Surf and Safari in San Diego

So many animals living together

Wild Safari Park

My family loved our first trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The Safari Park is a wildlife sanctuary that sprawls across 1,800 acres and is home to over 3,500 animals. Unlike in a traditional zoo, most of the animals cohabit just like they do in the wild plains of Africa and Asia.

Viewing areas and guided tours offer guests up close encounters with wild animals from more than 400 species. The climate is also just right for the renowned botanical collection and native plants. This place is amazing!

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an incredibly enriching experience for the whole family. It is important to clarify that the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park are two completely different locations. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in Escondido, 30 miles north of San Diego, and the San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park near downtown San Diego. Travel time between parks is approximately 45 minutes to an hour. (An annual pass gets you into both sites for one reasonably priced fee.)

The Safari Park was the perfect weekend adventure for my family. My son, Bodhi, is fascinated with wild animals. He’s a huge fan of cheetahs, so for his fourth birthday we decided to take him to see the Cheetah Run.

This cheetah just finished her sprint

This cheetah just finished her sprint

Every day, one of the resident cheetahs sprints 300 feet in approx. 6 seconds. That’s 0 – 70 mph in a flash of an eye! It’s quite spectacular to see. The Cheetah Run is at 3:30 PM daily and the viewing is included in the cost of admission to the park. For an up-close look, you can buy an upgraded ticket to the preferred area for $10/person. The Safari Park admission includes a safari tram ride through the expansive African plains. In addition to the tram ride, there are amazing exhibits housing lemurs, gorillas, elephants and more. There are animal ambassador shows that offer up close encounters too. Bird shows and botanical gardens round out the wildlife experience. The park also has a splash pad area for kids to cool off. One of Bodhi’s favorite activities at the park was the merry-go-round.

Safari Park is home to one of the most beautiful carousels we have ever seen. Colorfully painted wild animals of all varieties are available to ride for the price of $3.00 a ride or $6.00 for unlimited rides all day. Another play area for the kids, called the Samburu jungle gym, is close to the lemur exhibit. This was a great place for us to take a lunch break. We ate a delicious meal at the Samburu Terrace restaurant near the jungle gym. The Safari Park prides itself on quality foods and a variety of choices. We were really happy with our meals and very pleased to find vegetarian and gluten-free options too.

To compliment to the activities that are included in the price of admission, there are some outstanding experiences to be had at the park for additional fees (all discounted with an annual membership). The Roar and Snore overnight camping experience is a rare and exciting opportunity! We look forward to a future trip to the park for this not-to-be-missed sleepover.

Feeding the rhinos on a Cart Safari

Feeding the rhinos on a Cart Safari

There are small group guided tours and activities, called Safaris, which include Behind The Scenes tours such as field safaris where you can giraffes and rhinoceros.

There is the Flight Line Safari which is a thrilling zipline ride over the Asian Plains, a Ropes Course Safari through the park and a Hot Air Balloon Ride Safari offering a sky view of the breathtaking property.


We were so excited to take the Behind The Scenes Cats & Critters Safari tour. It was exceptional! We spent 2 hours touring the wildcat exhibits and the Asian Plains with our experienced guide, Peggy, who has been with the Safari Park for over 20 years. Peggy was enthusiastic and knowledgeable. On our ride to visit the tigers, cheetahs and lions, Peggy toured us through the Asian Plains and we viewed dozens of varieties of animals cohabiting just like they would in the wild.

I highly recommend starting the day with a hot air balloon ride. On this tethered balloon, 400 feet above the ground, you get a great bird’s-eye view of the park. The 10-minute ride costs an additional $20/person. Get there before 11:00 AM and the fee is only $11/person. Also, if you get there early you are sure to ride. The afternoons tend to be a bit windy so the balloon is sometimes grounded until weather conditions improve.

Hot air balloon ride over the SafariThe most economical way to experience the Safari Park is to become an annual member. A dual annual membership (2 adults) is currently $114 and offers you discounts on all the Safaris and the Roar and Snore sleepover. An annual pass includes both the Wild Safari Park as well as the San Diego Zoo. It is well worth it. The San Diego Wild Animal Park is a non-profit sanctuary.

All of the money you spend goes towards taking care of the animals at the parks as well as conservation efforts around the globe. The Safari Park is a spectacular, transformative zoo experience that left us wanting to go back into the wild again and again.

Hotel Indigo
Just 20 miles southwest of the Safari Park, the Hotel Indigo is a charming boutique hotel nestled along the coastline of Del Mar, California. It is just off the beach, with a beautiful ocean view from the balcony of the restaurant. It is also just down the street from Torrey Pines State Beach, where we enjoyed a Sunday morning hike. The Hotel Indigo was the perfect haven for our surf and safari weekend.

Hotel Indigo poolThe Hotel Indigo’s décor is stylish, sophisticated and inspired by Del Mar itself. The interior design is infused with the feel of this quaint town known for its racetrack and beaches. A lively photomural of the racetrack’s starting gate tastefully encompasses an entire wall of the Ocean View Bar and Grill. A beach theme is consistently represented throughout the property as well. Rooms are decorated with large photomurals of local imagery such as the expansive ocean-scape that decorated the wall of the bungalow we spent the night in. Walking into our room, we instantly fell in love with the warm colors of the bedding, the luxurious linens and the large mural of the waves lapping the shore. The room felt so tranquil and serene. The Hotel Indigo has 94 guest rooms offering such comfort and appeal.

As we entered the lobby, we could smell the ocean and feel the breeze. The west-facing wall offers a retractable glass door which provides the property with an open and beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. The aptly named Ocean View Bar and Grill, situated next to the lobby, is a tastefully furnished indoor/outdoor restaurant. The menu features Californian cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is bought fresh from local growers. We enjoyed a scrumptious dinner after a full day at the Safari Park. We relaxed and ate our meal on the outdoor couches, warming ourselves over the fire pit.

Hotel Indigo permits dogs. While we saw dogs checking in and out, we didn’t hear them in their rooms and we were very impressed with the cleanliness of the hotel and grounds. Cleanliness is top priority at this specialty hotel.

Rounding out our stay, we visited one of the Hotel Indigo pools (the hotel offers two outdoor swimming pools and a jacuzzi with plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas. Towels are provided poolside). We enjoyed a lovely afternoon swimming and lounging by the pool after our Sunday morning hike at Torrey Pines. We had such a relaxing stay at Hotel Indigo, we will stay there again when we next visit the Zoo and Safari Park. It is perfectly located at the midway point between the two attractions. I’m definitely bringing my surfboard next time!

Jeff Savenick and his wife Elizabeth Bloom collaborated on this story.

Jeff Savenick

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2 Comments on "Surf and Safari in San Diego"

  1. We are members of the ZOO there as well as the Wild Animal Park (even though we live in Arizona) because the membership is a “good deal.” Love them both on our annual visit.

  2. Fred and Leslie | July 16, 2013 at 10:39 am | Reply

    What a great article! We definitely want to go to the park for a visit sometime.
    Loved the pictures of your family, and your advice on the great looking hotel, and things to do.

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