Tucked away in the mountains of Santa Rosa, California (Sonoma County), there is an animal preserve dedicated to the conservation of African wildlife. The preserve, Safari West, is open to the public and does an amazing job providing a safari experience in its own unique, not-in-Africa, way. We visited a few years ago, but I started to think about this place after having been asked recently by a mom with young kids where she can take her kids to see animals. Of course, in the Bay Area we have the Oakland Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, Happy Hollow Park and Zoo and numerous other places to see animals. All wonderful places that I highly recommend, but when you want to take it up a notch, there’s Safari West.
Safari West helps fund animal conservation projects which made me feel good that the money for admission was going to a good cause because this experience does not come cheap. We signed up for the Safari Adventure, which was a 3-hour riding and walking tour of which about 2.5 hours was the riding part. Once the tour was over, you can stay on the grounds and observe the animals in this area for as long as you want. We stayed for about an hour more and ate our picnic lunch by the flamingos. If you come here expecting an exact replica of an African safari, you will most likely be disappointed, but if you take this experience for what it is, a great way to be up close with African wildlife then you will truly have a special and memorable time.
I am no expert on safaris, but I’ve been on my fair share of them in Africa. When I was about 5 years old, my family and I went to live in Kenya for a year. My dad was asked by the Japanese government via the United Nations to help start a chemistry laboratory for a research institute in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a huge change for us, but we soon adapted, and grew to love the place and people. One of the experiences we absolutely couldn’t get enough of was going on safari. Whenever my dad had free time from work, he would take my brother and I (and mom too, of course) in his beat up car and drive us around Nairobi National Park. So many things my parents did sounded a bit questionable to the adult me now, but when you’re young, I guess you live life without worry (whether it be due to fearlessness or just plain ignorance 🙂 ). What if the car broke down in the middle of lion territory (they didn’t have cell phones back then)? How would we get help? Would the lions eat us? I guess the bottom line was we weren’t eaten by lions and we have great memories of our fun times on safari. These safaris helped instill in us a life long love and respect for animals. To see animals up close in their natural habitat was just thrilling. The excitement of being the first to spot an animal and then observe them as they went about their business was better than any TV show we could have ever watched. When I was in college we went back to visit Africa again on a month-long safari tour of all the big parks in Kenya and Tanzania. This was a trip of a lifetime and I will be forever grateful for my parents to have given me this opportunity. Someday I wish I could take my daughter to Africa and let her experience a safari, but it just isn’t in the cards right now. Thankfully, there are many places in this wonderful world that we can explore!
I don’t want to bombard you with pictures of animals, but that is the main attraction at Safari West. All the animals of which there are over 900, are extremely well cared for and are separated in groups that can coexist without eating or fighting each other. As required we signed up on-line before we got there so we knew what time our group was departing for the safari. We were loaded up on these viewing jeeps which fit 12 people and given the rules. These jeeps were so fun and we felt very connected to the animals, some even came right up to the jeep. The seats above the driver are the best seats in the jeep and the driver made sure we all got a turn sitting up there. Sure, the predators and prey were separated so there was no chance of seeing all of the unexpected activities of life that goes on in nature. However, spotting the animals and driving up close while in a jeep was thrilling. This was the feeling I remember from the African safaris!
After the jeep tour, we were lead by a tour guide on foot to the animal sanctuary area where there is an open air aviary, a cheetah viewing area and numerous other animals to observe. We were told we could stay and walk around this area for as long as we liked. We stayed for about an hour, ate our picnic lunch that we brought, and checked-out their gift shop. There is a picnic area near the flamingos where you can bring your food and eat, or guests of Safari West can reserve a meal ahead of time (on-line) at the Savannah Grill. Planning your food and drink before you get there is important.
There is so much to experience at Safari West, make sure to leave plenty of time. You can even reserve a night in a “luxury tent” and/or meals if you wanted more time there. The 400-acre Safari West provides a wonderful experience that “promotes conservation and environmental education.” Many people won’t be able to travel to Africa in their lifetime, but this private wildlife preserve gives people an idea of what it’s like. We left with a new appreciation of animals and felt good that the money we spent was going to a good cause. Truly an enjoyable day!
Location: Santa Rosa, California
Reservations: Safari West (online)
Cost: $93 for adult, $45 for children 4-12