San Diego Zoo vs. San Diego Safari Park

categories: Southern California

If you are planning on heading to San Diego this summer and you are looking for family-friendly activities, look no further than the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. Although both the zoo and the safari park are operated by the nonprofit group, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the two parks offer visitors a different and unique experience at each park. Let’s take a look at what makes these parks special as we compare the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park.

Elephant Odyssey at the San Diego Zoo

Elephant Odyssey at the San Diego Zoo

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General Information About Each Park

To get a better understanding of what makes each of these parks unique, visitors should have a general understanding of what each of these two parks has to offer. Let’s take a look at what to expect when visiting one of these two California parks.

San Diego Zoo General Info

San Diego Zoo is a 100-acre wild animal zoo located in Balboa Park in San Diego, California. As one of the most visited zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo is open to the public from 9 am to 9 pm every day of the year. The San Diego Zoo is a member of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums as well as the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, with trained staff that uphold the highest standard of animal care in areas like nutrition, enrichment, and health.


San Diego Safari Park General Info

San Diego Safari Park is a 1,800-acre wild animal park in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego, California. With over 2 million annual visitors, the San Diego Safari Park is one of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego County. The park is open 365 days a year from 9 am to 5 pm and operates a state-of-the-art veterinary facility onsite.

The Safari Park does also operate a special “Roar & Snore” package where you can visit the park at night and stay overnight. This requires a special reservation but can be one of the fun things to do in San Diego at night.

San Diego Zoo vs. San Diego Safari Park

Although both of these parks house hundreds of animal varieties in two of the world’s best parks, there are quite a few differences between the zoo and the safari park. For visitors looking for the best experience for their family, let’s take a look at what makes each of these parks special.

Getting There

Although both of these parks are located in San Diego county, the zoo is the more easily accessible of the two as it is located in downtown San Diego. Zoo visitors can enjoy easy access to the park via car, bicycle, rideshare service, public transportation, or walking, depending on the starting location. On-site parking is available for visiting guests at no charge.

On the other hand, the San Diego Safari Park is located north of downtown San Diego in close proximity to an area known as Escondido. This location is about a 45-60 minute drive by car, but public transportation can take up to two hours. The cost for parking at the San Diego Safari Park is $15 a day per car or $20 a day for RV parking.

Gorilla at San Diego Zoo

Image by Curtis Yancey from Pixabay

Animal Varieties

While both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park offer visitors a chance to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most enthralling and exotic species, each park features different species of animals that make them unique.

At San Diego Zoo, visitors can find more than 650 different species of animals with over 12,000 animals that call the zoo home. Of the seven major exhibits, their Orangutan Trail and Elephant Odyssey are among the most popular, allowing visitors to get up close with powerful Orangutans and both African and Asian varieties of elephants.

On the other hand, the San Diego Safari Park is home to more than 3,000 animals and over 300 different varieties of animal species. This park is home to the largest collection of hoofed animals in the world, and visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look at many of the animal species that call this park home. Their most popular attraction for visiting guests is their Africa Tram, which shuttles guests around the park to observe animals such as antelope, giraffes, and more in an open, natural habitat. 

Ticket Cost and Opening Hours

Both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are open 365 days a year for guests to enjoy this family-friendly tourist attraction. Opening hours for the Zoo are 9 am to 9 pm daily, while the Safari Park grants entrance to guests between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm.

Daily ticket prices for both the zoo and safari park start at $65 for adults or $55 for children, and both parks offer annual memberships, special value day pricing, and discounts for repeat visits as well as senior citizen and student discounts.

Africa Tram Exhibit at the San Diego Safari Park

Africa Tram Exhibit at the San Diego Safari Park

Additional Experiences

Both the zoo and safari park feature a variety of experiences that are included in the cost of a daily ticket, as well as other experiences that can be added to visits for an additional fee. For visitors looking for even more family-friendly fun, check out some of these unforgettable experiences that are perfect for creating family memories that will last a lifetime.

Experiences at the San Diego Zoo

      • 4D Theater – $7
      • Botanical garden tours – included
      • Play areas for children – included
      • Skyfari aerial tram – included
      • Wildlife presentations and specialist talks – included
      • Guided bus tours – included on a first come, first served basis

Experience at the San Diego Safari Park

      • Africa Tram – included
      • Conservation carousel – $6 unlimited rides
      • Balloon safari – prices vary
      • Play areas for children – included
      • Petting zoo – included
Live Animal Encounter at the San Diego Safari Park

Live Animal Encounter at the San Diego Safari Park

Overall Experience

Both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park have something to offer visitors, and it pays to know what you’re looking for when visiting these two parks.

While both parks feature a chance for guests to get up close and personal with animal species from all over the world, guests looking to enjoy a larger number and variety of animals will be best suited at the zoo, while guests looking to catch a glimpse of animals from Africa and other arid environments would likely enjoy the safari park more. Both parks feature additional paid animal encounters like the zoo’s Early Morning Cheetah Experience or the safari park’s Behind-the-Scenes Safari or Ultimate Safari package.

Both parks offer a variety of additional activities for children and have plenty of options for onsite dining, experiences, and more. Guests looking for smaller crowds may prefer the safari park as this is generally the less crowded of the two parks, although it is farther away from other San Diego area attractions.

Both parks feature open-air concept enclosures that ensure the animals receive plenty of space, a clean living environment, high-quality food and medical care, enrichment, and more. Visitors can have peace of mind knowing that whichever park they choose to visit will be supporting reputable animal rescue and conservation efforts while offering memories that will last a lifetime.

View overlooking the San Diego Safari Park

View overlooking the San Diego Safari Park

Tips on Visiting the Parks

Whether you plan on spending the day exploring the exhibits at the San Diego Zoo or riding along on the Africa Tram at the safari park, visitors should follow these expert tips on how to have the most memorable experience at each of these California parks.

Keep it Comfy

Visiting either the zoo or safari park requires lots of walking, so wearing comfortable shoes and clothing is a must for park goers. Because of the southern California location of each of these parks, visitors can typically expect sunny, warm weather and should plan on wearing comfortable tennis shoes, shorts, and t-shirts made of thin, breathable material to stay cool.

Don’t Forget to Hydrate

Staying hydrated is one of the most important things visitors can do to ensure they have a fun and memorable experience at one of these two parks. Nowadays, reusable water bottles are one of the most noted travel essentials for women and men, and it is nearly impossible to go anywhere without one. Make sure to bring along your favorite Hydroflask to refill at any of the many water stations found throughout the park and help cut down on cost and waste by avoiding purchasing plastic water bottles.

San Diego Zoo 12

Apply Sunscreen

Spending an entire day out in the hot sun can definitely take a toll on our bodies. In addition to making us feel drained, no one wants to spend their vacation with a sunburn. Guests should plan on wearing sunscreen or taking other measures against sun protection during their visit like wearing a hat, sunglasses, or other sun protective clothing. Current FDA guidelines regarding sunscreen say that it should be reapplied at least every two hours, so make sure to bring extra sunscreen to reapply as needed.

Pack Light

While guests at both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are permitted to bring a small backpack in for essentials like cellphones, wallets, water bottles, charging banks, and more. Guests are encouraged to pack light to avoid tiring themselves out by lugging around excess baggage all day. Many amenities like locker and stroller rentals are available onsite at the park, so guests with children can skip the heavy packing and rent supplies there.

Available Amenities at San Diego Zoo & Safari Park

      • ADA compliant facilities
      • Stroller rental – $16 single, $20 double
      • Wheelchair and ECV rentals – $16 wheelchair, $60 ECV
      • Locker rental – prices vary
      • Luggage storage – $5 small, $15 large
      • ATM access onsite
      • Onsite first aid services
      • Electric vehicle charging stations
      • Recycling services
      • Baby changing stations
      • Water fountains and water bottle refill stations

Note to nursing mothers: Although the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park do not have dedicated nursing stations for mothers and their children, guests can visit the First Aid station or the Health Services office for access to privacy curtains in a comfortable environment for nursing.

Cheetah Run at the San Diego Safari Park

Cheetah Run at the San Diego Safari Park

Plan Ahead

Knowledge is power when it comes to planning a trip to either the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Safari Park. Visitors heading out for the day are encouraged to plan ahead to make their visit unforgettable. Make sure to follow these simple tips to make your visit to the zoo or safari park unforgettable for all the right reasons.

Download the Parks’ Mobile Application

Both the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park offer downloadable mobile applications for visitors to access park maps, view animal encounter schedules, discover dining options, and more. Their GPS-enabled map makes it easy for park visitors to plan their park route to ensure they don’t miss a single thing on their list.

Check the Weather

Nothing is worse than getting caught in the rain, and the same goes for visitors heading to the park for the day. One of the best pro tips any traveler can get is to always check the weather before heading out for any activity. Although we can’t control the weather, we can be prepared. In the event of inclement weather, guests should ensure they pack any necessary rain gear to avoid a soggy start to their trip.

Leopard at San Diego Zoo

Image by Curtis Yancey from Pixabay

Pre Purchase Tickets and Arrive Early

Guests visiting either park can purchase advance tickets online to save time when arriving at the park. Online tickets are available through either of the parks’ websites, with convenient mobile downloads available immediately upon purchasing. For an added bonus, guests that purchase tickets online can save $2 per ticket for online orders.

When heading to the park, guests should plan on arriving early for cooler weather and to avoid large crowds. In addition to being one of the least crowded times of day, the animals that call the zoo home are typically more playful during this time, and guests can enjoy plenty of animal activity in the early morning hours.

Whether you’re heading out to the San Diego Safari Park, the San Diego Zoo, or both, one thing’s for certain… you’re sure to have a memorable time. Guests heading out to either one of these two San Diego area attractions can have tons of fun meeting plenty of animals, learning more about conservation, and creating once-in-a-lifetime memories with friends and family.

San Diego Zoo vs. San Diego Safari Park #san-deigo #zoo #wild-animal-park #park #things-to-do-in  

Carrie Alspaugh

by Carrie Alspaugh

Carrie is an animal lover and a regular contributor at FidisTravel. When she’s not writing, she travels with her two chihuahuas while volunteering at animal hospitals and rescues across the world.

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