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13 Santa Barbara Activities To Try When You Visit Next
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13 Santa Barbara Activities To Try When You Visit Next

From hidden gems you’d like to discover to bike trails you won’t want to miss, here are a few Santa Barbara activities to get you started.

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5 min read

August 16, 2021

If you're coming to Santa Barbara for the beaches, farmers markets, and red-tile-roof aesthetics, let us be the first to tell you that you're only scratching the surface. Don’t get us wrong—these are no doubt intrinsic American Riviera getaway undertakings, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t more; much, much more. From hidden gems you’d like to discover to bike trails you won’t want to miss, here are a few Santa Barbara activities you won’t come across in any other travel guide.

The Coolest Santa Barbara Activities

Seeing whales in the wild is true magic. The size of these creatures, their playfulness and strength, yet gentle way of being is truly mesmerizing.

1. Go Whale Watching 

One of the lesser-known things about the Santa Barbara region is its richness in marine life. Don't believe us? Hop on a whale watching tour. There are plenty offered all throughout the county, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you might be able to spot over 27 different species—blue whales, gray whales, humpback, you name it. 

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2. Play Volleyball at East Beach

Of the three major beaches you find in the area, visiting East Beach is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara if you're not a people person. Due to its location, this secluded gem is tailor-made for those beach activities you usually pass up on—like volleyball. At East Beach, you’re free to run around and score as many points as you can; no crowds to stop you.

Knapp's Castle was destroyed by a forest fire. Only the sandstone foundations, fireplace pillars, and walls of the original structures remain intact.

3. Visit Knapp’s Castle

Concealed within the hills of Santa Barbara, Knapp's Castle was once the opulent home to a wealthy chemical magnate. But when a mysterious fire destroyed much of its remains in 1940, its lavish rooms became nothing but a distant memory. Since then, the home's skeleton was turned into a Santa Barbara landmark, one you should definitely visit.

4. Book a Session in Salt Cave Santa Barbara

While not exactly the most toured attraction in the area, Salt Cave Santa Barbara is way too unique to pass up. It consists of multiple caves—each lit with pink Himalayan salt crystals—and most of them date back over 200 million years. You can rent a cave to meditate, lounge in a zero gravity chair, or even simply take a nap. One thing’s for certain though; you’ll come out of there rested, rejuvenated, and ready to seize the day.

Every month brings different types and colors of orchids into bloom at the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.

5. See Exotic Blooms at the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate 

Right at the ocean's edge, the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate invites the floral-curious to feast their eyes. As soon as you walk in, you'll feel as if you've stepped into a fantasy novel, with hundreds upon hundreds of orchid types lining your kaleidoscopic journey. And if you ever have any questions, owner Paul Gripp and his two children will happily provide you with all the information you need.

6. Take Cabrillo Bike Path to Butterfly Beach

The American Riviera's finest bike path, Cabrillo runs from Leadbetter to Butterfly Beach. At roughly 4.5 miles long, this bike path is nicely paved, flat, and ideal for beginners, families, or just about anyone looking for an easy-going ride. With the ocean to your right most of the way and bike rentals scattered all over Santa Barbara, this ride is one for the postcards.

The kayaking opportunities at the Channel Islands are some of the best anywhere in California. Visitors can even kayak on their own.

7. Join a Sea Cave Kayaking Tour at the Channel Islands 

You knew this one was coming. But can you blame us? Channel Islands National Park is renowned for its bustling native wildlife, fantastic snorkeling opportunities, as well as the best kayaking experiences in Santa Barbara. And with Santa Barbara Adventure Company, you can experience it all—just take a pick between a day tour or multi-day camping and secure an unforgettable adventure.

8. Reel It in at Cachuma Lake 

Thanks to lake-bottom topography, shallow areas, and aquatic plant beds, Cachuma Lake is a fishing nirvana. The lake supports large populations of bass, crappie, bluegill, red ear sunfish, channel catfish, and rainbow trout—this is some of the best Santa Barbara sport fishing you're going to get.

The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and freedom.

9. Go on a Santa Barbara Horseback Ride at El Capitan Canyon

Located fifteen minutes north of Downtown Santa Barbara—between the gorgeous Santa Ynez Mountains—is El Capitan Canyon, a place that'll leave you with a lasting memory. Saddle up and explore this precious resort while trotting along ancient sycamores and eventually ending up onto El Capitan State Beach; this is pure bliss.

10. Soar Over Santa Barbara 

Deem yourself a daredevil? Join the highest parasailing experience in Santa Barbara and get up to 1,000 feet; amazing views of the Channel Islands guaranteed, duh. Offered by Santa Barbara Parasail, this flight package lasts 60 minutes and includes a GoPro so you can capture every second of your thrill-filled adventure.

When everything feels like an uphill struggle, think about the view from the top. Fall down seven times and stand up eight.

11. Hike the Costa Vista Trail

This Santa Barbara hike is surprising in all the right ways. For one, you're getting a clifftop walk rated easy (this is rare), and two—you get to see harbor seals flopping about clumsily in the county's south coast. These adorable creatures are best seen along the shore at the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary, shielded by giant eucalyptus trees for maximum seclusion.

12. Visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Need an art fix? Walk straight into the heart of downtown on the bustling State Street, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art will infuse you with just that. Home to more than 27,000 spectacular works of art, the museum is prized for its collections of American, European as well as Asian artists. Their exhibits range from sculptures and paintings to prints and ceramics, and you'll want to see all of them. But if we were to choose one must-see, it would definitely be the Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932—the only intact mural by the legendary artist David Alfaro Siqueiros in the United States. 

One of the greatest ways to explore Santa Barbara and take in its natural beauty is by going on a sunset cruise.

13. Go on a Sunset Cruise 

If you're the type of person who thinks the best view of a place is from its surrounding waters, then a romantic cruise might be up your alley. Celebration Cruises boasts a multi-level luxury yacht, which sails into the unforgettable azure seas at just the right time—sunset. Woo your date by taking them to view Santa Barbara’s golden hour on a sunset cruise and score multiple girlfriend/boyfriend points.

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