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Welcome aboard The Joyous Living‘s series on the Santa Barbara Zoo! Located about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles in the picturesque city of Santa Barbara, California, the zoo is one of the most beautiful and lush small zoos in the country and worthy of a visit whether as a half-day or full-day excursion.

Cats of Africa Exhibit

The Cats of Africa exhibit (opened in March 2003) is built on a hillside with a small viewing pavilion near the top. It can also be seen while on the Zoo Train ($5 non-members) which we’ll come to at another time.

There are currently four lions in the exhibit including:
Chadwick: male, born September 1998, weighs 385 pounds
Gingerbread: female, weighs 228 pounds
Kadi: born at Smithsonian’s National Zoo (Washington, D.C.) in 2010; arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo in 2012
Neema: born at Smithsonian’s National Zoo (Washington, D.C.) in 2010; arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo in 2012

The Viewing Areas at The Santa Barbara Zoo

The Zoo recommends a visit to the northern pavilion (near the Giraffe Observation Deck) however this is probably one of my least favorite spots in the zoo for two reasons.

1 – plexiglass. It is almost impossible to get a decent photograph.
2 – too-small space. There was feeding and talk on the day I was at the zoo and like bees to honey so came the swarms of tourists and visitors eager for a good view.

Unfortunately, I witnessed two kids get trampled by the adults who wanted the best view and they had to be rescued by their parents peeling people off the children. Also, a woman at the time I was there claimed that someone hit her in the back vying for a better viewing spot. (DANGEROUS)

So if you do decide to check out the viewing pavilion, please be mindful of your fellow visitors and if you plan on watching the feeding plan on being one of the first people lined up against the glass, even if that means there are people wanting to get in from behind you — trust me, they won’t let you back through if you are feeling generous (like I was) at a quarter ’til.

The Zoo Train

Now if you are interested in a close-up of the lions, might I suggest the Zoo Train. I know you’re thinking – $5!?!?! – but if you want a good view of some of the zoo’s background and of the lions this is really one of the only options! The train takes you on a journey around the perimeter of the zoo (leaving every half hour and lasting for approximately 15 minutes) and one of the spots is the Cats of Africa exhibit. You’ll be separated from the lions by a wired fence and a healthy distance but what a majestic sight you’re able to witness.

On my particular train ride, I saw both Gingerbread and Chadwick resting in the shade. There was no plexiglass separating us nor were there rows of tourists in front of me vying for a better viewing spot. The only bummer is that because you are on a train, you won’t have all day to just stand there and marvel at these glorious beauties. But if you are looking for a view this is the best option.

Santa Barbara Zoo

For more information about the Santa Barbara Zoo‘s lions visit their website here.

For exact feeding times and talks, please check the hand-written clapboard near the zoo’s main entrance.

Zoo Tickets: $10-$17
Train Tickets: $5 (non-member); $4 (member)
Parking (in the zoo’s lot): $7 (non-member); 1 free car (member)
Zoo Address: 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

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What are your favorite animals to visit at the zoo?

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