that the rhinos will come up to you for a feeding, but we were very lucky that they were in the right mood! :)
In addition to creating such a unique experience, the San Diego Zoo is one of the leading organizations in the world when it comes to breeding programs and conservation efforts. The revolutionary idea to even build a space this large was driven by the desire to create habitats that are as realistic to their natural habitats. That includes the amount of space that each animal has!
Did you know that animals kept in captivity lose a lot of their natural instincts? The San Diego Zoo Safari Park allows them to ensure that those survival skills stay from generation to generation.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park Address and Hours
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd
Escondido CA 92027, map
June 18, 2021 – August 15, 2021 || 9 AM – 7PM
August 16, 2021 – September 6, 2021 || 9 AM – 6 PM
September 7, 2021 – October 15, 2021 || 9 AM – 5 PM (6 PM on Weekends)
Future Dates TBA
Safari Park Ticket Prices
1 Day Pass || $62 Adults $52 Children
2-Visit Pass (Includes Both Zoos) || $104 Adult $94 Children
Wildlife Safari $89+
Behind-the-Scenes Safari $89+
Cart Safaris $55+
Sun Up Cheetah Safari $99+
Ultimate Safari $675+
Roar & Snore Safaris $149+
Flightline Safari $77+
- There is plenty of food and drink options at the park, but bring a small backpack with a water bottle that you can refill.
- The caravan also has a cooler, cups, and cold water.
- Regardless of which safari you go with, give yourself plenty of time to explore the rest of the zoo. We only had about 2 hours and could have used another hour to see everything.
- If you’re going with a group, carpool! Parking costs $12.
- For the photographers out there, bring a telephoto lens to get some great shots. We use a 70-200 for the photos of the animals, and iPhones for the ones of us in it.
- Bring binoculars if you have them in case the animals are further away.
- Don’t forget your sunscreen so you can reapply every 2 hours.
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Have you been part of any animal encounter programs? What’s your favorite animal to see at the zoo?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.