Tag Archives: San Diego for families

You say safari, I say Photoshop

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Other times, the photograph needs an explanation. Such is the case with the photo evidence from our visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the zoo’s facility in Escondido where animals such as elephants, giraffes and antelope species have a lot more room to roam about. The idea is it’s like you’re on a safari. We walked among the lemurs, rode a tram to see a cheetah and rhinos, and fed nectar to beautiful rainbow lorikeets. Mostly, the day went as planned, but I’m not gonna lie. There were a few Griswold moments.

Leaping lemurs! 

Leaping lemurs! This photo was totally worth $20. It's going to be our Christmas card this year.

This photo was totally worth $20. It’s going to be our Christmas card this year.

Here we are cavorting with the lemurs! I don’t know what it is about attractions, but super-imposing animals into photographs has become a thing. They do this at SeaWorld, where the photo looks like you’re holding a baby penguin, and also at the San Diego Zoo. Outside the entrance to Lemur Walk they make you stand a certain way, cradling your arms or throwing your shoulder back just so, then one of the hired photographers takes your family’s picture and hands you a photo card with a bar code on it. Lo and behold at the end of the day when you go to the photo booth to see your portrait, it’s as if you’ve been cast into a non-cartoon remake of Madagascar. Naturally, it’s so cheesy you shell out the $20. It should be noted that the real lemurs inside the exhibit do not pose like in the picture. Mostly, they sleep up in trees.

You lookin’ at me, kid?

Bennett stares down a lorikeet.

Bennett stares down a rainbow lorikeet.

We moved on to Lorikeet Landing to hold these colourful birds. The things is, they won’t hop onto your arm unless you buy some nectar to feed them. So here’s Bennett trying to pet a lorikeet that kept hopping away from him. Finally, he put his arms down and the bird looked at him as if to say, “So, um, where’s my food dude?” It goes without saying I immediately exited the exhibit to purchase two dose cup-sized servings of liquid sugar. I think it keeps the lorikeets sane (or at least stops them from pecking your eyes out).

Redneck safari

Bennett channels his inner bumpkin boy on the Africa Tram.

Bennett channels his inner bumpkin on the Africa Tram.

To say that Bennett can sometimes be difficult at the most inopportune times is an understatement. The kid excels at it. So there we were not three minutes in to our 30-minute tram safari when Avery and Bennett start fighting. More specifically, Bennett decides to repeatedly push Avery for no apparent reason. I separate them by sitting between them and then I try to distract Bennett by pointing out the rhinos and elephants and giraffes.

Bennett: “I have to go pee.”

Me: “You’ll have to wait.”

Bennett: “I’m hungry.”

Me: “You just ate lunch. Look at the animals.”

Bennett: “I don’t like this shirt.”

What can you say to that? But Bennett had a plan. He took his shirt off and completed the safari in true NASCAR-fan style. Later, at the splash park, he ran around until his shorts and underpants were sopping wet. I guess I should be glad he didn’t have a tantrum somewhere for good measure.

But all of these silly incidents are what we’ll remember most when we think about the safari park in years to come. What’s more, we’ve got photos that perfectly illustrate our weird and wonderful safari adventures.



Tide pool discoveries in San Diego

“I got you!” Bennett says to the shore crab that I’m helping him hold in his hand. The small crustacean isn’t sure about his human captor and, after a minute, happily scuttles back into a sandstone crevice along the cliff wall at La Jolla Cove in San Diego, Calif.

Bennett holds a small shore crab at La Jolla Cove.

Bennett holds a small shore crab at La Jolla Cove.

It’s low tide on a sunny afternoon and we’re thrilled to discover numerous crabs, small fish, sea anemones and hermit crabs sheltering in deep pools along the rocky point that comprises one of San Diego’s toniest neighbourhoods. Many people come here to snorkel, sunbathe or watch the colony of harbour seals capering just offshore on Seal Rock, but after a morning boogie boarding in the waves at La Jolla Shores, Avery is ready to catch crabs and Bennett is content to repeatedly poke Nemo’s home (a sea anemone) to make it close up.

Avery plumbs the depths of every tide pool at La Jolla Cove.

Avery plumbs the depths of every tide pool at La Jolla Cove.

Avery has been a tide pool girl since last summer’s trip to Indian Arm fjord near Vancouver. This is the first time Bennett has shown interest in holding or touching sea creatures and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because they are sedentary and trapped in a pool; thus, he can torment the sea anemones and they can’t get away. Regardless, I love that they both love it, and it takes me back to my once-upon-a-time dream of becoming a marine biologist, a fleeting career aspiration that had more to do with how cool it sounded than the actual study of ocean critters.

Several days later we head to the tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of Point Loma, where Europeans first set foot on the West Coast of the United States. I have never been to this park (entrance costs $5 per vehicle) and though we arrive early, the tide has already risen substantially, making access to some of the tide pools slippery and dangerous.

A rising tide at Cabrillo National Monument means limited access to tide pools and a couple of nerve-wracking cliff walks.

A rising tide at Cabrillo National Monument means limited access to tide pools and a couple of nerve-wracking cliff walks.

We manage to see the usual suspects of crabs and sea anemones in some of the permanent pools in the middle zone, where the water is trapped and never drains out. It would have been nice to have made it for low tide, when a small beach is revealed below the cliffs, as well as numerous pools sequestering sea stars, eels and even octopi. Next time!

The family crowds around one of the middle zone tide pools to see a blue sea anemone. Avery feeds it a crab.

Avery, Bennett and Blake crowd around to see a blue sea anemone.

Tip: Consult a tide chart before heading out to San Diego’s tide pools. Low tide is best, and in many areas viewing is even better if it’s a “minus tide” (I have no idea what that means… lower than average?).

“And this is the San Diego Zoo?”

Our family travelled to San Diego earlier this month to fulfill Bennett’s wish through the Rainbow Society of Alberta, an agency that grants wishes to children with chronic or life-threatening conditions (Bennett has a genetic condition). We wished for a trip to San Diego because, at the time, the Calgary Zoo was still (mostly) shuttered after the flood and Bennett had been devastated about his favourite Calgary attraction being closed all summer. Since the San Diego Zoo is one of the world’s best, we felt that a trip to “America’s Finest City” to see its collection of animals, including Bennett’s faves — hippos and gorillas — would cheer him up.

Avery and Bennett pose outside the San Diego Zoo.

Avery and Bennett pose outside the San Diego Zoo.

In the lead up to the trip I created a social story for Bennett all about San Diego. It showed him where we’d be staying and what we’d be doing, such as going to the beach (with a picture of La Jolla Cove) and visiting the zoo’s Safari Park (with a picture of a safari jeep surrounded by giraffes). I included pictures of koala bears and panda bears in the story, and it talked about how we’d be seeing a lot of animals in San Diego. The social story didn’t mention the zoo specifically, only because ever since the Calgary Zoo re-opened in November Bennett has been weird about it — desperate to go but simultaneously scared about some of the animals and buildings.

Bennett marvels at a polar bear playing and eating carrots at the San Diego Zoo.

Bennett marvels at a polar bear playing and eating carrots at the San Diego Zoo.

Of course, when we first found out our wish-trip to San Diego had been granted Blake and I had gone on and on and on about the San Diego Zoo, but after the excitement simmered down and Bennett’s Calgary Zoo phobias surfaced, we were careful not to mention the San Diego Zoo by name. During April and early May we talked in code, referring to it as : “a place with animals,” an “animal park” and a “panda bear and koala bear place, with monkeys and stuff.” For all Bennett knew we were going to San Diego to see some guy’s private exotic animal collection.

Bennett and Avery stand pretty and proud as peacocks to be at one of the world's best zoos.

Bennett and Avery stand pretty and proud as peacocks to be at the world’s best zoo.

The day of our zoo visit we drove to Balboa Park, parked the car and started walking toward the entrance. Out of nowhere Bennett said, “And this is the San Diego Zoo?” I laughed. “Yes, Bennett, we’re at the San Diego Zoo!” “Yay!” He somehow knew exactly where we were without us telling him.  We were thrilled he was excited and not at all scared — evidently, we were being careful for no reason. After that he pretty much dictated where we went inside the zoo, based on what he wanted to see: peacocks, flamingoes, hippos, gorillas, all kinds of monkeys, lions and elephants. We also saw lots of animals Calgary doesn’t have, such as polar bears, orangutans, koala bears and tasmanian devils.

Bennett loved watching the orangutans and the polar bears, and especially the male silverback gorilla, who was eating a head of lettuce and who actually stopped what he was doing to stare directly at Bennett a couple of times (“He’s looking at me!”). He also adored the Skyfari (a sky ride that spared us walking from one end of the gigantic zoo to the other) as well as the double-decker bus tour, which gave us the lay of the land first thing in the morning. Avery loved all of the Australian critters; Blake and I were in awe of the lush gardens everywhere and the quality of the animal habitats — the elephants’ enclosure covers an area of three acres because the pachyderms walk 10 miles a day, and the gorilla troop lives in an Eden of trees, verdant lawns and waterfalls!

Aping around on a gorilla at the San Diego Zoo.

Aping around on a gorilla at the San Diego Zoo.

It was a great day and I can’t think of a better wish for our own little gorilla-boy, who got so tired walking all over the zoo to “see something else!” that he’d hit a wall by 3 p.m. (Blake nearly had to carry him out). We got Bennett what we think is an appropriate souvenir — a zoo ball-cap with his favourite animal on it. We can’t thank you enough, Rainbow Society!

A gorilla ball cap for Bennett.

A gorilla ball cap for Bennett.