A gorgeous city located between the mountains and the sea, Santa Barbara charms with its red roofs and spanish style architecture. There’s a reason it is known as the American Riviera. A beautiful climate, sweet shops and restaurants and surrounded by natural beauty. There is lots to discover in this charming town. Read on for our Santa Barbara city guide.
The Weekend Guide to Santa Barbara
There are many fun things to do in Santa Barbara. Go wine tasting, kayaking or SUP, eat tacos, taste craft beer, go surfing or take a hike! Santa Barbara activities and attractions are numerous and a weekend is the perfect amount of time to explore. Let’s go on a Santa Barbara weekend getaway!
Getting to Santa Barbara & Getting Around
Santa Barbara is located on the California coast about 100 miles north of Los Angeles and can be reached by car, bus or train from there. The drive takes about two hours depending on traffic, which can be really bad.
Most people visit Santa Barbara by car but it is also possible to get there by Greyhound bus and Amtrak train. Both will take you directly into the downtown area which is very convenient.
There is a small airport in Santa Barbara but the closest major airport is Los Angeles (LAX). You can rent a car at the LAX airport or take the Santa Barbara Airbus up the coast.
You could also fly into Burbank (BUR) airport and catch the Amtrak train from there to Santa Barbara.
Once you are in the city it is easy to get around the downtown area on foot or by bike. (rent a mountain bike or electric bike online here) You’ll also find an electric shuttle bus in the summer months or you could check out the tourist trolley. Of course there are also local public transport buses too if you need to travel further around the area.
Fun Things To Do in Santa Barbara, California
Here are a few of my favorite things to do and see (and eat!) when visiting the city of Santa Barbara and the surrounding area. These are some of the best Santa Barbara activities.
1. Spend the Day at the Beach in Santa Barbara
The beach is one of the best places to see in Santa Barbara, as the whole city faces the shore. Downtown Santa Barbara is just a short walk from the beach, and you can choose your lodgings so you are steps from the sand. East Beach is the first beach you’ll notice, it’s located right next to the wharf.
Have your puppy with you? Summerland Beach is south (technically east) of East Beach and is a great place to come with your dog for a long walk on the sand.
Hendry’s Beach is a wonderful place for a long walk. Get a guide to the tides, as the high cliffs can make parts of the walk impassable and you don’t want to get trapped!
Butterfly Beach is a great place to watch the sunset. Located just south of Santa Barbara in Montecito, the beach faces west.
2. Try Paddle Sports in Santa Barbara
The beautiful blue ocean is one of the top Santa Barbara attractions. However Santa Barbara usually isn’t amazing for surfing due to swells being blocked by the Channel Islands located off the coast. But check conditions, especially fall and winter, and you might get lucky. Surfline covers the best surfspots in this area. If you’re a newbie, why not take a surf lesson in Carpenteria?
If you can’t rely on surfing, maybe try stand up paddleboarding or sea kayaking? You can rent a SUP board at West Beach or Butterfly Beach or pick one up from a shop and take it with you – or even have them deliver. Or rent a kayak or SUP in the harbor and go for a paddle amongst the yachts and sailboats.
Take a stand up paddleboard lesson at Leadbetter Beach – good for both beginners and intermediates.
Would you prefer going with a instructor or a group rather than on your own? Join a two hour kayak tour along the coast or take a look at Santa Barbara Adventure Company for all kinds of fun activities. They offer group sea kayaking along the Santa Barbara coast, as well as SUP lessons and surfing lessons. Perhaps most intriguing of all, they offer kayaking trips around the Channel Islands. Click here for more information on Catalina and the Channel Islands.
3. Go Hiking Near Santa Barbara
Head out of town and you’ll find plenty of hiking trails, from short to long. They make the ideal Santa Barbara weekend getaway.
Access the trailhead from the parking lot at Gaviota State Park for hikes into the hills. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful ocean views for your efforts. On the way back, stop at the natural hot springs just off the trail.
Also in Gaviota State Park, just off the 101 freeway, explore interesting sandstone formations known as the Gaviota Wind Caves.
Hike the 7 miles round trip Jesusita trail to Inspiration Point, a peak in the Los Padres National Forest. The National Forest website has many other regional day hikes and backpacking routes as well.
On a very low tide you may be able to walk from Refugio State Beach to El Capitan State Beach depending on current erosion conditions.
4. Visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Nestled in the hills above the city, this lovely botanical garden is a wonderful place to relax and unwind. You’ll find xeriscape gardens as well as shady groves of trees, native plants and even a traditional tea pavilion at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Be sure to check out the old mission water system too. The garden has about 5 miles of trails so you can easily find a peaceful spot of your own.
5. Get Boozy on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail
The region around Santa Barbara is great for growing wine, and is home to many vineyards and tasting rooms. But you don’t have to head for the hills to taste some wine. The Urban Wine Trail in downtown Santa Barbara provides walkable or bikeable access to tasting rooms, wine bars and even craft beer breweries. The area is known as the Funk Zone.
Would you like a guided food and photography tour of the Funk Zone? Check out this tour.
For more information about wine tasting in and around Santa Barbara, click here.
6. Eat Tacos in Santa Barbara
When you are in Santa Barbara, even if you are just passing through, you MUST go to Lilly’s Taqueria. The tacos are very inexpensive and delicious especially because of the amazing salsa they leave out in squeeze bottles. I am sure I am not the only one who has thought about running off with one of those bottles in my pocket.
If Lilly’s is closed or you just want to try something new, I have a few taco tips for you:
7. Do a Food or Wine Tour in the Santa Barbara Area
Santa Barbara is a foodie paradise, especially if you also love wine. As mentioned above, you can explore the Urban Wine Trail and Funk Zone but you can also check out these fun Santa Barbara activities for foodies:
- Visit local favorite eateries and wine tasting rooms on the Downtown Santa Barbara Food Tour
- Do a self-guided Uncorked tour of the Funk Zone
- Take a gourmet tour of historic Santa Barbara’s culinary gems
- Explore the wine country of Santa Barbara on a 6-hour tour
- Active folks might enjoy this cycling tour through the scenic vineyards
- Enjoy a food and photography tour of the Funk Zone
- Sample craft beers on Santa Barbara’s Lagoon Loop Craft Beer Trail
- Visit the Santa Ynez valley with an experienced guide and taste wines at several different wineries
Experience more Santa Barbara fun on one of these adventurous activities:
Places to Stay in Santa Barbara
The city of Santa Barbara is filled with hotels, both big and small, expensive and budget. Here are a few of our favorite lodging options in the Santa Barbara area.
- Just steps from the marina is the cute Marina Beach Motel. Rooms have recently been updated and it is ideally located for exploring the city.
- Always wanted to stay in a vintage Airstream trailer? Check out Santa Barbara Auto Camp! Borrow their bikes to explore the area or just lounge around and fire up the BBQ.
- Nestled in beautiful lush gardens but only a few blocks away from Santa Barbara’s main streets, Simpson House Inn is a splurge worthy lodging.
- If wine and beer tasting is your plan, stay in the Funk Zone for easy access. Check out the cool Wayfarer Hotel.
- Get that surfer vibe at laid-back The Goodland hotel in Goleta. Or stay at the beautiful Canary Santa Barbara. Both are owned by Kimpton so you know the beds are comfy and the service is good!
- How about a weekend of glamping or camping while you explore the Santa Barbara area? For those who like a touch of luxe when in the wild, check out El Capitan Canyon just up the coast. If you are toting your own tent, check out Carpinteria State Beach and El Capitan State Beach. For information and reviews on local campgrounds, check these websites.
- Hipcamp has a ton of amazing options for camping and rustic lodging around Santa Barbara. Bring your tent or rent a camper or RV, some places have cabins too! Sign up for Hipcamp here and get $20 off your first stay.
- Santa Barbara is also popular on Airbnb. Sign up here to save $35 off your first booking.
- Spending most of your time in the wine country? Look at lodgings in Los Olivos. And staying in Solvang is another excellent option, and you can have a great time checking out the Scandinavian kitsch.
We hope you enjoyed this list of fun things to do in Santa Barbara! Be sure to explore more of beautiful Central California and ideas for day trips from Santa Barbara.
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