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A Traveler's Guide to Santa Barbara, CA: Family Experiences + Hotels + Vegetarian Food

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Two hours north from Los Angeles is Santa Barbara - A fantastic and beautiful holiday destination! It is situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Perfect weather, rich cultural heritage, iconic architecture, great food and wine, parks and outdoor activities - Santa Barbara has it all.

Santa Barbara Coastline, Photo shoutout to Ryan Gan on Unsplash
Santa Barbara Coastline, Photo shoutout to Ryan Gan on Unsplash

April through October is the best time to visit Santa Barbara as this is the time when it does not rain. In general, Santa Barbara is a pretty green city with a Mediterranean climate - mild winters and warm summers.

When you visit, you will find the Santa Barbara style of architecture to be quite unique: White stucco walls, red tile roofs, and arched doorways and windows. The style is inspired by Spanish colonial architecture.


Things to do in Santa Barbara

Old Mission Santa Barbara

The Santa Barbara Mission is a historic landmark and one of the city's most iconic attractions. Take a guided tour to learn about the history of the mission and its significance in California's history.

Old Mission Santa Barbara
Old Mission Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a 78-acre garden showcasing the flora and fauna of the region. Take a hike through the garden to enjoy the stunning views and natural beauty. You are likely to see wildflowers in April in the garden as well as in and around Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara Botanical Garden
Santa Barbara Botanical Garden

Spend a day at the beach!

Santa Barbara has several beautiful beaches, including East Beach, West Beach, and Butterfly Beach. If you are looking for a dog-friendly beach, check out Arroyo Burro Beach, also known as Hendry's Beach. Know that East Beach feels a little more laid back and less touristy than West Beach.

Santa Barbara Waterfront
Santa Barbara Waterfront

Stroll on the board walk and grab a bite!

Walk on the boardwalk and enjoy the stunning views of the mountains and the ocean. If you happen to go early, grab breakfast by the water.

Sterns Wharf is right there and its a must-do!

This is a historic pier located in Santa Barbara, California. It was built in 1872 and is one of the oldest working piers on the West Coast of the United States. The wharf is a popular tourist attraction and offers a variety of activities and attractions, including restaurants, shops, fishing, and boat tours.

There are several restaurants on the pier, serving fresh seafood and other local specialties. You will also find shops selling souvenirs, gifts, and beach gear. Fishing is a popular activity at Sterns Wharf, and visitors can rent gear and purchase bait at the bait and tackle shop. Boat tours and whale watching tours are also available from the pier.

Rent a bike or a Surrey!

Check out Wheel Fun for a variety of bike options.

Enjoy water activities

  1. Take a surf lesson

  2. Take a cruise. This one offered by the Santa Barbara sailing center offers cruises for whale watching, or sunsets or sips on water!

Drive around town on a trolley tour!

Check out the town via the Santa Barbara 90-minute trolley tour! Drive past landmarks like the courthouse, the zoo, the Mission, and the Museum of Natural History. Thursday through Monday.

Walk around town!

Santa Barbara is clean and beautiful. State Street is the main thoroughfare in Santa Barbara, lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. Take a leisurely walk down the street, stopping to browse the boutiques, high-end stores and souvenir shops. Plan to enjoy a meal as you are likely to find a variety of restaurants from casual cafes and fine dining to bars and lounges. At certain hours of the day, you will find that the atmosphere is vibrant! You can also always bike along this path.

Streets of Santa Barbara, CA
Streets of Santa Barbara, CA

Definitely enjoy a cup of coffee at Handlebar, we picked up a bunch of things for breakfast.

Check out the wine and beer scene!

Look up Funk Zone. This is an unique Santa Barbara arts, culture, business, and industrial district between State Street and Garden Street, and Montecito Street to Cabrillo Boulevard. In this historic and revitalized district, there is so much to do! Check out art galleries, breweries, restaurants and shops. Take a wine tasting tour to explore the vineyards and sample some of the region's finest wines. Or visit a bunch of breweries! GPS Address: 137 Anacapa St, SB

Here are the spots you can start with:

  • Municipal Winemakers: This winery is located in the heart of the Funk Zone, and it offers a wide variety of wines from local vineyards. They are open every day, have indoor and outdoor seating and you can get wine by glass or bottle. Make a reservation for Potok Winery located at The Mill on Haley Street. You can also get beer from their neighbors at Third Window Brewery

  • Area 5.1 Winery: Find them at 137 Anacapa St Unit B Santa Barbara. Experiential venue. Alien vibes :)

  • La Lieff Winery: This small winery produces Rhone varietals along the California central coast - San Luis Obispo. It is woman owned and operated under the stewardship of GAIA. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

  • The Funk Zone Patio: This restaurant offers a variety of food and drink options, including wine, beer and cocktails! Shalhoob's has been around for 40 years and is known for its custom cut meals and poultry

Visit the Santa Barbara Zoo

Zoo animals in Santa Barbara, CA, photo on Unsplash
Zoo animals in Santa Barbara, CA, photo on Unsplash

The Santa Barbara Zoo is located at 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103. The zoo is open daily from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission is $25 for adults, and $15 for children ages 2-12, and free for children under 2. Reservations are required for both general admission tickets and member visits. There is additional cost for parking, disabled parking with placard is free. The zoo is home to over 500 animals from around the world, including lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, and elephants. The zoo also has a variety of educational exhibits and programs, is open rain or shine. There is a restaurant on site. Some animals such as lions, gorillas and otters have early bedtimes and may not be out after 4:30 PM, so plan accordingly.

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