San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park – which is a better wildlife experience?

More than 20 million tourists reach San Diego annually to experience the city’s attractions and experiences. 

Three wildlife experiences attract most of these visitors – the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Safari Park, and SeaWorld San Diego

However, some get confused between the Zoo and the Safari Park. 

Tourists on a budget holiday or those with only a few days in the city usually end up asking: “Should it be San Diego Zoo or the Safari Park?”

This article makes a San Diego Safari Park vs. San Diego Zoo comparison and helps you decide. 

For a quick overview, check out the video below:

Why not San Diego Zoo and Safari Park?

If you have time on your hands, and budget isn’t an issue, it is best to try both the wildlife experiences. 

The travel time between the two wildlife destinations is approximately 45 minutes, but you don’t need to visit them on the same day. 

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park combo ticket. Image: Sandiegoing.com

This Safari Park and Zoo combo ticket helps you save 20% on the ticket costs and gets you one entry into the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park and San Diego Zoo.

If you don’t want to try the second location, you can visit the same attraction twice.

Adult ticket (12+ years): US$ 100
Child ticket (3 to 11 years): US$ 90

Don’t want to check out both the wildlife experiences and save money? Check out our comparison below, and book one of these tickets.


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San Diego Zoo vs. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Not sure if you want to visit both the wildlife attractions of San Diego? 

No worries. 

Here is a point-by-point breakdown of the differences between San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. 

Location

San Diego Zoo is in Balboa Park, at 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92101. 

This is right in the city, so you don’t need to make elaborate arrangements. 

The San Diego Safari Park is in Escondido, California. 

It is 48 km (30 miles) northeast of the San Diego Zoo, and depending on the time of the day, it takes 45 to 60 minutes to travel from the Zoo to Safari Park.

Car Parking

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s parking costs $15 per day. 

Preferred parking (a spot closer to the Safari entrance) is available at $18 extra, which means you pay $33 for parking your vehicle. 

At the San Diego Zoo, visitors can find plenty of free parking slots in front of the Zoo and free to use. 

On busy days you can avail the valet parking facility, from near the entrance.

Tour duration

Both the wildlife attractions open at 9 am, and that’s also the best time to visit them. 

Visitors tend to take four to five hours to explore both the Safari Park and the Zoo.

Families with picnic baskets etc., tend to spend the whole day exploring the animal exhibits. 

Ticket prices

Both San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have the same ticket prices and kids discount.

Visitors aged 12 years and above must pay the full price of US$ 60 for their tickets. 

Kids 3 to 11 years old get a US$ 10 discount on the price of the full ticket and pay only US$ 50.

Infants two years and younger enter the attractions for free. 

Note: Both the Zoo and the Safari Park tickets can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund.

> Buy San Diego Zoo ticket

> Buy San Diego Safari Park ticket

Weather to expect

San Diego Zoo is within the city, and thus visitors can expect the much cooler sea-side weather. 

However, the Safari Park is in Escondido, around 32 km (20 miles) inland.

As a result, the San Diego Safari Park is usually 5 to 7 degrees Celcius (10 to 14 Fahrenheit) warmer than the oceanfront San Diego Zoo.

Tripadvisor Ratings

Both San Diego Zoo Safari Park and San Diego Zoo are rated 4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor. 

However, the Zoo has 28K reviews against the Safari Park’s 4K reviews, indicating that the former gets far more visitors. 

Both of them are Tripadvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Certificate winners.

How much crowd to expect

The San Diego Zoo receives 4 Million visitors in a year, an average of 10000 tourists every day. 

During peak summer months this goes up to 15000.

The Safari Park receives far less in comparison – around 2 Million a year, averaging 5000 visitors per day. 

So if you aren’t much of a crowd person, opt for the San Diego Safari Park. 

Trivia: San Diego Zoo is the most visited Zoo in USA.

Wildlife viewing experience

The 1,800-acre Safari Park houses more than 2,500 animals of 300 species in wild, open field enclosures. 

Animals out enjoying the sun in the open enclosures of the Safari Park. Image: Visitoceanside.org

Spread over 100 acres with more than 3,500 animals of 800 odd species, San Diego Zoo is a little more compact. 

The Zoo’s enclosed animal habitats ensure you get to see more of them in a shorter duration. 

Visitors who have been to both say, walking through the San Diego Zoo is like walking through a real forest.

They found the San Diego Safari Park and its animals more spread out and open. 

Tip: The Safari Park is a much more adventurous trip with additional paid activities such as Zipline Safari, Baloon Safari, etc. Find out more about Safaris at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Transport

The San Diego Zoo has better transport options.

Visitors take the free 35-minute Guided Bus Tour to understand the Zoo’s layout.

They also use the Kangaroo Express Bus to move around the wildlife outposts and the Skyfari aerial tram to go from one end of the Zoo to the other. 

Image: Sandiegozoo.org

However, the Safari Park is more a walk-and-explore attraction. 

Expect a lot of walking at the Safari Park since their animal exhibits are further apart than at the Zoo.

A 30-minute Africa Tram Safari does come for free with the Safari Park ticket, with which you can see 25% of the park on wheels. 

Tip: Some tourists feel San Diego Zoo is better for kids.

Food options

Both the Safari Park and the San Diego Zoo have many restaurants and food kiosks, catering to all kinds of tastes.

Visitors who have been there feel that the food prices are high. 

If you are on a budget, you may want to pack your own food and drinks because there are enough places to have a sit-down lunch. 

So what will it be? San Diego Zoo or Safari Park?

If you have made your decision, go ahead and book your tickets in advance. 

Purchasing your tickets online is better for three reasons:

  • Online tickets are cheaper than the price you pay at the entrance
  • You don’t wait in the ticket counter queue and waste your time and energy
  • Tickets on-site get sold on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. Booking your tickets online (and in advance) ensures a guaranteed entry

Popular attractions in San Diego

# San Diego Zoo Safari Park
# San Diego Zoo
# SeaWorld San Diego
# Legoland California
# USS Midway
# San Diego Cruise

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Uplabdhi Kamboj: She believes that the world is full of must-see places and must-do adventures, and has a never-ending list of places she wants to visit. Driven by a passion for the outdoors, she connects better with nature, and wildlife more than Museums and monuments. Favorite Cities: Cape Town, Kathmandu, Hanoi, Reykjavik, Vienna

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