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

Edited by: Rekha Rajan
Fact checked by: Jamshed V Rajan


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

Three wildlife experiences attract the most 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 ask: “Should it be San Diego Zoo or the Safari Park?”

This article compares San Diego Safari Park vs. San Diego Zoo 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 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 tickets
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.

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

Ticket Prices

Adult Ticket (12+ years): US$118
Child Ticket (3 to 11 years): US$108

Infants up to two years old can enter for free.

Don’t want to check out both the wildlife experiences and save money? 

Read our comparison of the two destinations, and book their tickets individually – San Diego Zoo ticket or San Diego Safari ticket

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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. 


San Diego Zoo is in Balboa Park, 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92101. (Get Directions)

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

The San Diego Safari Park is in Escondido, California. (Get Directions)

San Diego Zoo to San Diego Safari Park

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 US$20 per day. 

Preferred parking (a spot closer to the Safari entrance) is US$18 extra, so you pay US$38 to park your vehicle. Click here to know more about the nearby parking lots.

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

On busy days, you can avail yourself of the valet parking facility near the entrance. Click here to know more about the nearby parking lots.

Tour duration

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 the Safari Park and the Zoo.

Families with picnic baskets tend to explore the animal exhibits the whole day. 

Ticket prices

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have the same ticket prices and kids’ discounts.

Visitors aged 12 years and above must pay the full price of US$69 for their tickets. 

Kids 3 to 11 get a US$10 discount on the full ticket price and pay only US$59.

Note: The Zoo and the Safari Park tickets can be canceled up to 24 hours before receiving 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 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 Celsius (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 29K reviews against the Safari Park’s 4K reviews, indicating that the former gets far more visitors. 

San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park

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

How much crowd to expect

The San Diego Zoo receives 4 Million visitors annually, an average of 10000 tourists daily. 

During peak summer months this goes up to 15000.

The Safari Park receives far less in comparison – around 2 million a year, averaging 5,000 visitors per day. 

So, if you are not 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. 

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

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

The Zoo’s enclosed animal habitats ensure you 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


The San Diego Zoo has better transport options.

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

Skyfari at San Diego Zoo

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

Image: Sandiegozoo.org

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

Expect much 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

The Safari Park and the San Diego Zoo have many restaurants and food kiosks catering to all tastes.

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

If you are on a budget, you should pack your 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

# Gocity.com
# Lajollamom.com
# Flyingoffthebookshelf.com
# Tripadvisor.com

The travel specialists at TheBetterVacation.com use only high-quality sources while researching & writing their articles. We make every attempt to keep our content current, reliable and trustworthy.

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

Other zoos in California

# Los Angeles Zoo
# San Francisco Zoo

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