Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara, California

Located on the beautiful Pacific Coast, Santa Barbara, California, is the perfect destination for your next getaway. Home to beautiful beaches, scenic hiking trails, historic landmarks, and exciting attractions, there are countless things to do in Santa Barbara.

With the magnificent Santa Ynez Mountains serving as an idyllic backdrop to this picture-perfect West Coast destination, Santa Barbara is a must-visit. Santa Barbara has its share of great hotel stays, delicious restaurants, and exhilarating nightlife. Located only 90 minutes from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is the perfect vacation destination.

Not quite sure what to do in Santa Barbara on your next visit? Use this comprehensive guide to Santa Barbara, California to plan your next West Coast trip!

Best places to visit in Santa Barbara, CA

Stearns Wharf

One of the area’s most popular attractions is Stearns Wharf, a 2,300-foot-long pier on Santa Barbara Harbor. Originally named after its builder, John P. Stearns, this wooden wharf is home to some of the best shops and restaurants in the city.

Stearns Wharf

As the pier is flanked by both West Beach and East Beach, visitors can stop to enjoy the beautiful beaches before strolling the wharf. The pier is home to great restaurants and specialty shops.

Stop by and grab a bite at one of Stearns Wharf’s delicious eateries like Char West, Moby Dicks, or Longboards Grill. After you’re full, browse one of its many shops perfect for souvenir shopping or enjoying a tasty treat.

West Beach

Right next door to Stearns Wharf, visitors can visit one of the major beaches in Santa Barbara: West Beach. As it’s such a busy harbor, typically beachgoers stay on the sandy beaches. The shores have volleyball courts and are perfect for rollerblading. West Beach is also known for its great New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July fireworks displays.

Sailing and windsurfing are popular activities at West Beach. Visitors also enjoy the Cabrillo Boulevard Bike Path, featuring miles of paths for walking and biking.

Metal detecting is another popular activity at this sandy beach. The city’s busiest beaches can often be a treasure trove for those looking to get lucky!

Santa Barbara Zoo 

For a fun and educational experience, plan a visit to the Santa Barbara Zoo. The zoo provides a casual, family-friendly environment that’ll keep everyone entertained for hours. With more than 500 animals and 146 species, you’ll find yourself in awe of each inhabitant.

Santa Barbara Zoo 

The animal exhibits are open, spacious, and closely resemble the natural habitats of each species. Mammals, reptiles, insects, and birds of all kinds all reside at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Take advantage of the special animal encounters offered at the zoo, which the kids are sure to enjoy. You can feed lettuce to the giraffes or toss fish to penguins!

Shoreline Park

As its name suggests, Shoreline Park is a park located off the shore right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The park is a narrow stretch of land right off the coast with stunning views of the sea, mountains, and nearby islands.

Shoreline Park

Shoreline Park has a playground area and picnic tables for families and is one of the more popular outdoor spaces in town. You can skate, play frisbee, go for a walk or even bring your four-legged companion along.

If you’re patient, you can likely catch a glimpse of a gray whale in the distant or playful dolphins near the beach. Make sure to bring your binoculars!

Shoreline Park has a secret hidden gem down some wooden stairs on the edge of the park which will lead you to the beach and tidal pool below.

Arroyo Burro Beach County Park

Known to the locals as Hendry’s Beach, Arroyo Burro Beach County Park is a great place for a family day trip. This beach is perfect for surfing, fishing, swimming, and paddleboarding. There are also picnic facilities, BBQ grills, and outdoor showers for use.

Arroyo Burro Beach County Park

Arroyo Burro Beach County Park is also one of the most popular beaches in Santa Barbara for dogs! Dogs must be leashed, but the inviting atmosphere will certainly make them feel at home. There’s even a dog wash station to ensure your ride home isn’t too messy.

After a fun day at the park and beach, visit Arroyo Burro’s very own restaurant and bar, The Boathouse, for a hearty meal!

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Take a drive down scenic Mission Canyon Road until you reach the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The gardens are an awe-inspiring natural wonder, home to a beautiful redwood grove, picturesque hiking trails, and spectacular green landscapes. The 78-acre Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has several different distinct garden displays.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Explore the Campbell, Porter, and Woodland Trails for a leisurely walk among countless types of plants and flowers. You can also enjoy the different landscapes most associated with California, including the canyon, desert, and meadow sections. Be sure to visit the blissfully peaceful Japanese Teahouse, the Water Wise Home Garden, and the Redwood section.

Pups are welcome on a leash to the gardens, which also have designated picnic areas for the whole family. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden even has a library with access to thousands of books and digital media on plant science and California’s natural landscapes.

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation

Located in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, which is home to cafes, boutique shops, and galleries, MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation is the perfect place to plan a day. The MOXI is a museum with several interactive exhibits, innovative workshops, and art installations.

Perfect for all ages, a visit to the museum will keep children and adults captivated all day. With three floors of activities, you’ll get lost in all the current exhibits, covering a variety of educational areas. Explore the different themes which include science, technology, art, math, and engineering.

Have fun at the Tech Track, the Sound Track, the Sky Garden, the Speed Track, and the Light Track—just a few of the interactive experiences at MOXI. You’ll discover countless new things, each with a fascinating lesson to learn.

Paseo Nuevo

Santa Barbara’s premier destination for dining and shopping, the trendy and chic Paseo Nuevo is well worth a visit. This downtown outdoor shopping district is home to boutiques, famous retailers, national shops, and restaurants. Paseo Nuevo is wrapped in stylish Spanish architecture, several beautiful courtyards, and fascinating public art pieces.

Paseo Nuevo

With hours of shopping ahead of you, take advantage of Paseo Nuevo’s convenience with plenty of amenities available. Paseo Nuevo offers complimentary umbrellas and wheelchairs, touchless restrooms, and bottle refill stations, making your day an easygoing one.

Paseo Nuevo is home to shoe stores, clothing boutiques, and specialty shops. The food court is the perfect spot for dining, offering a fire pit for a relaxing dinner or lunch. Don’t forget to enjoy the cornhole, jumbo chess, and bocce ball courts with the family!

Santa Barbara Museum of Art

For an educational and captivating experience, head over to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The museum is home to 25,000 works of art, spanning over five millennia of human innovation and creativity.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art

The gallery’s current exhibits include collections from all over the world including Europe, Asia, North, and South America. The works include paintings, sculptures, photographs, glass, textiles, ceramics, drawings, and more.

With famous works like Portrait of Mexico Today and paintings by Monet, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is a world-renowned gallery for art lovers and casual visitors, attracting 150,000 people a year. Plan a visit to the museum for an enriching day of fun and learning!

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

Located on Stearns Wharf, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center is a fascinating aquarium with interactive and educational exhibits to enjoy. The sea center educates visitors about ocean life and marine animals.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

Take advantage of the many immersive experiences the aquarium offers such as the encounters with the octopus, Giant Pacific Seahorses, moon jellies, and more. You can also explore the Marine Mammal Mezzanine and the marine habitats such as the kelp forests and rocky reefs.

If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the Pacific Gray Whales from Stearns Wharf on your visit to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center!

Channel Islands National Park

With so much to see & do, you can plan an entire trip to Channel Islands National Park. Rather than being on mainland California, the national park is actually made up of five islands in the Pacific Ocean. The five islands that comprise Channel Islands National Park are Santa Barbara, San Miguel, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and Anacapa.

Channel Islands National Park

When visiting, you’ll find an abundance of marine and wildlife species, along with ecosystems that support over 2,000 animal and native plant classes. Channel Islands National Park is perfect for families to spend time together camping, hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, birdwatching, water sports, and even whale watching.

Known for its quiet, relaxing, and calming nature, the national park is an ideal place to visit. It offers panoramic views of the majestic Santa Ynez Mountains and the spectacular Pacific Ocean.

El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

For a dash of cultural and historical significance, visit El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. The park’s military settlement has been preserved for visitors to explore today. Dating back several centuries, many of the remaining military outposts have been restored and reconstructed to preserve the area’s history.

El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

The archaeological structures at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park are made up of adobe and red clay. They’re simply fascinating to look at and explore.

On-site buildings include churches with bell towers, military fortifications, military settlement living quarters, and even cannon bastions. This historic Santa Barbara city landmark is a must-visit.

Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

One of Santa Barbara’s most popular attractions, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is great for the entire family. Overlooking the Santa Barbara Harbor, the museum is full of detailed exhibits, interactive events, and kid-friendly activities.

The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum includes a functioning sea periscope, an original plank canoe from the Chumash Indians, and actual shipwreck artifacts that provide visitors with insight into historical sea events.

Plan an afternoon at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum for a fun family day of learning. Explore maritime history through the nautical firms playing at the museum’s Munger Theater. There’s also a kid’s area where children can play and interact with marine-related activities.

Old Mission Santa Barbara

The Old Mission Santa Barbara is a National Historic Landmark currently operating as a museum and house of worship. The mission is home to a cemetery that houses a marble mausoleum at its center. The grounds also contain several beautiful gardens.

Old Mission Santa Barbara

Today, Old Mission Santa Barbara hosts a community of Franciscan Friars, part of the Saint Barbara Parish. The nine-room museum sits on 15 acres of mission grounds, offering stunning views of the magnificent Pacific Ocean.

The best way to explore Old Mission Santa Barbara is through their self-guided tours. The beauty and history at the site are breathtaking and are perfect for a full day of Santa Barbara sightseeing with the family.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is one of the most exciting places to visit in Santa Barbara. The whole family will enjoy several interactive exhibits, including the gem and minerals exhibit and the shark cove display. Perhaps most compelling is Dive In: Our Changing Channel, an underwater immersive experience that explores the Santa Barbara Channel.

Another fan favorite at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is the Prehistoric Forest exhibit. Here, visitors are treated to moving animatronic dinosaurs. They’re handcrafted by professionals, giving them a realistic look and feel.

The bird hall and planetarium are also fascinating areas to explore, offering plenty of exciting artifacts and interesting discoveries.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens

Built in 1929 in a Spanish colonial architectural style, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens double as a courthouse and a gathering place for much of Santa Barbara’s festivities. The gardens, located in the heart of downtown on Anacapa Street, host festivals, concerts, and other fun-filled activities on any day of the week, especially on weekends.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens

The standout features of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens are the many perfectly manicured green lawns and the building’s architectural beauty. The courthouse gardens are a clean, well-designed property with stunning views throughout.

Inside the courthouse, floor-to-ceiling murals cover the walls, iron chandeliers, and hand-painted ceilings, each with stunning detail. Browse the beautiful buildings, explore the magnificent clock tower, or relax outside on the garden lawns. The gardens are perfect for reading a book or bringing a pet along.

Butterfly Beach

Only minutes away, the quaint and easygoing town of Montecito is home to Butterfly Beach. Many locals from Santa Barbara and tourists alike love to visit the beach to experience its beautiful, white sand and blue waters.

Butterfly Beach

Butterfly Beach offers visitors plenty of options for fun and relaxation. The Pacific waters here are perfect for swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, and even surfing. Beachgoers can sunbathe and relax in peace on its beautiful sandy beach.

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Visitors are treated to spectacular views of the ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains in the distance. You might spot a dolphin or a family of grey whales swimming off the shoreline. If you’re even luckier, you may run across a celebrity or two on Butterfly Beach; Montecito is home to many famous faces!

Where to stay in Santa Barbara for sightseeing

For most visitors, the top choice for where to stay in Santa Barbara is around West Beach, East Beach, and Downtown. These areas are home to many of the city’s top hotels & places to stay while being close to many of its top points of interest.

The Eagle Inn

The Eagle Inn

Just steps from West Beach, The Eagle Inn is the perfect retreat for checking out the SoCal city’s seaside charms while staying within budget. Besides the comfortable rooms, the hotel offers a daily hot breakfast to fuel for a day of sightseeing.

La Playa Inn Santa Barbara

La Playa Inn Santa Barbara

With its modern and spacious rooms, La Playa Inn is one of the city’s top accommodation picks. If you’re look to add to the relaxation, upgrade to a deluxe room to chill out with an evening cocktail on your own private balcony overlooking the hotel’s beautiful Spanish-style courtyard.

Harbor View Inn

Harbor View Inn

Looking to add a dash of luxury to your stay in Santa Barbara? Book yourself into the Harbor View Inn. Located at Stearns Wharfs, the hotel puts all the city’s seaside action at your fingertips. Besides the comfortable and well-appointed rooms, you’ll enjoy a superb menu of amenities here, including an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, fitness center, and spa.

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