San Diego Zoo Safari Park, San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, CA, USA
The San Diego Zoo is renowned for its beautiful grounds, varied species, and amazing programs for kids and adults alike. But what we’re currently obsessing over is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where visitors can feed giraffes, get up close with cheetahs, camp overnight in safari tents or even host a wedding. Yep, you read that correctly. You can host a wedding at the 1,800-acre safari park near Escondido that’ll have your guests thinking they’ve unknowingly been transported to the plains of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The park is home to more than 3,000 animals as well as various unique event spaces that each set wild, scenic backdrops for weddings. Between the Mombasa Pavilion overlooking a lush, tropical lagoon, the manicured lawn with arching trees above the Hunte Nairobi Pavilion, and the thatched roof pavilion in the middle of the African Plains where wildlife roams, there are plenty of spectacular sites to host your wedding celebration.
Photographer Shelly Anderson recently captured a wedding that took place at the latter space, known as the Kijamii Overlook, and today shares her photos of the event along with her take on the venue. To read up on what a wedding at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park looks like, hop on into this Q&A session we had with her.
Photography by Shelly Anderson
Tell us about the couple! Why did they choose this venue?
Most of my couples that choose to have their wedding at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park pick this spot because of their love for animals. The zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park do amazing conservation work, especially with endangered animals. Plus, the couples (and all their guests!) get to have rhinos, giraffes, and antelope in the background as they exchange their vows. All wedding guests are invited to explore the park before the ceremony start time if they'd like. Once the festivities begin and the sun starts to set, the venue overlooks the waterhole and grazing area for the animals at a time of day when they are most active!
This venue is pretty unique – What was your favorite spot to shoot?
I always love shooting at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. My favorite spot to take couples is a short walking distance away from where they say, "I do," near the “Roar n Snore” tents. There are safari-style tents that are used for campers to spend the night at the park. It’s near the lion encounter, so they actually get to hear lions roaring in the middle of the night! This area in particular really adds to the safari theme of the venue. but really anywhere around the park is great for photos since they have so much vegetation around!
Any experiences the safari park offers guests?
The zoo offers lots of education on the animals that are around the venue, as well as all-day zoo passes to all wedding guests if they arrive earlier in the day! They have a shuttle that brings you back to the parking lot when the night is over, which is fun to cruise through the park during the night hours when all of the regular park visitors are gone and the animals really start to get active.
What was your favorite moment of the day?
My favorite moment of the day is during cocktail hour when the safari park does an animal encounter experience for the couple and their guests. It usually involves four different animals that they bring out, and if you’re lucky, the last animal is a real treat. They have an excellent cheetah program at the park, and usually one of their trained cheetahs (and their best dog friend) will come out to greet the newlyweds. The speakers do a great job of educating the guests about these animals and answering any questions they may have. They focus heavily on the conservation aspects of the zoo and all they have done for the animals.
What is your #1 tip for other couples looking to have their wedding here?
This space is very open-ended for decor and has massive potential. This venue is definitely unique and EVERY guest that pulls up is in awe and immediately starts taking photographs of the giraffes and the scenery! It’s easy to run with the "animal" theme, but instead, I think some great and unique florals can really add to the space. There’s also a great area by the firepit that makes a fun lounge area, which would be perfect for some fun rentals and design pieces!
Want to see more wedding venues in San Diego? Check out our top picks here.