Things to Do in Santa Barbara
Visitors here enjoy a mean annual temperature of 72 F, and with over 300 days of sunshine per year, people can usually be found outside enjoying the abundance of the city parks, the decorated Botanical Gardens, some of the many water sports activities or simply doing some window shopping along the popular State Street. The area is also widely known for its excellent wine offerings (the movie Sideways was filmed just over the first crest of hills) and many of the local wineries have banded together and formed a bit of a wine trail in the industrial heart of the city.
While here, be on the lookout for Hollywood celebrities on vacation, local bakeries opening their doors early and all the dining and beach-going you desire.
Just over the hill from sunny Santa Barbara lie the Santa Ynez Valley and the small, Danish-style town of Solvang. Founded in 1911 by a group of Danish teachers, Solvang (Danish for “sunny field”) is now a bustling hub of activity, ripe with wine-tasting rooms, a fairy-tale-esque downtown, and all sorts of quirky shops.
One of the most famous Catholic monuments in the state, Santa Barbara’s Old Mission is one of the longest continuously operating missions in California. Visit this beautifully constructed 1786 outpost to find stunning stonework, impressive columns, and two domed towers, as well as plenty of Native American and Spanish colonial history.
It should come as no surprise that a city hailed for its beautiful coastline should consider its waterfront the #1 tourist attraction in the area. With a variety of restaurants, boating and sport fishing tours, a bird sanctuary, bike path, and a beautiful promenade connecting the Waterfront to the rest of the downtown area, the Santa Barbara Waterfront is, without a doubt, one of the glittering gems of Santa Barbara.
From State Street (the area’s main business street) head East to see Chase Palm Park (home to Sunday art-walks and where many a pickup soccer game begins), the Santa Barbara Skate Park, and the Bird Sanctuary. Head West from State Street and find the Harbor, Waterfront Museum, several restaurants, and water sports adventure tours.
After the great earthquake of 1925 ruined much of the city, an opportunity arose to give this beloved city by the sea something that would reflect the areas culture and beauty; something that would both honor and impress its residents. Designed in Spanish-Moorish style and completed in 1929, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is now one of the main tourist attractions on a visit to the American Riviera.
One of the most beautiful government buildings in all of the United States, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a working courthouse, but visitors are encouraged to explore what its grounds hold in store for them. Here you’ll find the Sunken gardens where many weddings take place, an elevator to the 85-foot “El Mirador” clock tower for a panoramic view of downtown Santa Barbara, many hand-painted rooms full of detail (including the fantastic Mural Room), the Spirit of the Ocean fountain, and many wrought-iron hand-rails and window coverings which make the courthouse what it is – spectacular.
The Funk Zone is a hip, artistic neighborhood in Santa Barbara, CA, and it has become a haven for artists, artisans, wine makers, and chefs. Visitors will find plenty of artisan shops, art galleries, hip eateries, award-winning microbreweries, and a craft distillery, and many of them are located in aged warehouses and forgotten scuba shops. There are countless tasting rooms and a few specialty wineries. Five of the wineries located in the Funk Zone are part of the Urban Wine Trail, which is a group of wineries in Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley.
There is always something to do in the Funk Zone. Try a new or established restaurant, or check out the gourmet food trucks. Attend an art gallery opening. Taste a variety of local wines. Shop at quirky boutiques and thrift stores. This neighborhood is the perfect place to enjoy a trendy, artsy vibe no matter what activities you choose.
Embodying beauty, rustic charm, tourism, and a feel of the ocean, Stearns Wharf is Santa Barbara’s number one tourist attraction. Built by lumberman John P. Stearns in 1872, Stearns Wharf has a long and decorated history including naval appropriation and one great conflagration which all but destroyed it. Nowadays the pier is a bustling center for shops, restaurants, and fishermen.
Santa Barbara’s historic three-dolphin statue marks the pier’s entrance at the bottom of State Street, where cars and pedestrians alike head out over the deep blue water to do a bit of wine tasting, souvenir shopping, pay a visit to the Ty Warner Sea Center, or just to get a great view of Santa Barbara from a different angle. Bring a camera and the kids – enjoying the beauty of Stearns Wharf is one of Santa Barbara’s highlights.
The Santa Ynez Valley (SYV) is located in northern Santa Barbara County, California and includes the towns of Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang. It is one of five distinct American Viticultural Areas in Santa Barbara County's large wine country. More than 50 varietals thrive in this area's diverse micro-climates. There are more than 120 wineries located here, and most are small boutique operations and family owned and operated. Visitors come here to enjoy world class wines in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
Aside from wine, the Santa Ynez Valley has a strong craft beer scene. Throughout the area there are outstanding breweries, specialty tasting rooms, bars and restaurants offering international beer tastings, and a specialty brew shop. There are also several art and history museums that explore the culture of this area as well as art from the local communities. The Valley is also a great place for outdoor activities. Visitors can experience nature by exploring hiking trails through rolling hills and wildflowers.
Montecito is a small but wealthy town along California's coast. The town started out as a popular vacation destination more than 100 years ago because of the pleasant climate and natural beauty. Some visitors loved it so much they didn't want to leave, and they decided to move to Montecito. Today many celebrities call this town home. It's still a popular place for a relaxing escape, and there are plenty of hotels, shops, and restaurants with outdoor patios.
One of Montecito's big draws is its natural landscape and environment. This small town's coastline is home to some of the area's most beautiful beaches including Miramar Beach, Fernald's Point, Hammonds Point, and Butterfly Beach. Some areas boast calm waters while others are well known for their waves. Popular activities include surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, swimming, sunbathing, and boating. Since the coast faces west, it is also the perfect place to watch the sunset.
The heart of Santa Barbara, State Street delights visitors and locals alike with its lively downtown ambience. Spend a couple of leisurely hours wandering the tree-lined boulevard, stopping by shops, galleries, and wine tasting rooms.
Small but beautiful, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) is renowned for its extensive collection of French and English 19th- and early 20th-century art, as well as modernism and photography exhibits. It also housesPortrait of Mexico Today, the only intact mural in the US by celebrated Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros.
More Things to Do in Santa Barbara
Located just off the Southern California coast in the Santa Barbara Channel, the series of islands that encompass Channel Islands National Park are sparsely visited, especially given their incredible natural beauty. Tide pools, kelp forests, and rugged mountains provide a habitat for unique flora and fauna.
Smaller but no less well-positioned on the California coast, the Santa Barbara Cruise Port offers a less chaotic alternative to nearby Los Angeles and San Francisco. Home to charming shops, restaurants, and attractions—including the Urban Wine Trail—sunny Santa Barbara is the ideal place for a spot of relaxation.
Goleta is a small coastal town west of Santa Barbara, CA. The town has a mild climate with temperatures typically within 10 degrees of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and warm winds, making this a pleasant place to live or vacation. The town hugs the coast providing plenty of opportunities for enjoying the beach as well as swimming and other water activities. The nearby Santa Ynez Mountains make for a picturesque backdrop. They are also the source of the warm, or sometimes even hot, winds that blow in occasionally.
Many of Goleta's residents commute into Santa Barbara to work at a variety of companies or at the University of California Santa Barbara. The town is also known for its Monarch Butterflies. In October each year the butterflies return to Goleta from their summer home and congregate in massive colonies in the Eucalyptus trees in the Goleta Butterfly Grove.
Shoreline Park is a 15 acre coastal park west of Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara, CA. It is a popular place to come for picnics and has individual picnic tables, a group picnic area, barbeques, park benches, a playground, sidewalks, and stairs that access the beach. Many people also come here to walk, jog, roller blade, and play Frisbee. The park offers spectacular views of the Santa Barbara coastline, the city itself, the Channel Islands, and the Santa Ynez Mountains. If you're lucky, you might even see some whales or dolphins.
Mesa Beach, which is connected to Shoreline Park, is narrow and rocky, and it is often covered due to the tides, especially during the winter months. During the winter, the waves often crash against the cliffs which has been eroding the shoreline. During the summer, there is more packed sand and the beach sees more visitors. Free parking lots are located near the park.
One of the most beautiful beaches near downtown Santa Barbara, Leadbetter Beach is often filled with windsurfers, joggers, and sunbathers. Its light surf makes its an excellent spot for low-key and beginning surfing. It’s one of the more scenic spots close to the city, with an expansive golden sand beach and grass lawn. There are also facilities for picnicking and barbecue, as well as public restrooms and showers.
Often sailboats can be seen cruising just off the coast from Leadbetter, as it’s located next to the Santa Barbara Harbor. Lifeguards are on duty during daylight hours. For these reasons, it is one of the more popular public beach areas. Though it can be crowded, it is often bustling with activity compared to other spots on the coast. It’s considered by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in California.
Discover the diverse Pacific ecosystem and engage with marine animals at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Located on the historic Stearns Wharf, the family-friendly educational space features interactive exhibits, a theater, and life-size replicas of gray whales.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG) is a beautiful natural conservatory featuring over 78 acres (31.5 hectares) of lush greenery, with over 1,000 species of rare and indigenous plants. Guided tours are free, and a walk among the oaks, boulders, and dusty trails makes for an enjoyable dive into California flora.
Founded in 1916 and nestled into the rock and oak of the surrounding area, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is set in a cluster of Spanish-revival buildings surrounding a beautiful courtyard. The museum is home to expertly preserved displays of birds, insects, mammals, and sea life, along with a planetarium.
The most beautiful zoo in the world? While this might sound like a bold statement, the lions with their oceanfront view wouldn’t likely quibble about it. Located on 30 acres right across from the ocean, this small zoo has repeatedly been voted one of the best in the nation, particularly for children.
Over 600 animals fill the zoo’s various exhibits. Cats of Africa feature African lions and black-footed cats, while The Forest’s Edge features western lowland gorillas of Congo fame, while California Trails proudly displays the fauna of California, including the ultra-rare Californian Condor. Also popular are the Asian elephants, the giraffe exhibit, 100-year old tortoises, a petting farm, and a colony of Humboldt penguins.
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