Journey to Santa Barbara and feel the vibes of the American Riviera. Tucked between the steep Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara has become a popular vacation destination. Cruise along coastal Route 101 from Los Angeles or sit back and relax aboard the Pacific Surfliner from San Luis Obispo for an unforgettable adventure. Rejuvenate in the Medeteranian climate and explore the streets of this lively city. With a plethora of unique things to do in Santa Barbara, you better plan on staying for more than a weekend. Getaway from everyday life and discover the local’s favourite spots in Santa Barbara.
Free Things to do in Santa Barbara
Venture out to the Queen of the Coast’s beaches to take in the authentic seaside air, bask in the sun, and discover the surf. Seasoned surfers and newbies alike should visit Rincon Point to see why it’s one of the most popular surf spots along the Central Coast. With steady, surfable waves almost always present at the Cove, Rivermouth, and Indicator, surfers flock to the rocky shore to test ride their boards and up their skills.
If you’re looking for a sandier beach, relax at the Arroyo Burro County Beach Park—located off the famous Cliff Drive—and have some family-friendly fun. Hendry's Beach, as it’s called by the locals, is a place to connect with loved ones over a lunchtime picnic or a barbeque at sunset. Let your pup play in the waves or jog in the morning hours, before the shores get too hot—but keep an eye out for stunning schools of whales and flocks of birds while you're there. When you’re ready to explore inland, do as the locals do; leave your car parked and catch the bus instead.
Not a fan of furry friends? No problem. Hit up East Beach and leave the dogs and crowds behind. Sunbathe or challenge your friends to a game of volleyball before exploring Stearns Wharf. Constructed in 1872, it’s California’s oldest wooden wharf. Stopping here is one of the top things to do in Santa Barbara, so cast your line off the edge of the public pier and find your perfect photo op along the 2,300-foot historic wharf.
After breathing in the fresh ocean breeze, follow State Street to the laid-back urban downtown to discover more of the best things to do in Santa Barbara. The downtown area is crossed with palm tree-lined, red tile sidewalks, making it one of the most pedestrian-friendly destinations in the U.S. Stroll along the white Spanish Colonial Revival style boutiques, art galleries, and eateries and let the quaint city steal your heart. Reach the core downtown district, El Pueblo Viejo—which translates to “the Old Village”—to see the portion of Santa Barbara that was completely rebuilt after an earthquake in 1925. Visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in the center of town, and stroll through its garden before touring the interior. Admire the elaborate mosaics and make your way up to the Bisno Shall Clock Gallery to experience first-hand the cacophony of clock hammers hitting their bells.
Notable Outdoor Activities in Santa Barbara
Discover the American Riviera’s mesmerizing natural wonders on foot, on wheels, and on water. The top things to do in Santa Barbara are undoubtedly found outdoors, so get outside, get active, and work up a sweat along the city’s miles of trails and acres of hills.
Hike to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains for rewarding panoramic views of the ocean and the forests that surround you. Venture out to the nearby Los Padres National Forest and feel the wild animal awaken inside you as you traipse past oak trees and through wildflower-dotted meadows. Escape the hustle and bustle at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Admire the precious diversity of plants displayed and maintained here while strolling along the Campbell, Porter, and Woodland Trails. Discover the Arroyo, Manzanita, and Redwood Sections, or explore the Teahouse and Water Wise Home Gardens. Take all the time you need and meditate amidst the exquisite landscapes before adventure calls again.
Once your soul has been calmed, it’s time to hit the waves. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Santa Barbara Adventure Company and explore the coast. With thousands of marine animal species—including humpback whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions—there’s a lot to see at the sanctuary. Spot brightly colored landbirds—such as Allen’s Hummingbirds, Orange-crowned Warblers, House Finches, and Island Scrub-Jays—and check out the numerous seabirds including Ashy Storm Petrels, California Brown Pelicans, and Double-Crested Cormorants. Next, take the ferry to Channel Islands National Park or board one of Santa Barbara Sea Charters' ships for an afternoon of fishing, sightseeing, and whale watching.
Once you’re back on land, hop on a bike and pedal the easy 4.5-mile Cabrillo Bike Path to Butterfly Beach Trail for breathtaking ocean views. Mountain bike trough Elings Park’s 9 miles of tracks and trails, or bikepack the 32 miles between Santa Barbara to Ventura. Didn’t take your bike? Wheel Fun Rentals has you covered—from 2 wheeled bikes to Surreys for the whole family, to Moke Electric Vehicles—so you can properly explore Santa Barbara’s outdoors.
Things to do at Night in Santa Barbara
Since 1931, the Arlington Theatre has entertained visitors with theatrical plays, dance performances, films, and comedy sketches. Pay attention to the starry ceiling and Spanish village wall murals before the lights dim to immerse yourself in the authentic Hispanic culture of Santa Barbara. Pick up tickets to the New Vic’s Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara to see a new take on classic plays and theatrical productions in a restored church.
Then make a reservation at FisHouse and savor the last rays of the sun as you peruse the menu. Order the spicy seafood pasta for succulent bites of shrimp, scallops and fresh fish tossed in marinara cream sauce, topped with parmesan cheese, and served with garlic bread. Walk it off on a half mile stroll to Toma Restaurant for dessert. Indulge in an exquisite palate of flavors and let your Santa Barbara experience sink in.
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