I’ve spent most of my life traveling to Santa Barbara, California. My parents had a second home nearby during my childhood, and eventually moved into Santa Barbara when I was in college. I see the city in a new light now that I’m a mother.
Instead of shopping, eating out and going to the beach, now I’m on the hunt for things around town my four-year-old can enjoy, too. We like to make ourselves at home at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. And while it’s tempting to kick back by the pool all day, we venture out to hit these favorites:
Santa Barbara Zoo: Definitely spend a few hours at the Santa Barbara Zoo. We’ve visited on weekdays and weekends: it’s never too crowded (relative to other zoos) and always pleasant. Get there first thing in the morning, stroll through the park and then ride the Zoo Train around when it opens at 11 am. Be sure to see the giraffes, Asian elephants, penguins, the “Eeewww!” exhibit (it’s all about bugs) and gorillas. There’s also never a dull moment at the Asian Otter enclosure.
Each exhibit has a conservation message with simple action items even young kids can understand.
Ty Warner Sea Center: As a kid, I always thought it was neat to drive out on to Stearns Wharf, a very long deep-water pier which happens to be Santa Barbara’s most visited attraction. The Ty Warner Sea Center is there. Kids can crawl through a 1,500-gallon tunnel within a tide pool tank and learn about sea life. My daughter’s favorite part is petting the fish; in fact, she used to try to climb into the petting tank when she was younger.
My preferred itinerary would be to visit the aquarium for an hour or two prior to lunch or dinner. The whole family will enjoy fresh seafood and a spectacular view from the restaurants on the wharf. The candy and ice cream stores will satisfy a lingering sweet tooth.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: The budding paleontologist will appreciate that this little museum, which boasts the most complete pygmy mammoth skeleton ever found and an impressive 72-foot-long blue whale skeleton. Active kids can get their hands dirty in the museum backyard by building forts, hunting for bugs, making mud pies, etc. There’s an 11-acre nature trail behind the building, too. The museum owns the Ty Warner Sea Center, so you can purchase an SB Nature pass and visit both over two days for a bargain price.
Beaches: When I was in high school, I used to play volleyball at East Beach. And if you’re good at it, a pick-up game is easy to find regardless of your age. My daughter enjoys all of Santa Barbara’s beaches. It’s hard to isolate just one, but I would say Butterfly Beach, East Beach, West Beach and Leadbetter Beach are all family-friendly. That’s most of the beaches! Be mindful of the occasional tar on your feet washed up from the oil derricks (I love that Four Seasons has tar wipes in every room) and seaweed. Hint: Seaweed can jazz up any sand castle.
Chase Palm Park: Bring a picnic lunch (or have Four Seasons pack one for you) and let the kids run wild at Chase Palm Park. There is a very nice playground, grassy area with ducks and an antique carousel. It’s also right across the street from the beach, if you’d like to walk over and dip your toes in the ocean.
Old Mission Santa Barbara: If your child happens to be learning about California history and the Missions, that’s an ideal time to plan a trip to Santa Barbara. (Or teach him/her yourself — in person). Old Mission Santa Barbara is an active parish that’s more than 200 years old and has 10 acres of gardens. About an hour away in Lompoc is Mission La Purisima, if you’re feeling ambitious. Why not turn a school project into a family getaway?
Katie Dillon writes La Jolla Mom, a lifestyle site covering parenting, travel, cooking with kids, home management and local happenings. After seven years of expat life in London and Hong Kong (Four Seasons Place in Hong Kong was her home for four years), she is now grounded in the seaside community of La Jolla, CA with her husband and preschool aged daughter. You'll also find Katie active on Twitter and Facebook.
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