It is not an accident that both locals and visitors have identified Santa Barbara as the American Riviera for so many generations. People come here with friends and family to spend a really good time by the sea, enjoying its beaches, the many attractions that they can find in town, the really important historical landmarks around every corner, or just to walk the city and get surprised by its beautiful buildings, the variety of neighborhoods that wait for them in each area of the city, the shops and stores where almost any kind of thing can be found, or the exquisite restaurants and bars with flavors that come from every part of the world.
Santa Barbara offers options to have fun for locals and visitors of all ages, cultural backgrounds, and identities. And lovers of nature can indeed be counted among them. It is hard to imagine that they will get disappointed with what Santa Barbara has for them in terms of opportunities to contemplate nature or even get directly involved with it. The following list will give you a short sample of the many options that you have in the Santa Barbara area to get in touch with nature, and perhaps start seeing it from a very different, and hopefully richer, perspective.
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Located in Mission Canyon, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a great option for any person who loves nature. It has over 1000 species of plants, both rare and indigenous, and Mission Creek, which flows through its premises, gives the place a very peaceful atmosphere to enjoy nature in all its splendor. The Garden was designed by Beatrix Farrand, a noted landscape architect, and its foundation dates from 1926. Its focus has mainly been plants native to California Floristic Province, planted in natural settings. In 1983, it was officially included in the list of Santa Barbara County Landmarks.
If you like plants, and maybe you feel that what the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has for you is not enough, that you still need more, you can visit Lotusland. This is regarded as one of the most beautiful gardens in the country, and there are plenty of reasons for that. Located in Montecito, Lotusland originally belonged to the Polish-born opera singer, celebrity and socialité Ganna Walska. She acquired the 37-acre estate in 1941, and her intention was to use it as a private retreat. For that reason, she spent about 43 years planning and planting her garden. And the result was this marvelous spectacle of colors and fragrances called Lotusland.
Santa Barbara Zoo
If besides plants, you also like animals, indeed the Santa Barbara Zoo, first opened in August 1963, will be a great option for you. With about 30 acres of land, and over 500 animals in different exhibits, this zoo has been repeatedly ranked as one of the best small zoos in the United States. It is located near the ocean, in the site that was formerly known as the Child Estate. You can find in your visit animals such as capybara and California condors, African lions and black-footed cats, western lowland gorillas, Channel Island foxes, desert, Sulcata, and Asian pond tortoises, bald eagles, Masai giraffes, East African crowned cranes, slender-tailed meerkats, Humboldt penguins, Inca terns, coastal South American birds, Asian elephants, among many others. You can also enjoy some non-animal attractions, such as the Zoo Train.
Andree Clark Bird Refuge
Another option for the lovers of animals is indeed Andree Clark Bird Refuge. Located in the area bounded by the Santa Barbara Zoo, Highway 101, and East Cabrillo Boulevard, this is a saltwater marsh of 42 acres, and is considered one of the largest refuges of wildlife in Santa Barbara County. The purpose of the site as a place to provide refuge for wild birds that reside permanently in the area or migrate dates from the 1920’s. It has an artificial freshwater/brackish lake, whose origin is due to Huguette M. Clark, who donated $50.000 in 1928 to excavate the pond. In the memory of her deceased sister, she stipulated that the area would receive its current name, Andree Clark Bird Refuge. Besides the pleasure of bird sighting, with over 200 species of resident and migratory birds to spot, visitors may enjoy the bike path around the lake in the eastern and southern perimeter, and the different walking paths along the northern shore.
Douglas Family Preserve
Located on the mesa, above Arroyo Burro Beach, Douglas Family Preserve, also known as the Wilcox Property, is a public park of 70 acres. It offers spectacular views of the ocean, and is in fact the largest area of coastal open space within the limits of the city of Santa Barbara. The property was formerly the site of the Wilcox nursery, until it closed in 1972. A great place for hiking, watching whales and dolphins, or simply taking a walk with your dog.