San Diego Zoo Safari Park with Kids – SoCal Guide Overview
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an expansive outdoor experience that could easily take a full day of exploring. Despite it’s sprawling 1800 acres, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park offers an intimate look at the vast collection of wild and endangered animals. The free-range enclosures give guests a more natural peek into an animal’s habitat. The Safari Park is home to around 2600 rare and endangered animals of more than 300 species.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park Guide
These San Diego Zoo Safari Park with kids guide tips will help you properly plan your day. The Safari Park is extremely large and has much ground to cover. Elevations vary and you’ll need to plan on lots of walking. Start your planning by looking at the park map and plot out your day. If you want to see all of the exhibits in one day, you’ll have to stay from morning to night and not linger too long in any one place.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park Location: The San Diego Zoo in downtown San Diego, California and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, California are two completely separate facilities. While they’re both in San Diego county, they are actually over 30 miles apart. In California talk, this can mean anywhere from a 40 minute drive to an hour plus depending on traffic. There aren’t a ton of hotels nearby San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Options for overnight stays could include the San Marcos area or beach-locations including Oceanside and Carlsbad.
Tickets: San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets might be higher cost than you’re used to for local zoos. However this zoo is a non-profit and all proceeds go towards the animals. I recommend pre-purchasing discount tickets ahead of time. You can purchase discounted San Diego Zoo vacation packages or just Safari Park tickets on the Get Away Today website. You can also purchase tickets at the booths but you will pay full price.
More Safari Park Tips
What Should You Bring to the San Diego Safari Park?: The weather near the Safari Park can truly resemble Africa heat! It’s often very dry and hot, particularly in the summer & early fall months. Absolutely pack your sunscreen and a hat. If you take the Africa Tram ride there can be a chill at night (especially in winter/spring), so bring a lightweight jacket or sweatshirt. Comfortable walking shoes are also a must.
Parking: Parking at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is $15 per vehicle; $20 for RV parking. There is a preferred parking option on weekends and holidays at a charge of $33.
Is Outside Food Allowed at the San Diego Safari Park?: The San Diego Zoo Safari Park allows outside food so feel free to bring a picnic lunch, bottled water and whatever snacks you need for the day. Just no hard sided coolers, glass, alcohol or straws allowed.
Are the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park the Same?
While they share a similar name and some of the same featured animals, the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are complely different parks. The Zoo is located in downtown San Diego and the Safari Park is 30 miles north, in the Escondido area.
To make matters more confusing, both San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are under one website umbrella. When booking tickets, hotels and other activities make sure you know which park you’re planning on visiting. Because of distance and time spent exploring, you will want to dedicate one day to each park.
Differences between the San Diego Zoo & the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Safari Park is considerably larger (1800 acres versus 100 acres at the Zoo). While both have a transportation system (bus at the Zoo & tram at the Safari Park), the view varies greatly in what animals you’ll see and how the animals are shown. You’ll likely get more up-close views of the animals at the Zoo than at the Safari Park, where animals have more space to roam. There are more shows at the Safari Park as well.
READ MORE: October is a fantastic time to visit the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park, as kids play free. Find out what other San Diego-area locations offer free children’s tickets. Kids FREE in San Diego for October!
Using the Map of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Before a trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park I suggest you study the map online and knew, generally, how the park is laid out. Even then you may find that it’s a challenge to get around.
I read tips on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park website on how to navigate the large park and even asked a park employee for help when we first entered. My husband and I were still quite confused. Take a look at the map and you’ll see how very safari-like the zoo is laid out. There’s no central area, no clear-cut and defined paths, only endless markers and signs to help you get from one point to another. I’ve never been to another amusement park or zoo that required so much map reference. Get your map as you enter and treat it like gold because you’ll need it throughout the day. – Jessica
Rides at the Safari Park in San Diego
There are several ways to explore the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, from the ground up! Some attractions are included in the Park ticket and others are “add-on” to your regular admission.
- Those wanting a get up-close to the animals should choose the Cart Safari or Caravan Safari.
- If you want a bird’s eye-view of the Safari Park, consider purchasing a ticket on the Balloon Safari. This tethered helium balloon rises up 400 feet and the ride lasts about 10 minutes.
- Adventure-seekers can take the Flight Line Safari, that seats guests in a zip-line harness that covers two-thirds of a mile. Or choose the Jungle Ropes Safari with rope bridge, aerial tightropes, swinging log steps and moving platforms.
- Conservation Carousel merry-go-round is great for little ones.
Tips for the Africa Safari Tram:
- The highlight of a visit to San Diego Zoo Safari Park is the Africa safari tram. There are countless upgrades which can cost more than admission itself. But you won’t be disappointed with this free safari tour that is included in your park admission!
- The lines tend to get longer as the day goes on, so head there first thing.
- The Tram is open-air, which means it’s covered but has no windows (ie: non-air conditioned). Bring a spray mister on days with extreme heat.
- You’ll notice on the Park map that the Africa safari tram is the farthest point away on the map. The volunteer guide suggested we follow one path, which renames to another path and so on. At each signpost you pass, make sure you see “Africa tram” in red and check that the numbers are increasing.
Must-See Exhibits at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
After experiencing the Africa Safari Tram, leave time for on-foot exploration of the other animal enclosures. There are many pathways that guests can walk, which reach aviaries and enclosures that you won’t see on the Tram ride.
- Tiger Trail
- Lorikeet Landing (where you can purchase nectar to feed a bird)
- Gorilla Forest
- Hidden Jungle (don’t miss Butterfly Jungle in the springtime)
- Lion Camp
- African Outpost
- Condor Ridge (The Safari Park was a major player in reviving this species)
- Walkabout Australia
- World Gardens
Animal Interactions at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park offers several shows and many animal presentations. The shows are a nice place to get off your feet and are highly entertaining. Check out your daily map to see what Keeper Talks are planned during your visit. The Frequent Flyers Bird Show is a must-see, where every seat in the house is perfect for bird watching. The Cheetah Run is also fascinating, but arrive early to this one for the best view.
Other Fun Things to Do at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park with Kids
- There are four separate play areas, including one “cool zone” with water misters during the spring and summer months.
- The Safari Park has misting fans on many of the paths. Kids will love to run through them!
- Before coming to the Safari Park, show your kids the live internet cams on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park website to build up excitement for the visit!
- Want to stay inside the Safari Park overnight?! Consider the Roar & Snore Safari. There are several tent options including a premium “glamping” tent.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park with Kids, Toddlers and Babies
There’s plenty for toddlers and babies to enjoy at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Children 2 and under receive complimentary admission. Because the Zoo is so large, I highly recommend bringing your own stroller or renting a stroller inside. There are some exhibits with high bushes so you may have to lift your little one out of their seat for them to see the animals.
In other exhibits, the windows reach the floor and your baby will have a great view from the stroller. Your infants and children can join you on the Africa Safari Tram, where lap sitting is allowed. Don’t miss the Petting Kraal where kids can pet the goats or sheep. There are several play areas around the park where kids can explore.
Dining at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park with Kids
Dining at the Safari Park is mostly walk-up with outdoor patio dining. Offerings are wide and include sandwiches, grilled burgers & chicken, pizza, salads, wraps and Mexican. Beer, wine and spirits are offered at most locations. There’s also soft serve ice cream at many locations in the park (which will make all kids very happy on a hot day!)
Can You Bring Your Own Food into the San Diego Safari Park? – San Diego Zoo Safari Park allows guests to bring their own food and drink. There are plenty of shaded areas to sit and tables to enjoy your meal. Having your own food in a soft-sided cooler will allow you to save money and keep the kids stocked with plenty of drinking water and snacks.
READ MORE: Have more time in San Diego? Consider a visit to the original Zoo in San Diego – SoCal Guide – San Diego Zoo with Kids and Families
Save Money on Your San Diego Zoo Safari Park Vacation!
Purchase discount tickets and vacation packages from my affiliate Get Away Today. Use the Promo Code REWRITTEN and receive an extra $10 off any 2-night or longer Southern California package. (Hotel and 2 ticket minimum purchase to qualify for the discount).
If you’re also planning to visit the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park with kids consider purchasing a discounted ticket bundle that includes both locations.
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