At any other Thanksgiving, Jeff Sutton, a Modesto stockbroker, would probably be on the couch glued to a football game — not the best way to spend quality time with his wife and three daughters, he admits.

So this year the Suttons decided to flee the distractions of sports and extended family to celebrate Thanksgiving under gray clouds at Safari West wildlife preserve outside Santa Rosa.

"We've never done anything else but the traditional Thanksgiving and we thought we'd try something new," his wife Heather Sutton said.

The soggy weather Thursday did little to discourage visitors from cramming the preserve's parking lot to attend tours and a pair of Thanksgiving dinners that sold out weeks ago. The park's evolution as a magnet for Thanksgiving guests surprises even some who work there.

"It kind of blows my mind, too," tour guide Danny Cusimano said.

Apparently it fits a need for alternatives to the traditional holiday for folks looking to dodge doing the dishes while trying something new.

Nevin and Tess Heintze, Australian ex-patriates who live in Sunnyvale with their two young kids, said they've never really adopted the American holiday. For Australians, Turkey Day is Christmas, they said.

Instead, they like to take advantage of Thanksgiving's empty roads and attractions to plan adventures like their trip to Yosemite two years ago. They'd never seen the park so sparely attended.

"We actually have no traditions other than doing odd things," Nevin Heintze said.

They toured Safari West Thursday morning sitting on their jeep's roof as they rounded the acres of animals from the African Serengeti, though temperatures were a tad lower on the Sonoma savannah.

"I'm still thawing out," Nevin Heintze said.

Then they gathered for traditional American Thanksgiving dinner where the African offering were limited to Tusker beer and Sebeka wine.

Jim and Janice Kissee, recent retirees from the Central Valley, said their grown kids were with their respective in-laws, leaving them with a chance to scope out future trips for the grandkids.

"It's non-traditional" Jim Kissee said. "But there's a lot nice people and good food."