At Ostrich Land, visitors quickly learn that ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand—they'd much rather bury them in a bowl of food that you hold out in front of you. They're also not fond of waiting their turn, and at any given moment, you might have four beaks dipping into your supply. The experience is a far cry from throwing bread at ducks or pigeons. These birds are the world's largest: they can reach up to 9 feet in height and weigh 350 pounds. At top speed, they hit 45 miles per hour on their massive, two-toed feet.
Having been raised around people and trained to eat from outstretched bowls, the park's 50 ostriches and emus welcome spectators from their savannah-like enclosure. They're also celebrities in their own right, with bit roles in the film Sideways as well appearances in a Santa Maria Times video feature and a tongue-in-cheek homage in an episode of The Simpsons. Dispensing the animals' supper is only one way in which guests can get close—a stop inside the gift shop reveals shelves of ready-to-cook ostrich and emu eggs, ostrich feather dusters, and savory ostrich meat shipped in from a separate farm not affiliated with Ostrich Land. Also in stock are vials of emu oil, a substance with anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties that can soothe the skin.
Herds of wild horses and burros—about 400 in total—roam the 300-acre Return to Freedom sanctuary, where they're free to exhibit the natural behaviors and social structures they came to know in the wild. However, for many of the horses, it hasn't been an easy journey to their new home. Government roundups displaced these wild steeds from public lands, forcing many into auction, where they were sold off to the highest bidder. Their stories are harrowing, which is why Return to Freedom works tirelessly to help these wild horses resume their natural ways of life. Visitors of the sanctuary can observe these creatures on walking tours and safaris, getting up close and personal with the five herd families that traverse the lands.
Like most of the 400-plus other creatures at Santa Barbara Zoo, Duncan runs, blinks, and growls. Unlike his fellow animals, however, Duncan isn't real. The life-like adolescent Tyrannosaurus Rex stars in the zoo's 15-minute stage show "How to Train Your Dinosaur," where zookeepers demonstrate the special care given to each actual animal. This compassion is on display throughout the 30-acre zoo, where critters such as female Asian elephants, California condors, and Chilean flamingos roam in open, naturalistic habitats.
Elsewhere on the grounds, guests can ride around the zoo's perimeter in replicas of C.P. Huntington trains from 1863, marvel at stunning Pacific Ocean views, or hand-feed domestic sheep and Baringo giraffes. More hands-on experiences are afforded through the zoo's behind-the-scenes packages, such as the Keeper for a Day program, where visitors work alongside pros as they train and clean up after animals. Along with the daily sights available during visiting hours, the zoo hosts events, camps for youngsters, and overnights, where participants can sleep beside the lion exhibit, across the street from the beach.