500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103 – Get Directions
Referred to as, “the World’s Most Beautiful Zoo,” the Santa Barbara Zoo is the area’s #1 visitor attraction. This zoo comprises 30 lush hilltop acres across the street from Santa Barbara’s most popular beach.
The Zoo is home to 160 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects. More than 400 animals exhibited in o...
Fantastic, Accessible Zoo
My family has memberships to the San Diego Zoo, voted Trekaroo's best zoo in the US, so while traveling, we don't typically visit zoos as they often leave us feeling a bit unimpressed.
Recently, while visiting Santa Barbara, myself and my 8-year-old took a leap of faith and visited the Santa Barbara Zoo and we were so impressed with the quality and fun we had here; it was one of the awesome highlights of our visit to Santa Barbara.
The zoo is not massive, which is actually PERFECT for families looking to spend a half-day visiting; you won't feel completely exhausted after your tour here. It is also very modestly priced, meaning you won't break the bank on your half-day manageable, another awesome perk.
The grounds are beautifully maintained and navigating the zoo was both relaxing and easy. We visited in spring (my favorite zoo season) when all sorts of babies made their way out to see guests including a baby anteater, which might be one of the cutest things I've ever seen.
Since the zoo is smaller, animals are typically closer to guests than we are used to at the San Diego zoo. Kids aren't searching sprawling cages for signs of life while frustrated parents try to point out the tiny species, and the animals still had plenty of room to spread out and feel "at home" in their environments. It was perfect blend of natural space and functionality.
In spite of its size, the zoo boasts expansive spaces for picnicking, overlooking the beautiful mountains and ocean scene of the city. Time your lunch right and you can eat while watching the outdoor Dinosaur show that teaches kids about a variety of animal-ambassador and environmental subjects while utilizing state-of-the-art puppetry with giant, over-sized dinosaur puppet costumes.
A small playground and "sliding hill" also keep the kids excited; bring or borrow a cardboard box to slide down this hill as a family. Kids will love riding the train that runs the border of the zoo. We didn't get a chance to ride due to time constraints, but the smallest of little ones less interested in the science of the animals, will love the distraction.
Onsite dining, plenty of clean restrooms, and gift shops are available.
Some of our favorite animals to visit were:
A penguin named Lucky lives at the zoo. Outfitted with a special Teva shoe because he couldn't swim or walk, this famous little guy became one of our favorites after reading a short story about him available at the gift shop. We also watched the penguins get fed, an exciting treat as they were all anxiously and excitedly visiting their trainers to get the proper fish.
We see the giraffes a lot at the San Diego Zoo, and while they have a feeding program, we had never done it. Feeding a giraffe was So. Much. Fun. These gentle giants took pieces of lettuce right out of our hands and the new baby giraffe was a joy to watch while nursing with its mommy.
The Santa Barbara Zoo is part of the conservation effort that has released California Condors back into the wild in an attempt to revitalize the species. We visited on an especially excited day when a lower bird was challenging the pecking order. It was fascinating to watch their interactions; even my 8-year-old was spellbound.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary tour of the Santa Barbara Zoo while on a press trip. I was not required to state any particular view; all opinions are my own.
One of our favorite places!
We visit the Santa Barbara Zoo at least monthly and sometimes more. We love it so much that we became members! We typically visit for just a few hours since we live so close but it also makes for a great day trip. Even though we go so often, my son still asks to go again and again. This zoo is beautiful! Where else can you see such a great array of animals and enjoy an ocean view at the same time?
• Bring your lunch and have a picnic (there is also good food that is on the expensive side from two different choices). There are lots of picnic tables available at the top of the hill and also near the playground. There is also a huge lawn area that is great for a picnic basket.
• This is a very hilly zoo. My 5 year old is just now at the point where we don’t take the stroller anymore. Even at 4, he appreciated a ride up the hill from the parking lot in our umbrella stroller. They also rent strollers just inside the entrance.
• My son loves the playground and it is very popular. Bring a piece of cardboard to slide down the grass hill, or grab one that is left from another family.
• It's worth spending the extra money to feed the giraffe's and to take a ride on the miniature train (check the zoo website for current prices). My son would do both every visit if we let him.
• Go on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
• Parking can be difficult if you arrive around lunchtime and during peak times during the summer. If you arrive during the day, you may find the parking lot is full. We recommend arriving when they open to grab a good parking and explore the grounds before the crowds.
• If you want to feed the farm animals, make sure to hit the gift shop near them early to buy food. They stop selling food when the animals have had enough and usually that is around lunch time.
• There is a big pond at the top of the hill just to the left of the play area. It has huge koi fish and a machine where you can buy food for a quarter. It’s easy to miss with so much else to see, but it’s another favorite stop of ours.
• Looking for an inexpensive souvenir? There is a machine to make smashed pennies around the back of the gift shop next to the farm animals.
We hope you enjoy the zoo as much as we do!