San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park: Comparing the Differences Between the Two Parks

What’s the difference between the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park? Though often confused as the same park, the two parks offer very different experiences.

We’ve broken down the differences between the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park into different categories so you can choose which park, if not both, suits you and your visit to San Diego best.

San-Diego-Zoo-vs-Safari-Park-2

What’s Included with General Admission:

For starters, both San Diego Zoo tickets and San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card.

This means you can visit BOTH parks for one price, which can save you up to 55% vs paying separately at the ticket gates.

Below we break down what is included with general admission tickets to each park…

San Diego Zoo General Admission:

  • One ride on the Guided Bus Tour
  • Unlimited use of the Kangaroo Express Bus
  • One ride on the Skyfari Aerial Tram
  • Scheduled Zookeeper talks throughout the day
  • General admission exhibits and shows
  • Free parking

San Diego Zoo Safari Park Safari Park:

  • One ride on a guided safari-like tour on an open-air tram through the park’s African Savannah field where animals roam free
  • Scheduled animal shows throughout the day, including Cheetah Run, Frequent Flyers Bird Show, Elephant Keeper Talk, Trainer Talk, and more
  • General admission exhibits and shows

Please note: parking is not included for Safari Park and ranges from about $12-$17 per vehicle.

Location:

San-Diego-Zoo-vs-Safari-Park-Location

Sometimes when deciding whether to visit the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park, or both, it just comes down to logistics and what fits in best with your San Diego sightseeing itinerary.

Common misconception: Safari Park is not located in Balboa Park like the San Diego Zoo, it’s actually a bit north of the city.

San Diego Zoo location:

Centrally located right in Balboa Park near downtown San Diego, the San Diego Zoo is very easy to get to by car (free parking!), bike, walking, public transportation, etc.

It’s also located near lots of other Balboa Park museums & attractions so you can check off some other attractions while you’re in the area, too.

Safari Park location:

Safari Park is located in Escondido, about a 40-60 minute drive north from downtown San Diego.

Public transportation to Safari Park exists but would be over 2 hours each way from downtown San Diego. Plan on taking a car and be sure to factor in the extra cost for parking.

Comparing the Animals & Exhibits:

Animals at the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park

In short, the San Diego Zoo has more animals both in quantity and variety.

Safari Park focuses on animals from the mostly arid environments, like the African and Asian Savannas, while the San Diego Zoo has animals from all over the world, including Australia, Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, and more.

Visitors can easily spend a full day seeing all the animals at each park. The exhibits at Safari Park are larger and more spread out, while the exhibits at San Diego Zoo are situated closer together throughout the park.

San Diego Zoo:

San Diego Zoo koalas

  • Animals from all over the world, such as polar bears, pandas, koalas, apes, gorillas, penguins, elephants, giraffes, grizzly bears, hippos, birds, reptiles, lions, zebras, tigers, and more.
  • Animal habitats: animal enclosures are generally smaller than those at Safari Park to ensure that visitors see lots of animal activity
  • Exhibits:
    • Guided Bus Tour: narrated double-decker bus tour of the entire zoo
    • Panda Canyon: panda exhibit with a zookeeper always there to answer questions and talk about the famous bears
    • Northern Frontier & Polar Bear Plunge: home of the zoo’s polar bears where you can get a unique underwater view of the playful bears, see snow white foxes, caribou, maned wolves, and more
    • Elephant Odyssey: see lots of elephants and other California-native animals of the past and present, including large birds, cheetahs, lions, meerkats, and more
    • Lost Forest: home to tigers, hippos, monkey’s gorillas, Scripps Aviary and Owens aviary, this is one of the livelier exhibits
    • Urban Jungle: visit giraffes, kangaroos, koalas, flamingos, rhinos, and more
    • Discovery Outpost: kids can run around in the playground, interact with animals in the petting zoo, and see lots of reptiles, insects, birds, and more
    • Skyfari® Aerial Tram: take a ride over the exhibits for an aerial view of the zoo and surrounding Balboa Park

Safari Park:

SafariParkGiraffes

  • Animals from arid environments, such as rhinos, camels, cheetahs, gorillas, heron, giraffes, lemurs, lions, meerkats, river hogs, tigers, warthogs, wild cattle, zebras, insects, and more.
  • Animal habitats: animal enclosures are generally larger with more free-range enclosures so that visitors can see animals in more naturalistic settings.
  • Exhibits:
    • Africa Tram: take a 20-30 minute ride on the covered, open-air tram to see lots of animals, including giraffes, rhinos, and more
    • Elephant Valley: visit the park’s elephants and catch an educational talk at the amphitheater to learn about elephant care and see their abilities
    • Gorilla Exhibit: get an unobstructed view of the large and active gorilla family
    • Lion Camp: see lions interact and play in their open space den
    • Cheetah Run: the famous cheetah run, where visitors can watch Shiley the cheetah race 330-feet and reach speeds of up to 70-miles per hour, takes places once a day at 3:30 pm and draws a large crowd
    • Tiger Trail: follow the guided trail through the bamboo forest and see several Sumatran tigers along the way
    • Petting Kraal: kids and adults can take their turn petting and brushing the gentle, resident goats in their enclosure

Comparing the Park Sizes

You’ll be walking a lot at both parks, but the San Diego Zoo provides a convenient hop-on hop-off bus that can take visitors around to each area of the park whereas the Safari Park is larger due to the larger animal enclosures and requires more walking between exhibits.

San Diego Zoo:

  • 100 acres of animal exhibits
  • Over 3,700 animals and over 650 species

Safari Park:

  • 1,800 acres of wildlife sanctuary
  • Over 2,600 animals and over 300 species

Tips for Visiting the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park:

San Diego Zoo Tips:

  • Check out the plant life there too. Little known fact: the zoo also qualifies as a botanical garden.
  • Get there early and do the included Guided Bus Tour first to get a lay of the land and make a note of the exhibits you want to plan your day around.
  • Take a self-guided tour of the plant life at the zoo by following the zoo’s collection of informational brochures.
  • Wear comfortable footwear, pack a water bottle, and plan to do a lot of walking.
  • Check out our post for even more San Diego Zoo tips for visiting.
  • We also compare San Diego Zoo vs SeaWorld here.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tips:

  • Bring binoculars to Safari Park if you have them. Because the animals are in more open, natural settings, sometimes they’re hanging out a considerable distance away from viewing areas.
  • Get there early and do the included tram ride when you first arrive. Wait times tend to increase throughout the day and are busiest between 11 am and 3 pm.
  • Wear comfortable footwear, pack a water bottle, and plan to do a lot of walking.
  • Check out our post for even more San Diego Zoo Safari Park tips for visiting.
  • The Okavango Outpost restaurant in the park has a unique vantage point where you can see the giraffes roam and be fed.

Upgrades & Interactive Experiences:

Jungle Ropes Safari Experience at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an available upgrade

Jungle Ropes Safari Experience at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Interactive experiences are available at both parks for additional fees. You can ask about upgrades and age requirements when you arrive at the parks.

Prices for upgrades and interactive experiences range from about $29-$599, in addition to park admission.

San Diego Zoo:

  • Backstage Pass: get invited to touch and experience up-close encounters with some of the animals.
  • Early Morning with Pandas: visit the panda viewing area before it opens in the day and see the pandas enjoying their breakfast. This 2-hour adventure includes a tour of the zoo in a VIP cart.
  • Crazy About Cats: go on an early morning behind-the-scenes guided tour of the cat areas and learn about each cat, how the zoo cares for them, and how you can help the species.
  • Inside Look Tours: 2-hour educational adventure that takes you behind-the-scenes of the exhibits so you can learn all about the park operations and animal care.
  • Discovery Cart Tour: 1-hour guided tour that covers 70% of the zoo grounds highlighting all the plant and animal life
  • Sunrise Surprise Stroll: visit a surprise area of the zoo up close or behind the scenes and get a keeper talk, you won’t know what you’re getting until you get there (surprise!).
  • Exclusive VIP Experience: get access to off-exhibit areas closed to the general public and experience animal interactions, get behind-the-scenes insight, and more.

Safari Park:

  • Caravan Safari: visit at least 2 field enclosures in the back of a covered, open-air safari truck and get an opportunity to feed the giraffes!
  • Cart Safari: tour the African Plains or Asian Savanna on a safari cart ride.
  • Cheetah Safari: meet and greet the resident cheetah.
  • Raptor Flight Safari: fly and catch a hawk.
  • Jungle Ropes Safari: climb the challenging ropes course adventure.
  • Flightline Safari: zip over the animal exhibits for 2/3 of a mile on a zip line ride.
  • Trike Safari: explore the African Plains on an electric trike.
  • Behind-the-Scenes Safari: travel to keeper-only areas on a safari cart and learn about the park’s animal care practices.
  • Roar & Snore Safari: spend an overnight at the park with a special camping adventure among the animals.
  • Ultimate Safari: get a customized safari experience with behind the scenes and up-close experiences.
  • Balloon Ride: float above the park and get a bird’s eye view of the animals in their habitats from 400-feet above ground.

A Visual Guide Summarizing the Differences between the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

Infographic comparing the major differences between the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park

In Summary; the Biggest Differences between the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are surprisingly very different and have lots of different experiences to offer visitors.

San Diego Zoo: larger variety and quantity of animals, comprehensive guided tour bus and aerial tram ride included. The park itself is considered historic and a San Diego icon, it’s also officially recognized as a botanical garden, it’s located right downtown San Diego in Balboa Park and close to lots of other popular San Diego attractions, and offers free parking to visitors

Safari Park: features a specific focus on animals from arid environments. It’s a larger park in size which requires more walking between exhibits, a guided safari-like ride is included with admission, it’s located a 45-60 minute drive outside of San Diego, and there are more upgrades available for up-close animal encounters and enhanced experiences

Save on Admission (& Visit Both with the Go San Diego Card)

Go San Diego Card
Forget San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park–visit both parks and many other popular San Diego attractions for one low price with a Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass and compare your visit to the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park yourself. You’ll get have a totally unique experience at each and if you love learning about animals and the environments they live in, you’ll be sure to enjoy both.

You’ll save up to 55% off combined admission to your choice of attractions, including the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, LEGOLAND® California, SeaWorld™ San Diego, USS Midway Museum, theme parks, harbor cruises, bike rentals, tours, and more.

The information contained in this post, to the best of the author's knowledge, was accurate at time of publishing. We do our best to ensure and maintain the accuracy of this information.

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