What traveling family doesn’t long to see Paris?Explore Africa on safari?Luxuriate on a dreamy Hawaiian island?But these trips require a boatload of cash, not to mention a raft of vacation days—you can’t get to Tanzania if you only have a weekend. Don’t let such constraints keep you grounded. Instead, conquer the world starting closer to your own doorstep. Here, our favorite substitutes for the classic big-ticket trips
Instead of an African Safari, a Californian Safari
No wonder giraffes look sleepy: they get by on about 20 minutes of shut-eye a day. And the oryx, a desert antelope, can survive for 10 months without a drink. Even more astonishing?You can pick up tidbits like these, while satisfying your gang’s Serengeti longings, with a stopgap trip to Santa Rosa, California’s Safari West (3115 Porter Creek Rd.; 707/ 579-2551; safariwest.com; safari, adults $62, kids $28; tents from $225). Tucked into the hills of Sonoma’s wine country, this privately owned wildlife preserve is devoted to research, breeding (check out the baby buffalo, cranes, and giraffes), and public interaction. On arrival, you’ll head out in a vintage jeep driven by one of the khaki-clad guides—some of them sporting bona fide South African accents. Your mission: to explore 400 acres of hilly, muddy savanna, home-away-from-home to some 400 exotic creatures. Look, there’s a zebra...and a stampede of wildebeests!
Expeditions last three hours, but for the full faux-Africa experience, stay on in one of 31 canvas tents, imported from KwaZulu-Natal and equipped with wood floors and full bathrooms. After a barbecue dinner on a veranda with a fire pit, tuck yourselves into zebra- and leopard-patterned sheets and doze off to the howling of the lemurs. Best souvenir: several new big-point words, including addax and gazelle, for your next Scrabble Jr. match.
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center (2155 County Rd. 2008, Glen Rose, Tex.; 254/897-2960; fossilrim.com; drives, adults $22, kids $16; tents from $200, including breakfast). Pilot your own vehicle around a central-Texas range where more than 50 species roam—and 100 cheetahs have been born since 1986. The seven tent-cabins are gathered around a watering hole that draws waterbuck and sandhill cranes.
San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park (15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd., Escondido, Calif.; 619/231-1515; sandiegozoo.org; adults $33, kids $22; caravan tours $90, ages 8 and up; overnights, adults from $109, kids from $89). Bump around this 1,800-acre sanctuary, an hour north of the zoo, by open-air truck. Overnight adventurers stay in windowed tents overlooking the East Africa Exhibit. Was that a roar out there?
East African Safari
Round-trip Flight from New York City: $1,500
Night for a Family of Four: $380
Round-trip Flight from New York City: $1,624
Night for a Family of Four: $275