Don't have the time or the funds to go to Africa for a safari? California has the next best thing! Safari West is a short drive from San Francisco and has some of the best-known animals and birds from Africa PLUS some very unusual ones.
We stayed overnight in one of their luxurious tents. Forget the rigors of camping and having to use a community restroom, etc. The "tents" are spacious with a large private bathroom (shower, no tub), and comfortable plush beds. The decor is rustic but totally comfortable with unique, original African artifacts. The walls/ceiling are heavy canvas but, other than that, you forget you are in a tent. The days are pretty warm during summer but the nights cool down for a really comfortable night's sleep. (The beds have dual-control electric blankets.) There is a really efficient space heater but the bed linens are such that you probably won't need the heater or the electric blanket at all.
There are numerous windows for daytime ventilation, and don't forget the view! It seems that every tent has a good view of the area housing giraffes, various antelopes and gazelles, and colorful birds.
After the tour, we had dinner in the outdoor seating area where a buffet is set up. The food was plentiful - you can go back as often as you like - including soup, salad, grilled chicken and b-b-q, steamed veggies, a rice dish, mac 'n' cheese, soft drinks, and a great dessert. Alcoholic beverages are available.
If you prefer restaurant dining, Safari West is about 20 minutes from a wide variety of dining choices in either the town of Calistoga (micro-breweries and TONS of Napa Valley wines) or Santa Rosa, a larger city with even more choices.
The safari tour includes a walking portion which takes you through an aviary, the primates exhibit (lots of unusual monkeys), also cheetas and servals. The driving portion of the tour takes you up close and personal with the giraffes (one came over to within touching distance to get his picture taken), numerous varieties of antelope and gazelles, wildebeests, water buffalo and even a curious feral pig who has "adopted" the place and came over to the truck to say "hello".
You don't have to stay overnight or partake of the lunch or dinner but it makes the perfect all-around safari trip to do so. There are numerous package choices on the website www.safariwest.com which offers choices of either the tour, dinner or lunch, over night in tent or cabin (which has a kitchenette w/microwave, mini-fridge, etc.) so you can go just for a wonderful daytime tour or enjoy the entire experience.
There are no lions or tigers (no "man-eaters") and no elephants ("they would de-forest the entire place within a month"). But everything else is totally fascinating.
I went on an actual African safari last Autumn in South Africa. I was not at all disappointed with the time spent at Safari West. A WONDERFUL get-away, right near home!
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