Looking for info on glamping at Safari West?! We spent a night here not too long ago, and I’m here to give you my honest Safari West review! Was it worth it? What’s it like?! Keep on reading for my ultimate Safari West review — full of my favorite parts, things that could have been better, and all the planning logistics you’ll need for a night of glamping amongst the animals!
Itching to go on safari but can’t fathom spending 15 hours on a plane to Africa? I feel you. You’ll absolutely love the Sonoma serengeti (and yes, that’s what Safari West is called)!
If you live in Northern California (or visiting!), I can confirm that a night at Safari West is well worth it! I mean, an authentic African adventure right in the heart of California wine country sure sounds like an epic experience, right?!
When we had to unfortunately cancel our African safari due to the pandemic, we did the next best thing — a night glamping at Safari West in Santa Rosa! Although being here made me super antsy to get started planning our real safari in Tanzania… gotta get on that soon! Glamping at Safari West was actually part of our 6-month couples challenge — which I explain in some detail over here on my 101 in 1001 days list!
And better yet — this Safari West review is in no way, shape, or form sponsored in any way, so you know for sure you’re getting an honest review and if I felt it was worth the price. Not that I ever stray from the truth when an experience/stay is sponsored, but I just felt like I needed to tell you it wasn’t. 🙂
→ Read Next: The Ultimate Northern California Road Trip Itinerary
Overview of Safari West
What exactly is Safari West you ask? Good thing you’re reading this super-comprehensive Safari West review!
Safari West calls itself a Wildlife Preserve and African tent camp, and that’s exactly what it is!
For starters, Safari West is huge — nearly 400-acres in Sonoma County (yes, wine country in California!)! They’ve got both overnight stays (in luxurious glamping tents) and safari rides in jeeps (there’s about 1,000 animals here, no joke). It’s basically the closest you can get to Africa without a passport.
The facility was founded in 1989 as a private ranch for breeding and species propagation, and it’s only grown ever since. Now they offer close-up looks of the space to the general public, and accommodations to stay over.
Where is Safari West?
Safari West is located in the bustling little city of Santa Rosa in Northern California. It’s in Sonoma County, not far from the wineries everyone knows and loves up there. The wildlife preserve is actually kinda midway between Calistoga (in Napa County) and Santa Rosa (in Sonoma County), so it’s a super easy trip from either.
And what makes Santa Rosa a great spot for a safari?! Well, the weather’s pretty mild year round, the grassland and forest combo kinda resembles Africa, there’s lots of water (when we aren’t in a drought), and it’s wine country paradise!
I’m giving you travel time from lots of spots in NorCal below to show you just how accessible it is!
- From Sonoma Town: 45 minutes (28 miles)
- From Oakland: 1 hour, 15 minutes (70 miles)
- From San Francisco: 1 hour, 15 minutes (66 miles)
- From Sacramento: 1 ½ hours (95 miles)
- From Palo Alto: 1 hour, 45 minutes (105 miles)
- From San Jose: 2 hours (110 miles)
- From Mendocino: 2 hours (102 miles)
- From Santa Cruz: 2 ½ hours (140 miles)
- From Lake Tahoe: 3 ½ hours (210 miles)
- From Redding: 3 ½ hours
- From Yosemite: 4 hours (200 miles)
When to Go
Santa Rosa’s got a mild mediterranean climate, so it’s never a horrible time to visit! In general, the summers are long, dry, and sunny, while the winters are mild and somewhat rainy. But since I’m exceptionally wordy, here’s a proper breakdown for ya!
Spring: If I had to choose the best time to head over to Safari West and Santa Rosa in general, I’d most definitely say late winter to spring (late-March to May or so). The winter rains will most likely be over, the air will be crisp and comfortable with little humidity, and the temps won’t be scorching hot just yet.
Summer: Santa Rosa and the entire vicinity gets wildly hot in the summer months, so if sweating on safari doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, avoid the super hot temps of summer. And I don’t mean like mid-80’s or so, we’re talking easily 95 degrees, on average. It’s not on the coast like Mendocino or Santa Cruz, so unfortunately Santa Rosa doesn’t get that nice ocean breeze like other parts of Northern California.
For reference, we visited in early-August and it was BLAZING hot. My husband had planned this glamping trip as part of our 6-month couples challenge, so I didn’t have a say, haha. Although it sure felt like Africa in the baking sun!
Psst — if you do visit in the summer, I advise you to book the safari ride in the morning. We had a 2pm afternoon ride, and let’s just say thank goodness there was a shower in the tent for cooling off afterwards.
Fall: While normally fall would be a great option, the fire situation as of late has really put a damper on trips to dry, desolate areas with lots of forest. And that includes wine country up north. The entire area was absolutely devastated by wildfires a few years back, and while it’s almost fully recovered, you just honestly never know when a fire’s gonna strike again.
Before moving to San Francisco and experiencing the smoky air ourselves, we had zero clue there was actually a “fire season” here in California. If you’re traveling far to get to Santa Rosa/Safari West, avoid visiting mid-August to September/October (although fire season seems to creep up earlier and earlier every year).
Winter: I’d also avoid the winter if you don’t want chilly nights, although Safari West provides enough heat in the tent to keep warm and cozy (more on that below). Temps can drop to about 25 degrees on the coldest nights of the year (usually in December/January), so just be prepared with all your warm weather gear.
Winter (November to March) is also the rainy season here in Northern California, and who likes a soaking wet safari? But there’s far fewer crowds this time of year and rates will be lower, so that’s a plus!
How Many Nights to Stay
We thought just one night was sufficient. You’ll most likely only do one safari ride, and besides that and chilling out, there’s not a ton to do at Safari West. And plus, you may want real walls after waking up to the sounds of animals in the super early AM (expect to hear guinea fowl and flamingos chattering up a storm in the morning).
Since the glamping tent is kinda expensive (in my opinion), I wouldn’t recommend staying here extra nights solely for accommodation. If you’re spending additional time in wine country, there’s a lot of other (less expensive) hotel options out there!
Who is Safari West for?
We were traveling as a couple without any kids (as we don’t have any!), so my Safari West review is skewed towards an adults-only experience. But that isn’t to say everyone had or didn’t have kids with them!
There were quite a few kids at Safari West staying overnight, and a handful on our safari tour. Do note that children must be 4 years or older to participate in a Classic Safari, so those with littles may wanna wait until they can join in on all the fun. Although I’m pretty sure under 4’s can sit on a parents lap — the website doesn’t make it super clear. I’d double check and ask before booking.
I have a feeling my niece (5 years old) and nephew (8 years old) would have loved both the safari ride and staying in a tent, so I can 100% recommend this for a family with young kids. Teens? I’m honestly not so sure, haha — unless they’re wildly obsessed with animals.
Ethics and Conservation Efforts of Safari West
Animal tourism has gotten a bad rep lately — and I can obviously understand why. Whenever we travel, we do tons and tons (and tons, yes actually) of research… especially when it involves animals. We’re animal lovers at heart, so of course want to make sure the experiences we partake in are positive ones that don’t harm the animals in any way shape or form.
The mission of Safari West is “to actively promote conservation, environmental education, and share knowledge that will help each individual make personal choices in regards to the environment and conservation efforts.”
The one thing to note is that Safari West is a private facility, meaning they’re for-profit. BUT the larger foundation (Safari West Wildlife Foundation) is a 501(c) — a nonprofit organization created to support the objectives of Safari West. I read that Safari West is aiming to become a 501(c) in the years to come.
Safari West is fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which means they meet the “national” standard. AZA accreditation holds its member zoos to the highest standards of physical and mental care for wildlife — standards that are pretty much unachievable for the vast majority of zoos and wildlife parks/sanctuaries. So the fact that Safari West meets all these wildly high standards is amazing in my book!
I asked our guide a whole bunch of questions on the safari, and since Noah planned our weekend away, I did a lot of this research after the fact. Thankfully our guide was able to answer all my questions and I learned that Safari West aims to increase the gene pool of endangered animals — it is technically a breeding facility after all.
They do swap animals with other zoos/animal rescues (which I didn’t understand why at first), but it’s to increase the gene pool even further when breeding. And if the endangered animals go extinct in the wild, at least there’s the animal’s genetics still in captivity → which can then be bred, and then *fingers crossed* one day be released into the wild.
So after going on safari and talking to our guide, I felt okay partaking in the experience at Safari West. For starters, the larger animals were free to roam in their exceptionally large habitats, and these habitats mimicked the large open or wooded habitats the species would have in their natural environment (aka the wild).
There was absolutely no petting or feeding the animals, which is obviously a big no-no and a rule Safari West is super strict on (thankfully)!
I will say I didn’t particularly love the fact that some smaller animals were in smaller habitats, and this part felt kind of like a regular zoo (the walking portion of the safari — I’ll explain in more detail soon).
The Safari West Experience
The Rooms (Tents)
We spent a night at Safari West in one of their luxury safari tents, and it was (way) more spacious than I had originally imagined them to be. Honestly, I really didn’t know what to expect (we had never gone glamping before!), but the space was private, luxurious, and super comfortable! And we couldn’t see anyone else from our tent — only some animals!
This was a true glamping experience, complete with linens, towels, and toiletries waiting for us in our tent, as well as running water and electricity. Glamping at it’s best! The tent was decorated with touches of animal print but it definitely didn’t seem gaudy at all — kinda what you’d expect to find in Africa on safari!
It was honestly kinda like staying in a hotel, but not! And oh that KING-SIZE bed; it was so comfy we didn’t wanna get up in the morning! We slept so incredibly well — even my husband couldn’t believe it (he’s the last person you’ll find willingly camping).
Let’s talk a bit about the canvas tents, because after doing a bit of research, I just need to share! First off; all the tents are custom-designed with private viewing decks, polished hardwood floors, and even en-suite bathrooms. So no, you don’t need to leave your tent in the middle of the night if you’ve got to pee!
The heavy-lined safari canvas is imported directly from Botswana in Africa and the furniture is crafted almost entirely on-site from local wood. Talk about craftsmanship! We were able to roll up the thick plastic windows in the morning to let in all that gorgeous natural light.
Even if you’re not a fan of camping, I promise you’ll fall in love with your tent. It really didn’t feel like a tent at all, haha. And no, you don’t need to bring a sleeping bag, nor will you be sleeping in one (we slept peacefully in a king size bed!). Just remember the tents are literally in the middle of the wildlife preserve, so you’ll definitely hear all the wildlife sounds from your tent. Just something to keep in mind in case you’re a super light sleeper (bring earplugs!).
Do note there’s no AC/heating system in the tents themselves. Our room was equipped with a portable heater and electric blanket (yes, it’s a real thing, I had no clue!) in case the temps got chilly and we got exceptionally cold at night. Remember — we visited in August so thankfully the air never got cold enough to need extra warmth! But I loved knowing it was there if we needed it!
I didn’t realize that some rooms have way better views than others — after we checked in I noticed some rooms even overlooked the giraffes! And others had views of the lake! While our room was spacious and everything I imagined an African tent to be, I kinda wish the view was better!
One of the main reasons for coming to Safari West in the first place — to go on “safari”! I admittedly thought it’d be kinda cheesy at first, but we had a great time! Definitely opt to sit on the top of the safari truck — it was so fun!
The Classic Safari, what we were on, is a 3-hour excursion to get up close and personal with nearly a thousand animals. Well, we obviously didn’t see all 1,000, but definitely a whole lot!
The safari is organized into two parts:
- By foot on a safari walk (~45 minutes): see some of the smaller animals in their natural habitat, including some rare birds in the aviary, black-and-white colobus monkeys, and a parade of flamingos around the lagoon (they were so fun to watch)!
- By safari truck to explore the “Sonoma Serengeti” (~2 hours): this is where it really got fun! We spent a few hours on the custom safari vehicle pretending we were in the plains of Africa looking for animals! We saw zebras, blue wildebeest, African cape buffaloes, and so much more! Including a 5-day old buffalo hiding next to its mother, which was obviously oh so cute.
Did it feel like a real safari? Hmmm… yes and no. While we were sitting in an open-air jeep-style safari truck and looking out for animals, the guides kinda knew exactly where they’d be so there was no real shock to the animal spotting. But this just meant we were guaranteed to see so many! Our guide was super knowledgeable and we learned so much about the exotic and endangered wildlife at Safari West.
I will say the safari was kinda bumpy, so just know that in advance. Also, there’s no bathrooms on the tour, so go beforehand! If it’s hot out, definitely bring something to drink as there’s no stops for water along the way. Once you’re on the safari jeep, you’re on for the remainder of the tour (1 ½ to 2 hours) and there’s no going back!
Yes, you can actually take the safari tour without staying overnight in a tent, but you need to make an advanced reservation to tour the grounds (you can’t just pop in for a look around).
While the classic safaris are the most popular (that’s what we did), there’s also exclusive private wine and cheese safaris! Chardonnay and cheetahs? Yes please!
Animals at Safari West:
I was surprised to learn just how many animals are at Safari West in Sonoma! There’s nearly ONE THOUSAND animals living here, and about 90 different species! A lot of the animals are endangered, which makes sense because of the mission of Safari West.
Most of the mammals found here at native to Africa (think antelopes, primates, and predators), plus a whole slew of avian life from around the globe (in and out of the aviary)!
Some of our favorites were the caracal (those ears!), the masai giraffe, the vulturine guineafowl, the trumpeter hornbill (listen out for it — the sound it makes is WILD!), the red-ruffed lemur, the warthogs (reminded me so much of the Lion King!), and the crested porcupines.
While you won’t check off the “Big 5” on your safari at Safari West (there’s no elephants, lions, or tigers here), you can still see a whole lot. Expect to see zebras, blue wildebeest, giraffes (hard to miss those!), guinea fowl (walking around everywhere!), cheetahs, and lemurs to just name a few!
Food and Drinks at Safari West
All Safari West overnight reservations include a complimentary breakfast at the Savannah Cafe. Lunch and dinner are by reservation only. The food was pretty good, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. We of course took advantage of the breakfast (hey, it was free!), and had dinner here the night of our safari.
There’s a cute little snack shop, called Delilah’s with you guessed it — snacks and drinks (including wine and beer). Thankfully there were large water jugs over here that we used to fill up our water bottles before and after the safari. I told you we went on a scorching hot day, right?! Gotta stay hydrated!
S’mores by the fire after dinner are available just seasonally (I don’t know when…) and I’m so bummed we miss this. This girl loves a s’more (or two… or three). It just doesn’t feel like true camping, er glamping without roasting some marshmallows by the fire.
I recommend keeping it nice and simple and making a reservation for dinner at Savannah Cafe (and having breakfast here), but plan to eat your other meals elsewhere — you gotta check out before lunch the next day anyways. There’s lots of great food in Santa Rosa!
I won’t lie — Safari West isn’t exactly cheap. Although it’s definitely justifiable for a special occasion weekend or a one-time experience.
Overall, all things included (Classic Safari, one night of accommodation, and dinner), our 24 hours at Safari West was just over $800 for a Saturday night stay. Kinda steep, but it’s definitely not something we’ll be doing every month, haha.
The Overall Experience
Was the semi-high price tag worth it? I think so? It’s obviously way cheaper than jetting off to Tanzania, Kenya, or South Africa — that’s for sure!
While we had fun and an overall positive experience, I wouldn’t travel far to Sonoma solely for Safari West. Hey, I told you this was gonna be an honest Safari West review, didn’t I?!
- Less-expensive than a safari overseas
- A great weekend trip from the Bay Area
- Everything’s in one place and it’s such an easy way to feel far away without going terribly far!
- You get to don your safari outfit!
- Not many activities once the sun goes down (apparently they do marshmallows by the fire some nights but not the night we were there — to say I was bummed was a MASSIVE understatement)
- Some of the animals are in smaller habitats than I would have liked to see
- It’s expensive; there’s no way around that, especially for a larger family
What to Wear/Pack
Thankfully you don’t need to pack anything you’d need for a true camping experience — you can leave your sleeping bags and camping food at home! While Safari West basically has everything you need for the night, there’s a few things I recommend bringing for an even-more-comfortable experience.
- Cards or an ipad with an animal-themed movie for once the sun goes down
- Sunscreen and bug spray — 2 musts!
- Water bottle; gotta stay hydrated of course
- Camera with a fully charged battery!
- A fully-charged flashlight, although Safari West does have a few out for loan at the Front Office
- Drinky drinks! We brought along a few hard seltzers (and had a bottle of wine waiting for us in our room) so we were well-equipped for the night. Coolers are provided on the decks of the tent cabins and you are welcome to bring your own food to put in them for a late night snack. Although they don’t provide ice in the coolers, which I thought was a little odd, so if you wanna use them to the max, bring your own bags of ice.
PS: Your cell phone probably won’t have reception (there is wifi but it doesn’t extend to all the tents unfortunately). Kinda nice to just relax without service to truly get away from it all. But if you’ve got AT&T, you can expect to have at least some service — there’s now AT&T coverage here!
PPS: There’s no phone (or TV) in the tent. You can use the phone in the front office if you need to make a quick phone call.
What to Wear:
- Safari Outfit: Your most fun safari clothes! But keep them comfy and lightweight for the jeep ride! I wore a leopard-print midi dress, a cute felt fedora, and some animal-printed sandals! The next morning I threw on some cheetah-printed bike shorts and an oversized tee! Safari chic to the max! My husband went very literal and wore a short-sleeve button down with cheetahs all over!
- Shoes: Make sure you wear comfortable shoes for the walking portion of the experience! The ground wasn’t necessarily dirty but if I remember correctly there’s some dirt/gravel pathways, so while you don’t need to worry about ruining your shoes, I wouldn’t wear anything you’d be especially sad over. I wore sandals and was fine, but would recommend closed-toe shoes to keep your feet protected.
- Overall, I’d definitely dress in layers. Especially at night! Keep a jacket or light sweater close by, and if you’re visiting in winter, dress appropriately. It gets quite chilly over here from November to March-ish!
With that being said, I’m off to go make some microwave s’mores (and yes — they’re absolutely delicious!). Hope this Safari West review gave you lots of info and then some! When are you thinking of going?! Drop any additional questions down below in the comments section!