Educational Field Trips at the Santa Barbara Zoo

Educational Field Trips at the Santa Barbara Zoo


The Santa Barbara Zoo plays a critical role in the local community, as well as the larger ecological system of California. In addition to supporting a wide range of conservation projects throughout the state, the organization provides many opportunities for education for Santa Barbara residents and visitors. Many of the educational programs created by the Santa Barbara Zoo are aimed toward exposing younger visitors to critical concepts in biology and ecology.

Field Trips to the Santa Barbara Zoo

One of the critical educational initiatives at the Santa Barbara Zoo remains the field trip program, which invites groups from local schools for an interactive learning experience. Zoo officials strive to integrate the experience with classroom learning and encourage teachers to undertake special study projects with their students that will make the field trip more meaningful. Understanding the critical importance of firsthand learning, especially in the sciences, the Santa Barbara Zoo maintains the ZOO4U Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships for visiting groups from Title 1 schools.

To enhance the field trip experience, instructors can choose from supplemental field trip options, such as discovery stations, lunch, and zoo train rides.

The Santa Barbara Zoo Discovery Stations

santa barbara zoo giraffeThe Santa Barbara Zoo’s discovery stations provide age-appropriate, hands-on activities for students. Different discovery stations offer different experiences and lessons. The Animal Senses station looks at the ways in which various animals’ senses vary from those of humans. Humans have rather limited senses, and this program challenges students to think about what it might be like to experience the world in a radically different way. The program also includes a direct encounter with a “creepy crawly” animal.

The Fantastic Giraffes station is a 45-minute program that looks at the unique anatomy of a giraffe, as well as the conservation efforts that have been made around the world to protect giraffe populations. While the program does not include a direct encounter with giraffes, instructors can elect to pair it with Giraffe Feeding option to round out the student experience. With this option, students are able to feed the giraffes by hand and ask zoo educators about giraffes.

The third discovery station, Inside Scoop, focuses specifically on animal diets. It also includes a tour of the zoo kitchen, where all of the food for the animals is prepared. Students have the chance to look at mammal dentition and the morphology of bird beaks. Pairing this program with the Barnyard Feeding option can reinforce learning.

Instructors may also want to consider booking rides for students on the Zoo Train. This ride, which lasts from 10 to 12 minutes, provides a behind-the-scenes peek at many of the animal exhibits and teaches children about the science of zookeeping. While instructors cannot book train rides in advance, they can make a reservation when they arrive at the zoo.

Wildlife-Centered Field Trips for the Entire Family

Constantly striving to take educational opportunities outside of the zoo walls, Santa Barbara Zoo educators also offer a variety of field trips that take individuals on weekend adventures to nearby areas of interest. For example, the FrogWatch Family Camping Trip takes people into the Santa Barbara backcountry alongside conservation biologists to look for rare and endangered amphibians in springs and streams. Participants trek to the Los Padres National Forest and camp overnight next to the Santa Ynez River, where they collect frog and toad vocalization data for the citizen science project FrogWatch USA.

Another trip is the Jalama Beach Family Camping Trip, which includes a few nights of beachside camping and the opportunity to explore the Point Conception marine ecosystem. As families explore the offshore kelp forests, they will have the opportunity to see sea otters, California sea lions, and harbor seals. It’s also not uncommon to catch glimpses of migrating whales off the coast.

Children interested in birds will love the Condor Country Family Camping Trip, which takes families to Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Individuals camp at a National Forest Campground for two nights and spend their days working with conservation biologists to learn about wildlife tracking methods. Participants have the chance to practice the field techniques that they learn as they spot California condors, tule elk, and pronghorn.

The Santa Barbara Zoo also offers the PCH Roadtrip, which allows families to explore the rugged central California coast as they caravan up the Pacific Coast Highway. Highlights of the trip include stops at condor country in Big Sur, an elephant seal rookery, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Guided by a zoo naturalist, who can answer any questions about the local ecosystems, the trip includes everything from short hikes, to wildlife sightings, to roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

To find out more about these key educational opportunities, as well as the many other opportunities for learning, visit the Santa Barbara Zoo website, at