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Discovering the Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara: A Guide to Exploring the City’s Hidden Gems

Photo things to do in santa barbara

Nestled along the central coast of California, Santa Barbara is a city that exudes charm and beauty. With its stunning beaches, picturesque mountains, and rich history, it’s no wonder that Santa Barbara is often referred to as the “American Riviera.” This coastal paradise offers a unique blend of natural wonders, cultural attractions, and outdoor adventures that make it a must-visit destination for travelers.

Santa Barbara’s history dates back to the 18th century when it was established as a Spanish mission. The city’s name comes from the Spanish term for “Saint Barbara,” the patron saint of lightning and thunderstorms. Over the years, Santa Barbara has evolved into a vibrant city with a thriving arts scene, world-class dining, and a laid-back coastal lifestyle.

One of the things that sets Santa Barbara apart from other California cities is its unique charm. The city is known for its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, which can be seen in many of its buildings and landmarks. The red-tiled roofs, white stucco walls, and intricate tile work give Santa Barbara a distinct Mediterranean feel.

Key Takeaways

  • Santa Barbara is a city full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
  • Must-visit attractions in Santa Barbara include landmarks like the Santa Barbara Mission and Stearns Wharf.
  • Santa Barbara’s beaches offer some of the best coastal spots for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing.
  • Hiking trails in Santa Barbara provide opportunities to explore nature’s beauty, including the stunning views from Inspiration Point.
  • Santa Barbara’s culinary scene offers a diverse range of food and drink spots, from seafood restaurants to wine tasting rooms.
  • Shopping in Santa Barbara is a unique experience, with boutiques and markets offering everything from handmade crafts to vintage clothing.
  • Santa Barbara’s cultural scene includes art galleries, music venues, and theaters showcasing local talent.
  • Outdoor activities in Santa Barbara include kayaking, whale watching, and horseback riding.
  • Santa Barbara’s rich history can be explored through visits to historic sites like the Presidio and Casa del Herrero.
  • Planning a Santa Barbara adventure is made easy with resources like the Visit Santa Barbara website and local tour operators.

Top Attractions in Santa Barbara: Must-Visit Sites and Landmarks

1. Santa Barbara Mission: The Santa Barbara Mission is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Founded in 1786, it is one of the oldest missions in California and serves as an active parish church. Visitors can explore the beautiful gardens, tour the museum, and learn about the mission’s history and significance.

2. Stearns Wharf: Stearns Wharf is a historic pier that stretches out into the Pacific Ocean. It offers stunning views of the coastline and is home to shops, restaurants, and even a small aquarium. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a leisurely stroll or indulge in some fresh seafood, Stearns Wharf is a must-visit destination.

3. Santa Barbara County Courthouse: The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is not your typical courthouse. With its stunning Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and beautiful gardens, it is often referred to as the “most beautiful courthouse in America.” Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the building, climb to the top of the clock tower for panoramic views of the city, and even catch a glimpse of a trial in progress.

4. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden: For nature lovers, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a must-visit attraction. Spanning over 78 acres, the garden is home to a diverse collection of native plants and offers miles of hiking trails. Visitors can explore the various themed gardens, learn about California’s unique ecosystems, and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

5. Santa Barbara Zoo: Located just a few minutes from downtown, the Santa Barbara Zoo is a popular attraction for families. The zoo is home to over 500 animals, including elephants, giraffes, and lions. Visitors can participate in animal feedings, watch live shows, and even take a ride on the zoo’s miniature train.

Exploring Santa Barbara’s Beaches: A Guide to the Best Coastal Spots

1. East Beach: East Beach is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular beaches, known for its wide sandy shores and calm waters. It’s a great spot for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking. The beach also has volleyball courts and a bike path that runs along the coast.

2. Butterfly Beach: Located in the upscale neighborhood of Montecito, Butterfly Beach is known for its stunning views and tranquil atmosphere. It’s a great spot for walking, sunbathing, and tidepooling. The beach is also popular among surfers and paddleboarders.

3. Arroyo Burro Beach: Also known as Hendry’s Beach, Arroyo Burro Beach is a local favorite. It offers a wide sandy beach, picnic areas, and a dog-friendly section. The beach is also home to the Boathouse Restaurant, where visitors can enjoy delicious seafood and stunning ocean views.

4. Leadbetter Beach: Located near the Santa Barbara Harbor, Leadbetter Beach is a popular spot for water sports enthusiasts. It offers great conditions for surfing, windsurfing, and stand-up paddleboarding. The beach also has picnic areas, volleyball courts, and a playground.

Santa Barbara’s Best Hiking Trails: Discovering Nature’s Beauty

Hiking Trail Distance (miles) Elevation Gain (feet) Difficulty Level
Seven Falls Trail 3.5 1,000 Moderate
Montecito Peak Trail 7.5 2,000 Difficult
San Ysidro Trail 5.5 1,500 Moderate
Gaviota Peak Trail 6.5 2,000 Difficult
Jesusita Trail 6.5 1,500 Moderate

1. Inspiration Point: Located in the Santa Ynez Mountains, Inspiration Point offers breathtaking views of the city and coastline. The trail is moderately challenging and takes you through oak woodlands and chaparral-covered hillsides. It’s a great spot for hiking, trail running, and birdwatching.

2. Rattlesnake Canyon Trail: Rattlesnake Canyon Trail is a popular hiking spot that takes you through a scenic canyon to a beautiful waterfall. The trail is moderately challenging and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It’s also a great spot for wildflower viewing in the spring.

3. Cold Spring Trail: Cold Spring Trail is a challenging hike that takes you through lush canyons and up to panoramic viewpoints. The trail offers stunning views of the Santa Barbara coastline and Channel Islands. It’s recommended for experienced hikers due to its steep inclines and rocky terrain.

4. Tangerine Falls Trail: Tangerine Falls Trail is a hidden gem located in the Montecito foothills. The trail takes you through a shaded canyon to a beautiful waterfall. It’s a moderate hike that offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and can be enjoyed year-round.

The Best Food and Drink Spots in Santa Barbara: A Culinary Journey

1. The Lark: The Lark is a popular restaurant located in the Funk Zone, a vibrant neighborhood known for its art galleries and wine tasting rooms. The Lark offers a farm-to-table dining experience, with a menu that highlights local ingredients and flavors. The restaurant’s industrial-chic decor and lively atmosphere make it a great spot for a memorable meal.

2. The Funk Zone: The Funk Zone is a must-visit destination for food and wine lovers. This eclectic neighborhood is home to numerous tasting rooms, breweries, and restaurants. Visitors can sample local wines, enjoy craft beers, and indulge in delicious cuisine from around the world.

3. Santa Barbara Public Market: Located in downtown Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Public Market is a food lover’s paradise. This indoor marketplace features a variety of artisanal food vendors, offering everything from fresh seafood to gourmet chocolates. Visitors can grab a bite to eat, stock up on local products, or even take a cooking class.

4. Brophy Bros. Restaurant & Clam Bar: If you’re craving fresh seafood, look no further than Brophy Bros. Located on the Santa Barbara Harbor, this waterfront restaurant is known for its delicious clam chowder, fish tacos, and oysters on the half shell. With its casual atmosphere and stunning views, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a seafood feast.

Finding the Best Shopping in Santa Barbara: Unique Boutiques and Markets

1. Paseo Nuevo: Paseo Nuevo is an outdoor shopping center located in downtown Santa Barbara. It offers a mix of national retailers and local boutiques, making it a great place to find unique clothing, accessories, and gifts. The shopping center also hosts various events throughout the year, including live music performances and art exhibits.

2. La Arcada: La Arcada is a charming courtyard located in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. It’s home to a variety of specialty shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Visitors can browse through unique clothing boutiques, discover local artwork, and enjoy a leisurely meal in one of the courtyard’s outdoor cafes.

3. Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show: The Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show is one of the city’s oldest traditions. Held every Sunday along Cabrillo Boulevard, the show features over 200 local artists and craftsmen. Visitors can browse through a wide variety of handmade goods, including jewelry, ceramics, paintings, and photography.

4. Santa Barbara Farmers Market: For those looking to experience the local flavors of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Farmers Market is a must-visit. Held multiple times a week at various locations throughout the city, the market offers a wide selection of fresh produce, artisanal products, and prepared foods. It’s a great place to stock up on local ingredients or enjoy a delicious meal from one of the food vendors.

Santa Barbara’s Cultural Scene: Art, Music, and Theater

1. Santa Barbara Museum of Art: The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is home to an impressive collection of European, American, and Asian art. Visitors can explore the museum’s permanent collection, which includes works by renowned artists such as Monet, Picasso, and O’Keeffe. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, lectures, and educational programs.

2. Granada Theatre: The Granada Theatre is a historic performing arts venue located in downtown Santa Barbara. It hosts a variety of performances throughout the year, including ballets, operas, concerts, and theater productions. With its stunning architecture and world-class acoustics, it’s a must-visit destination for performing arts enthusiasts.

3. Santa Barbara Bowl: The Santa Barbara Bowl is an outdoor amphitheater that hosts concerts by world-renowned musicians and bands. With its stunning views of the city and ocean, it’s considered one of the most beautiful concert venues in the country. Visitors can enjoy live music under the stars and experience the vibrant music scene of Santa Barbara.

4. Santa Barbara Symphony: The Santa Barbara Symphony is a professional orchestra that performs a variety of classical and contemporary music. The symphony hosts regular concerts throughout the year, featuring world-class musicians and guest conductors. Whether you’re a classical music aficionado or simply appreciate beautiful melodies, a performance by the Santa Barbara Symphony is not to be missed.

Outdoor Activities in Santa Barbara: Adventure Awaits

1. Kayaking: With its calm waters and stunning coastline, Santa Barbara is a great place for kayaking. Visitors can rent kayaks and explore the sea caves, kelp forests, and hidden coves along the coast. Guided tours are also available for those looking for a more immersive experience.

2. Surfing: Santa Barbara is known for its great surf breaks, making it a popular destination for surfers of all levels. Whether you’re a beginner looking to take your first lesson or an experienced surfer looking for challenging waves, there are plenty of surf spots to choose from. Local surf schools and rental shops offer equipment and lessons for those looking to get started.

3. Stand-up Paddleboarding: Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has become increasingly popular in Santa Barbara in recent years. Visitors can rent paddleboards and explore the calm waters of the harbor or venture out into the open ocean. SUP yoga classes are also available for those looking to combine fitness with relaxation.

4. Whale Watching: Santa Barbara is located along the migration route of gray whales, making it a prime spot for whale watching. Visitors can join guided boat tours and witness these majestic creatures up close as they make their way along the coast. Other marine life, such as dolphins, seals, and sea lions, can also be spotted during these excursions.

Santa Barbara’s History: A Journey Through Time

1. El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park: El Presidio de Santa Barbara is a historic site that preserves the remains of a Spanish military fort. Visitors can explore the adobe buildings, learn about the city’s Spanish colonial history, and even participate in living history demonstrations. The park also hosts various events and festivals throughout the year.

2. Santa Barbara Historical Museum: The Santa Barbara Historical Museum offers a glimpse into the city’s past through its extensive collection of artifacts, photographs, and documents. Visitors can learn about the Native American tribes that once inhabited the area, the Spanish and Mexican periods, and the city’s growth and development over time.

3. Casa del Herrero: Casa del Herrero is a historic house museum that showcases the work of renowned architect George Washington Smith. Visitors can take guided tours of the house and gardens, which are filled with beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and exquisite craftsmanship. The museum also hosts various cultural events and educational programs.

4. Old Mission Santa Barbara: Old Mission Santa Barbara is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city. Founded in 1786, it is one of the most well-preserved missions in California. Visitors can explore the mission grounds, tour the church and museum, and learn about its role in the history of California.

Planning Your Santa Barbara Adventure: Tips and Resources

When planning your trip to Santa Barbara, it’s important to consider the best time to visit. The city enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and warm summers. The peak tourist season is during the summer months when the weather is at its best. However, spring and fall can also be great times to visit, as the weather is still pleasant, and there are fewer crowds.

Getting to Santa Barbara is easy, as it is served by a regional airport with direct flights from major cities in California and beyond. Alternatively, you can fly into Los Angeles International Airport and take a scenic drive up the coast to Santa Barbara. Once in the city, there are various transportation options available, including rental cars, taxis, and public transportation.

When it comes to accommodation, Santa Barbara offers a wide range of options to suit every budget and preference. From luxury resorts and boutique hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals, there is something for everyone. It’s recommended to book your accommodation in advance, especially during the peak tourist season.

To make the most of your trip to Santa Barbara, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and research the attractions and activities that interest you. There are plenty of resources available online, including official tourism websites, travel blogs, and forums. These resources can provide valuable information on the best places to visit, local events and festivals, and insider tips from fellow travelers.

In conclusion, Santa Barbara is a city of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. From its stunning beaches and hiking trails to its vibrant culinary scene and rich history, there is something for everyone in this coastal paradise. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or simply a relaxing getaway, Santa Barbara has it all. So pack your bags and get ready to explore all that this beautiful city has to offer.


What is Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara is a city located in California, United States. It is known for its beautiful beaches, Spanish architecture, and wine country.

What are some popular things to do in Santa Barbara?

Some popular things to do in Santa Barbara include visiting the Santa Barbara Zoo, exploring the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains, and visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

What are some outdoor activities to do in Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara offers a variety of outdoor activities such as surfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and whale watching.

What is the best time to visit Santa Barbara?

The best time to visit Santa Barbara is during the spring and fall months when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller. However, the city is a popular tourist destination year-round.

What is the food scene like in Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara has a diverse food scene with a focus on fresh, local ingredients. The city is known for its seafood, Mexican cuisine, and wine country cuisine.

What are some popular beaches in Santa Barbara?

Some popular beaches in Santa Barbara include East Beach, West Beach, Butterfly Beach, and Hendry’s Beach.

What is the nightlife like in Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara has a vibrant nightlife scene with a variety of bars, clubs, and live music venues. The city also offers a variety of wine tasting rooms and breweries.