In yesterday’s American Nomad post , I shared my love for zoo-gazing – and my particular affinity for the Audubon Zoo  in New Orleans. Although I’ve considered it my favorite for years, I’ve discovered another winning choice near Los Angeles, one of my part-time homes. South of that sprawling metropolis and north of San Diego lies one of the most innovative zoological parks of its kind – the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park  (15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd., Escondido, 760/747-8702, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily mid-June-Aug., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Sept.-mid-June, $35 adults, $26 children 3-11, $6-14 parking), an 1,800-acre wildlife sanctuary nestled within the San Pasqual Valley.
Although it’s certainly not the cheapest of zoos, this unique experience is well worth the price of admission. Home to more than 3,500 animals and 1.5 million plant and tree specimens, representing more than 3,900 different species, this renowned sanctuary encompasses over 900 acres of protected native habitat. The Heart of Africa exhibit, for instance, contains forests and savannas ideal for the native inhabitants, from warthogs and ostriches to giraffes and cheetahs.
Other highlights of the park include the Elephant Overlook, which affords excellent views of these majestic pachyderms; the Hidden Jungle, a glass-walled rain forest exhibit; Condor Ridge, which nurtures California condors, desert bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, porcupines, and owls; and Lion Camp, a separate space for the African lions. My favorite features of the park include the Journey into Africa Tour, a guided 2.5-mile excursion of the African exhibit; the photo caravan safari tours, which provide an up-close view of many wild creatures; and Lorikeet Landing, where children and adults alike relish the chance to offer these kaleidoscopic birds a small cup of special nectar that’s sure to have the lorikeets landing all over you!
Now, if one animal park just isn’t enough, consider purchasing a San Diego 3-for-1 Pass ($115 adults, $92 children 3-11), which allows unlimited entry over a five-day period to the Wild Animal Park, the 100-acre San Diego Zoo  (2920 Zoo Dr., 619/231-1515, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily mid-Dec.-Aug., 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Sept., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Oct.-mid-Dec., $35 adults, $26 children 3-11) in Balboa Park, and SeaWorld San Diego  (500 SeaWorld Dr., 619/226-3901 or 800/257-4268, hours vary daily, $69 adults, $59 children 3-9, $8-17 parking) – each of which could occupy you for a full day – at least.
So, now that you know my two favorites, I’d like to know which American zoo tantalizes you most? Whether you’re a kid or a grown-up animal lover, I’m all ears!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.