An African Family Safari in California’s Wine Country?

Several years ago while camping in the Serengeti of Tanzania with my family, I turned to my wife and told her “doesn’t this feel just like Safari West?”   As the words came out of my mouth I realized how special the about 400 acre hideaway nestled between Santa Rosa and Calistoga at the northern tip of California’s wine country really was.  To have the experience that Peter and Nancy Lang have created at Safari West (www.safariwest.com) so close to the true African safari experience is truly amazing.  (Peter is the son of famed Hollywood director Otto Lang who ‘se work include classics like “Daktari,” “Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “Flipper,” and “Sea Hunt.”)  It’s no wonder we’ve visited Safari West at least a dozen times in the past decade and recommend the experience to all our friends.

When you step out of your car at Safari West you can expect a few things, your cell phones don’t work, you won’t find a TV and you can get ready for a wild exploration of the “Sonoma Serengeti” – the closest thing you’ll get to Africa without a passport.

Safari West is not a zoo or a theme park and not a drive through park.  It is an authentic African Wildlife Preserve and African Tent Camp. Founded in 1979 as a private ranch for breeding and species propagation, my wife refers to the experience as “bourgeois camping” complete with hot showers and heated blankets.  Safari West is a private facility whose primary focus is on conservation through education. They opened to the public in 1993 and have had overnight accommodations since 1999 in real safari tents.

Adventure abounds as you set out in rugged, open-air safari vehicles in search of zebra, blue wildebeest, springbok, Cape buffalo, kudo and more.  Crossing terrain that ranges from steep and rocky to rolling savannah, the journey transports you to an environment much like the exotic and untamed lands of Africa, with herds roaming virtually undisturbed over hundreds of acres.

Unique to the Safari West experience is the opportunity to get close to the animals who origins span the entire African continent, but are found here all in one place!  This diverse species integration, as well as the freedom to move throughout a natural environment, allows the animals to maintain many of their wild instincts and behaviors.  What’s more, you’ll have the opportunity to observe animals such as the scimitar-horned oryx, Nile lechwe and addax which are highly endangered and rarely seen in the wild.

While traversing the natural landscape, highly experienced guides share fascinating stories about the collection of over 700 animals, as well as tales of their exotic counterparts in the wilds of Africa.  During our drives, we’ve encountered Cape buffalo charging up hillsides, seen white rhinos basking in the sun, impala leaping over logs and steams and a herd of wildebeest galloping across the horizon.  One more than one occasion we’ve found ourselve eye to eye with a towering curious giraffe.

The safari adventure also continues on foot with an exploration of the aviary which houses an international bird collection.  You’ll also be able to take a closer look at smaller animals such as African Spurred tortoises, fennec foxes, and Indian crested porcupines. My daughter’s absolute favorites are a pair of antelope (Blue Duikers) no larger than a small puppy.  You’ll spot cheetahs stretching their powerful legs and watch primates enjoying their lush habitat on Lemur Island.

You can make it a day trip, but spending the night hearing all animals through the night makes it a truly “I want to visit again” experience.  My family highly recommends you experience Safari West firsthand.