Zimbabwe in Our Backyard: Roar and Snore at San Diego Safari Park

Several years ago I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to South Africa and Zimbabwe on safari. It was a trip I wanted to experience with my family, and with Road and Snore I am now able to reminisce happily about both.

My wife, two teenage daughters and I arrived in Escondido late Friday afternoon and checked in at the San Diego Safari Park. We had done a day visit many years earlier, and it was a parallel delight to hear our daughters recall various aspects of the park after the intervening years.

The friendly staff gathered our bags, which we did not see until we found our tent a few hours later. After some preliminary introductions, we were led in small groups into the Park as day visitors were exiting. There is always something intriguing about being in a circumstance where you don’t feel like you are allowed, and the empty Park generated that feeling.

Indeed, when our guide mentioned that the Park was the inspiration for the Jurassic Park film franchise, the feeling was palpable. We climbed into the tram and began a trek through the deserted Park, with only the animals stirring. The long shadows of the golden hour heightened the sensation that we were thousands of miles from where we had been an hour earlier.

image2Giraffe, rhino, oryx, cheetah, camel, ostrich, meerkat, zebra, warthog and lion were in their habitat. It was spellbinding, and I was put in mind of rolling over the veldt in our Land Rover years ago a continent away. Although we did not get as close in the Park, the thrilling sensation of seeing the roving animals was palpable.

As the sun set we were provided a dinner of hot dogs and hamburgers, which did not quite match the haute cuisine of the finer safaris in Africa, but fit the bill for the many younger kids in the larger group.

The Park Rangers provided a few close encounters (a porcupine and an armadillo) which induced many grins, but were able to take one more visit to the Park. This time on foot, we seemed to be even closer to some of the animals. The six new cheetah cubs were as intrigued with the kids in our group as vice versa.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 10.17.46 AMScreen Shot 2016-05-15 at 10.18.30 AM

Upon finally visiting our tent, we were pleased with the balance of rustic and luxurious. Our premium tent ($220 per person) featured a roomy 12 x 16 foot interior, electrical outlets, a queen bed and two cots, wood floor and all linens. As such, we did not need to bring sleeping bags.

We had the requisite hot chocolate and s’mores around a campfire before lights out. Strains of Disney’s Lion King musical drifted into mind, pleasantly.

"When I was a young warthog...."

“When I was a young warthog….”

The elephants helped maintain the event’s nomenclature, with loud trumpeting after the camp went dark. Parents fulfilled the other half of the nomenclature.

The next morning started early, and those savvy enough to heed the early rise and shine were able to amble down to the Park for some great tiger sightings.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 10.15.45 AMBreakfast was short and sweet, allowing for more time in the Park. We cleared out of our tent, but with a hand stamp we had a full day with the regular Park visitors to spend more time exploring what we had not seen the night before.

All in, the Road and Snore is a memorable experience. It provides the right blend of comfortable and unique to remain a warm family memory for many years.

(photos by Brad Auerbach)

San Diego Safari Park

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.