This winter, during a 3-day vacation in San Diego, we spent one entire day in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Our party of seven included three kids between 9 and 12 years old and four adults, two of whom are active seniors. (Disclosure: Four tickets were provided to us by the San Diego Zoo public relations department.)
The Safari Park, founded as a place to study, rehabilitate, and breed animals in environments similar to their native habitats, is truly enormous. Located about 30 miles from the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park (originally called the San Diego Wild Animal Park) supplied animals to the Zoo, but was not itself a tourist destination, only a conservation center. Eventually it opened its doors to visitors.
We all loved the destination: the exhibits are beautifully done; guests have good access to the animals; and, there are host of interactive activities to select from, including behind-the-scenes tours. But watch out: The special experiences require additional fees, and they are pricey.
Your basic one-day pass — about $50 for adults and $40 for kids — includes everything you can walk around to on your own feet, plus an African Tram ride, which you don't want to miss. (Bonus: it's a chance to sit down, so schedule it in towards the end of the day when everyone starts dragging.)
Add-ons include more spectacular safari tours ($50 each); entering the lorakeet cage (free, but a container of food which lures them to you costs $5 and each child will want one); a carousel ($6 for unlimited rides), and more.
Our kids are avid climbers, so my husband and I had agreed in advance to treat them to the ropes course. The Jungle Ropes Safari experience is 90 minutes and allows guests to learn how to use a harness and move through the tree level of a section of the park, traversing all kinds of obstacles. My husband did it with the three kids. It cost $50 per person. Yikes.
We did not bring our own food, as we were staying in a hotel in Coronado. The food was standard amusement park level in quality and prices.
There is a small playground in the park and a lot of ground to cover. You'll definitely want a stroller if you own one.
Where is the Safari Park?
About 40 minutes northeast from San Diego, the Safari Park location is an even more convenient day trip as part of a Carlsbad vacation (LEGOLAND).
The San Diego Zoo (not the Safari Park) is located in San Diego proper. My kids agreed with me that travelers to the area should choose one or the other. No need to do two animal parks in one vacation.