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San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park- everything you need to know!
The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are two of the most popular tourist attractions in San Diego, and for good reason! They both have a variety of exhibits and experiences that allow you to see and interact with some incredible animals.
Given that both parks offer a world-class experience, it can be hard to choose between the two!
If you have the time, we would highly recommend visiting both parks, as both provide unique experiences and are well worth visiting.
However, if you’re short on time we can help you decide which park is right for you!
We’ve been to both the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park multiple times and really love both parks for different reasons.
In this article, we’ll break down the similarities and differences of San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park so that you can select the best option for your trip.
San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park- Overview of the parks
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park and is home to over 3,500 animals from more than 650 species. It is one of the largest and most diverse zoos in the world, with a focus on conservation and education.
The zoo offers a variety of exhibits, including the African Rocks exhibit, which features African penguins, lemurs, and other animals, as well as the Panda Trek exhibit, which is home to giant pandas.
San Diego Safari Park
On the other hand, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located about 35 miles northeast of the San Diego Zoo in the city of Escondido.
The Safari Park is more focused on the African savannah and offers a more immersive experience. Visitors can take a safari ride through the park and see animals such as giraffes, rhinos, and antelopes in a natural habitat.
Both parks are amazing places to visit, but if you only have time for one we’re here to help you decide which one is right for you!
San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park Comparisons
Tickets to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park are the same price. If you purchase your tickets online, a day pass to either park costs $69, with children ages 3-11 costing $59 (children under 3 are free).
If you do plan on visiting both parks, you can save on a 2-Visit-Pass which will allow you to visit both parks for just $118 ($108 for a child).
Or you can purchase a Go San Diego Pass to save on a variety of attractions during your visit, including both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.
The San Diego Zoo has free parking. However, parking at the Safari Park costs $20 per vehicle with no in and out privileges. So you’ll want to be sure to factor the cost of parking into the price of a visit to the safari park.
Another difference between the parks is location. The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park, just north of the downtown area. On the other hand, the San Diego Safari Park is located in Escondido, 32 miles northeast of the zoo.
This is an important factor to take into consideration when deciding between the two parks. The zoo is more centrally located and generally easier to get to, situated only three miles from the San Diego Airport. The Safari Park is a little further afield and might require additional planning, such as making sure to get a rental car.
The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park both house a diverse range of animal species, but they differ in terms of the types of animals that are found in each location.
At the San Diego Zoo, visitors can see a wide variety of animals, including exotic mammals such as giant pandas, gorillas, tigers, and polar bears, as well as reptiles, birds, and insects.
The zoo is well-known for its animal shows and interactive exhibits, which provide visitors with a chance to see the animals up close and learn about their behaviors and habitats.
In contrast, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to many large mammals that are native to Africa and Asia, such as elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and lions. The Safari Park also has a large collection of birds, including raptors and waterfowl, and many species of reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
One of the unique features of the Safari Park is its expansive open-air habitats, which allow animals to roam freely and exhibit natural behaviors.
Overall, while both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park have a diverse range of animal species, the Safari Park is known for its larger mammals and open habitats, while the zoo is known for its exotic and interactive exhibits.
The San Diego Zoo is located in the heart of the city and covers 100 acres. It is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 650 species and subspecies. The zoo is known for its lush botanical gardens and its innovative habitats, such as the Giant Panda Research Station and the Elephant Odyssey exhibit.
On the other hand, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park covers a much larger area of about 1,800 acres and is home to more than 3,000 animals representing over 300 species. The Safari Park is known for its expansive open habitats, which mimic the natural habitats of the animals living there, and for its focus on conservation and education.
So, while both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are incredible places to visit, the Safari Park is significantly larger and focuses more on natural habitats, while the zoo focuses more on innovative exhibits and conservation research.
The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Safari Park are both overall very accessible. At the entrance to both parks you can find strollers and wheelchairs available for rent on a first come first served basis. The parks’ entrances, restrooms, and most exhibits are wheelchair accessible and accessible parking spaces are available in the parking lots.
Both parks also have private locations for mothers to nurse babies and diaper changing stations in most restrooms.
We found both places to be easy to navigate with a stroller, although the Safari Park does require more walking between exhibits.
Included activities and shows
Both of these parks have activities and shows included in the cost of your ticket which will give you a more immersive experience. Between the two, the zoo has more activities and experiences (in addition to the animal enclosures) that do not have an additional charge.
San Diego Zoo Included Experiences
Guided bus tour- While visiting the zoo, take advantage of the free 35 minute narrated bus tour that takes you through the zoo, allowing you to see many of the major exhibits without having to do any walking! This is a great experience to do at the start of your day, as it gives you a good overview of the park and can help you decide where you want to focus your time. We really enjoyed this experience while we were at the zoo and appreciated the break from walking! The view is best from the top level of the bus, although you might want to bring some sunscreen and a hat.
Wildlife presentations- At the wildlife presentation, you can learn about some of the wildlife ambassadors at the park and see them up close. At the presentation we went to we saw birds, a cheetah, a wolf, and other animals.
Kangaroo Bus- An easy way to get around the large park is to take the Kangaroo Bus, a hop on hop off bus with stops throughout the zoo. The bus typically comes about every 15 to 20 minutes, so you never have to wait long for a bus to take you where you want to go!
Skyfari Aerial Tram- To get from one side of the park to the other, you can also take the Skyfari Tram, which is a cable car ride that allows you to view the zoo from above. This was one of our kids favorite things that we did at the park and they kept begging us to go back across the park so we could ride it again.
Wildlife Care Specialist Talks- Throughout the day you can see specialists talk about the care of various zoo animals and conservation efforts. Check the schedule for the day to determine when and where you can see the talks.
San Diego Safari Park Included Experiences
Africa Tram- Included with the price of admission, the Africa Tram takes you on a guided tour through the savanna habitats. The tour lasts about 25 minutes and is on a first-come, first-served basis.
We found the tram to be enjoyable and informative and our kids pointed out all the animals that they saw with great enthusiasm.
Kangaroo Walkabout- Visitors can walk through a large enclosure where kangaroos and wallabies roam freely, allowing for up-close encounters and photo opportunities. This was definitely a highlight for our kids!
Petting Kraal- Touch and interact with some sweet goats at the Petting Kraal!
Shows- During your visit, be sure to check the schedule to see what shows are available throughout the day you are there. The schedule changes, but can include children’s storytimes and musical and other performances.
In addition to the activities included with a general admission ticket, both parks also offer some special encounters and experiences for an additional cost.
San Diego Zoo Special Experiences
Animals in Action- An interactive experience where you can see and learn about exotic cats up close! Get behind the scenes access to discover more about these wildlife ambassadors, some of which can only be seen during this experience! For ages 5 and up.
Crazy About Cats- Visit the park before it opens for a 90-minute tour dedicated to the zoo’s cat species! On this tour you’ll have your own guide to drive you around the zoo in a deluxe cart to visit the wild cats and tell you all about them and how they are cared for at the zoo. This tour is for ages five and up.
Discovery Cart Tour- The Discovery Cart Tour is a 60-minute guided tour that takes visitors through the zoo’s various exhibits on a deluxe cart and offers an up-close look at some of the animals. The tour is led by a knowledgeable guide who provides information about the animals, their habitats, and their conservation. This experience is suitable for all ages and is a fun and educational activity for families and individuals alike.
Early Morning Cheetah Experience- The San Diego Zoo’s Early Morning Cheetah Experience is a special program that allows visitors to get an up-close and personal look at the zoo’s cheetahs before the park opens. The 90-minute cart tour also takes you to other African habitats at the zoo, including areas not normally accessible to the public. This experience is available for visitors ages 5 and up.
Exclusive VIP Experience- The San Diego Zoo’s Exclusive VIP Experience is a customized program that offers visitors an unforgettable behind-the-scenes look at the zoo’s animals and operations. The 5-hour program is led by a private guide and includes access to areas that are not open to the general public. The tour also includes a sit-down lunch and exclusive animal encounters.
Inside Look Tours- The San Diego Zoo’s Inside Look Tour is a special behind-the-scenes tour that offers visitors an up-close and personal look at the zoo’s animals and operations. This 90-minute tour includes a personal guide and transportation through the zoo on a deluxe cart. Perfect for all ages.
Early Morning Explorers- On certain Saturdays, families with children can have access to the Wildlife Explorers Base Camp before the zoo opens for the day!
4D Theater- For an extra $8 you can pay a visit to the 4D theater at the zoo. The 10-minute featured movie is shown at various times throughout the day and tickets are available for purchase at the theater.
Safari Park Special Experiences
Wildlife Safari- For this safari, ride into the savanna in the back of a covered safari truck with a guide to learn about the animals. There are a few different wildlife safari options, starting at $90n per person.
Behind-the-Scenes Safari- Go behind the scenes at the safari park to meet animals up close and learn about their care and conservation efforts. There are a variety of different behind the scenes tours you can take, starting at $90 per person.
Cart Safaris- Enjoy a guided tour of the savanna from the back of a safari cart. These tours start at $57 per person.
Sun-Up Cheetah Safari- Explore the park before it opens with a behind the scenes guided tour on a safari truck. You also have the unique opportunity to see a cheetah run at full speed!
Ultimate Safari- The Ultimate Safari is a personalized experience that is customized to your interests.You own personal guide will take you to exclusive areas, animal habitats, and animal encounters on a five or seven hour tour (lunch included).
Roar and Snore Safari- For a unique safari experience, book an overnight stay with after-hours animal activities and guided tours (meals included).
Flightline Safari- Experience the safari park from above as you soar over the park on a zipline!
Wildlife Trek- Take a guided walking tour through the park to learn about the animals and conservation efforts at the park.
Balloon Safari- Experience the park in a unique way with a hot air balloon ride! The tethered balloon ascends as high as 400 feet and provides amazing views of the wildlife park.
Tips for visiting San Diego Zoo
Here are some tips to make the most of your visit to the San Diego Zoo!
Plan ahead. Check the zoo’s website for hours of operation, special events, and show times. Also, purchase tickets in advance to avoid waiting in long lines.
Get the app! Download the San Diego Zoo app for a GPS-enabled map (super helpful with such a large zoo!) where you can find the location of the animal exhibits, dining, and activities. The app allows you to see the times of any shows or presentations and also has a planner for organizing your day.
Take advantage of the guided tours. The zoo offers a variety of guided tours, including bus tours and walking tours, which provide a more in-depth look at the animals and their habitats.
Don’t miss the pandas. The San Diego Zoo is one of only four zoos in the United States that has giant pandas. Be sure to visit the Giant Panda Research Station to see these amazing animals.
Enjoy the gardens. The San Diego Zoo is known for its beautiful botanical gardens. Take some time to enjoy the plants and flowers as you explore the zoo.
Consider visiting during off-peak times. To avoid crowds, consider visiting the zoo during weekdays or during the off-season.
Be respectful of the animals. Remember that the animals are wild animals and should be treated with respect. Follow all the rules and guidelines, and don’t disturb the animals or their habitats.
Tips for Visiting San Diego Safari Park
Plan your route. The Safari Park is large, so use the map provided at the entrance to plan your route in advance and avoid getting lost.
Take advantage of the tram. The Safari Park offers a tram tour that takes visitors through many of the park’s large habitats. This is a great way to see many of the animals without doing a lot of walking.
Visit the Condor Ridge exhibit. The Safari Park has a large exhibit dedicated to the California condor, one of the most endangered birds in the world. This exhibit provides a great opportunity to see these majestic birds up close.
Be sure to visit the platypuses. San Diego Safari Park is home to the only platypuses outside of Australia! This is a unique opportunity to see these rare animals that you don’t want to miss.
Check out the Tiger Trail exhibit. The Safari Park’s Tiger Trail exhibit is home to several species of big cats, including Sumatran tigers and jaguars. This exhibit provides a unique opportunity to see these amazing animals in a natural setting.
Take a behind-the-scenes tour. The Safari Park offers a variety of behind-the-scenes tours, including a caravan safari and a cheetah safari. These tours provide a more in-depth look at the animals and their habitats.
Visit during off-peak times. Like the zoo, you’ll get the most of your experience if you visit at a time that is less crowded.
Be respectful of the animals. It should go without saying, but be mindful and respectful of the animals while you are visiting.
What to bring
Comfortable shoes and clothing. The parks cover a large area, and you will be doing a lot of walking, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather.
Sunscreen. San Diego is known for its sunny weather, so be sure to bring sunscreen.
Water. Bring a water bottle to keep you hydrated during your day at the park.
Binoculars. Bring a pair of small binoculars so you can really see the animals up close, especially for the safari park where the animal enclosures are so much bigger.
Snacks. Bring some snacks to tide you over so that you don’t have to spend so much on expensive park food.
Which is better, San Diego Zoo or Safari Park?
Both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are excellent attractions and offer unique experiences.
The San Diego Zoo is known for its interactive exhibits, animal shows, and diverse collection of exotic animals, including pandas, tigers, and gorillas. It is a great place for families with children, as there are many activities and educational opportunities for kids.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, on the other hand, is known for its expansive open-air habitats, where animals roam free and exhibit natural behaviors. It offers a more immersive experience and a chance to see large mammals such as elephants, giraffes, and rhinos in a more natural setting. The Safari Park is a great option for animal enthusiasts and those interested in conservation efforts.
Ultimately, which one is better depends on your personal interests and what you are looking for in a zoo or safari park experience. Both attractions are well worth a visit and offer unforgettable experiences.
Which is bigger, San Diego Zoo or Safari Park?
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is much bigger than the San Diego Zoo. The San Diego Zoo covers 100 acres, while the San Diego Zoo Safari Park covers about 1,800 acres.
However, the safari park has larger enclosures for its animals, so you can actually see more animals in a smaller space at the San Diego Zoo.
San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park for a toddler
Both the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park are amazing places to visit with a toddler, especially if your toddler loves animals! We’ve been to both with our young kids and found that our toddler had a really great experience at both parks.
However, if we could only pick one park to visit with our toddler, we would probably choose the San Diego Zoo. The zoo has more animals in a smaller area, making it quicker and easier to get between exhibits as there is less walking between points of interest. This, along with the fact that more of the animals can be seen at a closer range, really helped to keep the interest of our toddler.
The San Diego Zoo also has the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, a play area that features habitats from around the world. Here your child will find places to climb, scramble, and even get wet in the splash area. Our kids had a blast playing here and didn’t want to leave!
But you really can’t go wrong taking your toddler to either place. Both have strollers available for rent, fun play structures for kids to enjoy, places to nurse and change diapers, and of course lots and lots of animals to see!
Can you visit the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park in one day?
While you can certainly try to visit both the zoo and safari park in one day, it’s probably not going to end up being the best experience at either park. Both places have enough to experience that you could easily spend the whole day there. It doesn’t do justice to either park to try to fit them in together on the same day.
If you only have one day, select the park that best fits with your interests and schedule. Instead of taking the time to drive between the two (about a 45 minute drive in good conditions) and pay for entry at each, maximize your time at one of the parks and experience all that it has to offer.
We spent a whole day at each park and still weren’t able to see everything at either location.
Both the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park are great destinations to visit, but the choice ultimately depends on your personal interests and preferences.
The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park and is known for its large and diverse collection of animals from around the world, including pandas, tigers, gorillas, and polar bears. It also features a variety of exhibits, shows, and activities for visitors of all ages, such as the Skyfari aerial tram, the 4-D theater, and guided bus tours.
The Safari Park, located about 35 miles north of the San Diego Zoo, is a unique experience that offers visitors the opportunity to see animals in a more natural setting. The park is designed to mimic the habitats of Africa and Asia, and features large open enclosures where animals can roam freely. Visitors can take a safari tour, zip line over the park, or watch animal shows.
If you’re interested in seeing a wide variety of animals in a more traditional zoo setting, the San Diego Zoo is probably the better choice. However, if you’re looking for a more immersive experience that focuses on animal conservation and natural habitats, the Safari Park may be the better option. Either way, both attractions are world-renowned and are sure to provide a memorable experience.
We loved our time a both parks and would highly recommend either one to someone visiting San Diego!
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