Catching a glimpse of the lions and tigers and bears at the zoo is cool, but an encounter with them at a safari park adds that “Oh my!” factor they’ll never forget. These topsy turvy parks put people in cages (think: comfy, safe vehicles) while the animals roam freely… right up to your car door. Flip through to find a close encounter of the animal kind to share with your sidekick this spring.

Safari West

While a three-hour tour through the Sonoma wine country usually conjures up visions of gorgeous grapes ripening on the vine, a trek with Safari West will have you rethinking those expectations. Here, you and your petite posse will log serious face time with zebras, giraffes, water buffalo and any number of the other 800 animals that call this preserve home. Expect learning to happen too. The Safari West guides love actively engaging guests, promoting conservation and education efforts on their tours, as they expertly weave the open-air jeep in for a closer look. When tummies rumble, belly up to the Savannah BBQ Grill that overlooks the park; the authentic food, beautiful scenery and grown-up grape juice from the region hits the spot after a long safari.

Wildest Extra: A springtime, park-wide hunt for Mr. Hare brings families out in droves to this annual event.


Do you have a favorite animal encounter others should know about? Share your wildest pick in a comment.

— Allison Sutcliffe