5 Reasons Why San Diego is an Animal Lovers Paradise
The words “San Diego” might not conjure up images flora and fauna in the same way that words like “Serengeti” or “Alaska” might, but this Southern Californian city is in fact one of the USA’s prime holiday destinations for animal lovers.
A city of over 1.3 million people isn’t an obvious choice for an animal safari, but the wealth of conservation projects, wildlife sanctuaries and stunning natural scenery in the vicinity of San Diego mean that it should not be discounted. The city is right on the Pacific Coast, meaning it has the largest ocean in the world on its doorstep, while further inland you will find the stunning Jacumba Mountain habitat. Flights to San Diego are available from all over the USA and Europe, making the city a supremely accessible holiday destination.
Read on for more reasons why San Diego is an animal lover’s paradise.
It’s one of the premier spots on the West Coast for whale watching
Every February, San Diego bears witness to one of the most beautiful occurrences in nature; the mass migration of the California gray whale. These majestic creatures were hit hard by the whaling industry that took off in the 18th and 19th centuries, but thanks to conservation efforts, a population of over 20,000 gray whales exists to this day off the Western Seaboard.
Spots such as Point Loma’s Cabrillo National Monument are ideal locations to view this incredible spectacle. Better yet, numerous boating companies in San Diego itself can take you onto the ocean for a closer look!
Of course, whales aren’t the only thing you can spot out here on the ocean, there are a range of other species that call this place home too. One of the most common is the seal, which are abundant in the area. Seal spotting tours depart daily from the city and are a great way to while away a few hours in the company of some charming sea creatures.
It boasts the area’s largest safari park
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park – formerly the San Diego Wild Animal Park – covers an impressive 1800 acres and boasts over 300 separate species of animal. Found near Escondido on the outer limits of San Diego, the park is one of the biggest tourist attractions in California.
The park is divided up into seven main habitat areas, including the Tiger Trail, Asian Savanna area, Gorilla Forest and Condor Ridge, each one carefully designed to be as similar to the animals’ natural environment as possible. As you would hope from such an animal-orientated attraction, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park team is at the forefront of local conservation efforts. The team started their captive breeding program for the Californian Condor in the 1980s, and this program has proved instrumental in increasing the numbers of this beautiful bird of prey in the wild.
Though the park is a little way outside the city, it is easily accessible from your base in San Diego. If you’d like to spend longer exploring the Escondido area – which includes one of only three Buddhist monasteries in the U.S. – Hipmunk.com can help you find flights to San Diego as well as hotels in the vicinity.
It’s the perfect place to do some good
San Diego is the ideal place to lend your hand to a good cause. Project Wildlife has been operating since 1972, and helps to care for and rehabilitate around 9,000 sick, injured or vulnerable animals each year. While the project does employ its own staff, it requires public donations and the assistance of volunteers to continue with its sterling work.
Those interested can donate to the project via its website, or visit Project Wildlife’s dedicated Wildlife Triage Center on Sherman Street in San Diego. The center is open everyday, closing only for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, so you can visit, speak with staff and witness first-hand some of the project’s incredible successes.
If you have more time in the area and would like to lend a hand, the center welcomes volunteers. For more information on the project, and to see how you can get involved and help out, call their team on 619 225 9453.
It has the Torrey Pines State Reserve right next door
Towards the southern edge of San Diego’s city limits is the rugged coastline of the Torrey Pines State Reserve. This sprawling, 2000-acre site is home to a range of Southern Californian fauna, including coyotes, bobcats and foxes, and is a prime place to explore the region’s natural geography.
Trails wind their way across this landscape, making it ideal for hikes of any length. Just remember to wear supportive footwear, stay hydrated and tell others where you are going. The area – while overseen by the National Park Service – is still a wild and unforgiving coastal region, which can be dangerous for inexperienced hikers. Always stick to marked trails, and stay clear of loose rocks and earth on the cliff edges.
It boasts one of the West Coast’s best aquariums
San Diego’s Mission Beach area is home to the major tourist attraction of SeaWorld, but for those a little uncomfortable with watching majestic ocean creatures jump through hoops for entertainment, the Birch Aquarium offers a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the wildlife beneath the waves.
Loacted on Expedition Way, La Jolla, not far from the Torrey Pines Reserve mentioned above, the Birch Aquarium lists its mission goals as “to provide ocean science education, to interpret the research of the Scripps Oceanographic Institute and to promote ocean conservation”. The facility features a range of exhibits spanning 60 different ocean habitats, and is among the most comprehensive marine exhibition centers in the USA. The Birch Aquarium is open daily between 9am and 5pm. Tickets are available online.
Hopefully these reasons have inspired you; so what are you waiting for? Grab a flight, head to San Diego and indulge your passion for wildlife.
If you’ve visited San Diego, or have anything to add to our list, don’t forget to let us know!
John Burns is a teacher, traveler and writer. His work appears on Hipmunk.com.