Local Spots

Things to Do in Santa Barbara California

Discover the best attractions, activities, and hidden gems that make Santa Barbara a must-visit destination in California. From beautiful beaches to historic landmarks, our guide highlights everything you need to know for an unforgettable trip.

Create a picturesque scene of Santa Barbara, California without any people or text. Illustrate key landmarks such as palm-lined sandy beaches, the historic Santa Barbara Courthouse with its bright beautiful murals, the picturesque Stearns Wharf, and the sun setting behind the Santa Ynez Mountains. Make sure to capture the essence of the city's Spanish colonial heritage, evident in whitewashed buildings with red-tile roofs. Include the Pacific Ocean glistening under the golden sun. No text or brand names are included in the scene.

Explore Santa Barbara’s Breathtaking Beaches

Santa Barbara’s coastline is nothing short of stunning. You’ll find a plethora of beaches each offering a unique charm.

East Beach is ideal for those who love bustling environments and socializing. It’s a perfect spot for beach volleyball and picnics.

For a quieter experience, visit Butterfly Beach in Montecito. This serene beach is perfect for sunset views and a peaceful retreat.

Arroyo Burro Beach, also known as Hendry’s Beach, is dog-friendly. It has a laid-back vibe and is great for families and pets alike.

If you’re visiting with children, Leadbetter Beach offers calm waters making it a safe spot for kids to swim. Don’t miss the nearby Shoreline Park for a scenic picnic.

Take advantage of the public facilities and browse the local shops and cafes that line the nearby Cabrillo Boulevard during your beach day.

Visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is an architectural delight dating back to 1929. It’s known for its Spanish Colonial Revival style.

You can go on a self-guided tour or join a docent-guided tour to learn more about its historical significance.

Don’t miss the clock tower view, which offers a stunning 360-degree panorama of Santa Barbara and the ocean beyond.

Many visitors say that this spot provides one of the most picturesque views in Santa Barbara, making it a must-visit.

Discover the Santa Barbara Wine Country

Nestled within Santa Barbara are several renowned wineries. You might want to embark on a wine tasting tour.

Some of the best wineries include Sunstone Vineyards and Winery, which is known for its sustainable farming practices and stunning French style architecture.

Foxen Vineyard offers an elegant tasting room experience and has received rave reviews for its Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

Another top choice is the family-owned and operated Bridlewood Estate Winery. Set on a scenic 105-acre property, it’s a dreamy escape.

For those who want a guided experience, Wine Cask Restaurant offers dining and sampling within the heart of Santa Barbara’s Historic El Paseo complex.

Indulge in Santa Barbara’s Culinary Scene

Santa Barbara is a haven for foodies. With its farm-to-table ethos and fresh seafood, the dining options are endless.

One popular spot is The Lark, located in the Funk Zone. It serves contemporary American fare that emphasizes local ingredients.

For a fantastic breakfast or brunch experience, check out Jeannine’s Restaurant and Bakery. It’s renowned for its cakes and pastries.

If you’re a fan of seafood, don’t miss Brophy Bros., a lively seafood restaurant with harbor views.

Looking for something unique? Try Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar. It has a menu inspired by Southeast Asian street food and is situated within the Public Market.

For those who prefer a vegetarian or vegan meal, Satellite offers locally sourced, organic dishes paired with natural wines.

Enjoy the Santa Barbara Zoo

The Santa Barbara Zoo is a delightful destination for families and animal lovers. It houses over 500 animals in a beautifully landscaped setting.

The zoo is relatively small, which makes it perfect for a half-day visit. It’s located near the beach and offers beautiful ocean views inside.

The zoo features engaging exhibits like the “Tropical Rainforest” and the “Cats of Africa.” Don’t miss the giraffe feeding station for an up-close experience.

The zoo is praised for being clean and well-maintained, and it’s often less crowded in the mornings and during weekdays.

Shop at the Santa Barbara Public Market

The Santa Barbara Public Market is your one-stop-shop for artisanal foods, fresh produce, and unique culinary finds.

This indoor market is located in the bustling downtown area and features a variety of vendors offering everything from fresh seafood to gourmet chocolates.

You can grab a hand-crafted coffee at Green Star Coffee and enjoy freshly made sushi at Sushi Bar, all within the market.

The market also hosts cooking classes and wine tasting events, making it a fantastic place to learn new culinary skills.

It’s said that locals and tourists alike appreciate the variety and quality of products offered here.

Embrace Nature at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden showcases the diverse plant species native to California. It’s a peaceful retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle.

The garden spans 78 acres and features trails that wind through various habitats, including redwoods, meadows, and desert areas.

The historic Mission Dam and Aqueduct, constructed in 1807, is a highlight not to miss within the garden.

Visitors often enjoy the seasonal wildflower displays and the Japanese Teahouse and Zen Garden.

Be sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking the trails, and consider bringing a picnic to enjoy in the designated areas.

Hit the Trails: Hiking in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a hiker’s paradise. One of the most popular trails is the Seven Falls Trail which offers stunning canyon views and refreshing streams.

For a challenging hike, try the Inspiration Point Trail. The panoramic views from the top are well worth the effort.

If you want something more family-friendly, the Ocean View Trail in the Douglas Family Preserve offers a relatively easy hike with beautiful coastal views.

Also, visit the nearby Hidden Coastal Retreats for serene hiking spots that you might not find on typical tourist guides.

Remember to bring plenty of water and sun protection, especially during the warmer months as Santa Barbara’s sun can be quite strong.

Join a Santa Barbara Harbor Kayak Tour

For those who enjoy adventure sports, kayaking in Santa Barbara Harbor is a must-try activity.

There are several outfitters like Paddle Sports Center and Santa Barbara Adventure Company that offer guided kayak tours.

You might be lucky enough to see dolphins, seals, and even whales during your outing. The guides are often knowledgeable about the local marine life and habitat.

For beginners, the tours are often designed to be safe and enjoyable. Experienced paddlers can take more challenging tours that explore the nearby Channel Islands.

If you’re worried about gear, most companies provide all necessary equipment, including life vests and kayaks.

Uncover Santa Barbara’s Art Scene

Art lovers will find plenty to explore in Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art features an impressive collection of American, European, and Asian works.

Local galleries, such as Sullivan Goss, offer contemporary art pieces from regional artists. It’s an excellent opportunity to support local talent.

During the first Thursday of every month, many galleries open their doors for the First Thursday Art Walk, where you can enjoy exhibits and live music.

For those interested in more interactive experiences, the MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, offers hands-on exhibits for all ages.

There’s a rich cultural element to explore here, making it ideal for a leisurely afternoon or evening outing.

Attend a Performance at the Granada Theatre

The Granada Theatre is a historic venue that hosts a variety of performances, ranging from ballet and opera to concerts and lectures.

Built in 1924, this theater is an architectural gem in Santa Barbara’s downtown area.

Check out their calendar of events as there’s always something happening that might pique your interest. Tickets can often be purchased online for convenience.

If you’re planning a visit, make sure to arrive early as street parking can sometimes be challenging. Valet options are also available.

With its beautifully restored interiors and comfortable seating, attending a performance here is a memorable experience.

Stroll Through Stern’s Wharf

Stearn’s Wharf is the oldest working wharf in California and is a fantastic place to spend a relaxing afternoon.

The wharf offers stunning ocean views and is home to several shops and restaurants, including the famous Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

For a family-friendly activity, visit the Sea Center, an interactive marine education facility run by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Enjoy local seafood, ice cream, and unique souvenirs. One of the best times to visit is in the late afternoon for a serene sunset view.

It’s a bustling area but also offers moments of tranquility, making it a perfect blend of activity and relaxation.

Marvel at the Old Mission Santa Barbara

Old Mission Santa Barbara is often referred to as the “Queen of the Missions.” It offers a rich history dating back to its founding in 1786.

You can take a self-guided tour or attend a docent-led tour to delve deeper into its history and architecture.

The rose garden nearby is perfect for a peaceful stroll or a picnic. It’s a popular spot for photographers and history enthusiasts alike.

The mission still hosts regular services and events, so check their schedule if you want to attend a mass or special event.

It’s said that visiting the Mission gives you a deeper understanding of California’s early history and the impact of the Spanish missions.

Explore the Funk Zone

The Funk Zone is Santa Barbara’s vibrant arts district. It’s known for its eclectic mix of galleries, wine tasting rooms, and boutique shops.

If you’re into street art, you’ll find a variety of murals and installations all over the area. It’s an Instagram-worthy spot for sure.

Stop by Municipal Winemakers for a casual wine tasting experience and make sure to check out their unique repurposed warehouse space.

For a bite to eat, head to Lucky Penny, a charming pizzeria known for its wood-fired pizzas and casual atmosphere.

It’s best to visit during the late afternoon when you can enjoy both the shopping and the lively nightlife as the area comes alive in the evening.

Immerse Yourself in Santa Barbara’s Festivals and Events

Santa Barbara hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a significant event that attracts film enthusiasts from around the world.

If you are a wine lover, the California Wine Festival offers the opportunity to sample wines from more than 250 wineries every July.

The Summer Solstice Parade, held in June, is a colorful and joyous event celebrating the season’s arrival. It features elaborate floats, dancers, and musicians.

In the fall, the Harbor and Seafood Festival provides a chance to sample the freshest seafood while enjoying live music and harbor views.

These festivals provide a fantastic way to experience the local culture and community spirit, often with something for everyone’s taste.

Enjoy a Day at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

One of the best places for both kids and adults to learn and have fun is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

This museum, established in 1916, includes exhibits on various subjects such as astronomy, marine biology, and geology.

The Sea Center, located on Stearns Wharf, is part of the museum and offers interactive marine exhibits.

Kids will love the hands-on opportunities such as touching live sea stars and exploring the small aquarium.

It’s a great educational experience that’s highly recommended for families visiting Santa Barbara.

Take a Scenic Drive Along the Gaviota Coast

The Gaviota Coast stretches along the Santa Barbara coastline, offering stunning views of the ocean and rolling hills.

This scenic drive covers approximately 76 miles from Coal Oil Point to Point Sal, making it perfect for a leisurely day trip.

You can explore the coastal parks, including Gaviota State Park, which offers hiking trails and picnic areas.

If you’re lucky, you might even spot some whales during migration season or witness breathtaking sunsets.

Be sure to pack a camera, as the idyllic landscapes provide ample photo opportunities along the way.

Attend a Workshop at the Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science, and Technology

Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science, and Technology (SBCAST) is a hub for creativity and innovation.

They regularly host workshops and events that cover an array of topics from visual arts to scientific exploration.

The center is dedicated to fostering collaboration between artists, engineers, scientists, and technologists.

It’s an excellent place to engage in creative learning and meet like-minded individuals.

Check their event calendar to find a workshop or event that piques your interest during your visit.

Explore Santa Barbara’s Historic Downtown

Walking through Santa Barbara’s historic downtown is like stepping back in time with its Spanish Colonial architecture and charming streets.

Be sure to explore State Street, the main thoroughfare lined with shops, cafes, and theaters.

Don’t miss the historic El Paseo, known as one of the first shopping centers in the United States.

For an immersive historical experience, visit the Casa de la Guerra, an adobe structure dating back to the early 19th century.

This area is rich in history and offers plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in Santa Barbara’s cultural heritage.

Relax at Lotusland

Ganna Walska Lotusland is a hidden gem in Santa Barbara, an impressive 37-acre garden with exotic plant species.

Founded by opera singer Ganna Walska, the garden features unique collections like the cycad and cactus gardens.

Visitors rave about the tranquil atmosphere and the meticulous care taken in maintaining the garden.

Advanced reservations are required, so plan your visit ahead to ensure you don’t miss this serene retreat.

The well-curated gardens make Lotusland a must-see for nature lovers and gardening enthusiasts.

Catch a Film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a significant event for movie lovers.

Held annually, SBIFF features over 200 films from different genres and countries, offering a diverse viewing experience.

In addition to screenings, the festival also hosts panel discussions, workshops, and gala events.

This is a fantastic opportunity to see independent films you might not find anywhere else.

It’s worth planning a trip around the festival dates to catch some remarkable films and celebrity sightings.

Discover Santa Barbara’s Hispanic Heritage at the Casa del Herrero

Casa del Herrero, also known as the House of the Blacksmith, is a historic estate in Montecito showcasing Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

The house was designed by architect George Washington Smith in the 1920s and is now a museum.

Guided tours offer an in-depth look at the estate’s art, architecture, and beautiful gardens.

The detailed craftsmanship and preserved historical artifacts provide a window into the region’s Hispanic heritage.

It’s said that visiting Casa del Herrero feels like stepping into an old-world Spanish village.

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Santa Barbara

For a unique perspective of Santa Barbara, consider booking a hot air balloon ride.

Companies like Sky’s the Limit Ballooning Adventures offer sunrise flights that provide breathtaking views of the coastline and vineyards.

As you float above the landscape, you might even see wildlife and landmarks from a bird’s-eye view.

These tours often include a champagne toast, making it a memorable experience for special occasions.

It’s a highly-recommended activity for adventure seekers looking for a serene yet exhilarating experience.

Peruse the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show

The Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show, held every Sunday along Cabrillo Boulevard, is a community tradition since 1965.

Over 200 local artists display their handcrafted items, ranging from paintings to jewelry.

The scenic oceanfront location adds to the charm, making it a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

This show provides an excellent opportunity to find unique gifts and souvenirs while supporting local artists.

It’s a must-visit for anyone interested in arts and crafts while enjoying the beautiful Santa Barbara coastline.

Plan a Family Day at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum offers fascinating exhibits focusing on the maritime history of the region.

The museum features interactive displays like a replica of a historic whaling boat and a lighthouse lens.

Children will particularly enjoy the Munger Theater, which showcases films about marine life and historical maritime events.

Located on the waterfront, the museum is also close to several dining options and Stearns Wharf.

It’s an educational yet fun destination for families interested in the rich maritime heritage of Santa Barbara.

Tour the Santa Barbara Presidio

The Santa Barbara Presidio is a historical landmark that dates back to 1782. It’s one of the four original presidios built by Spain in California.

You can explore the restored buildings and learn about the early military and civilian life in Santa Barbara during the Spanish colonial period.

The site offers guided tours that provide detailed historical context and an understanding of the area’s significance.

It’s a serene and educational spot, perfect for history buffs and those interested in the early days of California.

Many visitors enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and well-maintained grounds, making it a must-visit destination in Santa Barbara.

Take a Bike Ride Along Cabrillo Bike Path

The Cabrillo Bike Path follows the coastline, offering stunning ocean views and a smooth ride for bikers of all levels.

Bike rentals are available nearby, including electric bikes if you prefer a more leisurely pace.

This path connects several major attractions, including Stearns Wharf, the Santa Barbara Zoo, and Butterfly Beach.

It’s a fantastic way to see the city while getting some exercise and fresh air.

If you’re here on a Sunday, you might also enjoy the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show along Cabrillo Boulevard.

Spend a Day at Elings Park

Elings Park is one of the largest outdoor recreation areas in Santa Barbara, offering a variety of activities.

The park features hiking and biking trails with stunning views of the coastline and cityscape.

Families can enjoy picnicking, playgrounds, and sports fields, making it an excellent spot for a family outing.

For those interested in adventure, the park also offers paragliding and hang gliding opportunities.

It’s a versatile park with plenty to keep visitors entertained, no matter their interests.

Explore Santa Barbara’s Historic Adobes

Santa Barbara is home to several historic adobe buildings that provide a glimpse into the city’s past.

Casa de la Guerra is one of the most notable, dating back to the early 1800s. It’s now a museum offering historical exhibits.

The Rafael Gonzalez House, another significant adobe, showcases the architecture and lifestyle of early Californian settlers.

Visiting these historical sites offers a unique perspective on Santa Barbara’s heritage and cultural evolution.

Be sure to check their opening hours and tour availability to make the most of your visit.

Visit the Carriage and Western Art Museum

The Carriage and Western Art Museum features a fascinating collection of historical carriages and Western-themed artwork.

Located in Pershing Park, the museum’s exhibits include stagecoaches, wagons, and other horse-drawn vehicles from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

You can also see saddles and tack once owned by notable figures like Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart.

The museum offers a unique look into the transportation and lifestyle of the American West.

It’s an interesting stop for history enthusiasts and those looking to learn more about Western heritage.

Take a Wine Tasting Tour Through the Funk Zone

The Funk Zone is not only an arts district but also a hub for wine tasting. Wine lovers will find plenty of tasting rooms to explore.

Start your tour at Pali Wine Co., known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and enjoy their casual, laid-back atmosphere.

Next, head to Deep Sea Tasting Room, which offers stunning ocean views along with a wide selection of wines.

The Reds Bar and Lounge at Municipal Winemakers is perfect for trying unique and experimental wines.

Finish your tour at The Valley Project, where you can sample wines from different regions of the Santa Ynez Valley.

Participate in a Workshop at Santa Barbara Public Library

The Santa Barbara Public Library is more than just books; it offers a variety of workshops and events for all ages.

From creative writing and art classes to tech tutorials, there’s something for everyone’s interests.

The library’s calendar is filled with educational and fun activities like storytelling sessions for kids and book clubs for adults.

Workshops often feature guest speakers and experts, providing valuable insights and hands-on experiences.

It’s a great resource for visitors looking to learn something new or simply enjoy a literary environment.

Explore the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum offers a fascinating dive into the region’s maritime history. Located at the waterfront, it’s an ideal place for both kids and adults.

Visitors can explore interactive exhibits like a replica of the Point Conception Lighthouse lens and a historic fishing boat.

The museum also features engaging displays on local marine life, shipwrecks, and the Chumash Native Americans who first inhabited the area.

The museum’s location offers stunning views, and it’s near other attractions, making it a convenient stop on your itinerary.

Don’t miss the Munger Theatre, where you can watch short films about the rich maritime history of Santa Barbara.

Find This and More on Amazon

Shop Now

Relax and Unwind at Shoreline Park

Shoreline Park is one of Santa Barbara’s most picturesque parks, offering panoramic views of the coastline.

It’s an excellent spot for a leisurely picnic, with several picnic tables and barbecue grills available.

The park features a playground for children, making it a family-friendly destination.

There are also walking paths and benches where you can sit and enjoy the ocean breeze.

During whale migration season, it’s a popular spot for whale watching, so bring your binoculars.

Catch a Sunset at Thousand Steps Beach

Thousand Steps Beach is a hidden gem located at the end of a series of stairs leading down to the ocean.

The beach offers a secluded and peaceful environment, perfect for a romantic evening or a quiet retreat.

Sunsets here are particularly stunning, making it a favorite spot for photographers and nature lovers.

The steps can be steep and uneven, so wear comfortable shoes and take your time on your way down and up.

It’s a less crowded spot, providing a serene atmosphere compared to some of the more popular beaches.

Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery is a prominent art gallery featuring works from American artists spanning more than 150 years.

Located in downtown Santa Barbara, the gallery hosts rotating exhibits showcasing contemporary and historical pieces.

It’s an excellent place to discover new artists and support local talent.

The gallery staff are knowledgeable and often provide insights into the artworks on display.

It’s a perfect stop for art enthusiasts looking to immerse themselves in the local art scene.

Enjoy Seasonal Events at Alameda Park

Alameda Park is known for hosting various seasonal events and festivals throughout the year.

One of the highlights is the annual Earth Day Festival, which focuses on environmental sustainability and features booths, live music, and activities for all ages.

The park also hosts the Summer Movie Series, where you can enjoy outdoor movie screenings under the stars.

Families will love the Kids World playground, a large structure with plenty of room for kids to explore and play.

Keep an eye on the event calendar to see what’s happening during your visit.

Explore Santa Barbara’s Unique Neighborhoods

Santa Barbara is home to several unique neighborhoods, each offering its own charm and character.

Visit Montecito for its upscale boutiques, charming cafes, and beautiful estates.

The Mission District is rich in history, centered around the iconic Old Mission Santa Barbara and its surrounding gardens.

The Funk Zone, known for its art galleries and wine tasting rooms, offers a hip and trendy vibe.

Downtown Santa Barbara, with its vibrant State Street, is perfect for shopping and dining.

Take the time to explore these neighborhoods to get a well-rounded experience of Santa Barbara’s diverse culture.

Avery Ingram

Avery Ingram


Read more articles by Avery Ingram