Where the Wild Things are in San Diego
by Judy Manginella
Not every zoo lets their peacocks roam free but they do at The San Diego Zoo, one of the most progressive zoos in the world, with over 4,000 animals of more than 800 species. The San Diego Zoo was the organization that first worked to acquire the Panda Bears through China. They have been breeding Pandas for a couple of decades and have sent them to many other zoos around the world as well as back to China. As a matter of fact, the Zoo, as well as Safari Park has the largest and most successful wild and endangered animal breeding program in the world. They have saved the California condor, which was on the edge of extinction. They now have begun to release the birds back into California and Mexico. The zoo offers guided bus tours that traverse 75% of the park and “Skyfari”, an overhead gondola provides an aerial view of the zoo. So you don’t have to walk the entire property – though it is a pleasure to do so.
Habitats mirror (as close as possible…think polar bears in southern California) the animals natural environment and in many cases also contain plants and other animals native to the animals. The Zoo is organized in geographical areas ranging from an African rain forest (featuring gorillas) to the Arctic taiga and tundra (featuring polar bears). There is also one of the greatest collections of snakes and lizards as well as an incredible collection of monkeys, apes, and other primates. Some of the largest free-flight aviaries in existence are here. You are free to walk through them where the birds might zip right past your nose.
The zoo maintains its grounds as an arboretum, with one of the world’s greatest rare plant collections. They also raise exotic foods for the animals such as 40 varieties of bamboo for the pandas and 18 varieties of eucalyptus trees for the koalas.
Along with the “grab and go” eating opportunities for you, there is - in a tree house - Albert’s Restaurant. They offer full-service dining where you can enjoy open-air deck seating overlooking a private waterfall. The Chef prepared menu is served on china and linens, so in keeping with the old safaris of kings and nobles. Plus, there is a full-service bar with an extensive selection of craft beers, fine wines, and exotic cocktails.
The San Diego Zoo, unlike any other in the world, is a beautiful and interesting place to spend the day. Tickets are $42, seniors -$37.80, children - $32 per day, Tram and Skyfari fees extra. www.sandiegozoo.org
Just north on Interstate 15, about 30 minutes from our hotel, The San Diego Zoo also operates Safari Park, which displays animals in a more EXPANSIVE setting. The animals, often in herds, are outdoors in enclosures that are acres and acres in size. There is a Tram that will drive you out into the savanna to see the animals interacting with other species. It’s truly like being on safari in Africa. Safari Park also boasts an amazing botanical display with flowers and trees you have never seen. The Bird Show is wildly entertaining with their trained vultures, parrots and diving falcons. I love “Lolita” the parrot that sings “I Left My heart In San Francisco”. Be sure to visit the Lorikeet Enclosure and buy a cup of nectar for their enjoyment….of course NOT if you are afraid of birds, because these little suckers will be all over you looking to get their sugar fix.
If you don’t have a cup, they could care less about you (so if you are shy, don’t get the nectar but do enjoy the encounter). My favorite display is the elephants. There are probably 10 baby elephants cavorting about chasing each other, splashing in their swimming hole and chasing their moms with sticks.
For an additional fee, with reservations, you will be taken into the tundra where you can hand feed the giraffes and rhinos from the safety of a flat-bed truck – you’re also 4 feet higher to accommodate the giraffes. They love carrots and apples! You cannot imagine just how large a giraffe’s head is – not to mention its tongue! It’s a gorgeous place to spend the day. Park admission is $42 for adults, $32 for children and includes the tram ride. Wear sunscreen! www.sdzsafaripark.org