Visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park [], formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park, is the sister facility to the world-famous San Diego Zoo []. Built in the early 70’s to house larger animals and those that need more space than they could offer at the main zoo, the Safari Park was one of the first natural environment zoos in the world.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The basic idea behind a natural environment zoo is that cages are kept to a minimum and barriers between the animals and the people are made to be as unobtrusive as possible, often using berms and moats to act as “invisible” barriers. The largest feature at the Safari Park are the large Asian Savanna and African Plains covering 300 acres where different animals roam and mix without dividers. While there aren’t set areas where you will find specific animals, the tend to hang out together and have their favorite spots (likely close to where their food is).

San Diego Safari Park African Plains

There are viewing platforms all around the open habitat; however, because the animals tend to roam around the best way to see them is on one of the guided safari tours. A tram safari is included with your park admission, but you can also upgrade to smaller private tours in carts and caravans [] for an additional fee. Fees collected for safaris go to support the conservation and educational programs at the park.

Giraffes at the San Diego Safari Park

Of course, the open plains are really only open to those animals that play nicely with others – mostly the vegetarian type. The more predatory creatures are segregated into their own areas.

Lion at San Diego Safari Park

Another very cool exhibit that they have is the Cheetah Run where they let you watch a cheetah at near full speed along a specially built strip of grass. If you decide not to pay extra for reserved seating be sure to get there early. We arrived 45 minutes before show time and got spots along the fence, although we had to fight off many late comers who thought that it would be okay to lean over top of our kids to get a view. After I stopped being polite about it most of them decided to move along and pester some other well planned people further down the fence.

Cheetah Run at San Diego Safari Park

While watching the crowds build shortly before the Cheetah Run we noticed one brave woman go off-path and head up the hill behind us to get a better view. She was one of the few for which these signs did not make an impression:

Rattlesnake Sign at San Diego Safari Park

Like all major zoos these days there is a strong focus on conservation and education but if you still carry a little guilt about animals in captivity you might still enjoy the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They go a long way to making sure that the animals are well respected, have reasonably natural habitats, and are given the space to stretch their legs. The park is 35 miles out of San Diego and takes about an hour to get to by car. Be warned that there is a lot of walking and a lot of hills and stairs to climb. Of course, the best part of this park is the Roar and Snore overnight program, but that’s another post.

Direction Sign Post at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Update: To see more pictures be sure to check out my San Diego Zoo Safari park 2011 Flickr set!

This post was submitted to Travel Photo Thursday [], Photo Friday [], and Friday Daydreamin [].

21 thoughts on “Visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

  1. Beautiful photos of a park close to my heart. We live nearby and have visited countless times so it’s hard not to love this place. Love the lion and giraffe shot. We haven’t done the Roar and Snore overnight program but hopefully soon.

  2. We visited the wild animal park a few years ago and had the best time. I forget my camera so seeing your pictures reminds me that we need to go back and this time with a camera!!!

  3. Looks like this place is well worth visiting. I love your second photo – a very natural looking landscape. And I bet kids can’t get enough of the animals. A cheetah run sounds like a wonderful addition.

  4. We intended to visit the Safari Park on our trip to San Diego but ran out of time after a day of rain messed with our itinerary. We are going to have to return to San Diego to see everything we missed. Love the pics of the giraffes and I would love to see a cheetah running like that!

  5. The Cheetah run looks very exciting. But what is it with the hills? My only experience at the San Diego Zoo will forever be remembered by the sheer effort it took to push a double stroller up all those hills. I’m sure it was a fantastic zoo, but I was too busy huffing and puffing to notice.

  6. I came on here to find your legoland post as we are going to san diego next week and surprise there is one about the wild life park! yippe! Thanks Ryan.

  7. I remember going there as a kid. I definitely want to take my sons there, hopefully soon. The giraffes are beautiful, and it must be amazing to see a cheetah run so close by.

  8. What do they do to make the cheetah run for the audience? Animals at zoos are often so lazy I imagine they have to prompt him with something worthwhile! 🙂

    • They use something (I think it was a stuffed animal) on a string that is pulled along the track. They warn the audience that the cheetah may not actually run if it doesn’t feel like chasing. I’m not sure how often that actually happens. They also have a dog who is ‘friends’ with the cheetah run the course first. They say that lets the cheetah know that the chase is safe and just for fun.

  9. This looks amazing. The photo of the giraffes is great – the colour is really vibrant. I love natural zoos. My home city of Melbourne also has a great safari park and we visit frequently, it’s the best way to see the animals. Must add this one to my list of things to see!

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