San Diego Safari Park

The four cubs are in the foreground, mom is in back

The four cubs are in the foreground, mom is in back

Monday, January 5

Just about everyone has heard of the San Diego Zoo, it’s one of the largest and most famous in the country. Less talked about is the Safari Park, a separate part of the zoo located about a half-hour away featuring larger and less animal dense exhibits.

Julie and I arrive right at 9 am for open, the place is virtually empty. The winter holidays are finally over, kids are back in school and their parents have gone back to work. I like visiting attractions when they’re less crowded like this.

It’s not a cheap place to visit. A one day pass is $48 per adult, more than I’d normally be comfortable spending, but we’ve gotten free guest passes from friends. For the low, low price of nothing, it’s a heck of a deal.

The large exhibit

The large exhibit

One of the last 5 in all the world

One of the last 5 in all the world

I can see why they charge the price that they do. The sprawling park sits on 1,800 well manicured and cared for acres, exhibits are large and diverse, and it’s just, well, really impressive.

We make a beeline for the lions with the advice from our friends that the cubs are only out for the first part of the day.

They do not disappoint. The four lion cubs are old enough that they’re highly mobile and playful, bounding over one another and wrestling over branches in their enclosure. They’re hard to get a good photo of because they just won’t sit still, but I try my best.

The tram is next up on the to-do list. With our free guest passes, we have to pay $10 to get on, but it’s the best way to view the largest enclosure, which is over 300 acres and houses 151 animals – many of them ungulates of the African plains. It’s wonderful to be able to see these animals in motion, galloping across the grassy hills.

Caught her in a yawn, look at those teeth

Caught her in a yawn, look at those teeth

Sometimes, zoos get me down because I worry about the conditions the animals are kept in, or that the zoo is only caring about making money, but the Safari Park has a pretty good outreach program dedicated to education and conservation.

They have a lot of successful breeding programs to their name, California Condors, Cheetahs, and Bighorn Sheep among them, but along the tram route in a smaller enclosure at the medical facility is a solitary member of the most endangered large animal species in existence, the Northern White Rhino. Only five of these rhinos exist in the world, all in captivity, and breeding programs and artificial insemination have all proven fruitless. Our tour guide doesn’t go into details, but I discover after the fact that the Safari Park actually had a second Northern White Rhino, but he passed away last month at the ripe old age of 44 (life expectancy in the wild is 40 years). The female they have left is 41 and not in the best of health.

Lesser pink flamingos

Lesser pink flamingos

It’s a saddening thought, but at least I can take heart in the fact that this particular zoo seems dedicated to helping preserve other animals for future generations.

But on a lighter note, there are a lot of other neat things to see when you go here. The park has what they call “animal encounters” throughout the day, events where you can get a closer look at some of their residents.

After the run

After the run

The lemur enclosure is “open” all day. After a rundown on safety and sanitary rules by a handler, guests can follow a walkway through the lemur habitat to get a closure look uninhibited by bars. Lemurs are fun animals to watch, they’re very social and animated, and I love those long stripped fluffy tails.

The encounter I enjoyed most though was watching a cheetah run. At 3:30 pm daily on a long grassy outdoor track under closely monitored conditions, visitors can watch one of the park’s cheetahs chase a lure in a high speed sprint. The cheetah who ran it today completed the track in 5.4 seconds, so you better not blink or you’ll miss it.

We spent the full eight hours the park was open looking at stuff, and still didn’t get to see it all. The gorillas had a new arrival who was adorable to watch, the fruit bats were more interesting than I was expecting (they have periods of activity during daylight hours), and the tigers were magnificent.

Near the end of the day, we find ourselves at an overlook of the African plains exhibit again. Down below, a rhino bosses around some giraffes who are loafing near the palm trees while behind the the sun is going down. Just up the hill from us is something I’m intimately familiar with, but was certainly not expecting to see inside a zoo: a campground.

Look ma, no bars!

Look ma, no bars!

Guests can overnight at the park and stay in canvas tents. The program is called Roar and Snore, and while I don’t know what the cost would be for a sleepover at a zoo (expensive I’m sure), I bet it would be a whole lot of fun. There are different packages available that include different sized tents, but sadly there is no “bring your own” option. Ah well, maybe someday!


At 5pm they kick us out we decide to leave, and have to face the two hour drive back up to Culver City, which is still slow and congested all the way up to the end. I’ve really enjoyed my time in the LA area, but I certainly won’t be missing this traffic when we leave. Tomorrow I hook up the Casita and we head east towards our next destination, Joshua Tree National Park! See you there.

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  1. Roger on January 10, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Hi Becky,

    Sounds like your having fun, I talked with Kenny here at our “Amazon Camperforce site” Lol, and Barbara and her husband are coming in next Tuesday, not sure where they will stay. If you had time I know you have to be at the park by Jan. 16th, our spot is right off of I10 probable 10 minutes away maybe less..


    • Becky on January 13, 2015 at 10:57 am

      Unfortunately we aren’t going to have the time to visit Roger, but thanks for the invitation! We did end up driving past Quartzsite the day before yesterday so at least I got to glimpse the place. I’ll write about it a little more when the travelogue gets caught up to that point. Enjoy yourselves down there!

  2. Jodee Gravel on January 10, 2015 at 5:39 am

    It really is a great place to enjoy the animals in a much more natural habitat. Very sad about the rhinos though. The lemur is so cute, but those lion cubs must have been really fun to watch! Hope you’ve been enjoying Joshua Tree, you picked a good time between storms to visit. I lived there for a couple years and never tired of the amazing rocks and Joshua Tree “forests”. Safe travels.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..THIS Year!My Profile

    • Becky on January 13, 2015 at 10:55 am

      Yep Jodee I’ve been enjoying myself, post about it is coming up soon. 🙂

  3. John Hussey on January 10, 2015 at 2:21 am

    Joshua Tree-Try Jumbo Rocks campground, one of the numerous camp grounds inside the park, an amazing place. The sites are set amongst huge boulders and the hiking trail was quite informative, even though rather short. You’ll take some startling foots!

    • Becky on January 13, 2015 at 10:54 am

      My post about Joshua Tree is going up as soon as I finish responding to comments John, but yes: I did visit Jumbo Rocks even though I didn’t end up camping there and it was neat!

  4. jonthebru on January 9, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    Great post as usual. Not much to add except I hope the SW warms up for you.

    • Becky on January 13, 2015 at 10:52 am

      It did Jon!

  5. Maura on January 9, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    How fun! Glad to see you girls enjoying San Diego! Those animals…don’t they just leave you amazed?
    Maura recently posted..Old Dogs Can Learn New TricksMy Profile

    • Becky on January 13, 2015 at 10:51 am

      They sure do Maura!

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