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A TASTE OF AFRICA: Safari West awaits in Sonoma Valley


209 Living

SANTA ROSA — Wine tasting in the Sonoma Valley can be an adventure.

Safari West — the ultimate in Napa-Sonoma Wine Country wildlife — offers private safaris complete with wine (or beer tasting) on the 400 acres that compose the Sonoma Serengeti.

Be forewarned. It could set you back the price of a bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon (the Napa Valley wine costs $2,280) for a weekend booking. The tab is $11,702 for up to eight people with two levels of wine tasting at either $34.49 or $47.50 per person. The basic safari price for eight is $962 for Monday through Friday bookings.

Is that a tad too expensive for your taste? But consider this: Safari West boasts of nearly 900 animals and over 90 species heralding from Africa.

Besides where else just a couple of hours from the Central Valley can you go to watch herds of zebras roam, listen to the serenade of wildebeests, see cheetahs on the prowl and have giraffes making eye-to-eye contact with you as you sit on the second level of an open safari vehicle?

Safari West is the creation of Peter and Nancy Lang. They chose the Sonoma Valley for their unique adventure given its forests and grasslands are similar to parts of Africa and the weather is ideal.

Peter is the son of Otto Lang who once directed TV shows such as “Daktari”, “Flipper”, and “Sea World”. Nancy was once the curator of the avian collection at the San Francisco Zoo.

Given that $2,800 for a day of wine tasting might be a bit too much if you can’t get seven adventurous friends together to split the bill, Safari West offers regularly scheduled two hour tours of the 400 acres that take you across rugged back country to take in the animals. And thanks to the open layout you never see the same combination of animals on one trip to another.

Safari West is open year round. The safari when it is booked between June and August during the week costs $98 for adults, $94 for seniors and teens, and $45 for children who must be 4 years or older. The Saturday and Sunday charge jumps to $115 for adults, $100 for seniors and teens and $50 for children.

Safari West earned the No. 4 spot on this year’s USA Today listing of the top 10 safari parks in the country. It has a lot to do with the setting, the attention given to the animals, and the experiences available. It doesn’t hurt that it is in the fabled Sonoma Valley.

The tour is a wildlife photographer’s dream and resonates with young and old. But perhaps more intriguing than a spin around the Sonoma Serengeti with a well-versed guide at the wheel of the safari vehicle is the ability to spend the night in a tent cabin.

Keep in mind this is not the tents you book in Curry Village or whatever lawyers these days are dictating what the popular destination in the Yosemite Valley is called this week.

This is full-scale glamping where nature meets modern luxury. While the walls (and ceiling) are made of heavy canvas, there are hardwood floors, and luxurious accommodations – the beds and the furnishings are way above Motel 6 pay grade and even make a Best Western seem Spartan. There are even bathrooms.

There are no TVs and such but then again who needs the distraction? You will be serenaded by the wild things as you drift off to sleep.

And be prepared for darkness. Thanks to the location of the tents and the surrounding hills you can savor stargazing that is impressive from the convenience of your tent’s private balcony.

The overnight rate is fairly reasonable. The 30 plus tents start at $285 and go up to $350. For those that aren’t thrilled by canvas there are two cottages available that rent for $350 a night. Overnight guests can book breakfast and/or dinner plus campfire chats.

If you want to take the two-hour safari definitely book in advance. Departure times are 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.

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