Best 10 Differences Between San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park

San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park

San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has animals from all over the world, including Australia, Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, and more. Whereas the Safari Park also known as a wildlife park focuses on animals from mostly arid environments, like the African and Asian Savannas. Visitors can easily spend a full day seeing all the animals at each park.

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo, located in Balboa Park, California, covers 100 acres and houses over 4,000 animals of 650 species. It pioneered open-air, cageless exhibits, famously housing and breeding giant pandas before their repatriation to China in 2019. With over 4 million visitors in 2018, it’s the most visited zoo in the US, acclaimed globally and accredited by reputable organizations like AZA and WAZA. Operated by San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, it also manages the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park.

Safari Park

Safari Park

A safari park is a commercial tourist attraction resembling a zoo, where visitors can drive through or ride in vehicles to observe freely roaming animals. It is larger than a zoo but smaller than a game reserve, focusing on conservation efforts for endangered species such as elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, lions, tigers, cheetahs, and wild dogs.

Hours spend at San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

The Zoo and Safari Park are about 30 miles apart. Although anyone can enjoy at both parks full day or more, to visit with limited, we suggest a minimum of 3 to 4 hours to see some of the Zoo and a minimum of 5 to 6 hours to experience a part of the Safari Park.

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

Though often confused as the same park, the two parks offer very different experiences. We’ve broken down the differences between the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park into different categories so you can choose which park suits you and your visit to San Diego best.

1. Location: Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park

  • Safari Park is much larger than San Diego Zoo, with Safari Park covering 1,800 acres and the Zoo being approximately 100 acres. However, the walking areas accessible to the public at Safari Park are only about 20% larger than those at the Zoo.
  • Most of Safari Park’s land is dedicated to habitat conservation, and only around 80 acres are open for public walking, while the remaining areas are reserved for guided tours or closed to the public entirely.

2. Size: Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park

  • The San Diego Zoo spans approximately 100 acres, offering a compact and walkable experience for visitors. In contrast, Safari Park covers a massive 1,800 acres, but only around 80 acres are accessible to the public, featuring diverse exhibits and safari-like environments.
  • The rest of Safari Park’s land is dedicated to conserving wildlife habitats, particularly the endangered Southern California Coastal Sage Scrub. Guided truck tours and the Africa Tram provide access to the park’s large field exhibits, while other areas prioritize breeding and conservation efforts. Despite the significant size difference, the public walking areas at Safari Park are only slightly larger than those at the Zoo.

3. Animal Collection: Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park

  • The San Diego Zoo spans around 100 acres, hosting a diverse range of animal species in a compact and easily accessible setting. In contrast, Safari Park, covering 1,800 acres, prioritizes larger African and Asian animals, providing expansive open-air habitats that mimic their natural environments.
  • The Zoo efficiently showcases a variety of animals from different continents within its smaller area, while Safari Park’s vast size allows for specialized habitats to cater to majestic species like elephants and giraffes.

4. Exhibits: Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park

  • The exhibits at the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park showcase distinct differences. At the San Diego Zoo, visitors can experience more enclosed exhibits that offer up-close views of various animals, allowing for intimate encounters.
  • On the other hand, Safari Park focuses on providing larger open-air enclosures that closely mimic the animals’ natural habitats. These expansive habitats create a more immersive and authentic experience, giving animals like elephants and rhinos the space to roam freely and behave as they would in the wild.

5. Landscape: Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park

  • The San Diego Zoo’s allure lies in its meticulous design, featuring carefully curated lush landscaping and picturesque gardens that adorn the pathways, enclosures, and public spaces. The meticulously manicured greenery and vibrant floral displays create a captivating and inviting ambiance for visitors, providing a delightful backdrop as they encounter a diverse array of animals from around the world.
  • On the other hand, Safari Park’s vast acreage embraces a more untamed and rugged landscape, emphasizing the preservation of the natural wilderness experience. The sprawling open spaces, rolling hills, and rugged terrain mirror the animals’ native habitats, allowing them to roam in settings reminiscent of their wild environments.
  • This focus on a more authentic natural landscape enriches the experience for guests, immersing them in an environment that fosters a deeper connection to the wildlife and their conservation efforts. Both San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park offer unique and complementary experiences, with the former highlighting carefully crafted beauty and the latter showcasing the raw and untamed beauty of nature.

6. Experience: Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park

  • The San Diego Zoo offers visitors a classic zoo experience, boasting a rich and diverse collection of animals and attractions from around the globe. Guests can explore a wide array of exhibits showcasing creatures of various species, providing an educational and entertaining experience for all ages.
  • In contrast, Safari Park offers a thrilling safari-like adventure, immersing guests in a setting that closely resembles the animals’ natural habitats. With opportunities for close encounters and exciting safari tours, visitors can connect with wildlife on a more intimate level, enhancing their appreciation for these magnificent creatures.
  • Both parks share a deep commitment to conservation, actively working towards preserving endangered species and their habitats. However, the San Diego Zoo takes conservation efforts a step further with its strong focus on research and education.
  • Through robust research initiatives, the zoo contributes to scientific understanding and conservation efforts, playing a vital role in protecting vulnerable species and their ecosystems. By actively engaging in educational programs, the San Diego Zoo aims to raise awareness among visitors about the importance of wildlife conservation, inspiring them to take active roles in environmental stewardship and contributing significantly to the preservation of wildlife and their habitats.

7. Transportation: Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park

  • At Safari Park, guests can hop on a convenient tram system to effortlessly explore the park’s vast grounds, which span across a large area. The tram offers a comfortable and informative ride, making it an excellent option for those who prefer not to walk long distances.
  • On the other hand, San Diego Zoo’s layout is designed to be more walkable, allowing visitors to stroll through the various exhibits and attractions, providing a more intimate and up-close experience with the animals.

8. Unique Attractions: Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park

  • San Diego Zoo boasts unique attractions such as the enchanting Giant Panda Exhibit, where visitors can marvel at these rare and beloved animals, and the thrilling Koalafornia Adventure, which provides an immersive experience with adorable koalas.
  • In contrast, Safari Park offers its distinct highlights, including the Africa Tram, a guided tour through sprawling savannah-like habitats where guests can observe African wildlife, and the exhilarating Flightline Safari, an unforgettable opportunity to soar above the park’s landscape and enjoy breathtaking views of its natural beauty and diverse wildlife.

9. Accessibility: Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park

  • The San Diego Zoo enjoys a more central location within the city, offering convenient access to visitors from different areas, making it a popular choice for those staying in and around San Diego.
  • On the other hand, Safari Park is situated in North County San Diego, making it a convenient option for visitors in that region or those seeking a more immersive safari-like experience with its vast open-air habitats and guided tours through natural landscapes.

10. Ticket Prices: San Diego Zoo vs. Safari Park Are Equal…Almost the Difference between the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park

  • Gate prices for both the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park are $67 for adults and $57 for children, but discounted tickets can be found through sellers like Ares Travel. The San Diego Zoo offers more exhibits and free “rides” with admission, while Safari Park provides a spacious and immersive experience.
  • The San Diego Zoo ticket includes free parking, and a guided zoo bus tour is recommended. The Kangaroo Bus saves time and energy, and the Skyfari Aerial Tramway offers stunning views. Keeper talks are typically free with entry, covering various species.


In conclusion, the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park offer distinct and complementary experiences for visitors. The San Diego Zoo provides a traditional zoo setting with a wide variety of animals and attractions, while Safari Park offers a safari-like adventure, immersing guests in natural habitats. Both parks are committed to conservation efforts, but the San Diego Zoo places a stronger emphasis on research and education.

Ticket prices at the gate are comparable, but Safari Park has a parking fee, whereas parking is free at the Zoo. Whether one chooses to explore the lush landscaping and unique exhibits at the Zoo or wander through the untamed landscapes of Safari Park, both destinations promise unforgettable encounters with wildlife and a memorable journey into the world of conservation and nature.


The San Diego Zoo vs the Safari Park have significant differences in size, with the Zoo covering 100 acres and the Safari Park being a massive 1,800 acres. Despite the size difference, both parks have similar walking distances between animal exhibits.

Yes, a safari is often considered better than a zoo because it offers a genuine experience with animals in their natural habitats, surrounded by exotic plants and breathtaking landscapes. Booking a safari in Africa can be a truly awe-inspiring journey that fills you with a sense of wonder as you explore the beauty of the wild.

San Diego Zoo is considered the best because it spans 100 acres, houses over 12,000 rare and endangered animals, displays 600 different species, and boasts a lush jungle environment created by 700,000 types of plants.

No, San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park are not the same. Although they are both part of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance nonprofit organization, they have distinct differences. San Diego Zoo is situated near downtown San Diego and houses more animals in a smaller area. On the other hand, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, located in Escondido, focuses on larger African and Asian animals and covers a significantly larger acreage.

Both the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park are exceptional, but the better choice depends on your preferences and location. Consider the unique animals you want to see; for example, polar bears are at the Zoo, and platypuses are at the Safari Park.

If you’re in Coronado, the Zoo might be more convenient, while visitors in North County San Diego might prefer the Safari Park.

Your decision can also be influenced by special experiences you desire, like feeding a rhino on the Wildlife Safari at the Safari Park or learning about the largest koala colony outside Australia with the Koalas and Friends Inside Look tour at the Zoo. Both parks offer unforgettable adventures, so enjoy your visit!

Both parks are fantastic, and your choice depends on your preferences and location. San Diego Zoo has polar bears, while Safari Park has platypuses. If you’re in Coronado, the Zoo might be more convenient; for North County visitors, Safari Park is a good option. If you want to feed a rhino, try Safari Park’s Wildlife Safari; for a koala experience, visit San Diego Zoo. Both parks offer unforgettable experiences, so enjoy your visit!

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