Santa Barbara is far-away enough where you feel like you’re on vacation, but not too far where you feel like it’s a trip that requires a huge amount of planning and packing. (And you’ll probably be there before you hear, “Are we there yet?”). While you’re there, make sure to check out these eight family-friendly things to do.
Santa Barbara Zoo
500 Ninos Dr., Santa Barbara, CA 93103
If you’ve driven north on the 101, it’s entirely possible you’ve driven right by this Zoo, even noticed the exit sign, but never paid it much attention. That’s what happened in our family anyway, until this past summer when we explored the Santa Barbara Zoo. Someone had described the Zoo as a “big park, with ocean views, and wild animals around,” and that description pretty much sums it up. You’ll find 146 species of insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals. The Zoo Train (additional ticket required) takes you around the perimeter of the Zoo. The Kallman Family Play Area allows young ones to climb, jump, and move in much the same way as the animals they’ve been observing. And my son’s favorite feature was the opportunity to hand-feed a giraffe named Michael (giraffe feeding also requires an additional ticket). There are ample spots for a picnic lunch (benches as well as open green spaces). The Zoo size makes it entirely possible to visit all your favorite animals in one day. Check the website for additional information on other attractions as well. (Tickets are $15 for adults, children 2-12 are $10, and children under 2 are free. Parking is $6).
Old Mission Santa Barbara
2201 Laguna St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Old Mission Santa Barbara was founded in 1786 and is considered today to be the “Queen of the Missions.” You’ll find a museum and gift shop, a cemetery and mausoleum, 12 acres of landscaped gardens, and an active church. You can choose to explore via a self-guided tour or a docent-led tour and will expect to see artifacts including crafts and tools. If you or your child have read Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, you’ll also find artifacts that are associated with “the Lone Woman of San Nicholas Island,” the woman who inspired the novel. (She’s also buried at the Mission). (Prices differ depending on whether you opt for a self-guided or docent-led tour, but for adults the price ranges from $8-$12 and for children $3-$7).
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center
211 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Children and adults alike will find something of interest at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. There are touch screens, interactive exhibits, a shark touch tank, opportunities to get hands-on with various sea creatures, and more. Admission for adults is $8, children aged 13-17 are $7, children aged 2-12 are $5, and children under two are free.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
2559 Puesta del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History will no doubt have your children engaged and interested. Here you’ll find the skeleton of a 74-foot blue whale (the largest animal on Earth); a Space Lab and Planetarium; a library with a children’s collection; exhibit halls showcasing various animals, fossils, and information about Native Americans; and the Maximus Art Gallery that explores the influences between nature, history, the arts, and science. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for children aged 13-17, $7 for children 2-12, and children under two are free. (The SB Nature Pass, which can be purchased at either the Museum or the Sea Center, will allow families to visit both locations on consecutive days at a reduced rate).
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
78 acres await your family! There are 5.5 miles of paths for you to stroll, the historic Mission Damn and aqueduct built in 1807, a Japanese Teahouse and Tea Garden, a redwood grove, seven landmarked features, and more. As stated on its website, the “Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a place of beauty and serenity, of education, research and conservation, of history and stewardship.” Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for children aged 13-17, $6 for children 2-12, and children under two are free.
Kid’s World at Alameda Park
1400 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This popular park was a community project, with community members involved in both the design and construction of this popular playground. Built in 1993, Kid’s World features a wooden play structure, lots of trees and shade, and nearby picnic tables and restrooms. You’ll also find a lovely garden and pond, complete with turtles, nearby.
For a different way to enjoy the Pacific Ocean, treat the family to a ride on “Lil’ Toot.” Lil’ Toot is a waterfront taxi shuttle which provides rides between the Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf. All rides are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, and operate daily from noon until sunset, every half hour. One-way fare is $5 for adults and $1 for children. (Check the website for directions on where to board).
No trip to Santa Barbara would be complete without time spent at the beach. Pack a picnic, some balls, a kite, pails and shovels, and have some good, old-fashioned family time free from electronics. (Check the website for a description of the different beaches).
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