A Day at the Santa Barbara Zoo: Experience Gifts for Toddlers

The Santa Barbara zoo is the perfect  zoo to visit with a toddler! There are grassy areas to run, playgrounds to explore, and the perfect amount of animals to see in a day. The Santa Barbara zoo is also located close to the beach, making it easy to have a full day of family fun. A membership to the zoo is the perfect experience gift for your toddler, and allows you to enjoy the zoo all year long!

Why I love Experience Gifts

If you read my Mother’s Day posts here and here, you know I love experience gifts. We  were lucky enough to receive a Santa Barbara zoo membership for Christmas and it was one of the best gifts we have ever received! I love that instead of receiving material goods we are able to create new memories as a family. The membership is great because we get to visit the zoo whenever we like for a year! We’re 11 months into our membership and we have visited the zoo SIX times. If you visit an attraction frequently I recommend comparing the single day to membership prices. You can  save a ton of money!

Experience Gift Ideas

  •  Museum memberships- often times this includes discounts to other museums, as well as priority access to family nights or summer camp sessions!
  • Aquarium and zoo memberships-Nationwide zoos and aquariums have teamed up to give you discounts with your membership!
  • Camping passes or state park passes- visit the beach often? Skip the $10 parking fee with a park pass!
  • Classes or summer camp- interested in dance or karate? Skip paying for toys and instead use that money to buy a few month’s worth of lessons!
  • Family trip- go on a vacation together!
  • Adults will love experience gifts too- We received gift cards to a restaurant and a night of babysitting, she got to spend the night with her cousins so it was a win for all of us!

Get creative with your gift list for your little one and there are so many opportunities to explore and learn more while creating memories.

Membership to the Santa Barbara Zoo

There are many options for memberships at the Santa Barbara Zoo. We have the Dual Plus membership, so Ry, Aaliyah, and I can all go for free and bring one guest! The membership also includes free parking, discounts on giraffe feedings, train rides, and entrance to other zoos and aquariums all across the country.

For one visit to the zoo the total cost of parking and admission is $56 and the price of a dual plus membership is $95. Two visits are more than the price of the membership! If we pack our own food and drinks, and skip the giraffe feedings we don’t have to spend a single penny to visit the zoo. It has definitely been worth it for us and makes it really easy to drive there on a weekend when we have nothing to do!

Why We Love the Santa Barbara Zoo

The Santa Barbara Zoo is one of my favorites I have ever visited. The size, animals, activities, and location make it the perfect zoo to take your toddler!


I have been to zoos that are much larger than the Santa Barbara Zoo. Not that it is a small zoo, but the San Diego zoo is huge! The Santa Barbara Zoo is such a great size for kids. It is easy to walk through, and there are very few places on the walkway you have to double back to make sure you see all of the animals. Typically it takes us around 2 hours to walk through, and that includes Aaliyah walking most of the way! If they get tired the walkways are very stroller friendly, and there are always alternative paths with ramps instead of stairs.


The zoo’s animals are not only diverse but easy to see! They have large animals like elephants, giraffes, leopards, and lions. But they also have flamingos, gibbons, bugs and snakes! I really appreciate that most of their enclosures are easy for little ones to see the animals. They are either open, or have full glass paneling, and we hardly ever have to lift Aaliyah up so that she can see!


There is so much to do besides just see the animals! Many of the exhibits have interactive elements, there a researchers hut with the gorilla, you can walk through the bird enclosures, and there are tons of signs with facts and size comparisons. They have daily performances on their stage with birds and dinosaurs! For a few extra dollars you can also feed the giraffes or farm animals, or ride the zoo train.

To burn some energy your little one will also love the play area! There are giant eggs to crawl in, a sliding hill, and musical instruments. There are picnic tables nearby, making this the perfect spot to stop and take a rest during your visit.


Santa Barbara is such a beautiful city. The zoo is located only a few blocks from the beach, and you can leave the zoo and walk down the pier in only a few minutes! You can enjoy the sand, the pier, or walk down the boardwalk and check out handmade vendors. While the surrounding area is beautiful, the zoo itself is gorgeous. There are big grassy areas to run, flowers growing throughout, and beautiful cacti and trees along the paths.

I love experience gifts, almost as much as I love the Santa Barbara Zoo! What experience gifts are on your list this year?

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  1. parentsmarternotharder says:

    Hi Lexi!

    I love this post. We got my daughter a membership to our local zoo and I don’t regret it one bit. We had so much fun there (as did a number of family members and friends), and she learned so much.

    Watching the look on her face when we saw her favorite animals and learned about them was the best!

    I’m going to renew the membership again this year for a lot of the reasons you gave in this post.

    I love your photos (and you may have inspired me to actually do the giraffe interaction from our zoo).

  2. Activities for kids add up so fast! This looks like such a fun place to visit, and it definitely would make a great gift for kids. I love that photo of the giraffe!

  3. The Mindful MD Mom says:

    Totally agree! Investing in memories is so much better than just buying stuff. Glad yall had a great time at the zoo!

  4. I love the idea of experience gifts for children. A few years ago we did the zoo and my boys still love going to the zoo. This is such a great idea.

  5. It’s so important sharing experiences with the young ones. And the zoo is a great place. My kids always enjoyed a zoo outing.

  6. 101foodtravel says:

    That is a beautiful zoo. My kids loves going to the zoo. We pretty much visited all the zoo near us. It’s time to go further and see other places.

  7. salasadriana says:

    Looks like a lot of fun for the little ones! Experience gifts are the best!

  8. what a fun time at the zoo!

  9. This looks like such a fun experience!

  10. The Cinnamon Mom says:

    This zoo is beautiful! I LOVE the idea of experience gifts. They leave such a meaningful, lasting impression!

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