Like a journey to Africa, a day at this spectacular park lets you see some of the world’s most magnificent—and endangered—animals at close range and in expansive naturalized enclosures. A cart safari ride leads you past roaming groups of rhinos, gazelles, giraffes, and other species ranging freely through savannah-like expanses. African lions wrestle with their cubs in specially designed enclosures that look like part of the whole, but are safely contained from other animals. There’s plenty to see on foot too: the amazing Tiger Trail exhibit lets you get remarkable underwater views of Sumatran tigers swimming in the exhibit.
For even more up-close looks at the park’s animals, book a premium behind-the-scenes tour, or take advantage of unique experiences offered such as the Cheetah Safari, where you can watch as these amazing cats reach speeds of up to 70 mph, or the special Jungle Ropes Safaris, which are a great way for your little monkeys to burn off some steam. In the spring, at the Butterfly Jungle you can stand amidst 10,000 butterflies flitting and floating inside a tropical greenhouse during the roughly 3-week-long event in March and April. To see it all from a different perspective, static-line hot-air balloon rides and a long, long zip-line ride offer great views of the park and surrounding region. And for a California-style hint of what sleeping in the African bush might be like, Roar & Snore Safaris let you spend the night in large tents (some even have beds and electricity) at a campground overlooking the African Plains exhibit.
Come for the animals; then take time to see the plants. The park has extraordinary landscaped areas, all worth strolling. Especially beautiful in spring is the Nativescapes Gardens, focusing on drought-tolerant species adapted to the region’s sunny, dry climate. Free, guided tours are offered at 10 a.m. the second Saturday in April and May (allow about 30 minutes to get to the Nativescapes Garden entrance from the park’s entrance; find your way with this map).
Useful info: The park’s hours are Mondays and Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Individual safari tickets range in price from $50 to $150. Download the San Diego Zoo app to plan your trip and to better enjoy it once you’re there.