Destination: Santa Barbara, California

Top 3 Experiences

1 Old Mission

One of the first Spanish Colonies in California.

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In the northwest part of town just four blocks from State Street, the Santa Barbara Mission offers visitors a glimpse at the city’s early origins. Founded in 1786, this Californian mission was Spain’s 10th attempt to colonize the region and convert the native inhabitants to Roman Catholicism. Still a functioning house of worship, the Santa Barbara Mission boasts a museum filled with colonial artifacts and early photographs of the area. Also known as the Queen of Missions, the mission grounds also feature La Huerta, a garden that showcases Spain’s agricultural influence on the California landscape, housing plants dating back to when the mission was established.

2 Santa Barbara Zoo

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

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The Santa Barbara Zoo gives visitors a taste of the exotic just a block from the sandy shore. Recent visitors say the small zoo packs a lot of entertaining creatures into a clean, well-designed property. The zoo also features attractions like a 26-foot rock climbing wall and the animal kitchen where visitors can observe animal food preparation. Permanent residents of the zoo include anteaters, leopards, gorillas and penguins. But the biggest celebrities here are the native California condors and rare snow leopards. Despite the zoo’s small size, many visitors praise the diversity of the animals. But they come for more than just the creatures.

3 Botanic Garden

A refresher from the city.

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North of downtown, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a refuge for bored beachgoers and nature enthusiasts alike. Visitors walk on unpaved paths through what, at times, looks like unremarkable brush. However, what you see here is carefully designed. According to the official website, the garden is committed to protecting plants unique to central California’s coastal region — indifferent to their individual beauty. And it’s this diversity (along with Santa Barbara’s stunning mountain views), which differentiates this botanical park from others.

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