The sheer amount of African wildlife at Safari West will amaze even seasoned safari-goers. Giraffes, rhinos, zebras, gazelles, bongos and other incredible animals roam rolling hills and woodlands in this expansive Santa Rosa park, a 11/2-hour drive north of San Francisco in Sonoma County.
The Sonoma Valley park first opened in the 1990s, when an exotic animal enthusiast turned a former cattle ranch into a conservation breeding facility. The founder had developed his love of wildlife after watching his father direct TV series such as Daktari and Sea Hunt. Today, nearly 1,000 creatures make a home here, including plenty of birds such as cranes, flamingoes, ostriches, and storks.
A typical visit begins when you board a small vehicle to tour the park with your informative guides. Given the sprawling layout and nature or the park, you never really know what will be around the next corner. Beyond the wildebeests, warthogs, and lovebirds, there will likely be some creatures new to you, too—like the hooved nyalas and the tufted-ear wild cats called caracals.
For a closer look, book one of the Private Experiences—just you and a guide in a jeep—or Wild Adventures, such as the behind-the scenes Rhino Encounter or Cheetah Barn Visit. Some experiences are just for adults, too, like the Winos & Rhinos excursion, or Fast Cats Alley, in which you get close enough to cheetahs “to hear them purr.” For an unforgettable experience for the whole family, consider an overnight stay in a safari-style tent with plush beds and private bathrooms—plus a natural soundtrack outside that’s straight out of the Serengeti.