It’s no wonder so many people love Santa Barbara. From the sunny beaches to the fine dining, to the local wine tasting, there’s plenty of things to do for everyone. And it’s not just a city for adults, Santa Barbara has some great kids activities as well.
Whether you live nearby and love visiting the city on the weekends, or you’re a local, we’ve got plenty of things for you to do in Santa Barbara, California.
Why We Love to Travel
So why do we love to travel in the first place? Getting to experience cultures that are different from our own or eating cuisine that’s different than what we’re used to are amazing ways to grow as individuals and learn about others. Seeing how other people live helps us keep an open mind and even gather inspiration to bring back into our daily lives.
Travel is also a great way to get away from the day-to-day. Breaking up our routines with a fun trip definitely recharges the batteries and helps prevent us from getting burnt out.
But again – you don’t have to go far from home to get this perspective! Sometimes the best adventures are just around the corner.
Benefits of Traveling Locally
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
- More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and local parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
- Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
- Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
- Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
- More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being close by definitely has its benefits.
Explore Local: Santa Barba, California
Santa Barbara has a bit of something for everyone. Outdoor lovers can have their fill of beautiful beaches and hiking in Los Padres National Forest. Those who love shopping and dining will find their fill on State Street and the Funk Zone. And there’s even tons of fun things for the kids. So let’s get to some of the best things to do in Santa Barbara.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
State Parks in Santa Barbara
From beaches to mountains to forests, the state and national parks in Santa Barbara, California provide everything from hiking to surfing to just sitting back and enjoying the views. Here are some of the state and national parks near Santa Barbara for you to check out.
- Gaviota State Park is only a quick drive from Santa Barbara. With its beautiful beach and 34 miles of hiking trails, it’s the perfect way to spend an entire day.
- El Capitán State Beach is located 20 miles west of Santa Barbara and is a favorite of campers, beachgoers, and hikers. Aside from surfing, fishing, and swimming, it’s a popular place to see the Monarch butterflies, which come to the beach each fall for breeding season.
- Carpinteria State Park is better known as Carpinteria Beach and is great for surf fishing, exploring tide pools, and watching for whales, sea lions, and seals in winter.
- Channel Islands National Park sits just off the coast and is the closest National Park to Santa Barbara. These islands offer a host of fun activities such as snorkeling, diving, hiking, kayaking, and back country camping.
Best Hiking Trails
With all the incredible nature views that surround this town, hikers will love exploring, whether it’s through the woods or along the beach. Here are just a few of the best hiking trails in Santa Barbara.
The Ellwood Bluffs/Coronado Butterfly Preserve is a great trail for beginners or the whole family. This 1.2 mile loop trail on the bluffs that has several paths that lead right down to the beach. Perfect or a run, casual walk, or family saunter. Great views and not strenuous.
Romero Canyon Trail
A popular trail nearby, the Romero Canyon Trail is a 5.5 mile loop trail that is a bit rugged but not too difficult. It’s open year-round and offers both great views of both the surrounding hills and the ocean.
Rattlesnake Canyon Park
If you’re looking for a beautiful but more advanced hike, Rattlesnake Canyon Park is a great option. This 4.4 mile out and back trail is challenging but includes a creek, waterfalls, a meadow, and multiple terrains to keep you interested.
San Ysidro Trail
The San Ysidro Trail is an 8.3 mile difficult hike in the Los Padres National Forest. This in and out hike is well marked but contains some difficult uphill parts. There’s a waterfall about halfway through that is definitely worth a stop.
Best Restaurants in Santa Barbara
You really can’t explore Santa Barbara, California without dining at some of the fantastic restaurants. So when you’re looking for where to eat, check out some of these places to grab lunch or dinner.
For a delicious Italian meal right on the waterfront, be sure to stop by Toma. They offer a mix of traditional and contemporary Italian dishes that use locally sourced ingredients.
The Middle Child
The Middle Child, named for its location between the Santa Barbara farmers markets, gets their fresh ingredients from said markets or from the vendors directly. They serve vegetarian pizzas and salads and even have sandwiches and burgers for any of your meat-eating friends.
Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar
If you’re craving noodles, check out Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar inside the Santa Barbara Public Market. Their Thai noodle, soup, and salad dishes are full of flavor.
Mesa Verde serves modern plant-based dishes with local produce sourced from the surrounding farms. Their food is contemporary Californian style with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences for vegan food that’s anything but bland.
There’s a ton of sushi options in Santa Barbara, but Arigato Sushi is one of the best. Located on State Street, this Japanese restaurant serves high-quality sushi, sashimi, and rolls. It’s usually busy, so make a reservation or plan ahead!
For delicious Mexican food, check out Los Agaves. They perfectly blend classic Mexican dishes with a modern twist and have also won awards for their awesome salsa.
Fun Things to Do in Santa Barbara
For a smaller city, there’s always something going on. Whether you’re looking for things to do in Santa Barbara this weekend or anytime, you won’t run out of options anytime soon.
For Kids and Families
There are plenty of fun things to do with kids in Santa Barbra, and we’re not even counting the beach!
Santa Barbara Zoo
For kids who love animals, the Santa Barbara Zoo is sure to delight. They have almost 150 different species of animals at their zoo, and they also participate in the Species Survival Plans and work with California condor and fox recovery to save them in the wild.
Chase Palm Park
Chase Palm Park is located right on the waterfront and has a large shipwreck themed playground that kids love to play on. There are plenty of picnic tables nearby, so it’s a great place to have lunch by the water and watch your kids burn off some energy.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
This isn’t your typical boring museum. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is hands-on and is full of exhibits for kids to explore both inside and outside. From a butterfly exhibit to a giant whale skeleton, there are all sorts of things kids and look at and play with. And there’s so much information presented in an easily accessible way, that adults love this museum just as much as the kids.
Kids World is an 8,000 square foot park located in downtown Santa Barbara that is an ultimate playground for kids. It includes a castle, swings, slides, and a shark and whale, for kids to climb all over and explore. It’s located in Alameda Park and is a great way for younger kids to play and burn off energy
One of the top things to do in Santa Barbara with kids is to visit the MOXI, or The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. It has 3 floors of hands-on learning exhibits and is for kids through adults. From creating their own inventions to playing on the giant guitar, kids (and adults) can spend hours being entertained.
On the Cheap
You don’t have to break the bank to have fun in this beach town. Here are some of our favorite cheap things to do in Santa Barbara.
It’s hard to miss Stearns Warf, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon wandering around without spending a bunch of money. (Although be careful, you can absolutely spend a bunch of money here!). Grab an ice cream, wander through the shops, or just sit and watch either the people or the ocean for a few hours.
Rent bikes and peddle around town
One of the best ways to explore Santa Barbara is to do it by bike! Renting bikes is the perfect way to see the town and sneak in some exercise. Wheel Fun Bike Rentals is located a block away from Stearns Warf and offers a variety of adult, kids, and electric bikes for you to enjoy for a few hours or the day.
Lil Toot Water Taxi
These cute 15 minute narrated boat tours are fun for both kids and adults. The Lil Toot Water Taxi tickets are cheap, only $5 for adults and $2 for kids, and it will take you from Stearns Warf to the Santa Barbara Harbor or vice versa.
There are all sorts of things to do in Santa Barbara during the day, but there’s still plenty to do after the sun sets.
The Red Piano
The Red Piano in downtown Santa Barbara is a piano bar that features live music every day. Grab your dancing shoes, order a cocktail, and start requesting songs.
Explore Funk Zone
One of the fun things for couples to do in Santa Barbara is to explore the Funk Zone warehouse district and taste your way through a few of the wineries on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. With over 20 tasting rooms, you’ll be sure to find a wine you love.
Just outside Santa Barbara in Goletta is Zodo’s Bowling. Spend the evening bowling, test our virtual reality games, or go old school in their arcade.
Free Things to Do in Santa Barbara
Not all of the fun things in Santa Barbara cost money. In fact, some of our favorite things don’t cost anything at all!
Santa Barbara Courthouse
If you haven’t taken a free tour at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, it’s definitely worth doing. There are docent lead tours every day at 2 pm and also at 10:30 on weekdays. You can learn about the history and architecture of the courthouse, and at certain times you can enter the Bisno Schall Clock Gallery to view the different timepieces.
Explore State Street for ice cream and window shopping
Grab an ice cream and wander around State Street window shopping and people watching. You won’t have to spend any money to enjoy the gorgeous weather.
Santa Barbara Farmers Markets
With different markets on almost every day of the week in the surrounding areas, there’s always a place to wander and explore what the farmers and vendors are selling. The Downtown Santa Barbara Market is open on Saturday from 8:30am-1:00 pm, and the market in Old Town Santa Barbara is open Tuesdays 4:00pm-7:30pm.
Hit the beach!
We obviously couldn’t have a list of things to do in Santa Barbara without mentioning the beach! When all else fails, spend some time soaking in the sun, playing in the surf, or just watching the waves roll in.
Spas in Santa Barbara
With all the places to explore in Santa Barbara, you might need some time to relax. Luckily there are some fantastic spas in the city for you to enjoy some quiet time and indulge in a treatment or two.
Salt Cave Santa Barbara
Not your typical spa, Salt Cave Santa Barbara is the largest salt cave in North America. They offer cleansing cave sessions, spa treatments featuring the Himalayan Sea Salt, and even yoga and health classes. They even created their own line of salt body products so you can take some home with you.
Float Luxury Spa
Float Luxury Spa offers massages, facials, body treatments, or make it a relaxing spa day with one of their packages that will be sure to have you feeling rejuvenated.
The Spa at El Encanto
The gorgeous Spa at El Encanto is the luxury spa housed within the Belmond El Encanto just outside Santa Barbara. Spoil yourself with one of their massages or body treatments.
Best Gyms & Yoga Studios
When you need to look your best for the beaches, check out some of the gyms and yoga studios. Signing up for an outdoor yoga class or fitness class is just another one of the fun things to do in Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara Rock Gym
If you can’t get enough rock climbing, or if you’ve always wanted to try, head over to the Santa Barbara Rock Gym. This indoor rock climbing gym is ideal for all levels, from beginner to expert. They’ve got climbing classes, camps, and are great for kids and adults.
Discover your inner peace at Divinitree Santa Barbara. This yoga studio offers both indoor and outdoor yoga classes in a variety of styles and experience levels.
Killer B Fitness
If you’re looking to get in a great workout, Killer B Fitness is for you. This group training studio offers fitness and strength training classes to help you meet your fitness goals.
Day Trips in Santa Barbara
We’ve talked about some of the top things to do in Santa Barbara itself, but with its central location, Santa Barbara is also in the perfect spot for some easy day trips.
You don’t have to visit Europe to see a castle. Hearst Castle offers a variety of daily tours to explore this incredible mansion and art gallery. Wander through the opulent rooms and imagine what it would have been like to live in this mansion.
The adorable Danish town of Solvang is an easy drive from Santa Barbara. You can check out the Vintage Motorcycle Museum, eat your weight in Danish pastries, or visit during one of their festivals such as Julefest or the Solvang Grape Stomp.
Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country
Spend the day wine tasting in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country. With dozens of different wineries to choose from with different styles of wine, you’ll be able to try to pick your favorites.
And of course, who can forget LA? An easy drive (not counting traffic!), and you’ll be smack dab in the middle of all the excitement.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Santa Barbara that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Santa Barbara? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.