Twilight Tradition

The new Watering Hole restaurant and bar at Kijamii Overlook transports you to Africa

BY Donna Parham

After a thrilling day of safari adventures, there’s no better time to gather with friends and family to kick back, quench your thirst, and recall the highlights of your trip. So, as dusk gathers over the African plains, you settle into a cushy seat to relish a cold beverage, a cool breeze, and a panoramic view of grazing antelope, graceful giraffes, soaring vultures, and powerful rhinos. But you’re not in the African bush—you’re at the Watering Hole restaurant and bar at Kijamii Overlook—at the Safari Park.

The “sundowner” is a twilight tradition on safari across Africa. After a hot, dusty day of wildlife encounters, travelers relax and relive the day’s discoveries while sipping ice-cold cocktails and nibbling appetizers. You can get a taste of that experience at Kijamii Overlook. Kijamii (ki-JAH-mee) is Swahili for “social,” an appropriate name for the Safari Park’s newest gathering spot.

A special occasion at Kijamii Overlook is a night to remember. (Michael & Kate Photography)

Kijamii Overlook can be reserved for private events, including weddings and receptions. Call 619-685-3259 to reserve the facility for your special event.

A tall thatched roof shades 4,000 square feet, resting on sustainably harvested, whole trees that provide branched supports, gracefully curving arches, and natural angles. Because the remarkable structure is made of entire trees rather than milled lumber, it tested the talents of builders and engineers. “The structure is challenging,” admits San Diego Zoo architect Robyn Badger. “In fact, we spent over a year figuring out how to make it work using whole trees.” African eco lodges provided inspiration for the construction. “We knew we wanted something very organic,” says Robyn. “Nothing is straight; nothing is plumb. Everything is custom.”

Red mud walls, a quirky array of mismatched refurbished chandeliers, and accents of colored stone and glass make for a unique interior. And while the breezy building looks rustic, it accommodates ceiling fans, heaters, and misters that keep the space comfortable. Kijamii Overlook also features an outdoor fire pit, a barbecue grill, an animal observation deck (coming soon), restrooms, and lawn space that can accommodate a dance floor for a party, or host an elegant wedding ceremony—a private, dedicated bride’s room even adds comfort and convenience for the wedding party.

The Watering Hole bar operates out of an enormous, faux baobab tree.

A unique feature of Kijamii Overlook is the Watering Hole bar, nestled into an enormous, faux baobab tree. Baobab trees are adapted for storing water, and very old baobabs tend to become hollow. The hollow baobab at the Watering Hole is big enough to house bar staff and a full complement of libations, and it’s a restful place to pull up a stool.

Kijamii Overlook is a one-of-a-kind wedding venue.
(Shelly Anderson Photography)

“This is a unique dining and dance area,” says Cheryl Carlson, director of event sales, who’s excited to share the new open-air African lodge venue with clients looking for a special place to host a wedding, corporate event, or family gathering. “It transports you to Africa, and nowhere else in San Diego can you find a place like this—with a view like this!”

“We are trying to give people an adventure while they sit and relax,” says Robyn, who describes the location as soothing and Zen-like. “The animals move across the plains, coming in and out of view,” she says. Kijamii Overlook is open to Safari Park guests when it’s not reserved in advance, so you can have your very own sundowner!