Been There, Do This: San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, California

For travelers who have already visited the San Diego Zoo and want to see more animals — particularly in settings that closely resemble their natural habitat — the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a great option.

Located in Escondido, Calif., about 35 miles from downtown San Diego, the safari park is spread out over 1,800 acres. It’s home to more than 2,600 animals, representing 300-plus species (making it about 18 times larger than the San Diego Zoo, which as half as many species). The park showcases herd-style animals from the plains and savannas of Africa and Asia that normally roam together in the wild, such as rhinos, giraffes and antelope; there are lots of other species, including elephants, lions, tigers and cheetahs, as well. Many of these animals live in massive field enclosures.

The result is a zoo for the future, where guests can observe the animals in more natural environments and see them engaged in activities often performed in the wild.

There are several ways to experience San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The standard one-day admission ($52 for adults and $42 for kids ages 3 to 11) includes access to all exhibits as well as the Africa Tram ride around the outside of the African Plains enclosure, which is one of the largest areas.

For additional fees, guests can add on a variety of options, including traveling in the back of a covered, open-air safari truck inside two field enclosures, along with an opportunity to feed giraffes. Or, visitors can tour these areas from the comfort of a private safari cart.

Guests can even soar above the park via zipline. And for those looking for more time in the park, there is the Roar & Snore Safari, where visitors spend the night at a tent-camp in the park.

There is also a VIP experience called the Ultimate Safari that is completely customized for the individual visitor.

Park-goers can also participate in a number of shows, nature talks and other activities available for free or for a small fee. Of these, I highly recommend the Balloon Safari. For $18 per person, guests can ascend up to 400 feet in a tethered hot-air balloon for incredible views of the park and surrounding area.

One side benefit of the park being so large is that it never felt crowded. However, agents should be sure to warn clients that there is a lot of walking, often up and down hills. (But visitors with mobility issues will be accommodated.)

For many travelers, it’s hard to visit even a great zoo these days without feeling a bit uneasy about the treatment of animals. While there are not as many animals as one might see at the zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park provides a great example of the power of quality over quantity. Families that are looking for a new type of animal encounter will not be disappointed.

Kenneth Shapiro