The Ultimate Family Experience: A San Diego Zoo Safari

Craving some quality time with wildlife? We've got you covered with this West Coast safari.Read More

Welcome to one of the world's best zoos. (Source: Shutterstock / Simone Hogan)

Sure, you could take a 10-plus hour plane trip to Africa to experience a safari (without the kids), or you could take the whole family to see the cheetahs and elephants and bears (oh my!) at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Part of the world-class San Diego Zoo (long hailed as one of the world’s best), this activity-rich Park has everything a family could want: caravan and cart safaris, adventures on the ropes, flightlines, photo workshops, and much more. Here’s a whirlwind tour to help you plan your next getaway:

San Diego Zoo Safari Park info

The Safari Park, originally named the Wild Animal Park, opened in 1972. These days, it includes some 3,000 animals spanning 300 species and covers around 1,800 acres. Given this expansive property, the Park is able to accommodate several habitats and exhibits, including the Asian Savannah, African Plains, Gorilla Forest, Hidden Jungle, Lion Camp, African Woods, and lush Gardens.

Safaris extraordinaire

The terrain of Africa’s wildlands largely dictates how and when adventurers can rumble out on a safari, but here, you can head out almost any time — and in several different ways. For instance:

The Behind-the-Scenes Safari at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park takes you inside animal-specific exhibits so you can see how they’re cared for, fed, nurtured, and treated. You will be able to experience the animals in their own habitat and even greet them up close (depending on the animal, of course).

If you’re more of a cat lover, then opt for the Cheetah Safari, which gives you a showcase of the Cheetah’s incredible speed (up to 75 miles per hour) and includes a meet-and-greet with one of the Park’s cheetahs and a trainer.

These cats can run up to 75 miles per hour — faster than some Smart cars. (Source: San Diego Zoo Safari Park Facebook)
These cats can run up to 75 miles per hour — faster than some Smart cars. (Source: San Diego Zoo Safari Park Facebook)

For a more leisurely, traditional safari experience, we recommend the Caravan Safari, which rolls along through the habitats of birds, giraffe, and countless other land mammals. This is a slow one — it takes two hours — but is perfect for those who have a deep interest in the species of various climes and want fantastic photo ops. (There’s also a Twilight Caravan Safari, which offers a complimentary San Diego sunset.)

Want more exercise with your animal-gazing? There’s no better option than the Jungle Ropes Safari, which gives you the chance to navigate rope bridges, tree platforms, and aerial tightropes — all with a safety harness, of course. This 90-minute adventure is great for adults, though is open to kids seven and older.

If you’re still hungry for daring feats and magnificent vistas, then you have to try the Flightline Safari. Snap into a harness and set sail on one of two zip lines, soaring as much as 130 feet above the ground. You’ll have tremendous views of the entire Park and multiple animal enclosures — like you’re touring the Zoo from a helicopter. Open to kids eight and older.

Elephants just putting on a show. (Source: San Diego Zoo Safari Park Facebook)
Elephants just putting on a show. (Source: San Diego Zoo Safari Park Facebook)

Hands-on zoological education

While some enjoy the thrill of a safari or the buzz that comes with stroking an elephant’s trunk, others are keen to learn about the animals at the San Diego Safari Park and snap them in their natural habitat. If this describes you, then you’ll likely be interested in the Photo Workshop-Walking Program, which grants tours of various areas in the Park with professional photographers to help instruct and guide your photoshoots. You might also dig the Guided Field Trips, led by a Park Educator. These hour-long sessions offer more insight into how the animals in the Park live and interact, and include inside information about specific exhibits, the history of the Park, and individual animals.

There’s a lot more for families to do at San Diego Zoo Safari Park; take a look at all of their activities and programs at sdzsafaripark.org.