San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Photo: Ranjani/Fotolia

In 1964, the San Diego Zoo Society decided that they needed a space, separate from the San Diego Zoo for breeding and conservation purposes. They called the idea Wild Animal Park and would focus on housing animals in natural open air exhibits rather than cages. This was a new idea at the time and in 1972, the park opened to the public for the first time. Next read: Best Things to Do in Encinitas, CA

Today, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to over 2,600 different animals, many of whom are endangered or threatened species. There is also more than 3,500 different plant species spread out over the 1,800-acre park. The park also serves as a quarantine space for all animals imported from around the earth into San Diego and is located only 32 miles from San Diego Zoo. The Condor Breeding Program at San Diego Safari Park is the best in the nation and has lead the way in many conservation efforts for these predatory birds.

Over two million people visit this park every year to see the exhibits that go above and beyond to offer an experience that is consistent with the health and well-being of the animals. Instead of being in cages, or small enclosures, the larger animals at San Diego Zoo Safari Park are cared for in large open air exhibits that are built to accommodate the ecosystems of the animal's natural habitat. Visitors to the park can roam the exhibits at their leisure, much like other zoos, or opt for the safari experience where they can get up close and personal with the animals from inside the animal's habitat.

»The Safaris

The Safaris

The Safaris are most visitors favorite experience at the Safari Park. Tickets are sold separately from zoo admission and included a two-hour minimum guided tour where visitors can get closer than ever with some very large animals. Some of the animals can even be hand fed!

Caravan Safari Adventure is a two-hour ride in a covered caravan that takes guests through the birds and mammals of Africa and Asia. This tour is very popular because visitors get an opportunity to feed the giraffes by hand. This safari is for patrons eight and up.

Cheetah Safari is where guests can sit track side, only feet away from a cheetah, and watch it run a straight track over 300 feet long. The cat reaches over 70 miles per hour and at the end of the race, will approach with its trainer for a meet and greet.

Cart Safaris are great for patrons with smaller children. Able to accommodate guests ages three and up, this safari takes guests on a personalized guided tour through either Asia or Africa where riders are encouraged to ask questions as they get to see enclosures deep into the habitats that zoo visitors would not normally get to see.

Jungle Ropes Safari is the ultimate challenge for kids age seven and up as well as adults. There are three difference obstacle courses featuring swinging vines, rope bridges, and tightropes along with dozens of other elements to each challenge. Photo: Ranjani/Fotolia

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»More Safaris

More Safaris

Flight Line Safarisoars guests who are over eight years old more than 100 feet in the air over the rhinos and giraffes. This exciting zip line is just over half a mile long and ends at the campgrounds.

The Trike Safari is a guided tour for anyone age 12 and up that can operate a motorized tricycle scooter. Each group is given a guide that will lead them through many parts of the park that are otherwise inaccessible by patrons on foot.

Behind-the-Scenes Safaris offer guests a very unique experience to see what goes into animal care from behind the scenes. There are several different tours to choose from including a two-hour exploration of the veterinary hospital, getting a meet and greet with a cheetah, feed a lion or tiger, or hang out with a rhino. This is a special opportunity for the whole family with kids age three and up.

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Roar and Snore Safaris are every kid's dream come true. Hold the ultimate birthday sleep over complete with dinner, campfire, snacks and breakfast the next day. Kids will get a personal zoo guide for their event. There is also an adults-only Roar and Snore for adults that are over 21 years old.

The Ultimate Safari is what a true VIP experience at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. This opportunity for personalized services and tours through the park can be booked at five hours or eight hours and tailored to what the guest wants to do whether it be hanging out with tigers or going behind the scenes of exhibits that are not open to the public. Photo: Ranjani/Fotolia

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»Habitats and Exhibits

Habitats and Exhibits

At San Diego Zoo Safari Park, there are 10 main habitats comprised of smaller exhibits that make up the park. Each habitat features open air enclosures for larger animals and many interactive experience such as watching animals during feeding time with educational presentations mixed in.

Nairobi Village is home to some of the smaller animals of Africa such as meerkats, birds, lemurs and hogs. There is also a beautiful lagoon with many different aviary species including flamingos and storks. Guests can hand feed lorikeets in this exhibit or visit the baby animals that are housed in this area of the zoo. The petting zoo is located in the village and one of the most exciting attractions—the gorilla house!

Asian Savanna coveres 60 acres of land is where many of the open range habitats are located. The rhinoceroses, Asian deer and antelope can be seen running and free range in this habitat. The hidden jungle is also located in the Asian Savanna. This climate controlled indoor building transports visitors to the rainforest where birds and butterflies fly freely and some of the largest insects in the world are on display.

African Plains is the largest of the open range habitats spanning over 200 acres and being home for some of the largest and most dangerous animals in captivity. In this area of Safari Park guests can view giraffe, buffalo, white rhinoceros, cranes that live in the lagoon, wild horses, cattle, zebra and many other forest and jungle animals. This exhibit is also divided up into subsections because of the vastly different ecosystems that exit in Africa.

Tiger Trail is three different exhibits where the tigers are able to navigate freely in front of guests separated by a glass wall.

Lion Camp is a part of the African Plains area of the Safari Park and is one of the largest enclosures for lions in America. The exhibit is home to 13 lions who currently live on an entire acre of land.

Condor Ridge is where guests can see some of the most endangered raptors in America. The San Diego Zoo is dedicated to the conservation and breeding of California Condors to ensure species survival. Falcons and Parrots can be seen here as well as big horn sheep, prairie dogs, ferrets and magpies. Photo: keatichai/Fotolia

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»Fun Attractions

Fun Attractions

There are many areas where San Diego Safari Park patrons can take a break from all the walking and sun and relax while still gaining an insight experience. Visit the tram in the African Outpost to take a ride around some of the outdoor exhibits.

The conservation carousel and the play areas provide great space for kids to have fun while their parents are taking a quick rest. The carousel features 60 different endangered animals that children can choose from to ride and the play areas throughout the zoo are each different and exciting.

In tiger trails play area kids are in a simulated logging camp, Samburu Jungle Gym is a climbing experience for kids with covered picnic areas and shelters. For people that needs cooling off, Savana Cool Zone is a misting playground settled in the middle of palm trees. The Village Playground is the most city park like and has many different seating options for adults and kids.

One of the most unique activities at Safari Park is the chance to take a hot air balloon ride over the park. Modeled after the balloon tours of the Serengeti, this tour can host 30 people at a time and lasts approximately 10 minutes. There is an additional cost to this exhibit.

There are several shows that happen throughout the day that seek to educate the audience on different animal species and the conservation efforts San Diego Zoo has implemented. Visitors can enjoy Tiger Talks with a tiger keeper, watch the frequent fliers bird shows that features falcons and other raptors that soar over the crowds, or visit Shiley's Cheetah Run where they may even be able to feel the cheetah wind through their hair as the magnificent cat breezes by at 70 miles per hour.

Animal Encounters are smaller presentations that happen throughout the exhibits. Many of these allow visitors to touch and get up close to some of the smaller animals at Safari Park. There is also an alligator experience, a walk through the lemur enclosure, and hand feed birds.

15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, California 92027, website, Phone: 760-747-8702 Photo: keatichai/Fotolia

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San Diego Zoo Safari Park