Dive beneath the waves without ever leaving the dock at the new Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Ty Warner Sea Center, on the landmark Stearns Wharf. Test seawater, practice dolphin-speak, and get a quick tutorial on coastal neighbors.
The center's large indoor tidepool draws its water from directly underneath the pier, bathing sea stars, crabs, and sea anemones in the same salt water they'd find in rocky outcroppings along the shore. Underwater windows ― and a tunnel for children to crawl through ― add a fish-eye perspective.
Budding scientists can analyze seawater samples drawn up on long ropes from below the pier or hang around at touch stations filled with slippery critters such as sea cucumbers. But our favorite interactive exhibit is the Marine Mammal Karaoke station, which gives a quick, microphone-heavy tutorial in the undersea languages of whales and dolphins ― no doubt you'll hear yawning imitations of "I love you" in orca all the way home.
INFO: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Ty Warner Sea Center ($7, $6 ages 13-17, $4 ages 2-12; 211 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara; 805/962-2526)