Who doesn’t want to know more about the creatures that share our planet? Who would pass up the opportunity to see animals, birds and insects eating, playing, and interacting with each other? And with the ocean close by, it’s natural to be curious about the denizens of the deep. Children and adults alike can take advantage of Santa Barbara institutions that educate, encourage engagement, entertain and promote conservation of species on land and in the water.
The Santa Barbara Zoo, near East Beach, is home to some 500 mammals, reptiles, birds and insects representing 146 species. There are lions, elephants, Western lowland gorillas, penguins and California condors (which are rare in captivity). A sightseeing train around the zoo’s perimeter is a fun way to tour, but there are also opportunities for kids to attend zoo camp, to go behind the scenes, be a zookeeper for a day, feed the giraffes, and even participate in a twilight or overnight zoo safari.
With its location over the water on Stearns Wharf, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center emphasizes the natural history of the ocean environment and is designed to kindle a youthful passion for all things aquatic. A theater shows off the wonders of the Santa Barbara Channel, while interactive displays range from touch tanks (where kids can “pet” sharks!) to exhibits about mysterious creatures like jellyfish and the inhabitants of tide pools — which you can also explore on local beaches. A visit here offers memorable close encounters with the marine world.