Located 95 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is a popular coastal town nestled between the ocean and the scenic Santa Ynez Mountains. There are several interesting and educational museums that your children will enjoy, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center.
1. Santa Barbara Museum of Art
A visit to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is a great way to encourage a love of art in children of all ages. You can pick up a free Family Guide at the museum which will help families to explore the exhibits together in a more meaningful way; guides contain family-friendly information, gallery games, guided looking questions and sketching activities for young visitors. The museum also hosts art camps and holiday workshops for children – you can check their website to find out more. Entrance to the museum is free for children under six years and free family days are scheduled from time to time.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-884-6423
2. Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
© Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is an excellent place to spend a few hours learning about California’s extensive maritime history. Probably best suited to families with older children, the museum offers two floors of exhibits about a range of maritime subjects including the Early Explorers and the Chumash, the history of whaling, shipwrecks, navigation and the discovery of oil in the Santa Barbara Channel. There are interactive exhibits where children can learn about sustainable fishing in kelp forests, virtual sport fishing and virtual diving. You can visit the museum on most days with the exception of a few holidays – please check their website for daily and seasonal opening hours.
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, Ste 190, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, Phone: 805-962-8404
MOXI (aka the Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation) is dedicated to awakening and nurturing an interest in the sciences through interactive play and offers hours of fun for both adults and children. The fascinating museum covers three floors of interactive exhibits arranged to cover seven themes relating to science, technology, engineering, math and arts. A few of the fascinating areas you can enjoy with your children include the Tech Track, Speed Track, Sound Track and Fantastic Forces Courtyard. The exhibits change on a regular basis so even if you have visited before you will find something new every time to come to the MOXI. You can check their website before your visit to plan which of the daily activities you would like to participate in.
MOXI, 125 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-770-5000
4. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center
© Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center
The wonderful Sea Center at Stearns Wharf forms part of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and will thrill both adults and children as you learn about the magical world below the surface of the ocean. More than a regular aquarium, the Sea Center offers a highly interactive experience that your children will remember for ages. Visitors are invited to get their hands wet and touch several of the marine creatures in the Intertidal Wonders touch-pool and learn all about octopi and other slithery creatures in the JELLIES and Friends exhibit. You can touch a live baby shark in the shark touch pool and see life-size Grey Whale replicas on the mezzanine level.
Santa Barbara Sea Center, 211 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-962-2526
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5. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
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The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a great place to bring the family to learn about plants and nature. There are several interesting trails to follow which are suitable for the whole family and will introduce children to California’s diverse climatic regions and habitats. You can visit cool redwood forests and sandy deserts within a short distance of each other and aspirant gardeners can be inspired by the Water Wise Home Garden exhibit, which will show you which plants (available at the nursery) will thrive in your California garden. You can explore at your own pace or join one of the free docent-led tours which are offered on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Tired and hungry little explorers can enjoy a treat at the Garden Pantry.
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, 1212 Mission Canyon Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, Phone: 805-682-4726
6. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
© Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Children of all ages will love visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The many interesting exhibits include the Bird Hall, Mammal Hall, an enormous Blue Whale skeleton and the fabulous hands-on Curiosity Lab, where kids can learn about a range of natural topics and learn to use a microscope. The museum includes the Museum Backyard and the Nature Club House, which includes an elevated walkway, the popular Create Zone (where kids are invited to get a little messy) and the Excavate a Fossil area which offers fascinating and educational play. Children can meet a few of the resident rehabilitated raptors or join one of the fun and educational camps and classes which are offered year-round.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, Phone: 805-682-4711
7. Santa Barbara Trolley Company
© Santa Barbara Trolley Company
If you are visiting Santa Barbara for the first time the Santa Barbara Trolley Company offers a great way to get an overview of all the sights and attractions. The company has a fleet of renovated trolleys which offer visitors the chance to see and explore all the major attractions on a jump-on-jump-off basis. For families with little people who cannot walk long distances this service offers an ideal solution and children under the age of twelve travel free. You can stop off as long as you like at any of the attractions and then continue your tour when you are ready. A few of the highlights include Stearns Wharf (Sea Center), the Harbor, East Beach and the Old Santa Barbara Mission.
Santa Barbara Trolley Company, 1 Garden Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-965-0353
8. Susan Quinlan Doll and Teddy Bear Museum and Library
© Susan Quinlan Doll and Teddy Bear Museum and Library
Families can spend a few happy hours exploring the Susan Quinlan Doll and Teddy Bear Museum in Santa Barbara. The museum houses the largest collection of Teddy Bears in the US and one of the largest doll collections in the country. The museum recently relocated to larger premises which now boast regular revolving exhibits of beloved nursery toys alongside their regular extensive display cases. Children of all ages will be enchanted by the displays and may recognize many of their favorite storybook characters, while parents can take a nostalgic trip down memory lane to the days of their own childhood. To make the most of your visit you can request a guided tour of the museum when you book.
Susan Quinlan Doll and Teddy Bear Museum and Library, 122 W Canon Perdido Street, Santa Barbara, CA 9310, Phone: 805-730-1707
9. Old Mission Santa Barbara
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The Old Mission was founded way back in 1786 by Spanish Franciscans. Today, when you explore the 200 –year old Mission you will find a thriving active parish run by a community of Franciscan friars. The property boasts a beautiful church, twelve acres of landscaped gardens, a cemetery and mausoleum and a museum and gift shop. You can explore at your own pace on a self-guided tour or join one of the decent-led tours held throughout the day on a first-come-first-served basis (free for children under four years). Children will enjoy visiting the museum where they can see vintage agricultural, weaving and blacksmithing tools as well as a 17th century kitchen recreation.
Old Mission Santa Barbara, 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, Phone: 805-682-4713
10. Stearns Wharf
Stearns Wharf is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular tourist attractions offering family fun for all ages. You can reach the wharf as one of your stops on the narrated Santa Barbara Trolley Tour and hop off the bus to explore for a while. Everyone in the family will enjoy the child-friendly Sea Center and a variety of novelty shops selling delicious candy and ice-cream – just the thing for a happy holiday outing. If you like you can buy bait and rent tackle for fishing, take a water-taxi ride or enjoy a great lunch or dinner at one of the many wharf restaurants which serve up everything from burgers to seafood, accompanied by brilliant views.
Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
11. Neal Taylor Nature Center
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The Neal Taylor Nature Center is located inside the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area where it offers hours of educational fun for the whole family. The great news is that entrance to the center is free (you do have to pay a nominal fee to enter the Recreation Area) which makes this a great budget-friendly option for the family. You can check their website to see which of their regular activities are on during your visit to Santa Barbara – these include Guided Nature Walks and Junior Ranger programs every Saturday, Wildlife Cruises (weekends March to October) and Eagle Cruises (November to February). Children and adults can attend trout fishing workshops and bat viewing lectures from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Neal Taylor Nature Center, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, 2265 Highway 154, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, Phone: 805-693-0691
12. Santa Barbara Zoo
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A visit to the Santa Barbara Zoo is a certain winner for families visiting Santa Barbara. The compact zoo is packed with fun attractions for all ages – a ride on the Zoo Train which circles the perimeter of the zoo will give you a good overview of all the attractions (children can even sign up for the Engineer for a Day program). The zoo is home to over 500 animals which you can admire in their naturalistic habitats. There are several programs you can sign up for to get up close and personal such as Giraffe Feeding, Behind-the-Scenes Tours and more. Younger children will love the Barnyard, which is filled with domestic farm animals which you child can feed and pet.
Santa Barbara Zoo, 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103, Phone: 805-962-5339
13. The Carriage and Western Art Museum
Conveniently located in Pershing Park near the Santa Barbara waterfront, the Carriage and Western Art Museum is a good place to bring the family to learn about early modes of transport. You and your children can admire the fine craftsmanship on over 40 restored vintage horse-drawn carriages and wagons, all of which were made between 1850 and 1911. Included in the fine collection is a genuine Los Olivos stagecoach, which used to transport up to twelve passengers and required a team of six strong horses. Along with a brilliant collection of saddles and bridles, the museum also showcases several examples of Western Art.
The Carriage and Western Art Museum, 129 Castillo Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-962-2353
14. Convivo Restaurant
© Convivo Restaurant
Convivo Restaurant is an upscale Italian-style restaurant that has been acclaimed by Zagat, The New York Times, Via Magazine, and L.A. Weekly as one of Santa Barbara's best fine dining experiences. The restaurant, which is owned by California dining industry luminary Larry Mindel and helmed by executive chef Peter McNee, serves up "nomad-style" coastal Italian fare infused with global influences, prepared with locally-sourced, fresh seasonal ingredients. Lunch and dinner menus focus on delectable land and sea entrees and housemade pastas, including charcoal prawns, beef carpaccio, and seven-hour veal bolognese guinzaglio. Family-style main courses are also available, along with wood-oven-fired pizzas and flatbreads. An extensive wine list is available by the bottle, with apertivi and craft beers also served.
901 E. Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA 93103, Phone: 805-845-6789
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15. Spudnuts Donuts
© Spudnuts Donuts
You will be sure to please all the children in the family when you take them to Spudnuts for a delicious donut treat. What sets a Spudnut apart from a regular donut is that all the Spudnut raised donuts, cakes, croissants and other baked goods are made using a unique potato-based blend of ingredients that produces the most delicious light-textured baked goodies. If you bring the family for breakfast or lunch you can all feast on their delicious breakfast sandwiches (with eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage or ham) or one of their classis lunch sandwiches which come with a variety of popular fillings. Kids will definitely want to try one of their classic sweet donut treats while adults can enjoy a great coffee.
Spudnuts Donuts, 220 W Carillo Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-899-2779
16. Crushcakes and Cafe
© Crushcakes and Café
Locally famous for their delicious cakes and coffee, Crushcakes will soon become your favorite family-friendly eatery in Santa Barbara. The restaurant serves delicious breakfasts and lunches as well as their popular piece de resistance cupcakes. You will find all your favorite breakfast treats on their all-day-breakfast menu including classic bacon and egg or exotic red-velvet pancakes with fresh strawberries and banana – a sure hit with the children. Other options include bagels, burritos, soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers. Remember to save room for one of their delicious cupcakes which are made on the premises using only the finest ingredients – seasonal specials and vegan choices are available.
Crushcakes and Café, 1315 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-963-3752
17. Santa Barbara Children’s Theatre
The Santa Barbara Children’s Theatre is an ideal family attraction to visit during your vacation in Santa Barbara. The Children’s Theatre was established in 2010 and is dedicated to stimulate young minds through exposure to the performing arts, both as spectators and as participants. You can bring the family to see one of their delightful family-friendly productions or take things a step further by enrolling your child in one of their acting classes. The theatre also offers a costume rental service which is extremely helpful if you would like to host an exceptional themed birthday party for your child - choose from a variety of themes such as Tarzan, Peter Pan, Pirates and many more.
Santa Barbara Children’s Theatre
18. Lil’ Toot Water Taxi
© Lil’ Toot Water Taxi
The Lil’ Toot Water Taxi is a popular family attraction which operates from Stearns Wharf. You can take the whole family to enjoy an inexpensive fun ride on the Lil’ Toot taxi which offers 15-minute narrated boat rides as well as their popular Sunset Boat Rides which operated between Stearns Wharf and Santa Barbara Harbor. You can also consider hosting a fabulous nautical birthday party on the taxi - children will have a great time watching the bubbles rise from the smoke stack and enjoying a chance to steer Lil’ Toot under the watchful eye of Captain Fred. The birthday child will receive a Lil’ Toot sailor cap to remind them of their fun day at sea.
Lil’ Toot Water Taxi, Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-465-6676
19. Santa Barbara Public Market
© Santa Barbara Public Market
Located in the bustling and vibrant heart of Santa Barbara’s performing and cultural arts district in downtown, the Santa Barbara Public Market is the place to see and be seen and enjoy a wide variety of food and drinks. The Public Market is very child-friendly and the whole family can enjoy a great foodie experience. While parents may want to head directly to The Garden, where you can choose from over 40 craft beers, children will be more interested in visiting Rori’s Creamery for wonderful organic ice-cream and the ever-popular Enjoy Cupcakes. Everyone will love the Mexican cuisine at Corazon and Ca Dario for pizza and pasta.
Santa Barbara Public Market, 38 West Victoria, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-770-7702
20. Paddle Sport Center
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If you love paddling you can look forward to spending many happy hours on the water during your Santa Barbara visit. The Paddle Sport Center offers a large selection of rental equipment for all ages and you can enroll the kids in one of their Ocean Explorers Kids Camps where children aged seven and up can learn how to body board, boogie board, surf, kayak and SUP (stand-up paddle). The center offers a number of paddle and kayak tours which are suitable for the entire family (as long as each child is accompanied by an adult) – you can choose from their Harbor Wildlife and History Tour, the Sunset and Moonrise Kayak Tour and several others.
Paddle Sport Center, 117 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, Phone: 805-617-3425
21. Alameda Park
When your children need some time to run around and let off some steam you can take them to Alameda Park to enjoy the huge children’s playground. The large two-block park is home to mature gardens and trees, a bandstand and a picnic area where you can relax while the children enjoy playing in the 8,000-square foot Kid’s World playground. The play ground was built by local residents and is suitable for children from two years of age who can let their imagination run riot while exploring the castle, swings, slides and more. There are two reservable picnic sites inside the playground which are ideal for a birthday party.
Alameda Park, 1400 Santa Barbara Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-564-5418
Attraction Spotlight: Santa Barbara Zoo
Located adjacent to the Andree Bird Refuge water feature and just blocks from the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Barbara Zoo enjoys in an ideal location to be home to hundreds of animals in their natural habitats. It is conveniently located off of the popular Hwy. 101 near Exit 95. Near a popular beach there is also an abundance of lodging places from which to choose; economy hotels to luxury resorts and even RV parks. With this type of set up the Santa Barbara Zoo is sure to find a spot on your family vacation itinerary.
The Zoo is home to over 500 animals and 146 species. The zoo includes mammals, reptiles, birds and insects.
African Lion: The Cats of Africa exhibit open in 2003 and currently houses four lions. Their names are Chadwick, Gingerbread, Kadi and Neema. The lions enjoy playing in the pool and like to lick ice cubes made of meat juice.
Condor: The California Condor is on the endangered species list. The Zoo has five female birds on their roster. These birds are marked with wing tags which tell what number they are in the lineup of condors. From a meager twelve condors in the 1980s to over 400 today, the conservation program has been making strides to save the condors.
Asian Elephants: The Zoo is home to two elephants: Little Mac and Sujatha. They have both been at the zoo since the early 1970s. They are over 40 years old. They love to swim and eat fruits and pumpkins. These gracious animals are on the endangered species red list due to habitat loss and poaching.
Snow Leopard: Everett and Zoe are the used to a snowy climate. These two have thick fur, small ears, large nostrils, and large paws to help them live in colder climates. Now living in a warmer climate, they enjoy frozen foods like corn on the cob. Everett loves the smell of pine boughs and rolls in them. The snow leopard is also on the endangered species red list.
American Alligator: This alligator, Mary Lou, is the oldest and most long term inhabitant at the Zoo. She has lived here since 1963, when the zoo opened; that makes her over 50 years old. Who knew alligators lived that long? Believe it or not, they can live up to 100 years old. Her diet consists of mice, fish and quail. Just as mammals hibernate, alligators brumate, which means to slow down during the winter months. They also stop eating during this time.
Western Lowland Gorilla: The Zoo has two new gorillas on their way. Nzinga and Bangori are brothers who are 18 and 12 years old. These gorillas will be made to work for their food. The keepers will hide the food around the enclosure or in puzzle feeders. The gorillas then need to forage or work the puzzle to get the food.
Chilean Flamingo: This lanky, pink bird is listed as near threatened on the endangered species list. Their pink color has always made this bird one of particular note. They get their pink color from the food they eat: shrimp, algae, plankton and crustaceans.
Humboldt Penguin: We usually think of these birds as snow and ice lovers, but in fact, this species comes from a climate similar to that of southern California. These penguins are not the traditional black and white, but they have spots already and none is exactly the same as the other. Their names are Lucky, Bling, Bingo, Plum, Jordan and Peeglo. These birds are fed by hand twice a day.
Masai Giraffe: This lineup includes Michael, Audrey, Betty Lou, Buttercup and Chad; plus another one on the way. Even though these creatures have extra long necks, they have the same number of bones as we do. The giraffes eat between 2% and 4% of their weight in food every day. Michael, the biggest one eats over 50 pounds of food a day.
Giant Anteater: Some of the anteater’s favorite foods include crickets, avocados, and bananas. They have no teeth so need to eat softer foods. They can eat over 35,000 ants in one day.
Slender-tailed Meerkats: The mob of meerkats is comprised of the matriarch, Damara and Leo who has sired two litters; also Jasiri and Malia. The litters are born underground in what are called birthing dens. Meerkats like to dig tunnels and mazes underground and that is how they can travel from one place to the next without being spotted by prey.
There are more animals to see at the Santa Barbara Zoo, but these are highlighted here because of their special spots on the endangered species list. The best way to learn about these animals is to go to the zoo and meet them face to face.
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The Zoo has many opportunities to learn more about the animals, conservation and preservation through its Learning Program. Topping the list are safaris, date nights (kids) and overnight programs. The safaris include animal encounters, feeding time, a snack, and the chance to get to know some of the animals up close and personal. There is family exploring and camping trips where you can camp out and explore some natural habitats of animals indigenous to the area. Field trips and homeschooling science curriculum complete the offerings in the learning area of the zoo.
The Zoo offers several day camps throughout the summer months. Some of the camps offered this year are: Scales & Tales; Puppet Posse; Pet Ready; Backyard Biologist; Junior Zookeeper;
The Zoo has been instrumental in helping to save many species from near extinction. The California condor has made a comeback thanks to the zoo’s efforts. Continued monitoring, vet care and habitat restoration are all important aspects of the condor program. The Channel Island Fox is another benefactor of the Zoo’s conservation efforts. The Zoo has gained valuable knowledge about this species and has been able to administer vet care and is now monitoring the population on a regular basis. The fox now inhabits six of the eight islands. Finally, the Zoo is also a partner in FrogWatch USA, a conservation group that monitors frogs. For the Santa Barbara Zoo, that means watching the red-legged frog. The zoo conducts research, monitors and protects the frogs.
The Ridley-Tree House Restaurant serves up salads, sandwiches and hot entrees daily. The Wave has dishes with a Mexican flair. There are also snack carts placed throughout the zoo selling snacks, water and soft drinks.
Weddings & Corporate Events
The Santa Barbara Zoo is available for your wedding. Imagine stunning views of the ocean with a backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains; a perfect setting among the wonderful gardens of the zoo grounds. This venue will certainly make for a remarkable event and great memories for years to come. Catering is also available.
The Zoo is also the perfect venue for your corporate dinner or family outing
The Santa Barbara Zoo is on the list as one of the most beautiful zoos in the world. Stunning ocean views, flourishing gardens, exotic animals and much more - it is time to make a trip to the zoo. The neighboring Andree Clark Bird Refuge offers trails and splendid views of wild birds enjoying the habitat of the bird refuge. From family events to corporate events, the Santa Barbara Zoo can offer you a fabulous outing. Get your tickets today.
The zoo has single and double strollers and wagons for rent at the gift shop. For your convenience, the website offers an interactive map so you can plan your route through the zoo. The zoo also has a blog with regular updates about the animals and events going on at the zoo. Also of interest is the zoo’s YouTube channel.
In addition to the zoo itself, the zoo features a variety of attractions and activities including:
Animal Kitchen: watch where the food is prepared for over 500 animals
Art Exhibits: view artworks in the Volentine Gallery
Barnyard: feed a flock of domestic sheep
Behind-the-Scenes Experiences: enjoy unique opportunities such as being a zoo keeper for a day or enjoying a tour of the zoo from the keeper’s perspective. These activities are by reservation only.
Climbing Wall: a 26 ft. climbing wall; learn how to climb for condors.
Giraffe Feeding: feed the giraffes; make a reservation to make sure you find them when they are hungry.
Kallman Family Play Area: a zoo themed play ground
Live Stage Shows: two shows daily - Dino Docs and California Tales
Zoo Train: ride the rails around the zoo
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500 Niños Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103, Phone: 805-962-5339
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