San Diego

Walk on the Wild Side on an Under-the-Radar San Diego Animal Encounter

Children take a tour of Birch Aquarium. (Photo: ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy)

Tired of the same old zoo? Most visitors to San Diego make a pitstop at the beloved San Diego Zoo, which, to be sure, is amazing. But fewer realize that this Southern California city is home to other, unexpected — and often, less crowded — places to get in the wildlife zone. Explore unique ecosystems and get up close to Mother Nature’s finest critters at these sights.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

With eight different safari preserves and 13 camps sprawling across 1800 acres, San Diego Zoo Safari Park houses more than 3500 animal species. Sign up for one of nine safari tours, like the Trike Safari, where you’ll explore the African Plains while cruising on a custom-made electric trike. Have time to spare? Join the Roar & Snore Safari, and spend the night in the park on an overnight adventure. The park also organizes multiple shows, such as animal encounters, a cheetah run and a bird show.

Birch Aquarium

Located at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Birch Aquarium allows visitors to interact with marine creatures, like hermit crabs, sea anemones, barnacles, and perhaps even a two-spot octopus. Visitors will leave the aquarium with a greater knowledge and appreciation for the conservation of the ocean and the local marine ecosystem.

SeaWorld San Diego

A classic theme American theme park, SeaWorld San Diego offers a unique attraction not found at other venues in southern California. For a bird’s-eye view of San Diego, take a ride on the park’s Skytower. You’ll glimpse Mission Bay, the sparkling Pacific Ocean and the city skyline. On a clear day, you can see up to a hundred miles in every direction. Other premium experiences like Dolphin Encounter programs are also available.

Living Coast Discovery Center

With a nonprofit aquarium and zoo onsite, the Living Coast Discovery Center in San Diego Bay’s Sweetwater Marsh Wildlife Refuge is one of the region’s most spectacular natural attractions. Visitors can get up close and personal with wildlife, like sharks and rays, at exhibits and feeding demonstrations. Check out the animals’ feeding schedules upon arrival.