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9 Free Things To Do Around UC Santa Barbara
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9 Free Things To Do Around UC Santa Barbara

Keep these fun and free things to do around UC Santa Barbara in mind when visiting or attending UCSB.

Natasha Kouyoumjian

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5 min read

September 13, 2022

Disclaimer: California.com is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

Attending UCSB and looking for free things to do in Santa Barbara? Well, there are plenty! This coastal city is situated right between the pacific ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains, giving it the upper hand on geographical advantages. Hiking trails, picnic spots, beaches, and history enrich this college town, making it the ultimate tourist attraction. If you’re headed down there, make sure you include our favorites on your list of stuff to do in Santa Barbara.

Spanish influence is everywhere in El Presidio de Santa Barbara.


1. El Presidio de Santa Barbara

A most popular attraction in the city? Check. Most popular amongst the 21 Spanish-California missions to see? Check! The last Spanish fort to be built? That’s 3 checks! Make sure to pay a visit to this landmark if you’re looking for free things to do in Santa Barbara. Built in 1872, this historic chapel has its cross outside the chapel. If you want to visit, make sure to check out the Padre quarters and the chapel kitchen. The coolest thing in Santa Barbara is the sense of Spanish influence. When walking around the fort, make sure to take in the beauty of the historic structure.

So much history and culture packed into one humongous fig tree.


2. Moreton Bay Fig Tree

Location: Chapala St & Montecito Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

If you’re an absolute sucker for rare finds, you won’t wanna miss this. Wait… can you? The largest fig tree in the United States sits on 201 State Street. It also has the most romantic story to go with it! A sailor visiting the land carried a seed of Australia’s Moreton Bay Fig tree and gave it to his local crush. The seed was planted, and has been climbing to the sky ever since! Impress and inspire your date with fun, free things to do in Santa Barbara.  

Life is always sweeter with a scoop of ice cream.


3. McConnell's Ice Cream

Location: 728 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

You can’t leave Santa Barbra, one of California’s best college towns to live in,  without an honorable snack. McConnell's ice cream is the tastiest cool snack that you need after a nice walk downtown. And hey, if you can’t decide on one flavor, you can even split a scoop!

Head on a little scavenger trek and discover the gorgeous UCSB lagoon labyrinth, hidden amongst the oceanside brush.

4. The Labyrinth Trail, UC Santa Barbara

Location:  Isla Vista, CA 93117.

For a relaxing and meditative experience, visit UC Santa Barbara’s Lagoon Island Labyrinth. Spend some time meditating, an ancient method to relax the body and let go of grief or unpleasant feelings. This walking meditation follows a continual paved path to relax and de-stress the person. If you want to reconnect with your body and soul during your Santa Barbara getaway, this tour can offer a great wind-down session.

Grab your java or specialty refreshments and take in the charm of Downtown Santa Barbara.


5. Downtown, Santa Barbara

Talking about good geography, UC Santa Barbara's location has students routinely touring the city. Exploring the downtown of any city is a must, especially a charming city like Santa Barbara. A vibrant yet mellow energy dominates the town's streets, allowing travelers to have genuine interactions. Experience downtown Santa Barbara as you sip on your coffee and enjoy the vibes.

Check out the shops, restaurants, and views along Stearns Wharf, the longest deep-water wharf between San Francisco and San Pedro.

6. Stearns Wharf

Location: 217 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

If you ask the locals about how to spend your weekend in Santa Barbara, you’ll probably hear about Stearns Wharf. A large pier shutting out the Santa Barbara coastline, this place is a major survivor. What makes it so historic, though, is the massive natural disasters it has suffered – we’re talking storms, fires, and earthquakes. Pick a good spot to park or tour by car to get a good glimpse of its wooden facade and appreciate one of the more historic free things to do in Santa Barbara. Since the area is home to the city’s sea center, it's a great place to learn about ocean life and try out the restaurants.

You can also enjoy the mesmerizing view of one of Santa Barbara’s best beaches from here; for a good angle, stand with your back to the ocean for a photo of the coastline with its iconic belt of palm trees.

Though it works mostly on the weekends, this short ferry ride the marina's seals have brought it more visitors than any other attraction in the city.

7. Little Toot, Santa Barbara

Location: 113 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara Harbor

Have you heard about the smiley boat? This little taxi boat has made quite a big fuss. Though mostly working on the weekends, this activity has attracted more visitors than any other attraction in the city. Though it has only one-way tickets available, the captain will sometimes take you to see the seals. You might have to wait for a few rounds to take the ferry back to the other side of the harbor. With so much free stuff in Santa Barbara, you’ll have so much to fill up time.

Learn all about life at sea in SB's Maritime Museum.

8. Maritime Museum, Santa Barbara

Location: 113 Harbor Way STE 190, Santa Barbara, CA 93109.

If you’ve visited the UC Santa Barbara Visitor Center, then you’re familiar with the phrase – it’s not just dreamy weather. The city is not just a vacation getaway, but also a lifestyle. To grasp the city vibes, hop off the smiley ferry and head down to the Maritime Museum. Though a small one, the Museum is full of displays. Enjoy a series of exhibits ranging from surfing history to commercial diving and oil rigs. Also, make sure to get a close-up look at the lighthouse lens, displayed in the middle of the Museum. If you’re visiting with kids, try signing up for the scavenger hunt!
Lastly, step up to the 4th floor to catch a magnificent view of the harbor.

Grab your selfie of the season with Point Castillo as your backdrop!

9. Point Castillo

If you’re with family and looking for free things to do in Santa Barbara, consider taking a calming walk on the harbor. A paved and flat path from Point Castillo to Jetty will make for a fun and easy pastime and a great alternative to hiking. Enjoy the whale-shaped benches for a little break while you watch the Stearns Wharf in front of you from across the water. If, for any reason, you’re staying the night, make sure to check out the best Airbnbs in Santa Barbara to have a full-fledged experience of Santa Barbara.



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