San Diego zoo and safari park
Family friendlyblog.categories.trip-and-advice
Alice Padfield

What's the difference between San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park?

Though often confused as the same park, the two parks actually offer very varied experiences. We've broken down the main differences between the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park in several key categories so you can choose which park suits you and your trip the best.

Don't want to choose? With an Explorer Pass you can only pick one, but if animals are your thing, grab an All-Inclusive Pass and you can visit both! Plus, you'll get access to loads more top attractions, tours and experiences for a fraction of the cost. 

☀️Compare San Diego passes☀️ – 🌏 Explore other destinations 🌏 –  ✈️ Buy a pass ✈️

Location and getting there

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

One common misconception is that the Safari Park is near San Diego Zoo; on the contrary the Safari Park is not in Balboa Park but is actually a decent drive north of downtown San Diego.

San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park

📍 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, bike, walking or public transportation. While driving in downtown San Diego can be challenging, remember that parking is free at the zoo. It's also located near lots of other Balboa Park museums & attractions that are included on a pass so you can check off some other attractions while you're in the area.

📍 San Diego Zoo Safari Park location

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in Escondido, which is about a 40-60 minute drive north of downtown San Diego. Taking public transportation to the Safari Park is possible but it would likely be at least 2 hours each way from downtown San Diego. Plan on taking a car and be sure to factor in the extra cost of parking. Prices start at $20 for cars.

What's included with general admission?

San Dieego Zoo vs Safari Park

San Diego Zoo general admission includes:

🚌 Unlimited use of the Guided Bus Tour
🚎 Unlimited use of the Kangaroo Express Bus
🚠 Unlimited use of the Skyfari Aerial Tram
👩🏻‍🌾 Scheduled Zookeeper talks throughout the day
🦜 General admission exhibits and shows
🚘 Free parking

San Diego Zoo Safari Park admission includes:

🚌 Unlimited use of the Africa Tram.
👩🏻‍🌾 Scheduled animal shows throughout the day.
🦜 General admission exhibits and shows.

What animals do they have?

 San Diego Zoo and Safari Park comparison

San Diego Zoo

🐾  Animals from all over the world: polar bears, 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 the Safari Park to ensure that visitors see lots of animal activity.

🐾 Top exhibits & attractions:

  • Guided bus tour: narrated double-decker bus tour of the entire zoo.
  • Northern Frontier: 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, and meerkats, among others.
  • Lost Forest: home to tigers, hippos, monkey's gorillas and Scripps Aviary, this is one of the livelier exhibits.
  • Skyfari® Aerial Tram: take a ride over the exhibits for an aerial view of the zoo and surrounding Balboa Park.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

🐾  Animals from Arid Environments: these animals include rhinos, camels, cheetahs, gorillas, herons, 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 natural settings.

🐾 Top exhibits & attractions:

  • 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 viewing: visit the park's elephants and catch an educational talk at the amphitheater to learn about elephant care.
  • Gorilla Forrest: get an unobstructed view of the large and active gorilla family.
  • Lion Camp: see lions interact and play in their open space den.
  • Tiger Trail: follow the guided trail through the bamboo forest and see several Sumatran tigers along the way.

Comparing the Park Sizes

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

🌿 100 acres of animal exhibits
🐨 Over 3,700 animals and more than 650 species

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

🌿 1,800 acres of wildlife sanctuary
🐯 Over 2,600 animals and more than 300 species

We won't lie, you'll be walking a lot at both parks. The San Diego Zoo provides a convenient hop-on hop-off bus that takes visitors around to each area of the park and the Safari Park is significantly bigger, so one to think about if you're not up for much walking. 

Insider tips for visiting San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

San Diego Zoo

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 make a note of the exhibits you want to plan your day around.

👟 Wear comfortable footwear, pack a water bottle, and plan to do a lot of walking.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park tips

🔎 Bring binoculars, if you have them. Because the animals are in more open, natural settings, sometimes they're hanging out a considerable distance away from the viewing areas.

🚎 Get there early and do the Africa Tram ride when you first arrive. Wait times tend to increase throughout the day and are busiest around lunchtime.

👟 Wear comfortable footwear, pack a water bottle, and plan to do a lot of walking.

🦒 Don't miss Okavango Outpost restaurant, it has a unique vantage point where you can see the giraffes roam and be fed.

In summary – the biggest differences between the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo

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

San Diego Zoo: home to a larger variety and quantity of animals, and the guided tour bus and aerial tram ride are included. The park itself is considered a historic San Diego icon, located in downtown San Diego in Balboa Park.  The zoo is close to lots of other popular San Diego attractions and offers free parking to visitors, and is easily accessible on public transport. 

San Diego Zoo Safari Park: features a more specific focus on animals from arid environments. It's a larger park in size which requires more walking between exhibits, but a guided safari-like ride is included. It's located a 45-60 minute drive outside of San Diego and is harder to reach by public transport. 

So there you have it, all you need to know about the differences between the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park!

Can't choose? No need, see it all with Go City®

With an All-Inclusive Pass from Go City, you can visit both attractions for a fraction of the cost. Plus, you could save up to 50% on all your San Diego must-sees. Or pick an Explorer Pass, if you've chosen your fave and have a specific bucket list you're dreaming of ticking off. 

☀️Compare San Diego passes☀️ – 🌏 Explore other destinations 🌏 –  ✈️ Buy a pass ✈️

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