The Santa Barbara Zoo is the best medium size zoo in Southern California. With 30 acres, hundreds of animals, and a scenic location, the Santa Barbara Zoo is a beautiful place to spend the day. The Zoo is the perfect size for kids, plenty of room to run around but not so big that they will get bored.
There are some excellent displays thanks to the generous donations by the membership of the zoo. Known as the world’s most beautiful zoo, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s location is in a lush botanic garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To the west is the Andre Clark Bird Refuge, and inland, the Santa Ynez Mountains make a picture-perfect backdrop.
Activities at the Santa Barbara Zoo include The Barnyard, home to domestic sheep, which you can feed with specially formulated food, The Santa Barbara Zoo Carousel that features hand-carved exotic animals, Giraffe Feeding with the tallest residents of the Zoo, Kallman Family Play Area where your kids can run wild and the Zoo Train that circles the perimeter of the Zoo.
The Santa Barbara Zoo’s popular show, How to Train Your Dinosaur, is a big hit with kids and features Duncan, a 15-foot long and 7-feet tall lifelike adolescent T-rex dinosaur. Dinosaur shows are held at the outdoors at the Rolling Hills Theatre and are free with zoo admission.
Another popular exhibit is California Trails. This exhibit Includes Condor Country, home of four juvenile California condors, Channel Island fox, Rattlesnake Canyon, bald eagles, and desert tortoises. California Trails offers views of the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, Santa Ynez mountains, and the city of Santa Barbara.
Other attractions you won’t want to miss are the Crawford Family Penguin House, Elephant Walk, Western Lowland Gorillas, Cats of Africa, Gibbon Island, and The Aviary with tropical birds from Africa and South America.
The Santa Barbara Zoo has two miniature C. P. Huntington trains that run on a half-mile track. The train is a great way to see the Andre Clark Bird Refuge behind the zoo.
Along with animals, the zoo has acres of lush gardens with lawns, native plants and trees, cacti and succulents, ornamentals, exotic species, and less formal plantings arranged throughout the park to recreate natural habitats.
If you work up an appetite during your visit, the Ridley-Tree House Restaurant serves up sandwiches, snacks, and salads. Also within a short drive are many restraints that include several on nearby Stearns Wharf.
Getting to the Zoo
Amtrak Pacific Surfliner stops at Santa Barbara, and the zoo is a little over a mile from the train station. So if you want to take a break from driving it’s possible to take the train. The Santa Barbara MTD Shuttle runs from Stearns Wharf to the zoo, and it only costs a quarter.
Santa Barbara Zoo is about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, a two-hour drive with right traffic conditions. The Zoo is a medium size and takes about three hours to see the sights, leaving plenty of time to explore Santa Barbara.
From the South on U.S. 101: Take the Hot Springs/Cabrillo Boulevard exit. Turn left on Cabrillo and continue to the first stoplight. Turn right on Niños Drive. The Zoo entrance is on the right side across from the playing fields.
From the North on U.S. 101: Take the Milpas Street exit. Turn right on Milpas Street and turn left on Cabrillo Boulevard. Turn left at the first light, which is Niños Drive. Traffic tends to be heavy along Highway 101 on weekends, so its best to get an early start as possible.