Santa Barbara isn’t just the setting of one of my favorite TV shows (Psych); it’s an artsy beach town in southern California. Endless beaches, tourist worthy piers and museums, lush gardens, and historic taverns are just some of the things you’ll find here.
1. Start by exploring State Street
State Street is part of the main hub of downtown Santa Barbara, full of shops, restaurants, and interesting things to see. Santa Barbara has a love of art, so if you’re there on a Sunday you’ll likely see an art walk, where artists from all over the county come to display and sell their work. The Santa Barbara Courthouse is also an interesting site, known for its architecture and incredible panoramic views.
Address: State Street, Santa Barbara, California
Website: State Street
2. Go to Shoreline Park
Shoreline Park is located on the bluffs of Santa Barbara; there’s plenty of grassy areas and paths to walk around on, and you’ll have great views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the ocean from the cliffs—I’ve heard it’s also great for whale watching. If you want to get closer to the ocean, there’s a staircase down to the beach; another ramp at the end of the park leads to Leadbetter Beach.
Address: Shoreline Drive and San Nicolas Avenue, Santa Barbara, California
Website: Shoreline Park
3. Or go to one of the other popular beaches
As a beach town, there are many other popular beaches in Santa Barbara, but I’ll only mention a few here. The East and West Beaches are popular because they’re next to the Stearns Wharf Pier. A biking path trails along both beaches, and there are sand volleyball courts on both; West Beach is more known for kayaking and boating, and East Beach is more known for swimming and its seaside café. The previously mentioned Leadbetter Beach is popular with the locals, and its windy conditions make it perfect all kinds of water sports, like surfing and windsurfing, or other activities like sailing and flying kites. And finally, Arroyo Burro Beach, known as Hendry’s Beach by the locals, is a cliffside beach with walking paths that mostly run through the forested area of the Douglas Family Preserve.
Santa Barbara Beaches
West Beach: State St and W Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, California
East Beach: 1118 E Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, California
Leadbetter Beach: 801 Shoreline Drive, Santa Barbara, California
Arroyo Burro Beach (Hendry’s Beach): 2981 Cliff Drive, Santa Barbara, California
Website: Santa Barbara Beaches
4. Have a photo op at Stearns Wharf
Dubbed the number one tourist spot in Santa Barbara, this gorgeous pier boasts some of Santa Barbara’s best restaurants, some unique recreational activities, and plenty of souvenir and specialty shops. You can visit the Sea Center and play with some marine life, do some fishing, get your fortune told, take some epic pictures, and more!
Address: 219 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, California
Website: Stearns Wharf
5. Tour the Old Mission
Founded in 1786 by the Spanish Franciscans, this beautiful historic church is open for tours, and its grounds also include acres of gardens (including a historical garden), a cemetery with a mausoleum, and a museum with a gift shop. One of the cool things about it is that the Franciscan friars and their parish are still active here, and you can either take a tour with a guide, or take a self-guided tour.
Address: 2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, California
Website: Santa Barbara Mission
6. Visit a museum
Since Santa Barbara is an art-loving town, you should definitely make a stop at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. And if you love museums, there’s more where that came from; there’s also the Museum of Natural History, the Maritime Museum, and El Presidio de Santa Barbara, a state historic park that preserves a Spanish fortress from 1782, as well as other historical exhibits and displays.
Santa Barbara Museums
Website: Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Website: Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
Website: El Presidio de Santa Barbara
7. Immerse yourself in Lotusland
Lotusland is a public garden with 21 different gardens, including a topiary garden, an Australian garden, two different orchards with around 100 fruit trees, a theatre garden with statues and a horticultural clock, and so much more; there is, of course, also the Lotus flowers in the water garden, which was once a swimming pool. A special note about Lotusland: You must have a tour reservation to visit here, because it is located in a residential neighborhood; self-guided tours are for members only.
Address: Note about address: If you are not a member, you must schedule a tour; an address and directions to Lotusland are mailed to you after you confirm your tour reservation
8. Hang out with animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo
Who doesn’t love a zoo right? Well, aside from seeing all the awesome animals, the Santa Barbara Zoo also has some interesting attractions, such as visiting the Animal Kitchen to watch the food be prepared for all the zoo animals, be an honorary zookeeper for a day and help care for some animals or take a behind-the-scenes tour, or even feed a giraffe! (Yes, you really can feed a giraffe with your hands!).
Santa Barbara Zoo
Address: 500 Niños Drive, Santa Barbara, California
Website: Santa Barbara Zoo
9. Eat at the Cold Spring Tavern
The Cold Spring Tavern was built in 1886, and back then it was a stagecoach stop and way station. Today, this piece of history has been preserved, and aside from the tavern and bar itself, the property also has a few other historical buildings. Come for the great food, the history, and the musical entertainment.
Cold Spring Tavern
Address: 5995 Stagecoach Road, Santa Barbara, California
Website: Cold Spring Tavern
10. Enjoy the Santa Barbara Waterfront
If you’re looking for even more beachside activities, try the Santa Barbara Waterfront. Though it includes some of the places I’ve already mentioned (such as the beaches and Stearns Wharf), there are other areas, such as the harbor and Chase Palm Park, which includes a skate park called Skater’s Point. You can also board the waterfront shuttle (which runs every half hour from midday to sunset), or go on a whale watching tour.
Santa Barbara Waterfront
Address: 132 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, California
Website: Santa Barbara Waterfront
Beach town paradiseThe cliffs and seas, streets and buildings of this historic and artsy town are so full of charm, it just might be a paradise. Sounds like the perfect place to get away - or to stay.
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