Weekend Trip: Vision Quest Ranch in Salinas

For a lucky few, an African wildlife safari is an unforgettable experience, but the cost and distance involved in traveling to the African continent to see lions, elephants, and zebras keeps most people from ever seeing these animals outside of a zoo or circus. At Vision Quest Ranch in Salinas, California, you can do just that, viewing the animals up close just two hours south of San Francisco.

Wild Things and Vision Quest Ranch are home to over 100 exotic animals including lions, bears, monkeys, hyenas, camels, and elephants. Promoting conservation and education, Wild Things offers educational presentations and group tours, and also runs a nonprofit elephant sanctuary. There are daily tours of the park, and several opportunities to get up close to the animals.

Book the Pachyderm Package and you can spend two hours bathing and grooming an African elephant; choose the VIP tour and you’ll also receive lunch and a visit with a capuchin monkey and one of the ranch’s small exotic cats. Or go big with the Full Contact package, in which guests receive a private full-day tour, interactions with several animals, and continental breakfast, catered lunch, and final wine and cheese reception. The packages range in price from $225 to $900.

And right next door, you can even stay overnight with the animals at Vision Quest Ranch. In addition to receiving discounts on the above packages, guests also get exclusive access to the resident animals. Each of the resort’s  bungalows sits on stilts in tall grass reminiscent of the African savannah, and most have clean sightlines to the elephant playground, where the elephants play with other animals like ostrich, zebra and camels. Each evening, trainers bring some of the ranch animals around to visit guests as they sit on their elevated decks.

And each morning, guests are brought continental breakfast by the trainers and some very special helpers – the elephants, whom the guests can hand-feed a morning snack of fresh fruit. For more elephant interaction, guests can also book the $20 per person Butch’s Bedtime Package. The highlight of the stay (for this writer, at least), this activity is only open to B&B guests and offers the opportunity to put the elephants to bed with an evening snack and plenty of hands-on feeding time. If you’ve ever wondered just how dexterous an elephant’s truck is, or what its tough grey skin feels like, the bedtime feeding will answer all those questions and provide an unforgettable memory of your stay.

While the animal encounters are the highlight of a stay at Vision Quest Ranch, the rooms themselves may also be reason enough to plan a weekend away. If you can ignore the paved driveways and parking spaces, you can almost imagine you are in a luxury tented camp in the African bush, especially when you hear the not-so-distant roars and grunts of the animals in the dark.

Each spacious tent has African-themed décor, a small sitting area, mini-fridge, heated bed and space heater, bathroom with shower, and of course, a small deck where you can sit and enjoy a snack or drink as you watch the animals below.

I was a guest of the resort, but my opinions are my own.