Santa Barbara California Vacation Guide

What to See and Do in Santa Barbara CA.

Santa Barbara California, with its abundance of palm trees and lovely weather year round, has a Spanish-Mediterranean ambience. The Santa Ynez Mountains rise majestically behind, while the Pacific Ocean curves around the front of the area.

Santa Barbara’s appeal lies largely in its historical heritage and beautiful Spanish Mediterranean architecture, with its white walls and red tiled roofs being prevalent throughout the city.

If you’re planning a beach vacation to this beautiful coastal area, read on to find information on the local attractions and beaches and other things to do. Also you can learn about where you can stay, from hotels to bed and breakfast inns to campgrounds.

The Santa Barbara Beaches

There are several beaches to enjoy in and around Santa Barbara California, while the town itself boasts a lot of cultural sites and events. Watercraft rentals and cruises are available as well.

East Beach and West Beach are near Stearns Wharf. Leadbetter Beach is on the north side of the Harbor. Mesa Lane Stairs and One Thousand Steps are further north, in a residential district. There’s also Arroyo Burro County Park, Chase Palm Park and Shoreline Park.

The main beaches around the wharf have very small waves compared to most Southern California beaches. A coastal bike path runs along the back of the beaches along Cabrillo Boulevard.

Surf Camps

If your kids love swimming in the ocean, you might consider signing them up for one of the Santa Barbara surf camps. Santa Barbara surf camps provide your child with surf techniques they can take with them for a lifetime, in addition to unforgettable memories of a week or two of unforgettable fun at the beach.

Some local camps include Santa Barbara Surf School (805) 745-8877 and UC Santa Barbara Surf & Kayak Camp (805) 893-3913. When calling up surf camps, ask about the school’s or instructor’s backgrounds, experience and the student to staff ratio.

Along The Waterfront

Stearns Wharf

Stearns Wharf (the main pier) contains restaurants, a wine tasting room, shops, fishing access, and the Ty Warner Sea Center, a fun and educational place to bring the kids. Afterward, you can treat them (and yourself) to ice cream on the pier if you wish.

Ty Warner Sea Center

Located on Santa Barbara’s Stearn’s Wharf, the Ty Warner Sea Center offers an interactive marine experience for children and adults alike. Run by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the center has a large indoor tidepool which takes in the salt water from right under the pier. It has underwater windows and a tunnel for kids to crawl through and look around as though they are in the sea themselves.

The Ty Warner Sea Center on Stearns Wharf

Their are interactive exhibits, a life size model of a California gray whale, a theater showing a film about the Santa Barbara channel and more. Kids can do mini science experiments, testing small samples of sea water.

The center also has summer camp classes and events. This fun, educational marine center is open from 10 to 5 daily, except holidays. You can find it at the end of State Street on Stearn’s Wharf. Their phone number is 805-962-2526.

Santa Barbara Harbor

The harbor has its own attractions. You can ride a water taxi, get some sushi, eat marvelous seafood with a view, or visit the Maritime Museum. You can also catch whale watching trips out of here.

Where To Stay

There is a wide range of accommodations, from moderately sized hotels, to exclusive resorts, to charming bed and breakfasts. You have the choice of staying downtown, or on the pricier waterfront.


Popular hotel choices include the Four Seasons Resort Biltmore, the Inn of The Spanish Garden, Castillo Inn At The Beach, Brisas Del Mar Inn At The Beach and Pacifica Suites. Find Santa Barbara accommodations

Bed And Breakfasts

Some of the more popular b&bs; include the Cheshire Cat Inn, Simpson House Inn, Bath Street Inn and the Beach House Inn.


If you want to camp near Santa Barbara California, there are these choices of campgrounds:

  • El Capitan State Beach — north of Santa Barbara in a lovely setting amongst trees by the beach
  • El Capitan Canyon – across the highway from the beach and has nice tent cabins you can rent
  • Gaviota State Park – also north of Santa Barbara, with amazing rock patterns and a high train bridge
  • Refugio State Beach – a campground on the beach complete with palm trees
  • Carpinteria State Beach – a beachfront campground just 15 minutes south on the 101 in the mellow coastal community of Carpinteria California
  • More about Santa Barbara beach campgrounds

Bike Rentals

The weather is nearly perfect year round for riding along the beach bike path.  The trail goes along the back side of the beach along Cabrillo Boulevard, underneath the palm trees.  Or you can go in the other direction, past Stearn’s Wharf towards the harbor.

You can even ride all the way down towards the zoo, cross the street at a safe crosswalk, and get on the path that curves up towards the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.  The path winds partly around the lake and is just beautiful.

You can rent a bike or surrey near the beach at Wheel Fun Rentals. They have locations at 22 State Street and 23 East Cabrillo Boulevard. They have a selection of unique bikes, including 3 wheel models.  There are mountain bikes, tandems, beach cruisers, chopper trikes and more.

The surreys also come in different sizes and have canopies to shade you.  They can seat from 3 adults and 2 children to 9 adults and 2 children. Surreys can be a fun workout for the family. Don’t forget to be liberal with the use of the horn, as the beach bike path can get quite busy.

Other Waterfront Activities

Beach volleyball is very popular here. There are several volleyball courts at East Beach.  A skateboard park at East Beach provides nonstop action.
Art lovers can view work by local artists displayed on Sundays at Chase Palm Park across from the beach.

Things To See And Do Around Town

Beautifully situated along the sloping hills and near the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is a beautiful beach town that offers a wide variety of family activities. The area is lined with Palm trees and sparkling beaches that offer a wonderful destination for individuals of all ages. Whether you are a current resident or a visitor the beauty of the location will certainly be a pleasing experience. During your stay in the area the following are a few activities to enjoy.

Santa Barbara Zoo

500 Niños Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

This zoo is a nice, do-able size, with animals in beautiful, natural habitats. Just strolling around the lush grounds and breathing the sea air feels like a vacation.

Goleta Rail Museum

This is an intriguing museum that displays the history of the early history of the railway system during the expansion of the frontier in California.I found some more information here. Children will also enjoy the display of life across America during the beginning of the twentieth century.

State Street

State Street goes through the heart of Santa Barbara, with easy access to galleries, shopping, museums and historical buildings. Take the shuttle bus that travels through the town, along the waterfront and up to the mission.


If you love the local architecture or are interested in Santa Barbara California history, the Red Brick Walking Tour is a great way to explore. You can do it as a free self guided tour. The walk takes you on a maze of streets and alleys around historic adobes, the county courthouse, the Santa Barbara Museum Of Art, the Post Office, the Library, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and more.

Santa Barbara Mission

Mission Santa Barbara, founded in 1786, is a California State Historic Landmark and a popular place to visit and tour. It sits up on a hill overlooking large, grassy Mission Historical Park and a rose garden.
A large fountain graces the front.

It costs to get in, but then you can tour yourself around, learning about California history at this mission through the exhibits. Then go out to the garden, see the chapel (which is still used for services), and the cemetery. The self guided tour starts in the gift shop.

The mission is open daily, 9 to 4:15

The Botanical Garden

The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden has 5.5 miles of trails winding through native plants. It’s up the hill behind the mission. A really beautiful spot.


Kayaking is a wonderful opportunity to explore sea creatures and enjoy the wonderful Santa Barbara weather. Santa Barbara offers guided kayak tours of the harbor and coastal tours to view the dolphins and sea lions in the ocean.


Santa Barbara County has several excellent locations to surf. The best waves can be found in Ventura County from Point Mugu, Ricon, Hammonds Reef and the Sand Spit. Surfers are able to enjoy riding the waves at several of these locations.

Santa Barbara Wineries

Another popular activity is visiting the Santa Barbara wineries. There are tasting rooms right in town as well as the Santa Ynez Valley wine country to explore.

Getting There

Santa Barbara California is about 1 ½ to 2 hours north of Los Angeles off the 101, depending on traffic. There is a small airport that offers service to many U.S. cities. Amtrak also has train service right into town.

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