Santa Barbara Sights – Children’s Delights

Genie Davis November 17, 2010 No Comments


Many travelers come to Santa Barbara for the gourmet restaurants or the incredible setting that stretches from the blue mountains to the bluer-still Pacific ocean in this lovely coastal town just under two hours from Los Angeles. We’ve come for many reasons – to attend a concert at the beautiful downtown art deco theater, the Arlington; to go holiday shopping in eclectic shops along upper State Street; or to finish off a day of hiking in the Santa Barbara hills with a bowl of chowder on busy Stearns Wharf.  But Santa Barbara is also home to many great attractions for kids, too – attractions that make this a child-friendly destination in its own right.

One wonderful stop is a children’s park that’s an entire “world.” Located just a few blocks from downtown is Alameda Park. Here on this capacious green space,  you’ll find a wonderful playground with a volunteer-crafted centerpiece: Kid’s World. This huge complex has great tunnels, many climbing areas, hiding spaces, crawl spaces, replicas of sea creatures, and a vast, pleasantly maze-like configuration. There’s a small circular theater area for kids to take starring roles on a miniature stage. Swings and a huge grassy lawn are supplemented by a lovely garden, with ponds filled with koi, lily pads, turtles, and ducks. Have a picnic and stay the entire afternoon, or check out another wonderful park in town.

Santa Barbara park

A turtle came out to say hello in a Santa Barbara park.

That would be the animal park – otherwise known as the Santa Barbara Zoo. Located on the grounds of what was once the expansively appointed Child Estate, this beautiful zoo has plenty of shade, lovely grassy spaces, and an amazing coastal view. We’ve never seen as scenic an ocean- adjacent zoo, even in Honolulu.

With five hundred plus animals on site, your children will find many creatures great and small to enjoy – from elephants, giraffes, lions, and monkeys to ocean centric exhibits like sea lions and otters. There are many beautiful aviary exhibits also, with colorful, exotic birds of all types. Our kids loved taking a break and playing in the spacious children’s playground here, too, in the virtual center of the zoo. There’s also a very enjoyable miniature train; and the gift store has excellent books and toys. When we visited around the holidays, lovely animal themed ornaments were for sale.

Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara California

The Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara - beautiful architecture

Want to make your own holiday decorations? Even better, decorations that are ecologically sound? Every Saturday, check out Art from Scrap downtown on Cota Street. Each weekend there’s a wonderful interactive workshop that starts at 10 a.m. Local artists are the teachers, and they’ll help kids select materials for an art project – recycled items that are available in Art from Scrap’s retail store. If your child is younger than five, you’ll need to accompany them as they create. Two hours later: a beautiful, innovative art work.

Also on Saturdays and just around the corner,  is Santa Barbara’s Farmer’s Market. With farm fields in the immediate area, this is a great market, featuring fresh organic produce and locally made products like jellies and jams, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Fresh squeezed juices make a great pick-me-up before moving on with your weekend.

Stearns Wharf Santa Barbara California

We love watching the sailboats from Stearns Wharf.

Just up the street, State Street, Santa Barbara’s main drag – you’ll find the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Rotating exhibits are supplemented by an extensive permanent collection of lovely impressionist pieces, Roman sculptures, and an Asian art collection. The museum is moderately sized and well laid out, making it easy for the kids to enjoy, while at the same time providing enough visual beauty for adults. There’s also a children’s wing, with excellent, modern  interactive exhibits. Best of all, several weekends a month – check the museum’s Web site for their event calendar – the museum offers Studio Sundays. Like Art from Scrap’s program, all ages are invited to experience a hands-on creative workshop staffed by teaching artists. Every month, a different artistic medium is explored at the museum, ranging from sketch studies to sculpting. From clay to paint to paper mache, the studio materials and projects are inspired by art in the museum’s collection. First Thursday’s of every month you’ll find another hands-on, family-focused art project available at the museum as well.

One last delightful children’s attraction in Santa Barbara – Stearns Wharf. The wharf itself is great fun to stroll, with its broad wooden beams and great view of sail boats, sea, and the hilly pastel landscape of the town and the mountain beyond. There are plenty of kitschy gift shops and salt water taffy; and there’s the Sea Center with its excellent touch tanks and sea life displays.

avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

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