There are a few things you should know before heading to the Santa Barbara Zoo. If you’re interested to learn a few tips that will help plan your trip, then keep reading!
Santa Barbara is one of our favorite places to take a day trip to. David and I got married at an estate in Santa Barbara, so we have very fond memories associated with this beautiful beach town. We love taking Mina to the Santa Barbara Zoo and then spending the rest of the afternoon at the beach, which is conveniently right across the street from the zoo. Another great perk is that there is free street parking for the beach. If we have time, we also love to get fresh seafood and ice cream at the harbor. Fun fact: you can host private events and even get married at the Santa Barbara Zoo!
Things to Know Before Going to the Santa Barbara Zoo
Here are a few things to keep in mind before heading to the zoo:
- You must pre-purchase tickets online for a designated day and time. Due to COVID-19 and to help maintain social distancing measures, the zoo sells tickets for designated time slots to manage traffic. We went on both a weekday and weekend, and both days weren’t overcrowded. However, the weekday was a bit less crowded, so if you’re concerned, I would try to go during the week.
- Everyone three years and older must wear a mask at all times, except when eating or drinking.
- Some animals retreat back to their indoor habitats starting around 4:30pm, so it’s ideal to go earlier.
- Some areas and exhibits are closed due to COVID-19 in order to maintain social distancing and safety. For example, any indoor exhibits and playgrounds are closed, and there are no more stage shows or events.
- I always bring an extra layer of clothes for the whole family because it seems to be a bit cooler at the zoo since it’s by the ocean and there are many shaded spots around the zoo.
- You can bring your own food and beverages, but they also sell food and drinks at the zoo. Please reference the Food & Picnicking section below for details. Also, check the website before you go, as things can change depending on the state of COVID-19.
- You have to pay extra for attractions like the train ride and giraffe feeding. Please reference the Zoo Attractions section below for details.
Santa Barbara Zoo Membership & Pricing
We decided to become members, as it made more sense from a financial perspective. They offer various packages, but we opted for the “Individual Plus One” package. At $90 a year, it covers free admission for 2 adults and free parking, along with other miscellaneous perks like a 10% store discount, discount on attractions like the train ride and giraffe feeding, as well as discounts on events and birthdays.
There’s a “Dual” package, which is essentially the same thing, but it specifies both adults. For example, only David and I would be able to enter. But with the package we got, we specified myself as the Individual, with the option to bring anyone as my plus one, so it offers more flexibility.
Details on all packages and what’s included can be found here.
Parking is $11, each adult is $20, and children 2-12 is $15 (as of Q1 2021). So if you go twice or more a year, you save money by getting a membership.
When you get to the zoo, you drive up to the front gate and show your tickets, or tell them you’re members, and they’ll let you right in. The parking lot is relatively small, so getting to the main entrance is easy.
At the main gate, the attendants scan your tickets and you can get your picture taken when you walk in, which they sell for a nominal fee. There are gift shops and cafes straight ahead, which leads to various exhibits like flamingos and other birds. But from the entrance, you can veer to the right, up a paved road, which takes you straight to the middle of the zoo and the open grassy area. This is ideal if you want to avoid crowds or head straight to the larger attractions like the giraffe feeding, lions, or gorillas.
There are only 2 attractions open currently – the giraffe feeding and the train ride. The giraffes are located toward the center/back end of the zoo. I recommend heading there first because a line starts to form at peak times, like around 11:30am. They also take a break during lunchtime, I believe it was around 1pm. The giraffe feeding is $5 per adult going in, so even if you’re just taking pictures, you have to pay $5 (I believe this is the member fee, unfortunately I can’t find anything online that states the current non-member fee, but I’m assuming it’s around $8-$10). When we asked about the costs, the lady manning the line was really nice and only charged us $5 total, letting David in for free to take pictures, while I carried Mina and fed the giraffes. Before feeding the giraffes, you’re required to use their hand sanitizer. They give you about 5 pieces of lettuce to feed the giraffes and you can pose for pictures, too. I’d say you’re on the feeding platform for about 5 minutes. You also want to be courteous to the other families waiting in line. Overall, Mina loved feeding the giraffes! We’ll definitely do it every time.
We haven’t tried the train ride yet, but we might give it a try the next time we go. The train ride ranges from $5-$7, depending on if you’re an adult or a child and if you’re members ($6.50 child 2-12, $7 adult 17+, $5 child member, $5.50 adult member). You need to purchase tickets in advance or on your phone when you get to the zoo for a designated time slot.
They’re currently building an Australian Walkabout that will house many different Australian animals. It’s planned to open in the summer of 2021. It’s a 15,000 square foot area that will have wallabies, kangaroos, emus and native birds.
They also have lions, gorillas, penguins, turtles, small monkey species, and many exotic birds, to name a few. Here is a full list of animals at the zoo.
It’s definitely not as large as the San Diego or Los Angeles zoos, and they have less animals, but I love how well-maintained and approachable the Santa Barbara Zoo is. It feels like a large, beautiful park that offers many animals to enjoy, all with an ocean view. And with the addition of the Australian Walkabout, and once the other attractions are open again, it will feel much grander with more to explore.
Food and Picnicking
There are 2 restaurants, a coffee and drinks station called The Buzz, and a few concession stands open throughout the zoo selling snacks like churros and beverages. The first time we went, almost everything was closed, but as the city’s restrictions have changed, they are open again. Here is a list of food options and menus.
You can also bring your own food and beverages. There’s a large open grassy field where you can have a picnic with an ocean view. They also have a few tables and benches throughout for use. We always bring our Little Unicorn picnic blanket and spend half the time picnicking, people watching, and chasing Mina around.
On average, we spend about 2-2.5 hours at the zoo, before heading to the beach to *hopefully* put Mina down for a quick nap.
Hopefully this post was helpful for planning your future trip to the zoo! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below or on Instagram!