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Get Out of Town! - Santa Barbara Zoo
The Zoo with a Million-Dollar View
June, 2006 - Issue #20
The Santa Barbara Zoo boasts the arrival of 14 Humboldt penguins this June. The exhibit will offer both above ground and underwater viewing of these active birds. Photo courtesy of Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo.
The Santa Barbara Zoo boasts the arrival of 14 Humboldt penguins this June. The exhibit will offer both above ground and underwater viewing of these active birds. Photo courtesy of Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo.
Santa Barbara is famous for many things: luxurious resorts, fine dining, distinctive wine country, expensive real estate, inviting beaches, high-profile zoo.

OK, maybe not the last one. The Santa Barbara Zoo is overshadowed by the area's other attractions. And it's nowhere near as large as its more famous cousins in Los Angeles and San Diego. But those two things make it a destination that's sure to please parents and kids alike.

The zoo's lower profile means fewer visitors and a more leisurely visit. We walked right up to exhibits without having to jostle with mobs for prime viewing spots. Not once did I hear "Daddy, I can't see!" And, where animals were active and captured the kids' attention, we lingered without worrying whether we would be elbowed out of the way. It was a rare treat to explore at a pace set by our kids rather than the crowds.

The Santa Barbara Zoo proves that size doesn't matter when it comes to animal watching. Its lack of acreage compared to other zoos is actually a big positive. It's a kid-sized place, meaning little legs have enough energy to walk it and see all there is to see in an afternoon. Our 3-year-old, Laurel, ran from exhibit to exhibit, spent considerable time in the playground, and still had energy to spare at the end of the day.

Information for Santa Barbara Zoo

Address: 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, 93103
Directions: Take State Route 126 east to Highway 101 north. Continue on 101 to Santa Barbara and exit at Hot Springs/Cabrillo Boulevard. Turn left on Cabrillo and go to the first stop light. Turn right on Ninos Drive. The entrance is about two blocks on the right.
Phone: 805-962-6310
Admission: Adults (ages 13 to 59): $10. Children (ages 2 to 12): $8. Seniors (60+): $8. Children under 2 are free.
Parking: $3
On the web: www.santabarbarazoo.org
An impressive variety of animals make their homes at the zoo. All the favorites are there, including elephants, lions, gorillas, giraffes and assorted creepy crawlies. One giraffe in particular will catch your attention. Its long neck is interrupted by a pronounced crook. Zookeepers suspect that an unstable joint in the neck caused by a benign bony growth is to blame. hey don't think she's in any pain, and she seems to do just fine, wandering around her habitat and munching on leaves. Her biggest problem is probably the two-legged creatures that point and stare.

If you've ever been tempted to hop the railing and play with the animals, visit Lorikeet Landing. The bird exhibit is a blur of flitting color and raucous chorus of chirps. Stepping inside the enclosure won't catch the attention of zoo security. Your presence will attract the attention of the birds, which get very chummy very quickly if you have food for them. Laurel was wide-eyed as a staff member showed her how to feed them; getting up close and personal with our feathered friends was the highlight of her day.

Another thing going for the zoo is its location. Located just off Cabrillo Boulevard, it is across the street from the beach. It's probably the only zoo where the animals have a million-dollar view. We took advantage of the location by having a picnic on the beach before visiting the zoo, and we ended the day with a stroll along the adjacent pathway down to the pier.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Santa Barbara, and the zoo deserves a spot near the top of the list. Just not too close to the top - we don't want everyone discovering our quiet little zoo.

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Eric Harnish is a freelance writer. His favorite zoo animals are bears.
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