Ultimate Guide to San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

When visiting California, San Diego is a must! It is gorgeous, clean, beachy, and chalk-full of things to do. Recently, I wrote a post entitled, San Diego with Kids, for Toddlers on Tour; highlighting all there is to do and see in this awesome city. One of my family’s favorite activities is visiting the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park.

Safari Park
Safari Park
Firecracker's first trip to the Zoo
Firecracker’s first trip to the Zoo

Keep the Cost in Check:

Get an annual pass. If you are local, it is the best value for your money.  Even if you only visit a couple of times, shoot for the pass. Plus, when you buy an annual pass you get access to both the Zoo and Safari Park, and you get guest single passes. These are great for when family is in town and you want to take them somewhere fun. Buying a pass is something to feel good about, because you are helping to support animal preservation as well educating and entertaining your children.

Bring your own snacks and water bottles! Both parks require a lot of walking, increasing hunger and thirst. You don’t want to have to buy a $4 bottle of water every two seconds.

Cheetah Run at Safari Park

Drop Your Bags:

There are plenty of hotel options, but since you are so close to Old Town, I recommend staying at the Hacienda Hotel. If you are taking the RV, then stay at Mission Bay RV Resort. You can even stay at the Zoo or Safari Park with packages like the Roar N’ Snore and the Wildlife Sleepovers.

The Safari Park’s Roar N’ Snore offers a number packages ranging from an adults-only night to all ages to creepy camp. Not only do you get to stay overnight at the park, when all the animals are active, you also get guided tours, camp activities, campfires, snacks and breakfast. My nephew, The Boss, did it and loved it. I am hoping to do it this year with Firecracker. Packages are typically $140 per person $30 for 2 years and under.

The Zoo has the Wildlife Sleepover program for kids in 3rd to 6th grade. This is more of an educational experience and provides kids with private tours, nighttime tours, animal presentations, games, tents, campfires, s’mores, and meals.

Get Your Grub On:

My favorite place to dine when I’m visiting San Diego Zoo is Albert’s. It is a restaurant designed to feel as if it were a tree house. It is set high over a creek and surrounded by trees, near all the monkeys. The food is yummy and I always enjoy my cocktails, but what I really love is the atmosphere. Plus, it is full-service.


For a quick bit, there are plenty of dining options throughout the Zoo. At the Safari Park all that is offered is quick-serve dinning. There isn’t full-service restaurant the Safari Park, but the burgers are really yummy at the Oasis Deli in Nairobi Village.

Also, check their websites for dining events that happen throughout the year.


There is beer at the Zoo & Safari Park people! Holla! San Diego is home to many craft breweries and you can find them readily available throughout both parks. What I love is that they are jumbo and ice cold!!! I hate paying $10 for a crappy mini beer when I go to most amusement parks. These are big, delicious, high-quality craft beers and it gets better…

Re-fills are cheaper!!! So keep your cup! Beers costs about $10 for a large beer at the Zoo and Safari Park, but with your cup you get refills for $7.

Jumbo Beers at Safari Park in SD

Entertain Me:

San Diego Zoo: The Zoo is huge and it hard enough to see all the animal exhibits in one day, but I recommend taking the map and over lunch discuss your must-sees and hit those first. Make time for some shows, because they give you a chance to relax. My kids really enjoy the Roo Crew show. It is silly, but entertaining. If you want a special VIP experience, then they have a variety of extras to choose from like Early Morning with the Pandas or Breakfast with Koalas. I mean the list goes on and on.

ROO CREW at San Diego Zoo

For great views of the Zoo and of San Diego ride the Skyfari, which is free and for the kids there are play areas and a Mini train just outside the entrance.

Safari Park: In addition to all the animal exhibits, there are a number of tours you can purchase.

Behind-the-Scenes Safari offers a 2 hour, up-close and personal experience with a variety of animals. There are a few different options to choose from such as birds, cheetahs, tigers and lions, and all behind the scenes safaris run about $80.

For the Cart Safari, kids 2 and under are free, while ages 3 and up is $50 for a 1 hour cart tour. You choose between an Africa and an Asia Safari and get a closer look at these awesome animals as the guide explains fun facts. The Caravan Safari is similar, except that it is 2 hours is double the price, but includes giraffe and rhino feedings.

For your little adventurer, I would suggest the Jungle Ropes Safari and the Flightline Safari. The Jungle Ropes is for kids 7 and up and is $55 for 90 minutes of climbing, balancing and swinging your way through the trees of the Safari Park. The Flightline is basically zip lining and is $75 for 1 hour. It is for 8 and up, but my daughter can’t wait to do it! She has about three more years to wait, but I’m sure my little daredevil will be ready!

The Africa Tram, animal encounter and Balloon Safari come with your Safari Park ticket.

Shows are a great way to take a break and enjoy the animals. We try to catch at least one show every trip, but what my kids really love are the play areas like the Village Playground and Samburu Jungle Gym. Especially in the summer, the Savanna Cool Zone is so refreshing. The kids get to cool down and I get to take a break with a cold beer. Win-Win. The play areas are an excellent outlet to let the kids’ burn energy and have some fun.

Cool ZonePlaygrounds at Zoo & Safari Park

Another thing my kids love at the Safari Park is the merry-go-round. There are a ton of awesome animals for the kids to ride and if you buy the bracelet you get unlimited rides, which is the best value. My kids ride that thing over and over again.


Let’s not forget the animal encounters at both parks. All the extras are great, but let’s be honest, nothing is more entertaining than seeing all the animals!! We love the orangutans and gorillas and chimps, because they are funny, a little naughty, and always entertaining.

Gorillas, Orangutans & Chimps at Zoo & Safari Park

Animals at Zoo & Safari Park

The Safari Park always has a special exhibit going on, so pay attention to the website before you visit. During my son’s birthday the Safari Park had the butterfly exhibit going on, called the Butterfly Jungle. It was awesome. Butterflies flew freely around us, landing on us every now and then.

Butterfly Jungle at Safari ParkHotMama Pick: Go see the lions towards the evening. During the hot day they are usually pretty boring, but as the sun is setting they come alive and even roar!! If you have never heard a lion roar in real life, it is a must! Wow! They are loud!!

See? Boring!
See? Boring!


That’s A Wrap:

So, the reason I did a combo of the Zoo and Safari Park is because they are both in San Diego County and if you buy a annual pass, you get access to both!! What I love about visiting the Safari Park and Zoo is that it not only gets the kids outside and burns energy, but it also is a great learning experience. I love listening to all the fun facts they retained and watch their love of animals grow with every visit. If you visit San Diego be sure to visit the Zoo and if you live in California, get a pass and have a blast!!

San Diego Zoo & Safari Park


I am a busy mama with 3 delicious babies and a serious itch for travel and writing (when I am not bartending, that is)! After graduating from Cal State San Marcos with a B.A. in Communications, I decided to start a family and pursue a career in freelance writing. I created HotMamaTravel as an outlet to do what I love while sharing useful travel tips and inspiration with others. Our mission is to show parents how to master travel with kids, while keeping your Saturday-night selves. We call it "Family travel...with a twist".


  1. I love the option of zoo passes. it means you don’t have to exhaust yourself in one day feeling like you have to see everything and that you have got your monies worth. Plus they offer a great option to amuse the kids for a few hours without having to fork out a fortune.

    • Yes! My Great Aunt lives near the Safari Park. So with the passes it is easy to take the kids for a couple hours in the morning to burn off energy before visiting my Aunt. When you don’t have to worry about paying with every visit, it makes quickie trips more manageable for sure!

  2. Pingback: Ultimate Guide to Mission Bay RV Resort with Kids - HotMamaTravel

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