From land to sea, Santa Barbara is a small town packed with a lot to do, but don’t be in a hurry. You’re on vacation so slip on your flip flops and embrace the laid-back beach vibes. Immerse yourself in local history, take in a concert or art show, rent a kayak at the harbor, visit a nearby town or vineyard, or picnic in one of the many beautiful parks. Below is a summary of the area’s attractions to spark some ideas. If you’re already tired from reading about everything there is to do, skip the rest and head straight to the “Beaches” category where you can plan a nap next to the Pacific Ocean, preferably with a chilled mojito.
Arts & Culture
Arlington Theater Santa Barbara
The historic Arlington Theater has been standing for over 90 years as a beacon of downtown Santa Barbara. The theater hosts a variety of local events and is the main hub for the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Catch a film or live show and admire the Spanish Colonial decor inside the theater.
First Thursday Art Walk
Like the name suggests, the first Thursday of every month is full of art and performances on State Street. The Downtown Santa Barbara Organization hosts this fun and lively event where guests walk to a variety of galleries to view art exhibits, live music, hands-on activities, and partake in wine tastings. It’s a local’s favorite to meet neighbors and explore new shops.
The tallest building in downtown Santa Barbara is home to the Granada Theater. Built in 1924, the recently restored theater hosts the main stage for performing arts with eight resident companies: CAMA, Music Academy of the West, Opera Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Choral Society, Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, Theater League, and UCSB Arts & Lectures.
Founded in 1873 the Lobero Theater is California’s oldest, continually operating theater. Designed by the city’s first female architect, Lutah Maria Riggs, the intimate and newly renovated venue is always hosting a local event or world-renowned musician. While it’s one of the smaller theaters in town, there isn’t a bad seat in the place.
Santa Barbara Bowl
A premier outdoor amphitheater, the Santa Barbara Bowl is the area’s go-to for live music. It seats over 4,500 people and offers ocean views from the top seats while inviting a variety of performers to entertain locals and visitors alike. Joni Mitchell, Bob Marley, and Aretha Franklin have all performed here. It’s usually open from April through November, but tickets sell out soon so make sure to plan ahead.
Santa Barbara Sunday Art Walk
Every Sunday the Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show highlights creations made by local residents. Head down to Stearns Wharf, at E. Cabrillo Blvd. and State Street, and walk along the sidewalk to check out the creative talents of local artisans. The show runs every Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm between Cabrillo Blvd and Calle Cesar Chavez.
Sullivan Goss Fine Art Gallery
This American Fine Art Gallery has been around since 1984 showcasing American artists from the 19th to 21st centuries with an inventory of over 3,000 paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, and sculptures. Sullivan Goss offers approximately twenty exhibitions each year, including solo shows for contemporary and historic artists as well as curated thematic exhibitions. The gallery is located in Downtown Santa Barbara.
10 West Gallery
An artist-owned cooperative, 10 West Gallery is directed by founder Jan Ziegler and specializes in contemporary fine art. The artwork tends toward non-traditional genres with various degrees of abstraction or surrealism, impressionist landscapes, and unique figurative work. You'll find oil and acrylic paintings, ceramic vessels and sculptures, bronze and stone sculptures, digital photographic collages, and contemporary pottery.
Opened in 1984 by Diane Waterhouse, the Waterhouse Gallery represents some of the finest painters from Santa Barbara and the Western States, and many are members of the California Art Club and Oil Painters of America. They exhibit a selection of Original Plein-air, landscape, figurative, and still life paintings. Located in the historic La Arcada Plaza, the gallery is open daily.
Arroyo Burro Beach
While its official beach name is Arroyo Burro, don’t let a local catch you calling it that. To residents, it’s Hendry’s Beach and one of the only designated off-leash dog beaches in the area. A beloved favorite of longtime residents, Hendry’s is perfect for bringing your pup, catching a sunset, or bodyboarding in the mild surf. It’s also home to the Boathouse restaurant that serves a popular happy hour on their oceanfront deck.
The small but mighty Butterfly Beach is a favorite for Montecito residents. A stunning coastal view on one side and the luscious gardenscape of the Biltmore resort on the other. It’s a perfect backdrop for a photoshoot or relaxing on the sand during low tide. Grab a coffee and pastry from Jeannine’s Bakery on Coast Village Road and walk the few blocks to the beach to enjoy the sunrise.
The quintessential California view of palm trees, green grass, a sandy beach, and deep blue ocean. That’s East Beach. It runs along Cabrillo Blvd heading East from Stearns Wharf. A bike path makes it easy to rent a surrey with the family to enjoy the coastal view. East Beach is also home to most of the beach volleyball courts. Bring SPF and join a pickup game.
El Capitan Beach
Along the Gaviota Coast is a secluded state beach perfect for camping, BBQing, fishing, any kind of water sport, or simply spending the day in the sun. A small fee does apply to get into the beach, but it helps preserve its maintenance to keep it pristine.
A perfect balance of park and beach, the sprawling Goleta Beach offers a variety of picnic areas and playgrounds with a coastal view neighboring the campus of UC Santa Barbara. Take a walk on the fishing pier or picnic in the grass without ever getting sandy.
It’s quite a drive to get here, but trust us when we say it’s worth it. Nestled in the sandhills west of Lompoc, Jalama Beach is a favorite for surfers, campers, and lovers of cheeseburgers. The Jalama Beach Store sells a variety of camping essentials and food items, including the most delicious burgers in the county.
Santa Claus Beach
There’s a reason why this beach has a festive name, but it’s more fun for visitors to think it’s where Santa spends his summer. A favorite location for Carpinterians and tourists alike, Santa Claus Beach offers calm waters for swimming and kayaking as well as a string of businesses offering surf clothes, tasty food, and home decor. Swing by the Padaro Beach Grill and enjoy a casual lunch with an ocean view.
Casa de la Guerra
Built in 1818, this large adobe was the original home of José de la Guerra, the fifth commander of the Santa Barbara Presidio. The museum now includes displays about the de la Guerra family and the architectural history of the house. It’s also a popular venue for community and private events, especially the exclusive VIP party during Old Spanish Days Fiesta in August.
Casa Del Herrero
This 11-acre estate with Moorish-style gardens is a perfect example of classic Spanish revival architecture in the 1920s. The property includes the original owner’s family’s collection of the fifteenth and sixteenth-century fine and decorative art objects from the “Golden Age” of Spain, books, sketchbooks, drawings, and horticultural records.
Chumash Painted Cave
A short drive up Highway 154 holds one of the area’s oldest original art pieces. In a small cave carved from sandstone boulders lies art painted on the cave walls created by the native Chumash tribe. Anthropologists estimate the paintings date to the 1600s and earlier, and it’s still visible today.
Santa Barbara Presidio
Built in 1782, the Presidio is one of the last of four military outposts built by the Spanish along the coast of Alta California. Two buildings of the original presidio have been restored, others have been reconstructed and archaeological excavations and additional reconstructions are continuing. Take a tour of the restored rooms, jail, and chapel, or inquire about hosting a private event.
Sunken Garden & County Courthouse
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse and Sunken Gardens is a must-see stop during your trip. The fully operational courthouse was re-built from the ground up following the 1925 Earthquake. Check out the mural room and take the elevator to the top of the clock tower for a panoramic view of Santa Barbara. The Sunken Gardens is a popular space for weddings, rallies, and free outdoor movies during the summer.
Old Mission Santa Ines
Established in 1804, the Santa Inés Mission is the 19th of 21 California missions established by the Franciscan Fathers. It sustained a rebellion by the native population, survived the major 1925 earthquake, and is still standing for Sunday service. Self-guided tours are available Monday through Saturday.
Old Mission Santa Barbara
Mission Santa Barbara is the only mission to remain under the leadership of the Franciscan Friars since its founding in 1786. It continues to serve the community as a parish church and offers daily self-guided tours. It is also the backdrop for a variety of local events including Old Spanish Days Fiesta and i Madonnari street painting festival. The Rose Garden offers a beautiful display of roses that serve as a favorite picnic spot for locals.
Built in 1873 the Ojai Jail was a verifiable fortress with a maximum capacity of 11 prisoners. When the community “outgrew” its services, the building sat for a long time until the owner of the Cold Spring Tavern purchased it. That’s where it sits today. Visit Cold Spring for lunch and check out the accommodations for some unlucky jailbirds.
Elverhøj Museum of History & Art – Danish History in Solvang, California
Explore the history of Solvang and Danish art in this Scandinavian-inspired house turned museum. Ongoing “Viking Exhibits” and visiting exhibits showcasing drawings by Rembrandt make it a well worth stop when in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Solvang
The tiny museum is hidden on the upstairs floor of a bookstore in downtown Solvang. It celebrates the godfather of fairy tales with historic copies of his famous writings such as “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Frozen.”
MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation
Children are the focus of this fun and interactive museum. Devoted to science, technology, and the arts this downtown Santa Barbara museum is fun for all ages. Trick the kids into thinking they’re just playing when they’re actually learning a few things.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Located at the top of the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center, the MCA is possibly the coolest place in Santa Barbara. Open from Thursday through Sunday, the museum offers 3-5 exhibitions and 30+ educational programs each year from new and up and coming artists. Check their calendar for monthly happy hours with a live DJ.
Reagan Ranch Center
Honoring late President Ronald Reagan, the Reagan Ranch Center hosts four floors of classrooms, lecture space, a movie theater, ranch exhibits and a library of conservative resources. Events are held year-round.
Santa Barbara Carriage Museum
Grab your lasso and head to the Santa Barbara Carriage Museum where they collect, display and preserve historic horse-drawn vehicles, saddles, and western memorabilia. The interior is rebuilt as a Western storefront offering a fun and interactive experience. Admission is free, Monday through Friday.
Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Learn everything there is to know about Santa Barbara at the Historical Museum. Their stunning courtyard and permanent exhibitions of local history make for an educational experience. Rotating exhibits highlight life in the Old West. This is also a favorite outdoor venue for weddings and community events.
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
Head down to the Harbor to get your sealegs at the Maritime Museum. As a coastal town, there’s a rich history between Santa Barbara and the Pacific. Formerly the Naval Reserve Building, the museum was founded by a group of fishermen, divers, and sailors centered on maritime culture. Plus it’s close to a lot of great local restaurants with seaworthy views.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
In the former building of the Santa Barbara Post Office, the stately Santa Barbara Museum of Art was established in the late 1930s to showcase a collection of history through contemporary works and photography, represented by Asian, European, and American artists. Permanent collections include Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, and Katsushika Hokusai. Peruse the large museum gift shop for a unique souvenir by a local artist.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Nestled in the shady grove behind Old Mission Santa Barbara is the beautiful Museum of Natural History. A variety of exhibits make it a fun adventure for both adults and children. A prehistoric display of animatronic dinosaurs or a greenhouse full of butterflies are just a few of their unique offerings. Be sure to walk around their grounds surrounded by tall trees and a natural creek.
Nature & Parks
Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens
A few blocks up from State Street in the Upper Eastside neighborhood of Santa Barbara sits the Alick Keck Park Memorial Garden. The entire city block contains a large botanical collection of 75 different tree and plant species, koi pond, sensory garden with audio posts and interpretive Braille signs, walking paths, picnic areas, and a gazebo. Pick up a sandwich from Cantwell’s Deli and walk a few blocks to eat with the ducks.
Andree Clark Bird Refuge
The Bird Refuge is a 42-acre open space park with a 29-acre lake and modified estuary that supports brackish wetlands. Bird watchers get your binoculars ready because over 200 species of birds have been spotted in the refuge. Start on the walk/bike path that wraps around the lake and connects with the path along the ocean at East Beach.
Channel Islands National Park
This beautiful string of islands has something for every level of explorer. Take a boat from the Ventura or Santa Barbara Harbors to one of the islands for camping, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving, or hiking excursion. There are several tour companies that offer day and overnight trips to explore these unpopulated natural areas.
Coronado Butterfly Preserve
The best place to see the great monarch butterfly migration is the Coronado Preserve in the Ellwood community of Goleta. Monarch butterflies migrate to the area for their over-wintering time, which is typically from November through February, with peak numbers usually visible in December and January. Admission is free and you can also explore the Devereux Creek and Ellwood Shores coastal bluffs that connect to the preserve.
Douglas Family Preserve
A true locals hangout, the 70-acre preserve is dog-friendly and situated on the bluffs overlooking Hendry’s Beach in the Mesa neighborhood. The space has ties to Hollywood and is named after actor Michael Douglas who donated money to save the area from development. Bring a blanket and some beverages to watch the dolphins swim by at dusk.
One of the most hiked trails in Santa Barbara is Inspiration Point. Gain some additional wisdom when you summit the trail to achieve panoramic views 1,800 feet above Santa Barbara. The short version of the hike is off Tunnel Road and is 3.75-miles round trip while the longer version off San Roque Road is 8 miles round trip.
A short drive and even shorter hike will get you to Lizard’s Mouth, a unique wind-carved rock formation that apparently resembles the mouth of a lizard to one hiker. The name stuck and now it’s a popular place to sunbathe as lizards do and watch the sun rise and set. The spot even has an IPA beer named after it from the local Figueroa Mountain Brewery, which you can taste in the Funk Zone.
Moreton Bay Fig Tree
Planted in 1876, the expansive Australian Moreton Bay fig tree is located near the downtown Santa Barbara Amtrak station. The exposed roots are so big you can safely and securely nap in between them. It was officially designated as a historic landmark in 1970. Take a detour from State and walk through the Amtrak station, check out the tree, then keep walking to the Brewhouse or Neighborhood Bar.
Located on the historic Stearns Wharf, this highly interactive regional aquarium offers you close encounters with marine animals from the Santa Barbara Channel. You’ll be able to touch a starfish, view the long tentacles of jellyfish, and learn about whale migration patterns before your next sailing trip.
Neighborhoods & Towns
Cold Spring Bridge & Tavern, Highway 154
The Cold Spring Bridge is the highest arch bridge and largest steel arch bridge in California situated 400 feet above the canyon floor. You’ll cruise right over it when driving on Highway 154 between Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara. Underneath the bridge is a hidden historic gem called the Cold Spring Tavern. The former stagecoach stop has been preserved into a picturesque fine dining restaurant, gift shop, bar, and outdoor lunch hangout.
Funk Zone, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara’s most popular hangout for foodies, art lovers, and beverage aficionados is the Funk Zone. The industrial neighborhood that originally had a handful of winery operations has grown exponentially in recent years with more breweries, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, boutique shops, and restaurants than ever before. If you’re in town for a short time, the Funk Zone is a must-stop for food and drinks.
The small town of Guadalupe is located west of Santa Maria with Highway 1 running through the middle of its main street. The downtown area has colorful buildings with murals, antique shops, and tasty taquerias. The surrounding dunes are famous for filmmaker Cecil. B. DeMille building the largest set in movie history for “The Ten Commandments.”
Harbor & Waterfront, Santa Barbara
Hop on a whale-watching boat, charter a sunset sail, rent kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards, and choose from one of the many local restaurants with a seaworthy view. Brophy Brothers is a local’s favorite for a pint of local beer and freshly caught fish.
If you’re not into wine, this may not be the place for you. The charming small town just outside Santa Ynez is home to 30 wine tasting rooms within two blocks, the majority are serving locally grown and harvested grapes. Be sure to peek into the newly renovated Mattei’s Tavern, a historic stagecoach stop dating back to 1886.
The upscale neighborhood next to Santa Barbara is known for spacious estates, beachfront cottages, casual fine dining, and the occasional sighting of a famous person. It’s home to several seaside resorts and the impressive botanical garden named Lotusland. Make a reservation at Lucky’s Steakhouse and you just might get a glimpse of Oprah.
Set in a valley in the Topatopa Mountains, Ojai has a village center populated with art galleries and New Age shops. Nicknamed "Shangri-La" the town has a history of being centered on health and spirituality. It has grown to attract many artists and musicians while also offering an array of hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Get a tarot card reading then hike up the mountains.
Old Town Goleta
Old Town Goleta is quickly becoming a local’s favorite with authentic and family-owned restaurants, original buildings, and hidden bars that you have to live there to know about. You can do everything from changing a spark plug to drinking a fancy cocktail in the hood. Grab a latte at Old Town Coffee, a burrito at Pepe’s Mexican Food, and swing into the Imperial Lounge for a nightcap.
Skip the tasting room and go directly to the vineyard in Santa Ynez. Sit under fruit trees and have a picnic at Buttonwood Winery while tasting their latest creations. Head to a local restaurant where they can point to the farm where your vegetables came from. If you’re wined-out, head down the street to the Chumash Casino and let lady luck determine your fate on the slots or poker tables.
Solvang is a little slice of Denmark that’s a must-see. Farm-style architecture and windmills keep this Danish-inspired town a tourist favorite. Bakeries offer traditional northern European sweets, winemakers are eager to share their favorite vintage, and chefs are always cooking up new concepts. A great time to visit is during the holidays when the town gets in the festive spirit for the annual Julefest.
State Street Promenade
Due to the recent pandemic, Santa Barbara allowed businesses to move outdoors onto the street. Thus came the inception of the State Street Promenade. The area has been closed to vehicles so pedestrians can dine outside or shop from local vendors. The city is now looking into making this temporary arrangement permanent as locals and tourists have enjoyed the outdoor atmosphere and street party vibes.
Walk the wharf for the best view of Santa Barbara’s coastline. Grab some freshly caught oysters at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company or catch your own seafood with a fishing pole at the end of the wharf. Deep Sea Winery has a spectacular view and tasty varietals while Mother Stearns Candy Shop will cure any sweet tooth.
The tiny coastal village of Summerland is a cute and quirky stop for any traveler. Local restaurants, antique shops, art galleries, and more will keep you entertained and engaged for an afternoon. Pop down to the beach and take a walk with locals and their dogs.