Most Popular Day Trips from Santa Barbara, California

Heading to the Golden Coast for your next holiday? Santa Barbara is a great home base for exploring Southern California. From world-renowned cities to locally made wine, it’s all easily accessible on the best day trips from Santa Barbara, CA. Quaint seaside villages like Cambria and enchanting islands like the Channel Island National Park surround the city and are easy to reach with a quick road trip from the city. Whether you want to cruise up and down the stunning California coast or head inland, explore some of California’s top attractions from Santa Barbara with this in-depth side trip guide!

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Santa Ynez Valley

If you love wine, put the Santa Ynez Valley at the top of your excursions list. The Santa Ynez Valley is one of California’s wine country hubs. Here, you’ll find a vintage township with remnants of its Old West past and some of California’s finest wines.

What better to do in this flourishing valley than to take a wine-tasting tour at the local vineyards? Most of the 275 vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley are family-owned and operated, with a boutique style of growing and selling wine. Sample a delectable red wine like the 2019 Malbec Reserve, or request a flight at Sunstone Winery.

Santa Ynez Valley

Step back in time at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum to see perfectly preserved pieces of the Wild West, like horse-drawn carriages, tools, and clothing. Learn all about how the West was shaped in the mid-1800s by early pioneers.

After a day of touring vineyards, relax with a local wine paired perfectly with a Kobe beef fillet minion or a cedar plank steak from The Victor Restaurant and Bar. The exclusive yet laidback atmosphere is the perfect place to treat yourself after a day in the Santa Ynez Valley.

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California has over 620,000 acres of wine country, and the Santa Ynez Valley has the prime spot, just a 45-minute drive from Santa Barbara and a few hours from other major Californian cities.

Channel Islands National Park

The Channel Islands National Park includes five exceptional volcanic islands off the coast of California. The easiest way to make the most of a trip to these diverse islands would be to take a boat tour. Santa Cruz Island, the biggest and most popular of the five islands, will pull you into another world with its craggy coastline and diverse plant and animal inhabitants.

Start this one-of-a-kind adventure by jetting across the ocean to Santa Cruz Island and the first landfall of the tour, Scorpion Anchorage. Here, you can disembark, explore Scorpion Ranch, and catch glimpses of the local wildlife up close. Here, you can experience a piece of ranching history up close by visiting houses, barns, and blacksmith shops from the 1800s and 1900s.

Channel Islands National Park

As you cruise along the island’s northern side, admiring the geologically unique coasts and cliffs, keep an eye out for marine mammals commonly seen in the area, like grey whales, dolphins, and orcas. These animals frequent the area most from December to February.

Prisoners Harbor is the second stop along the way. You can visit a more natural and undisturbed part of the island. Just a short hike from the pier, you can observe the colorful flora and fauna that developed independently of the mainland over thousands of years.

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Another unique feature of Santa Cruz Island is the Painted Cave. This cave is one of the largest known sea caves in the world and is a marvel to look at. Although boats can’t land here, the cave and beautiful rugged cliffs are a wonder to behold. The one-of-a-kind Santa Cruz Island is 20 miles offshore from Ventura Harbor.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach is a lovely white sandy beach just 1.5 hours north of Santa Barbara. This area is a quaint little beach town with miles of beautiful beaches, excellent waves, and fun attractions everyone can enjoy.

Just north of the beach, Avila Hot Springs is a family-friendly place to relax and take a dip. Adults will enjoy the calming hot spring, first discovered in 1907. The water is a balmy 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and the well draws up a constant flow of mineral water from the spring below.

Pismo Beach

After a visit to the hot springs, a short hike through the Pismo Preserve will get your heart pumping. Views from the top give you unparalleled views of San Luis Obispo Bay.

End your relaxing day with a stroll along the beach and a delectable wood-fired pizza from Ember Restaurant. A day out in Pismo Beach is sure to be a relaxing and invigorating experience!

Hearst Castle

This 20th-century mansion, Hearst Castle, is just a 2.5-hour drive north of Santa Barbara, making it a great side trip from the coastal city. In 1919, William Randolph Hearst inherited 40,000 acres outside of San Simeon. After purchasing more land, Hearst began to build the magnificent castle.

Hearst Castle

To fully enjoy a day at Hearst Castle, book a tour that guides you through each of the castle’s stunning rooms and other sights on the property. Highlights of the castle include William Hearst’s personal art and antiquities collection featuring Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities and European paintings.

Take a walk and admire the flowers and trees in the picturesque gardens that Hearst himself planned. Afterward, visit the Neptune and Roman pools, both uniquely decorated and designed with a heavy Italian and Roman influence. Enjoy a day of history and art while exploring the historic Hearst Castle!

Gaviota State Park

Gaviota State Park is a 3,000-acre park, just a 30-minute drive from Santa Barbara. The coastal park offers a stunning cliff, beach, and many activities like hiking and fishing.

Start your day in Gaviota State Park by hiking the Gavoita Wind Caves Trail. This 1.9-mile out-and-back hike takes you up the hill to the wind caves, offering a unique perspective and view of the landscape below.

Gaviota State Park

After your hike, grab a picnic lunch, head to Gaviota Beach to see the stunning white cliffs, and listen to the gentle waves hitting the shore.

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Before the sun starts to set, head over to Nojoqui Falls. This short 1-mile trail rewards visitors with an up-close view of the marvelous view of the 160-foot falls. A day trip to Gavoita State Park will bring you closer to nature than you ever thought possible!

Santa Maria

This quaint California town of Santa Maria has a multitude of activities for day-trippers headed up from Santa Barbara. Santa Maria is a 1 hour and 15-minute drive from Santa Barbara. It’s famous for its original BBQ style, family-owned wineries, and family fun.

Vineyard in Santa Maria, CA

On a day trip to Santa Maria, starting with a tour of the famous California family-owned wineries is essential. The scenery at Presquile Winery pops out of a postcard as you drive up to the vineyard. Tour the vineyard and the charming Santa Maria Valley on horseback or sample their cool-climate wines paired perfectly with locally inspired dishes.

Families and people of all ages will love an adventure-filled afternoon of arcade games, bumper cars, and go-karting at Boomers Santa Maria. Finish an exciting day by sampling the famous Santa Maria-style BBQ at Swiss Restaurant. All meats are cut and prepared in-house, cooked on an oak barbecue to give it a classic smoky and hearty flavor.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a treasure trove of natural beauty, history, and culture nestled on the California coast. Just a two-hour drive from Santa Barbara, Morro Bay is an excellent idea for a day trip.

Start your adventure by paying a visit to the unique geological feature of Morro Rock. The rock can be found at the end of a lovely stroll down Morro Beach, formed millions of years ago by an ancient volcano. This is also a great place to spot sea otters and other marine life.

Morro Bay State Park

The Museum of Natural History will give insight into the cultural and geological history of the area, providing nature walks, exhibits, and special events for guests.

After learning about Morro Bay, see the landscape up close and personal at Morro Bay State Park. Notice birds of all kinds as you wander through the park before hiking the scenic Black Hill trail that gives you a bird’s eye view of the landscape.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica, known for the end of the famous Route 66, is a fantastic side trip from Santa Barbara and only a 2-hour drive away. This small city, part of Los Angeles County, is packed with things to see & do to keep your day exciting and fun.

Start the morning off with a shopping trip in Downtown Santa Monica. You can find many large retail stores like Anthropologie and Target and local stores and boutique shops that sell locally made products. Downtown Santa Monica is also home to a farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday.

Santa Monica State Beach

A stone’s throw away from downtown is the world-famous Santa Monica Pier. One of the top Santa Monica attractions, the historic pier hosts a fun-filled amusement park, and local buskers make a stroll along the pier entertaining and delightful. Enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine at Maria Sol, with a perfect view of the ocean from your table.

Relish in the serenity of the calming waves and soft sand as you stroll down Venice Beach. Everywhere you look around Venice Beach, there’s a picturesque moment, from surfers catching the occasional waves to the Ferris wheel in the distance.

Before you leave Santa Monica, catch the sun as it dips below the horizon for a perfect end to your getaway.


Take a break from the chaos of the city in the calming coastal town of Cambria, located 2 hours and 30 minutes from Santa Barbara. On a journey to Cambria, you’ll get close to the beautifully rugged California coast and its inhabitants.

With easily accessible trails running throughout the park and along the coast, Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is the perfect place to start a day in Cambria. Take in all the flora and fauna found in this unique preserve and feel the spray of the waves crashing on the coast.

Moonstone Beach in Cambria, CA

Afterward, enjoy a walk down Moonstone Beach Drive. You can walk or drive along this scenic path, but walking will bring you closer to the waves and beaches along the way. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on Moonstone Beach itself.

Learn about the California coast’s delicate ecosystem at Friends Of The Elephant Seal Visitor Center. Elephant seals are native to the area, and you can observe them relaxing on the beach up close or learn more about the colony through the exhibits. A visit to this non-profit organization is educational, insightful, and fun for all ages.


A quick 1-hour drive east of Santa Barbara is Ojai, an artistic village nestled in a small California valley. One of the most beautiful California mountain towns, Ojai is the perfect place for a relaxing, culture-filled side trip from Santa Barbara.

Start your day by exploring the Ojai Certified Farmer’s Market in the picturesque downtown core. The farmers market is home to many local vendors selling produce, bread, cheese, and hand-made goods. It’s a splendid place to treat yourself or make a fresh picnic lunch.


After shopping, visit the Ojai Valley Museum to learn more about the local Chumash culture and the town’s history and marvel at the detailed artwork. Many art pieces in the gallery reflect the artistry and architecture found around the town.

A visit to Ojai isn’t complete without a tour of the famous Ojai Olive Oil Company. Family-run for over 150 years, the Asquith family’s farm hosts guests on its popular tours. Sample delectable olive oils as you learn more about the farm’s history and olive oil production.

If you miss out on a tour, you can always grab a bottle of artisan olive oil from the Farmers Market on your way back to Santa Barbara.


Located just 45 minutes from the city, Solvang is one of the most popular outings from Santa Barbara. Visitors flock from all over to see the Danish-style architecture, enjoy wine tasting, and get up close to history.

The town of Solvang is packed with Danish architecture, most notably the four windmills and Danish buildings with gabled roofs. After walking around town to admire the architecture, stop at Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery to sample delicious Danish waffles and pastries.

Solvang Windmill

Once you’re full, Old Mission Santa Ines is one of the must-see attractions when visiting Solvang. This beautifully preserved mission dates back to 1804. Take a historical tour of the grounds, including the historic mill, before spending a few quiet moments in the church.

An afternoon in Solvang isn’t complete without enjoying some locally-made wines. Many local wineries have their tasting rooms in town, making it easy to sample more in one in the afternoon.

Dascomb Cellars has been crafting noteworthy wines for over 50 years and is top on the tasting list. Wrap up a wonderful day at Dascomb Cellars by sampling the 2018 Petit Verdot, one of their best-selling wines.


Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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