October 21, 2022

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Named Runner-Up for Family Fun Spot in “Best of Santa Barbara” in Readers’ Poll Held by SB Independent

Opening of Kid-Centered Backcountry “Has Proved to Be a Hit with Local Families”

Santa Barbara, Calif. October 20, 2022 – For the first time, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has been honored with a “Best of Santa Barbara” award in the category of Family Fun Spot in the annual readers’ poll held by the weekly Santa Barbara Independent newspaper. The Garden was voted Runner-Up to the longtime winner Santa Barbara Zoo.

“We feel that this is in direct response to the opening of our new kid-centered Backcountry last June, which has proven to be a hit with local families.” says Scot Pipkin, director of education at the Garden. “It encourages kids to explore nature in an unstructured way, and is designed to present surprises and challenges that engage their imagination and sense of discovery. When I meet people in the community and tell them where I work, the sincere gratitude and enthusiasm I’ve received for the Backcountry and what it means to their families has been overwhelming.”

Readers of the Independent vote for their favorite local businesses and organizations in 208 categories encompassing food, entertainment, romance, children and family activities, home improvement, sports, recreation, and more.

Kids reading in Hawks Nest Casitas as Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Photo: Andrea Russell Photography

“Being named ‘Best of Santa Barbara’ means more than just bragging rights,” writes the Independent’s Culture Editor Leslie Dinaberg, announcing this year’s winners. “It’s a meaningful vote of confidence from the community.”

The 4.5-acre Backcountry garden has been specially designed for all visitors, but particularly ages five to 13, to pursue nature play – climb on fallen trees, rock-hop, build forts out of natural materials, navigate a maze, and more. Nature educators called “Backcountry Rangers” are on site to ensure safety, maintain the garden, and help guide the visitor experience.

Guests may round a corner to encounter a six-foot-tall troll constructed from rocks and native plant materials found in the garden, or follow an invitation to look more closely underneath a decomposing log.

Five temporary outdoor playhouses called Casitas are scattered throughout Backcountry. Selected through a design competition, each Casita creatively incorporates natural materials to provide unique perspectives of nature. Children pretend to be bees while climbing through a human-scaled pollinator home, or take a break to enjoy nature-themed books in the “The Hawk’s Nest.”

“These delightful experiences foster long-lasting connections with native plants and habitats,” adds Pipkin. “Our goal is to spark a lifelong connection with nature, and inspire the next generation of conservationists.”

Backcountry opened in June 2022 after a two-year design/build process. The $4 million budget was raised through community donations and includes a $2.5 million endowment to ensure staffing and upkeep in perpetuity.

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