Santa Barbara is in the sun all year round and is a wonderland for those who want a lot. Nature wins the prize here, and kids of all ages will enjoy a range of exciting outdoor adventures, from whale watching cruises and seal parade sanctuaries to action-packed playgrounds, tranquil beaches, surf breaks and beachside cycle paths. The city also has a fantastic zoo, where children can hand-feed giraffes and come face to face with western lowland gorillas. For a small town, Santa Barbara also boasts an impressive medley of museums, including an excellent natural history museum, a maritime museum and a marine center. Kids will also enjoy some of Santa Barbara’s fun parades and festivals. Favorites include the Summer Solstice Parade in June and the August Festivals when children love to dress up in colorful Spanish costumes and crack confetti-filled eggs. For little ones looking for some peace and quiet after all the excitement, local libraries host popular story times. Check their websites for schedules.
1 Walk on the wild side at the Santa Barbara Zoo
Walk on the wild side at the Santa Barbara Zoo
In a beautiful location on a hill overlooking the sea, Santa Barbara Zoo is without a doubt the city’s best kid-friendly attraction. For such a small town, the zoo boasts an impressive collection of critters representing around 146 species, and the exhibits have low barriers and expansive windows so little ones can get up close to the animals. Kids can hand-feed giraffes, come face-to-face with western lowland gorillas and giggle at playful otters. Other favorite exhibits include the Asian elephants, California condors, penguins, meerkats and lions. Hop aboard the little train and explore the beautiful palm tree-strewn grounds and see the exhibits from a different perspective. Half a day is enough to explore the zoo and after visiting all the animals, many visitors want to grab a picnic lunch and relax in the lush gardens. Fun programs designed especially for children include Keeper for a Day, Behind the Scenes tours and live shows. After touring all the exhibits, the little ones can have fun on the playground. Strollers and wagons can be rented from the gift shop at the entrance. the little ones can have fun on the playground. Strollers and wagons can be rented from the gift shop at the entrance. the little ones can have fun on the playground. Strollers and wagons can be rented from the gift shop at the entrance.
Address: 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, California
Official site: https://www.sbzoo.org/
2 Enjoy the fun at Stearns Wharf and the Sea Center
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Santa Barbara is also one of the most fun for families with children. When the weather is nice, which is most of the time, you can take a walk in the crisp fresh air, look for sea lions in the water, watch the blue herons and pelicans that line the edge of the pier, and feast on fresh seafood in one of the restaurants overlooking the ocean. The top attraction here for children up to about twelve years old is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. With fun, interactive exhibits, the center offers a glimpse into life beneath the surrounding blue sea. A favorite is the intertidal touch tank, where you can feel the texture of a sea anemone tentacle and the tickle of a hermit crab. The storm tank tunnel offers a glimpse into the workings of a tidal pool, and the mezzanine floor features marine mammal exhibits with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. After exploring the exhibits, many families stroll around the shops with an ice cream cone and read the informative plaques about local marine life. Novice fishermen can also visit the bait and shop here and cast a line from the end of the pier.
Parking is limited on the dock and includes valet parking, but you can usually find a parking spot in one of the lots along Cabrillo Boulevard and walk down a half mile to the end of the dock. Along the way, look out for the dolphin fountain at the entrance to the quay; a replica appears in all of Santa Barbara’s sister cities around the world. Bring your camera. The views of the ocean and mountains are spectacular, especially at sunset. A fun way to arrive here is to take the Lil’ Toot water taxi from the Santa Barbara Harbor .
Address: 211 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, California
Official site: https://www.sbnature.org/twsc/2.html
3 Editor’s Pick Hop aboard a Whale Watching Cruise
For pint-sized animal lovers, nothing beats seeing wildlife in its natural habitat – especially the world’s largest marine mammals. From May to November, humpback and blue whales feed in the Santa Barbara Channel and gray whales migrate along the Santa Barbara coast on both their northern and southern migrations. Hop aboard a whale watching cruise for a front-row seat to all the action. These majestic creatures often breach, launching themselves into the air, a breathtaking spectacle that will amaze even the silliest of teenagers, and some cruise guest representatives from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary are happy to answer questions from curious children. Even if you don’t see whales, you can usually see dolphins, sea lions, see porpoises or even killer whales. Some cruises also offer a whale watch guarantee, so if you don’t notice it on your first trip, you can try again on another day during the seasons. In total, more than 27 different species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) swim in the Santa Barbara Channel, making it a fun and fruitful learning ground for aspiring marine biologists.
Official site: https://condorexpress.com/
4 Cycle along the beach
For a family-friendly, quintessential California experience, try biking on Santa Barbara Beach’s beautiful Cabrillo Bike Path. Across the street, bike rental shops offer just about every bike imaginable, including beach cruisers, mountain bikes, Taga bikes, buggies, Deuce Coupes, go-karts, scooters and even Surrey, a family-run business with a pony on top. Once you’re on the bike path, you can cruise for miles in either direction over flat terrain beneath the iconic palm tree arcades that line the beach. Stop for an ice cream along the way to complete your fun.
5 Play at Chase Palm Park Shipwreck Playground
In a beautiful location across from Santa Barbara Beach, Chase Palm Park Shipwreck Playground is a haven for active kids. Aimed at toddlers to 12-year-olds, this imaginatively designed playground represents Santa Barbara’s geographic features, from the mountains to the sea, with bridges, islands, a cityscape, a shipbuilding climbing structure and even water-spouting whales. Kids love digging in the sand here, so it’s a good idea to bring a bucket and shovel. At the entrance to the park, the old-fashioned carousel is a small child’s favorite attraction, and afterwards you can try to spot turtles in the koi and duck pond.
In July and August on Thursday evenings, Chase Palm Park hosts free Concerts in the Park , when mom and dad can relax on the lawn with a picnic, listening to music that spans all genres, while the kids run wild in the playground. Right across the street from the beach, Skater’s Point skatepark is the hot hangout for skateboarders with 14,600 square feet of riding area including a halfpipe, fun boxes and rails. Young skateboarders and beginners should try to arrive before noon on weekends when it is a bit quieter.
Address: Cabrillo Boulevard, Santa Barbara, California
6 Explore the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
At the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, on 11 oak-studded acres, you can look up at a 72-foot blue whale skeleton, gawk at a grizzly bear and learn all about the Chumash Indians who once thrived in this region . The exhibits feature everything from the region’s birds, reptiles, marine life and mammals to geology and paleontology, with plenty of interactive exhibits to keep little hands busy. The mineral and gemstone gallery is a favorite. At the Gladwin Planetarium, budding astronomers can enjoy live, multimedia shows about all things space. Zoom through the Milky Way galaxy, view the surface of the moon and explore the constellations. After visiting all the exhibits, kids will love walking along the tree-shaded nature trail through Mission Creek and hunting for lizards and birds. Check the website for special exhibitions before you go. Note that if you’re also planning a visit to the excellent Sea Center at Stearns Wharf you can save 20-25 percent by purchasing a Nature Pass here, which gives you access to both attractions on two consecutive days.
Address: 2559 Sunset, Santa Barbara, California
Official site: https://www.sbnature.org/
7 Climb a magical castle at Kid’s World, Alameda Park
At Kid’s World in Alameda Park, children can climb a magical castle; clamber through bridges, tunnels and towers; spin ropes and ride sharks and whales in 8,000 square feet of outdoor fun. The community of Santa Barbara helped design this popular playground, suitable for children between the ages of two and 12, and you can tell from the crowds that it’s a huge hit. Younger children can hang out in the toddler area with slides, swings and smaller climbing equipment. Note that it is a good idea to dress your children in bright colors in this playground so that you can easily spot them among all the other children in the labyrinthine play area. After the frenetic fun of Kid’s World, relax at the Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardenjust across the street, with its tranquil goldfish pond, turtles and sensory gardens. It is also a peaceful place for a picnic.
Address: Corner of Micheltorena and Garden Streets, Santa Barbara, California
8 Discover maritime history at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
At the harborside Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, kids can learn all about the region’s rich maritime history through fun, hands-on exhibits. Favorites include the deep-sea fishing simulator, dress-up corner, antique diving suits and oil rig models. Other exhibits reveal the fascinating local history of the Channel Islands, as well as abalone diving, surfing, shipwrecks and the Chumash Indians. Best of all, kids can follow a treasure hunt with a map that guides them through the museum. After checking out all the exhibits, head to the top deck for beautiful views of the harbor, and if you’re looking for a nice lunch spot, one of Santa Barbara’s most popular seafood restaurants, Brophy Bros., is nearby.Lil’ Toot water taxi , which runs between Stearns Wharf and Santa Barbara Harbor. After your museum visit you can walk around the harbor so that the children can follow all the sailing actions.
Address: 113 Harbor Way, Ste 190, Santa Barbara, California
Official site: https://www.sbmm.org/
9 Surf and swim at Arroyo Burro beach
Better known as “Hendry’s Beach” by locals, Arroyo Burro Beach is a family favorite. Gentle waves make this a great place for beginner surfers to practice their skills, and pet owners love this dog-friendly stretch; the south side of the beach is an off-leash area and the north side is for leashed dogs. At low tide, children love tinkering in the tidal pools here and hunting for small sea creatures. Look for dolphins and whales off the coast. After a fun day of sun, sand and sea, you can have a bite to eat in the seafood restaurant just steps away from the sand. Note that, like all Santa Barbara beaches, tar deposits tarnish the shoreline, so old shoes are recommended.
10 Walk to the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Rookery
Wild nature lovers looking to blow off some steam while also seeing seals in their natural habitat should head to Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve . Along the soaring sea cliffs here, the scenic Coastal Vista Trail, one of the top hiking trails in Santa Barbara, leads to a seal viewing area. Suitable for off-road strollers, this flat 1-mile trail is an easy walk for older children, but make sure you skirt the edge of the cliff. The best time to visit is from December to May, when the seals rest on the beach to give birth and nurse their pups. At this time of year the beach below is closed so that the seals can give birth without disturbance, but you can observe them from a clifftop viewpoint. Docents are usually here to answer questions, and if you visit from February through April you might be lucky enough to see a harbor seal giving birth.
Look for dolphins and whales off the coast, as well as ground squirrels and lizards on the trail. From the seal colony, follow the path through the coastal salt marsh, where you can see more than 200 species of birds. It’s a good idea to bring binoculars so little eyes can see the animal up close. If you walk north along the path you will arrive at Carpinteria State Beach , a safe place for swimming. To access the trail, take the US 101 exit south on Ballard Avenue in Carpinteria. Head towards the ocean to the parking lot where you can bluff. Please note that dogs are not allowed near the seal colony. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly lunch spot after your game-watching adventure, check outPadaro Beach Grill in a park-like setting on the coast about 3.4 miles north of US 101, where little ones can dig in the large toy-filled sandbox while you eat in peace.
Official site: https://www.carpinteriabluffs.org/wp/