Feeding a giraffe at the Santa Barbara zoo

Santa Barbara Zoo

Nestled near the ocean in Santa Barbara, California, the Santa Barbara Zoo stands as a testament to nature’s beauty and diversity. The zoo spans over 30 acres and was once a grand estate belonging to a coffee and tea merchant. Today, it has transformed into a sanctuary for over 160 species of animals. In this article, we dive into what makes the Santa Barbara Zoo a must visited place in visit California.

It is fascinating to see the Santa Barbara Zoo transform from a luxurious estate to a conservation-focused zoo. The lush grounds and panoramic views have been retained, offering visitors a chance to see incredible wildlife and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. The zoo’s commitment to preserving its history while focusing on animal conservation is evident throughout the park.

Santa Barbara Zoo Location & Direction:

Santa Barbara Zoo Birds Photo

The Santa Barbara Zoo is located at 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, California, 93103. Situated along the coast, it’s easily accessible and offers a serene backdrop of both the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Here’s how to get there:

From Downtown Santa Barbara:

By Car: Start on State Street heading towards the ocean. Turn left on E Cabrillo Blvd and continue for about 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Ninos Drive. The zoo will be on your left.

Public Transit: Use the local bus service from downtown to the zoo. Check the latest schedules and routes on the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (MTD) website for the most accurate information.

Los Angeles to Santa Barbara Zoo:

By Car: Take US-101 N towards Santa Barbara. After approximately 95 miles, take exit 94C for Milpas Street toward US-101 N. Turn left onto Milpas Street, then turn right onto E Cabrillo Blvd. Continue for about a mile, then turn left onto Ninos Drive. The zoo entrance will be on your left.

Train: Consider taking Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, a scenic route from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. You can catch a bus or taxi to the zoo from the Santa Barbara train station.

From San Francisco:

By Car: Take US-101 S towards Santa Barbara. This is a longer drive, roughly 330 miles. As you approach Santa Barbara, take exit 97 for Castillo Street. Merge onto Castillo Street, then turn right onto W Cabrillo Blvd. Continue for about 2 miles, then turn right onto Ninos Drive. The zoo entrance will be on your left.

Plane: Consider flying from San Francisco to Santa Barbara Airport for a quicker option. From there, you can rent a car or use public transportation to reach the zoo.

Santa Barbara Zoo Parking Lot and Cost:

Santa Barbara Zoo offers on-site parking for visitors. However, please note that there is a $11 per vehicle fee associated with parking at the zoo. For their registered members, there are free or discounted parking oppertunity for one vehicle. The parking lot has limited spaces and can fill up quickly, especially on weekends and during peak visiting times. Arriving early is advisable to secure a spot.

Santa Barbara Zoo Hours:

Santa Barbara Zoo Panther Photo

The Santa Barbara Zoo welcomes visitors every day, offering ample opportunity to explore its vast array of animals and attractions. Regular zoo hours are from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM. However, there are special hours for holidays and events, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, when the zoo closes earlier, at 3:30 PM. Additionally, the zoo may close early for certain special events, so it’s always a good idea to check the official website at Santa Barbara Zoo before planning your visit.

Tickets and Reservations:

Admission to the zoo requires a ticket which can be purchased online through the zoo’s official website. As per the latest information, making an online reservation is mandatory for both general admission tickets and SB Zoo Member visits. This ensures a smooth entry process and helps manage the number of visitors in the zoo at any given time, enhancing the experience for everyone. You have to pay $25 for adult (13+ Years old) $15 for children (2-12 years old) and completely free for under 2 years old kids. For detailed ticket prices and to make reservations, visit the official ticket page.

Beyond exploring the animal exhibits, the Santa Barbara Zoo offers additional attractions that might have separate hours and costs. For instance, certain attractions like the giraffe feeding experience are available from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM Friday–Sunday, costing $6 per person or $5 for SB Zoo Members. These attractions’ operation times may vary due to weather conditions or other factors, so checking the attractions page on the zoo’s website before your visit is advisable.

The zoo also hosts special events throughout the year, such as the Zoo Brew event on Saturday, June 1, 2024, from 4–7 PM, with a VIP hour from 3–4 PM. Events like these offer unique experiences and are often fundraisers to support the zoo’s conservation and education efforts. Keep an eye on the zoo’s events page for more information and tickets.

Santa Barbara Zoo Attractions:

Santa Barbara Zoo Train Photo

Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the most beloved attractions in Santa Barbara, Southern California. This zoo offers an unforgettable adventure for visitors of all ages, blending breathtaking wildlife encounters with engaging, educational experiences. Here are the main attractions you may want to experience:

All Aboard the Zoo Train:

Begin your journey with a ride on one of the two C.P. Huntington trains that gracefully circle the perimeter of the zoo. It’s not just a ride; it’s a voyage through the heart of the zoo, offering unique views of animals and landscapes alike. Remember to purchase your train tickets online in advance or via your mobile device during your visit.

Goat Brushing Experience:

Dive into a hands-on experience with the zoo’s mini Nubian and dwarf Nigerian goats at the barnyard. Available on weekends, this free activity (with zoo admission) allows you to get up close and personal with these adorable creatures, offering a relaxed and fun goat-brushing session that both kids and adults will cherish.

Giraffe Feeding:

Giraffe Feeding at Zoo

Elevate your zoo visit by hand-feeding the majestic Masai giraffes! This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity lets you stand eye-to-eye with these gentle giants. Available at specific times throughout the day, this experience is open for $8 per person ($5 for SB Zoo Members). Check the giraffe deck upon arrival for the day’s schedule.

Climbing Wall:

Challenge yourself on the 26-foot rock wall, where you can Climb for Condors and learn about the efforts to save this endangered species. Suitable for climbers weighing between 45 and 250 lbs., this activity is available Friday through Sunday for $6 per person ($5 for SB Zoo Members).

Explore the Great Outdoors:

Connect with nature at the Ranger Station by walking on mini trails, spotting local animals, and immersing yourself in the great outdoors. This immersive experience is complimentary with zoo admission, inviting you to discover the beauty of nature daily.

Theater Gone Wild:

Don’t miss the Zoo’s dynamic performances at the Theater Gone Wild, featuring educational and entertaining shows like “Dino Doc” and “California Tales: Turtle Flies South for Winter.” These family-friendly performances are included with zoo admission, offering fun learning opportunities for visitors.

Unearth the Past:

Channel your inner paleontologist with the Fossil Find attraction, where you can dig for bones and discover prehistoric secrets. Open on weekends, holidays, and more, this engaging activity is priced at $15 per person ($14 for SB Zoo Members).

Unique Animal Encounters:

Curious about feeding a penguin or getting eye-to-eye with giraffes? The zoo’s animal encounters provide a 30-minute educational experience where you’ll meet and greet the animals, complete with Q&A sessions. These encounters include parking and zoo admission in their prices, ensuring an in-depth look at the lives of your favorite creatures.

Kallman Family Play Area:

Finally, let the little ones run wild at the Kallman Family Play Area, where imagination comes to life. From pretending to be dinosaurs to crawling across a giant rope web, this play area is a haven of fun across from the Zoo Train station.

Santa Barbara Zoo Animals:

Santa Barbara Zoo lion Photo

Santa Barbara Zoo serves as a sanctuary for a diverse array of animals, offering visitors a glimpse into the wonders of wildlife from around the globe. Renowned for its beautiful setting and commitment to conservation, the zoo is home to over 500 animals representing more than 146 species, making it a vibrant educational and recreational destination for people of all ages. Let’s look closely at some remarkable residents that make Santa Barbara Zoo a must-visit for animal lovers.

African Lions:

The African lions are among the most majestic inhabitants of the Santa Barbara Zoo. These magnificent big cats, known for their powerful presence and social structure, are a favorite among visitors. The zoo provides an opportunity to observe these lions up close, offering insights into their behaviors and the conservation efforts to protect this vulnerable species in the wild.


Giraffes, with their long necks and unique patterns, are another highlight of the Santa Barbara Zoo. The zoo’s Masai giraffes, particularly, draw crowds eager to participate in the giraffe feeding experience. This interactive encounter allows guests to feed these gentle giants, fostering a deeper connection between humans and animals while educating visitors about the challenges giraffes face in their natural habitats.


The Humboldt penguins at the Santa Barbara Zoo are a testament to the zoo’s dedication to species conservation. These charming birds, native to the South American coastline, are part of a breeding program to preserve their population. Observing the penguins’ playful antics in their specially designed habitat is entertaining and enlightening, highlighting the importance of protecting marine life.

Asian Small-Clawed Otters:

The Asian small-clawed otters are a delight to watch as they swim and play in their aquatic environment. Known for their social behavior and talent, these otters provide an insight into the lives of one of the smallest otter species. The zoo emphasizes the significance of wetland conservation through the otters’ exhibit, underscoring the role these habitats play in maintaining biodiversity.

In conclusion, the Santa Barbara Zoo is more than just a zoo; it’s a place where history, conservation, education, and natural beauty converge. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, a visit to the zoo offers a unique blend of experiences that will leave a lasting impression. So, pack your bags, bring your curiosity, and get ready to explore the wonders of the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Santa Barbara Zoo Bird Photo

Can you feed the animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo?

Certain animals, like the giraffes, can be fed by visitors at designated times and supervised by zoo staff. There is usually an additional fee for this experience.

Are there any dining options inside the zoo?

Yes, the zoo typically offers a variety of dining options, from snacks and light meals to more substantial fare. There are also picnic areas if you prefer to bring your own food.

Is the Santa Barbara Zoo accessible for visitors with disabilities?

The zoo strives to be accessible to all visitors, offering wheelchair rentals and ensuring that exhibits and facilities are accessible.

Can I host an event or party at the Santa Barbara Zoo?

The zoo offers rental spaces for private events, birthday parties, weddings, and other occasions. For details and reservations, contact the zoo’s event planning department.

Are pets allowed in the zoo?

Typically, pets are not allowed inside the zoo for the safety of the pets and the zoo’s animals.

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