A Christmas Adventure – The San Diego Safari Park

Another day, another adventure…

In case you missed the last two posts, you can catch up and read about our Christmas Adventure and why we thought it would be something fun to try. You will then know that we were in sunny San Diego and our first stop was the San Diego Zoo! Our second day found us adventuring at the San Diego Safari Park.

Since we went to bed fairly late the last two evenings AND spent 9 hours at the zoo the day before, we decided to let L get some well deserved zzz’s. We didn’t rush to get up and out the door to be at the Safari Park by opening, which was 9AM. Instead, we got up when our bodies were ready.

We decided to grab a quick breakfast, bring snacks, and buy lunch at the park. Dinner would be TBD, based on if they had regular or holiday hours. We found our way through the Gas Lamp district to West Bean Coffee Roasters for my beloved coffee addition. I’m always so conflicted when I go to a new coffee shop — try their drip coffee or try their mocha? It really is a case of first world probs. I happened to say that to the barista ringing us up, he graciously poured me a small taste of their drip coffee, which was really good with no sugar or soy added! I was excited that they sold homemade zucchini muffins (sadly with walnuts), it was really good.


The Safari Park is not really in San Diego, it is in a city about 30-ish miles away in Escondido, California. Thankfully, the drive was smooth and not too much traffic — thank to the holiday week, I’m guessing. We got there fairly quick and thanks to the signs posted, it was really easy not to get lost!

We knew it was going to be busy because of our experience at the Zoo the day prior and also because about a half mile from the entrance the road was bumper to bumper traffic going at a snails pace. Finally we made the left turn into the Safari Park. Signs suggested parking was $12, but on this day it was free. Score! We didn’t get to park close, nor did we attempt to see if there was valet parking. We just parked where we saw an open spot. It was a decent uphill hike to the entrance.

It was fairly chaotic at the entrance. Luckily, they scan tickets to get in so you can use your phone. Also, because I left the hard tickets at the hotel. Once we entered we were just as lost at the day before. We’d heard even less about the Safari Park (SP, here on out) versus the zoo. They had plenty of maps for everyone to grab, which is also just like the zoo. They are colorful, fairly easy to read (but not actually use), and can be helpful. They also had plenty of volunteers milling about in red shirts so we could ask them our hundreds of questions.

We knew we wanted to go on the African Safari and see the Cheetah Run, that was pretty much all we knew we had to get done for the day. Sadly, they didn’t have extended holiday hours. They were open until 5PM, as they always are. Thanks to the volunteers, we slowly made our way toward the African Safari with lots of different stops along the way.

The SP has plenty of opportunities to take pics with awesome sculptures, animals or habitats. They also have plenty of signage and notes and facts around to learn as well. We heard there were baby cheetahs in the nursery, so we very confusedly found our way there. But first we stopped to check out the bats. They smell GROSS! Like really gross, I could only last a few minutes in there. It was cool to see them up-close and to watch them sleep, it was almost kind of cute…but that smell was violating my nose!

The baby cheetahs were garnering so much attention we looked for a few minutes then gave up our spots to share with others. Right next door were cute little baby foxes on display. We watched them for a bit, one looked anxious or scared, the other one was running around and enjoying himself (or herself).

Even from the freeway and when you approach, you see a HUGE yellow balloon in the air. I guessed it was a hot air balloon. Once I realized it was in the SP, that was what I had to get on while there. No matter the cost, that was going to be my splurge! However, when we finally made it to there to buy tickets it was being closed, due to the windy weather. They said it could be awhile and they had to do a test run before they could even think about going up again with customers. So, we decided to satisfy our hunger and grabbed some food from the vendor right across the way — pork kabobs w/ corn ($10), nachos, and a hotdog for L. We also brought the rest of our snacks, so we added those to the mix too.

We checked one more time, just to see, but the yellow balloon wasn’t going anywhere. So we made our way to the African Safari Tram. We hopped in line, which looked to be about 1.5 hours of waiting. At that time we also saw a sign for a reserved viewing for the Cheetah Run (CR, from here on out). So J and L waited in line and I went to go look into tickets for the CR, but also noticed another sign that said you could pay to skip ahead in the African Safari Tram line!! As I came to the additional ticket window, which is right near the main entrance (which still has a huge part of the line snaked within it) of the African Safari Tram, I looked at all the options. It was in that moment, that I figured we didn’t have as long at the park that day and still wanted to a few things, I was going to splurge on paying to cut the line and for the CR.

By no means is it necessary to splurge on these things, but I chose too. If you get there at opening and plan correctly, this extra costs wouldn’t be needed. But hey, we’re on vacation and we didn’t spend too much at the zoo. Here’s the breakdown if you’re interested:

Africa Tram Reserved Boarding = $20/Person
Cheetah Reserved Viewing = $16/Person

Cutting the tram line was awesome. You show your ticket and they let you cut right into the next entry of the next tram. The trams aren’t the comfiest, but it’s still a really cool experience. Hopefully you don’t have to share yours with a family that doesn’t really care to worry about others personal bubbles 😉 Anywho, we learned that the acreage span of the African Safari is the same size as the actual SD Zoo. That gives you insight as to the entirety of the acreage of the SP. Also, and don’t quote me on if it’s the entire SP or just the African Safari area that it is three animals per acre. Which to me, sounds like a great enclosure ratio for animals, especially ones that are close to extinction.

We even saw a rhino running, which our tour director said doesn’t happen often. They are one of the few animals in the African Safari tour that don’t stick with their pack. Most often you’ll see the animals clustered together or on high alert together. But not the rhino, just chilling and doing it’s own thing. Exactly why I think it may just be my spirit animal! The ride went too quick, but was really enjoyable. We learned a lot and saw some very mundane animals. I immediately spied the yellow balloon going up, so after we exited the tram we scurried over to be on the next balloon up. Sad it is only a 10 minute excursion, happy that we didn’t have to wait long to be the next ones in line.

Balloon Ride, Adult = $20/Person
Balloon Ride, Child = $12/Child
It’s not a hot air balloon 🙁 But it is a cool faux hot air balloon. It utilizes a pulley system, which I’m guessing gives the operators more control over the attraction. Imagine a walkway in the shape of a donut — you can walk around the entire, enclosed donut. The bottom half is fully covered with metal, then there is a bar to grab onto, then the entire top is enclosed with rope to keep people safe. You can walk around the entire donut, but have to excuse yourself as you pass others. Some were scared into one spot and others were roaming around. You could walk around then entire time, but most stood still on the ascent and descent. It was a gorgeous view of everything, but not too many animals could be seen. I did enjoy seeing the lazy lion in plain sight from above. It was a cool experience and I’d suggest trying it!
It still wasn’t 3:30PM yet and we had some time to kill before the CR. Also, L was getting really cranky and to prevent a meltdown we decided to chill out a bit. We all had to use the restrooms, so we hiked up a huge hill to the nearest restrooms near the ‘Roar & Snore’ area, which is where the yurts/tents are for the people who are spending the night stay. The bathrooms were just as awesome as the zoo’s, super clean for public bathrooms. This one was my favorite, because the hand washing station was outdoors and open with a view!
After we took care of business, we found a bench that overlooked the African Safari area. We ate snacks, rested our toes, and hung out. After some time here, we went down to take a look at the super lazy lions, where again we found a bench and parked it…while also people watching! After a bit, I went to investigate when we should be ready for the CR and bought an ice cream! J and L met me at the check-in line, since we were cutting it close.
The area for the reserved CR is right at the beginning of the run, even though it was suggested we stay at the end. But we’d already paid for the reserved area, so we went with it. If you don’t want a spoiler alert to how this works, then jump ahead. But if not, then I’ll let you know how it works. We had no idea what to expect, only that a cheetah was going to run a 100 yards. As it got closer to the time a small little cart arrived and backed up into the gated area. Two trainers and a dog were in there too. Inside a closed with drapes and a metal cage area, the cheetah resided until it was time. Another trainer was speaking to all of us, saying that the cheetah is raised with and lives with a dog from birth, they basically live together their entire time at the SP. The dog being an ambassador of the zoo, to help domesticate the cheetah, I guess.
There is a pulley with a stuffed zebra on the end. That sits at the beginning of the run, it is then pulled and the cheetah will chase that. First, they let the dog do it, while the cheetah watches. Then it’s time for the cheetah to do the same. I wanted to enjoy every minute of it, so I didn’t have my phone out on the original run. Also, in hopes of it going a second round — which we heard might be a possibility. WOW! What a sight to see! It was so cool and so quick. The trainer could barely hold the cheetah in the cage, it wanted out so bad. After it was evaluated, it as announced that the cheetah recovered enough to go again. Before they re-caged it, they stopped in a few spots so everyone could see it before the next run and it got plenty of treats — raw meat, I think!

The second run I decided to record it, but really focused on listening to the the animal. The trainer said you could hear the paws if you listened. You literally could. Also, I got the best slow motion video ever! I’m not sure you have to pay for the cool view, but we weren’t mad that we did. It also meant we didn’t have to sit around for 30+ minutes to save a good seat/view!
After that we just wandered around the safari park, looked at animals when we found some, and meandered through and around. We wanted to make sure L had some time to shop for souvenirs, so we headed toward the exit. We stumbled upon a sign for beer tasting, but it was too late to partake. We all were pretty exhausted and I knew we had a decent drive back, so I grabbed a coffee. And the coffee cart sold donuts, so I had those too!!
The souvenirs weren’t that great. A lot of repeats from the zoo. L noticed a really cute frame, a little kitschy, but cute and ended up being half off! Holler, baller-on-a-budget. I guess it was part of the centennial discounted merchandise! She grabber herself some cool new shades and we said goodbye to the SP for the day!
We were all starving! We decided to check out Little Italy for some good ‘ol Italian food. We made a resie via Open Table somewhere, but when we got there the menu was small and we weren’t feeling it. As bad as I felt, we left before anything was served to us. We then found our way across the street at Buon Appetito. This was also recommended by a HS friend, but said to be expensive. We looked at a few other places, but decided to come here. Luckily it was still early and they squeezed us in. We also chose Little Italy, because it had the place we wanted to go for dessert afterwards!
Their bread was huge and lovely, served with a marinara that had a kick. So I asked for butter instead 😉 They don’t have a kids menu, but they will make a kids pasta, however the kid wants — which is really cool in my book! L went with her trusty butter and noodles! J went with the lasagne and I went with one of the specials Cannelloni di Carne. Sadly, J did not like his — too many chunks of veggies, but I thought it was decent. However, mine was AMAZING! Luckily there were three, so I gifted one to J. The ‘pink’ sauce as they deemed it, was amazing. I even used some of L’s noodles to make sure none of it went to waste. Writing about it is making my dang mouth water! We decided to walk to the next location…
Extraordinary Desserts! I’ve seen some of these on Instagram, but the pics don’t do these creations justice. They are huge, they are gorgeous, and they are food porn at its best. Also, everyone else and their Mom knows this, so it was packed. We decided to order ours to-go and enjoy it, relaxing in our hotel! So many options, I changed my mind three times. I finally decided on the Choco danish, J went with the Strawberry Danish, and L went with the flour less choco cookie!
We were dying to eat them, but patiently waited until we got back to the hotel. We even tried to order forks to use to eat them, but couldn’t wait. Even though my danish wasn’t freshly baked, it was still really, really good. It wasn’t too dried out and the choco to pastry ratio was just right. I didn’t even get a bite of J’s because he devoured it so fast. L loved her cookie and saved half for breakfast the next day. J and I also shared some wine we’d bought when we got our snacks on the first day. We didn’t feel like it, but didn’t want to waste an entire bottle. That’s too awful to think about.
Back-to-back days walking, non-stop and seeing all the cool sights left us exhausted. I think we were all really having a great time, yet our bodies needed a break. With the hoopla of Christmas activities, straight to SD was a lot for all of us. Every moment and memory was worth it, we were glad to be resting and enjoying the evening in our hotel room.
I still can’t decide which park I liked best. None of us could, we all kept going back and forth. Each one offers a completely different experience, both independently are amazing in themselves. SD is know for a handful of things, but the Zoo and SP are two that are worth the hype. They aren’t as expensive as people may lead you to believe. You can do both on a budget and survive and not feel like you don’t have enough money to pay your bills once back at home. I was hoping it would be super warm, since Sac is cold and dreary. But it was really brisk and cold some of the days. Toward the end of the trip it started to warm up and shorts in December is really winning in my book!

We still had one more day in sunny SD, so there is still one more post to come, which will finish out our Christmas Adventure!

Two Days + Two Different Adventures = 3 Happy Humans

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