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A Visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Last month our family took the day off from business as usual and headed to a local attraction, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Safari Park is one of two zoological gardens in San Diego.

The famous San Diego Zoo is located in the heart of town, created in 1915 after animal exhibits from the Panama-California Expo were abandoned in the middle of Balboa Park. Since then the Zoo has served as a conservatory of animal wildlife.

Located some 30 miles north east of the zoo, the Wild Animal Park was begun as a supplemental breeding facility of the Zoo in 1964, but has developed into one of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego County. Recently, its name was changed to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

And no wonder!

The park setting is fabulous. My smart phone pictures don’t do it justice. We made our visit on a day that was cool, breezy, and sunny — absolutely perfect Springtime conditions. The landscaping of the park is superb and you get many opportunities to get up close and personal to the wildlife there.

Here are some tips to make your visit to the park extra fun and comfortable:

Be prepared for some hiking!

Like its sister park farther South, the Safari Park covers hills and valleys, so wear good shoes — and bring extra socks if you plan a long day. Take water bottles and refill throughout the day. We went on a mild day, but the San Pasqual Valley gets HOT, especially as the summer months approach.

Maps are plentiful and free at the front of the park. My kids all wanted their own, so plan accordingly. I see map reading as an important skill and when their motivated is the best time to teach kids to read maps.

See the butterflies!

If you can make your visit prior to Mother’s Day, you need to make an appointment to see the Butterflies. I didn’t know what the big deal was until we got instead the butterfly exhibit. To control crowds, the park issues timed tickets. We still had to wait a short while, but it was well worth it.

You walk through an atrium filled with free flying butterflies — who land on you!

It was so amazing! It really brought to life a lot of the science reading my kids have done through the years.

Bring a picnic.

Food is extremely pricey at the park. Typical tourist prices, with unfortunately less than stellar quality to match. It may be that there are better restaurants in the park than the burger stand where we bought some fries. I was very thankful to have packed a field trip snacky lunch.

Let the kids splash.

There’s a small splas zone in the park with misters and water for the kids to play in. This is a great way to wind up the day. Plan accordingly and bring towels and change of clothes if your kids aren’t up for walking around in wet clothes.

Visit Robert the Zebra.

I don’t usually make room for shows when we’re at the zoo, but we happened upon this digital and interactive show with Robert the Zebra. My little people absolutely loved it, especially when they got to ask Robert questions, and he answered them! He had great humor for the parents and excellent interaction with the kids.

Rest in the shade.

One of my favorite parts of the day was resting in the Conifer Forest. It’s wooded and shady with a stream and benches for resting. We pretended we were somewhere else while the kids played “Pooh sticks” in the stream and the breeze blew by.

Consider a combo ticket.

Entrance to the Safari Park is quite pricey. If it weren’t for us getting a discount for being on a homeschool field trip, I don’t think we could have afforded to take our family. But, if you are visiting San Diego and making a vacation out of it, there are ways to save money, mainly buying a ticket package. There are several packages to choose from, some that even include admission to Disneyland and Sea World.

We really enjoyed our day at the Safari Park, and I know we made some great memories together as a family.

See Southern California

Got a trip planned to the Golden State? Stay tuned as I’ll be sharing more places to visit and things to do throughout the coming months. I grew up in LA, went to school in Santa Barbara, lived on the Central Coast, and now make San Diego my home. I’ll be sharing it all with you this summer.

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Comments

  1. Looks like a great way to spend the day:-)

  2. Susan T says:

    We always enjoyed going when they had the free day once a year and it was too bad when they cancelled them due to too overcrowding at the zoo free days. I took some friends from LA who had never been and they still talk about the beautiful landscaping. There are so many plants that help keep it shady at times at that zoo. We brought food too as it is great to just sit down wherever you are and eat your lunch. I always did like to buy the soft serve ice cream, that seemed worth the price on a warm spring afternoon.

  3. Susan T says:

    The other thing we did is that last time we went down to the San Diego zoo, we bought a year long pass and drove down from la at least three weekends that year to go to the zoo and then to the animal park. Then we didn’t get the pass again so the pass was worth it to us if you are going to make a point to use it more for 1 year. The kids ticket prices were about the same as an annual pass but the adults pass was more and I did sell some of the bus tickets that I got for free to someone to help pay for the pass.

  4. We had a great time when we visited this park a few years ago (pre-kids). I can’t wait to visit San Diego with my kids in a few years.

    California is a state that surprised me by how much I like it. When I was growing up in Massachusetts it was just that place far away where my Dad’s older and very grumpy sister lived. But since then we’ve been 3 times since my DH’s best friend moved there for work. My favorite trip was actually when DH and I visited Death Valley. Awesome!

  5. Katie Bauer says:

    My family is from Michigan but my brother lives in San Diego. We are planning a trip out there in September with our one year old daughter. I am excited to read your blog this summer about things to do in San Diego. This will give me ideas of what to do with a young child. Yeah!!

  6. Claire P says:

    So looking forward to this series. We are east-coasters with plans to visit the area at the end of June. Looking forward to your tips even though my kids are older teens!

  7. That looks so fun! I love finding tried-and-true family vacation reports.

  8. Melissa says:

    What timing! I’m in Michigan; however, in June I’ll be in San Diego for a work conference and know I’ll have a bit of free time to explore. I’m looking forward to more of your posts.

  9. Kendell says:

    We went to the Wildlife Park when I was a teenager and while we were on the tram safari ride, one of the gazelles GAVE BIRTH. The tram driver stopped and let us watch the whole process and then one of the park vets got onto our tram to answer any questions we had about the birth. We are still talking about this years later and loved how they let us be a part of it instead of ushering us along. Such a cool place!

  10. When we were stationed in San Diego, I used to LOVE the wild animal park. In fact, when my husband was on deployment, I bought a season pass and went almost every week. I love where we live now, but that is one thing I miss about San Diego (well, that and the carne asada burritos from the taco stand down the street from where we lived :-D)

  11. Another option to cut down on the admission price is to buy an annual pass because of the extras that come with it. Each new or renewal pass comes with tickets for free admission. You can then use them to admit other members of your party. The annual pass is good at both parks.

    The child’s annual pass is about $10 more than a daily admission so if you are visiting either park more than once in a year, it would be a good investment. We have friends who visit us from Chicago. Her granddaughter got an annual pass because they knew they would be here at least twice during the year and we could go more than one time while they were here. Her grandma gets in free with me because of the type of pass I have. My husband gets in free because all active duty military get free admission. You just have to show your ID. You do not need to be in uniform. How cool is that?

  12. I’m an east coast girl, but lived in LA for a year and a half before we had kids. We’re heading back this summer for a visit and just may have to hit SD again. Thanks for the reminder!

  13. Thank you so much for these tips. We will be visiting the Zoo next week. I am so excited about San Diego. :)

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