San Diego has two world-class zoos. The San Diego Zoo is in Balboa Park right by downtown and the airport. Meanwhile, the much larger San Diego Zoo Safari Park is about 45 minutes to the north. This is our guide to San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tickets. There is also a brief recommendation about Add-on Options.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in the San Pasqual Valley at the far northeast corner of the city of San Diego. Some of it is actually in the city of Escondido. The Safari Park was opened as the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1972. The name was changed to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2010. This new name better established its relationship with the San Diego Zoo. Both parks are operated by the San Diego Zoological Society.
The original idea was to use the park as a breeding and conservation facility. Planning started in 1964 with 1,800 acres set aside (about half remains undeveloped and set aside to preserve the natural landscape). In contrast, the San Diego Zoo is on about 100 acres. At the Safari Park, animals are free to roam about the open space with new enclosures.
For many years, visitors toured the Safari Park on a monorail that went through the park. By 2004, the monorail was constantly breaking down. It was replaced by trams that can move more freely.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is constantly evolving. In the past, it was often frustrating because animals could be hard to find in the wide-open space. Now there are plenty of well-designed enclosures that allow for a better viewing experience while still giving the impression of free-roaming animals in a natural environment.
There are also a large number of additional activities that are offered at the Safari Park. Thus, the first consideration in planning is what do you want to see and do? This will determine what ticket option you should pick.
Ticket options can be confusing. Luckily there are many discounts. You should never have to pay full sticker price to the Safari Park.
The basic price is $54 for anyone over the age of 12. Ages 3 to 11 cost $44. For $86.40 for adults ($76.40 children 11 and under) you can visit both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park once (or visit one of them twice). There is also a $149 ($139 children) pass that also allows you to visit Sea World.
Our first recommendation is to buy your tickets online (hopefully for a discount). The line to buy tickets can often be quite long. Buying online allows you to go right in. For many of the special add-on tours, you save up to $10 buying online versus buying at the zoo.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one of San Diego’s major attractions. It is basically a full day so the first thing to consider is what other attractions are you going to visit. If you are in San Diego for 3 or more days you should consider a Go San Diego Card.
The Safari Park is one of the premium attractions on the Go San Diego Card. The Go San Diego Card allows visitors access to up to 40 attractions for either 1,2,3,5 or 7 days. This is not a cheap option and we generally recommend it for 3 days or more where it is $209 adults/$189 children age 3 to 12. A 7-day pass is a very good value at $299/$269. The 3-day or more passes also includes admission to the very big attractions like the San Diego Zoo, Belmont Park, SeaWorld and Legoland.
If you are in San Diego for only a day or two you can still use the San Diego Go Card. This is through the Build Your Own San Diego attraction pass option. If you add two or more attraction you automatically get a 20% discount. We use this option frequently for many San Diego attractions, especially when we have out-of-town guests.
If you live in San Diego you should definitely invest in an annual pass. An annual pass for 2 adults in the same household is $166.50. Children age 3 to 17 are only $54. The catch? You need to live in a Southern California zip code.
If you plan ahead and shop around you can usually find online discounts for $5 to $15. This is especially true in the off-season. Groupon has had offers for $40, but they are not valid during the holidays.
The basic ticket gets you into the park and allows you to ride on the tram and see the animal shows. Parking is an extra $15 per vehicle or $33 for preferred parking. However, this is a place where you really want to plan ahead because there are all kinds of extra options not included with basic admission.
On another post, we look at all the add-on options for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Our recommendation for first-time visitors is simple. Stick with basic admission. Safe extra safaris for repeat visits.
The Safari Park has a ton of things to do see and do. It is also very spread out and involves a lot of walking (but really not much more than the San Diego Zoo). Most of the add-on activities will take up a good chunk of your day.
One activity that may be worth considering for a first-time visitor is the Balloon Safari. This ride is under 20 minutes and can provide great views. On many days, there is no wait. Prices vary by season, but usually, the cost for the Balloon Safari is $20 or less.
If you have younger children, of course, you may want to have them ride the carousel. This is only a small extra cost. Most of the major add-on attractions cost as much as, or in most cases, more than basic admission.
For more information on the basic attractions at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and suggested ways to plan your visit go here.
If you are trying to decide between the San Diego Zoo or the Safari Park read our suggestions here.
We also have some detailed walking guides to the Safari Park. Go here for an overview.