When you’re in need of a break from the work-from-home, school-from-home routine, simply remember that the school of Santa Barbara is always in session. From outdoor museums to botanical and zoological gardens, spice up your virtual learning lesson plan with an overnight field trip to experience the educational adventures available within the Santa Barbara South Coast. Additionally, area hotels make for a great remote, cozy, and quiet home base after a fun-filled day of absorbing hands-on California history. Not just fun for the kids, smiles and lasting memories are guaranteed for the whole family.
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Take a Walk on the Wild Side
The Santa Barbara Zoo is home to 146 species of mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects, and more than 500 animals are exhibited in open, naturalistic habitats. Say hello to a few new friends in residence, including Kasha, an Amur Leopard, and recent newborns, Pauline, a baby African Lion Cub, and Twiga, a Massai Giraffe.
Families visiting the zoo will enjoy ocean views and the perfect conditions for kids to learn to their heart’s content about the Zoo’s different species in about 90 minutes or less. New COVID-friendly guidelines allow for added social distancing, fewer crowds, and plenty of parking. Families with younger children are pleased to know that tickets are not required for children under two. However, all visitors must make an advanced reservation, as they are open to both visitors and members. Please note that masks are required during your visit and indoor exhibits are temporarily closed.
Members of the Santa Barbara Zoo have the opportunity to participate in Early Explorers, a play-based early education program for children ages 3-5, focusing on teaching through experiences. Your little one will get to experience train rides, art, and animal encounters, kids will also learn an appreciation for the natural world through gardening, outdoor play, exploration, and discovery in the Zoo’s 28-acre outdoor classroom. Learn More
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is excited to welcome you back to explore its expansive outdoor and indoor exhibits featuring regional natural history (birds, insects, mammals, marine life, paleontology), Native Americans, and antique Chumash relics, as well as the Museum Backyard nature play area, nestled in the oak woodland along Mission Creek. This nature-filled wonder includes a play stage, backyard creek, sensory garden, and boardwalk. For a bonus educational experience, additional programming is available at the sensory garden to help children of all ages learn more about native plants, insects, butterflies, and the work of natural scientists.
Back by popular demand is the crowd-pleasing, Prehistoric Forest. Take a stroll back in time as you discover Dinosaurs in the wild on the banks of Mission Creek. Dino-lovers of all ages will squeal with delight upon seeing these hand-crafted moving animatronics come to life before their eyes. Guests can continue their prehistoric exploration with Dinorama: Miniatures through the Mesozoic, a display of playful miniature dioramas that bring to life the Mesozoic Era, from Triassic to Jurassic to Cretaceous Periods.
As you prepare for your upcoming visit, don’t forget to include time to admire the museum’s iconic 74-foot long Blue Whale Skeleton located at the museum entrance. Fun fact, this Blue Whale Skeleton is one of only five complete Blue Whale skeletons in the United States. It’s a rare opportunity for children and adults to gain first-hand exposure to, as well as an appreciation of, the world’s largest animal. Learn More
Speaking of blue whales, the museum’s sister location, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, has reopened its doors and invites the whole family to wander its fascinating marine life exhibits. Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., experience the wonders of the deep blue sea with incredible touch tanks and aquatic facts galore, all on California’s oldest working pier. You might even spot a sea lion or two roaming the water beneath you as you enter the museum! Learn More
Soak in Sunshine and History
Pair your visit to the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum with a stop at Old Mission Santa Barbara, located just down the road (.04 miles away to be exact). Old Mission Santa Barbara is known as “Queen of the California Missions” and tenth of the 21 California Missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans. Explore the Mission Museum, take a self-guided tour of the exquisite interior halls, and admire the architectural design of the Mission’s exterior grounds and the beauty of the stunning A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden, home to 1,500 rose plants.
With a little advanced planning, build your own lesson plan with Old Mission Santa Barbara’s website, offering a variety of online resources that include the Mission history, points of interest, games, and activities to keep the kids busy. Before heading home, don’t forget to stop by the Museum Gift Shop, currently open 7 days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and stocked with plenty of souvenirs to commemorate the experience. Learn More
Looking to learn more about the fascinating history of Santa Barbara? Plan a visit to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum downtown and explore a vast collection of artifacts, furniture, textiles, decorative arts and costumes that represent more than 500 years of Chumash, Mexican, Spanish and American history. Calling all film buffs: you can also dive into the glamorous film era of the 1920s that shaped Santa Barbara into the modern-day American Riviera.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is just the place to escape for a beautiful and breathtaking exploratory open-air adventure. This 78-acre living museum designed entirely with California-native plants provides 5.5 miles of easy walking trails. Along the way, you’ll discover wild-crafted gardens, a coastal redwood forest, a cacti-filled desert, and spectacular views along the Porter Trail. This magical outdoor paradise houses 1,000 plants, trees, and flowers that exemplify the diverse botanical beauty of the region, and is a wonderful way to explore nature in its most beautiful form. Learn More
Take a Step into History
Downtown Santa Barbara is brimming with history and culture. Get in your daily steps and fresh air fix as you and the family learn about the storied history of our beautiful destination along The Red Tile Walking Tour, which includes 17 historical stops that embody the best of Santa Barbara’s Spanish-style architecture. Or, if whimsical architecture is more your passion, the Jeff Shelton Walking Tour highlights the extraordinary work of this visionary architect. Stops on this fantastical journey include the famous Ablitt Tower, which looks like a magical building straight out of a Dr. Suess book, The Pistachio House, El Andaluz, and Vera Cruz.
Virtual Art Lessons
Incorporate art and creativity into your family’s life with help from the experts at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The museum offers a variety of at-home printable activity sheets from watercolor instruction, DIY flipbooks, and scavenger hunts, as well as art at home instructional videos to keep artists of any age occupied from the comfort of home. Learn More
Science at Home
While MOXI, The Wolfe Museum of Science and Exploration is temporarily closed for in-person visits, you can still register for the Virtual Design Lab, virtual exhibit-based challenges to help students discover the process of engineering design and inspire creative problem solving, or their Spring Break and Summer camps. New weekly camp sessions for 2021 include Top Secret, Craft + Create, and Summer Games. Camper favorites Super Messy Science and Cardboard Canoes return with new activities for even more exploration and innovation this year. Come ready to make, move, and MOXI-ify your mindset this summer.
If you’re looking to explore and create from home, MOXI offers a variety of exploratory projects and challenges that can be completed from the comforts of home, or even better, your hotel room. From free digital programs, including mosaic projects, printable coloring sheets, and STEAM activities to toddler video activities, the creative and curious minds in your household will rejoice. Learn More
Dive into Virtual Fun
Head to the Santa Barbara Waterfront for a bird’s eye view of the Santa Barbara Harbor from the 4th Floor of the Santa Barbara Outdoor Visitor Center. Located within the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (SBMM), bring the whole family to enjoy this spectacular view on weekends.
Learn about California’s storied history of human interactions with the sea in-person via amazing exhibits at the waterfront museum or through their Educational Programs. From the comforts of home or your hotel room, you can access SBMM at Home, a variety of virtual programs that include self-guided tours in the field, video tours of SBMM’s indoor exhibits, and recorded lectures. You can also access various maritime-related arts and crafts projects, including coloring pages, Lego projects, knot tying, cooking, and more.
For visitors of all ages, download the Maritime on the Move series to guide you on walking tours of Carpinteria, Santa Barbara Harbor, and Oso Flaco Lake. Learn More
After School Sailing Program
At the end of your remote learning day, make time to get out of the house to enjoy the fresh air and a healthy dose of on-the-water fun. Now through March 30, the Santa Barbara Sailing Center offers after-school youth paddling and sailing programs every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoon. Dive into 1.5 hours of kayaking/stand-up paddling, two hours of sailing, or, if you prefer, choose both activities. There is no commitment to a set amount of sessions. Capacity is limited to six kids per paddle session and five kids per sailing session. Learn More
Learn How to Spot a Whale Tale
Set sail on the Santa Barbara seas for an unforgettable nautical adventure. Best viewed from late November through April, thousands of Pacific gray whales migrate through the Santa Barbara Channel as they head south to Baja, California. Kids will squeal with delight as they spot dolphins, a variety of marine life, and larger-than-life migrating whales in one of the best locations for whale watching on the West Coast. As you plan your on-the-water adventure, select from several outdoor outfitters that provide a variety of different whale watching adventures, including private charters for families to see these majestic creatures up close. Learn More
Hotels with Educational Guest Experiences
Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara
After exploring the ocean’s depths and discovering a love for the environment at the ripe age of seven, Jean-Michael Cousteau has since followed in his father, Jean Cousteau’s footsteps, by dedicating his life’s work to educate the world about ocean conservation. Thanks to a special partnership with The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, Jean-Michael Cousteau brings a unique opportunity for guests to participate in an interactive environmental educational program, fittingly named, Ambassadors of the Environment.
Through this hands-on program, resort guests can discover the Gaviota Coast’s natural wonders on land and sea, including kelp forest, a diversity of birds, the intertidal zone, and traditional Chumash culture through memorable adventures and activities. An a la carte menu of activities range from complementary to $60, with options for reserving exclusive family experiences. Please note that reservations are required for all activities. Learn More
Family-Friendly Stay at Hotel Santa Barbara
For a change of pace this fall, set up your remote office and virtual classroom at Hotel Santa Barbara in Downtown Santa Barbara. Guests staying at the property can utilize one of their 500 square foot, multi-use rooms for only $50 per day, or for reservations 5 nights or more the multi-use room is free. These rooms make a great place to work, perfect for family dining, a morning yoga workout, family game night, or a movie. And thanks to Hotel Santa Barbara’s convenient location, outdoor dining and beach recreation are mere steps away. To book, please call 800-549-9869 and ask about the “family use space” package.