Blake Walsh

17 Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara, CA

  • Published 2022/10/28

The abundance of natural wonders and diverse attractions in Santa Barbara, California, makes it one of the most sought-after-travel destinations in the world.

The city serves as the seat of Santa Barbara County, which you can quickly reach from Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Recognized as “the American Riviera,” Santa Barbara is blessed with a mild year-round Mediterranean climate.

Its location between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean will allow you to experience many adventures, from discovering endless fun on its pristine beaches to exploring its museums and famous urban spots.

Find out more about the best things to do in Santa Barbara, California!

Escape into Bliss at Leadbetter Beach

Sunny day at Leadbetter Beach

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The city is famous for its stunning sandy beaches where you can take a breather, chase waves, and catch calming sunset views.

Ride the ocean waves at Leadbetter Beach, a popular spot for surfers and other water activities between Santa Barbara Harbor and Shoreline Park.

It has a nearby park, too, with picnic and barbecue sites available for reservation.

Are you traveling with your furry friend?

Lifeguard station at Leadbetter Beach

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Head to Arroyo Burro Beach on Cliff Drive, just ten minutes from downtown, where dogs can swim, enjoy a game of fetch, and take walks.

You can also engage in various water activities at the beach for its light surf and proximity to parks and trails.

Bring the family to Leadbetter Beach!

Scenic sunset over Leadbetter Beach

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Explore the Coast at Santa Barbara Harbor

Sunset over Santa Barbara Harbor

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Santa Barbara Harbor is a historic working harbor along Santa Barbara Waterfront that will treat you to Instagrammable views, a fantastic food scene, and plenty of adventures on the water.

Sailing, scuba diving, kayaking, and whale watching are only some exciting activities that await you here.

If you want to relax, you can have a stroll through the harbor and view the local seafood caught by the fishermen and sea urchin harvesters.

Boats docked at Santa Barbara Harbor

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Don’t miss exploring the various shops selling souvenirs and other unique items and savor the mouth-watering dishes and irresistible drinks served in its many restaurants and bars.

There are also seasonal parades, markets, and festivals celebrated at Santa Barbara Harbor to create unforgettable memories for its visitors.

Aerial view of Santa Barbara Harbor

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Discover California’s Nautical Past at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Exterior of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

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Visit the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, established in the former Naval Reserve Building at Santa Barbara Harbor.

A group of fishermen, divers, and sailors founded the museum, which opened in 2000.

Sail through 13,000 years of human interaction in the Santa Barbara Channel inside the museum, which encompasses almost 8,000 square feet of exhibits and docking space for three historic vessels.

A historic boat docked at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

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Browse the interactive exhibits, artifacts, and other visual materials that showcase the state’s maritime heritage.

Dive deeper into marine life at the 88-seat, high-definition Munger Theater by catching films, lectures, and panel discussions.

Spend the day at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

Sculpture in the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

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Meet the Animals at Santa Barbara Zoo

Penguins at Santa Barbara Zoo

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With its coastal hilltop location along Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara Zoo is popularly known as the “Zoo with a View,” and one of the most beautiful zoos.

It spans over 30 acres of botanical gardens overlooking the ocean and mountains, consisting of formal gardens, lawns, and native plants and trees.

Nearly 500 animals of various species live in the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Flamingos at Santa Barbara Zoo

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Expect your visit to be fun and educational with its several attractions, where you can feed giraffes, sheep, and goats or have a meet-and-greet session with other animals.

Moreover, you can observe how the Animal Kitchen prepares its food and learn more about the zoo’s conservation mission and research in its exhibits.

You can tour the Santa Barbara Zoo by foot or train and bond with the kids inside the family play area.

Meerkat at Santa Barbara Zoo

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Shop and Dine at Stearns Wharf

People along Stearns Wharf

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Stearns Wharf is California’s oldest working wharf, completed in 1872 and named after its builder John P. Stearn.

It’s at the cross-section of State Street’s end and Cabrillo Boulevard.

Dotted with restaurants and specialty shops, Stearns Wharf is a lovely spot to hunt for treasures and souvenirs and taste the best food and fine wine Santa Barbara has to offer.

Shops along Stearns Wharf

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There are shops to enjoy a scoop of handmade ice cream or old-fashioned candies.

Hop aboard the Lil’ Toot water taxi for a guided tour between the Wharf and Harbor, or take in this landmark’s seaside sights and sounds.

Enjoy the day at Stearns Wharf!

Aerial view of Stearns Wharf

Photograph by D Ramey Logan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Explore Ocean Life at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

Exterior of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

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While at Stearns Wharf, don’t forget to check out the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, a highly interactive regional aquarium with several exhibits and unique events.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History opened the Sea Center in 1986 to educate people about the significance of the regional ocean environment.

Step inside and take a closer look at the marine animals from the Santa Barbara Channel.

Front view of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

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Explore the channel’s unique habitats, from rocky reefs to kelp forests, and spot a life-sized model of a Gray Whale mother and calf.

Embark on a unique experience as you experiment like a scientist on the Wet Deck, which provides access to oceanographic tools to study the ocean and marine life.

See the ocean in a new light at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center.

Find More Fascinating Collections at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Exterior of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

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Get a deeper understanding of the city and its surrounding communities at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, located on Puesta del Sol, which spans 17 acres of oak woodland along Mission Creek.

The museum was established as the Museum of Comparative Oology in 1916 and now features a comprehensive collection of more than 3.5 million specimens.

Browse its interactive exhibits that discuss every aspect of natural history, including geology, astronomy, paleontology, and anthropology.

Whale skeleton on the grounds of Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

VDB Photos /

Immerse in outdoor learning at its Museum Backyard and Nature Club House, and travel back in time to the Prehistoric Forest featuring the most admired dinosaurs.

Don’t miss the shows in the only planetarium on the Central Coast and ponder the universe’s wonders.

Check out the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History!

Diorama in Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

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Relax at Shoreline Park

The grounds of Shoreline Park

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Escape from the daily hustle and bustle of life at Shoreline Park, an oceanside area spanning 14.67 acres and brimming with lovely views of the coastline and harbor.

Families love spending idle time at this park with a playground for the little ones, picnic sites, and broad grassy areas.

In the park, you will find a wooden stairway leading to the beach below, where you can bask in refreshing sights and cool breezes.

Trail and flora at Shoreline Park

Niranjan Arminius, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Remember to bring binoculars, as you may spot whales from the watching area.

Shoreline Park is on Shoreline Drive and Santa Rosa Place, near Leadbetter Beach.

Torii gate at Shoreline Park

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Feel Like a Local at the Funk Zone

A winery at the Funk Zone

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Keep the adventure going at the Funk Zone, a vibrant and bustling neighborhood near State Street and Waterfront.

There are wonders in every direction for foodies and several other enthusiasts.

Feast your eyes on the colorful murals throughout the 13-block area, which was once a manufacturing hub and industrial space.

Lanterns along the Funk Zone

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Uncover more things inside art galleries, retail shops, and boutiques.

There are wine-tasting rooms, breweries, and famed restaurants at the Funk Zone for your gastronomic journey.

Restaurant at the Funk Zone

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Fuel Your Passion for Learning at MOXI

Exterior of MOXI

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Learn in unexpected ways at MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation along State Street, with three floors of hands-on exhibits and immersive activities for all ages.

Set foot inside the 25,000-square-foot building and feed your curiosity on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

Its permanent installations delight the senses, from catching majestic views of Santa Barbara on the rooftop to experiencing the world of lights, colors, and shadows featured inside the Light Track.

There is also the Innovation Workshop, where you can push the boundaries of your imagination, ignite your creativity, and create new things with the provided tools in its maker space.

Bring home a piece of MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, with you.

Explore the selection of gifts and toys at the museum store, designed and created based on your favorite exhibits.

Step Back in Time at Santa Barbara Historical Museum

Exterior of Santa Barbara Historical Museum

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Appreciate the progress of Santa Barbara by uncovering its past at Santa Barbara Historical Museum, built in downtown’s historic district along East De la Guerra Street.

Founded in 1932, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum is one of the oldest cultural institutions in the city.

You will find inside a vast collection of artifacts and other items, guiding you through more than 500 years of Chumash, Mexican, Spanish and American history in the city.

Its signature exhibit, “The Story of Santa Barbara,” follows the events that shaped the American Riviera from the days of its earliest settlers up to the mid-20th century.

The museum also preserves two historic adobes dating from 1817 and 1836 in the lower courtyard.

Tour the Casa de la Guerra

Exterior of the Casa de la Guerra

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After a short walk from Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Casa de la Guerra will give you a rich, atmospheric experience of a family home in the 19th century.

Wander the furnished rooms of this historic adobe residence built between 1818 and 1828 for José de la Guerra, military commander and patriarch of the local community during the Mexican period.

Today, it is a popular site for events and exhibits where you can gaze at paintings and wallpaper fragments retrieved from Casa de la Guerra’s walls.

Head next to El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park on East Canon Perdido Street, a fortress founded by the Spanish military in 1782.

At the 5.5-acre park, you will see El Cuartel and Cañedo Adobe, two of the fort’s original adobe buildings.

Cañedo Adobe serves as the visitor center with various informative exhibits and a room that focuses on the history of the Japanese community living in the Presidio.

Take self-guided tours around the Chapel, Comandancia, and Padre’s Quarters.

Stand in Awe of Old Mission Santa Barbara

Exterior of Old Mission Santa Barbara

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Old Mission Santa Barbara is another beloved landmark in the city, where you can embark on a self-guided tour of the mission grounds, vibrant gardens, a beautiful church, and cemetery.

Founded in 1786, it’s the tenth of California’s 21 missions established by Spanish Franciscans and touted as the “Queen of the Missions.”

It spans over 15 acres with panoramic views of the city and the Pacific Ocean and remains an active parish church.

Bell tower of Old Mission Santa Barbara

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Learn more about the mission through the nine-room museum full of historical artwork and artifacts, and take a peaceful stroll in its gardens.

Old Mission Santa Barbara is along Laguna Street, distinguishable for its grand twin bell towers.

Interior of Old Mission Santa Barbara

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Marvel at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Exterior of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse

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Santa Barbara County Courthouse is among the most magnificent public buildings in the country.

William Mooser III designed this architectural masterpiece in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, and construction took over two years until it opened in 1929.

It was built after a powerful earthquake in 1925 hit the city, damaging the Greek Revival-style courthouse of 1875 on the same block.

Mural room in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse

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Located on Anacapa Street, this fully operational courthouse has distinctive and elegant features such as the clock tower, red tile roofs, arches, and fountain.

Step inside its iconic Mural Room with a fascinating depiction of the city’s rich history.

After taking in the impressive exteriors of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, walk around the sunken garden and grounds adorned with different species of plants.

Aerial view of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse


Reflect on the Artworks at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Exterior of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

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Catch a glimpse of the city’s lively art scene at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on State Street, a few steps away from the historic courthouse.

The museum was established in 1941 in a previously Santa Barbara Post Office building.

It boasts 25,000 artworks, such as paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and more, representing 5,000 years of human creativity worldwide.

It also has an impressive collection of international antiquities.

Draw inspiration and connect with the creative works showcased in its exhibitions.

There are also events, tours, and programs to watch for a more immersive experience at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Catch Unforgettable Performances at Santa Barbara Bowl

A concert at Santa Barbara Bowl

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Situated in the foothills of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Bowl will give you a concert experience like no other.

Constructed in 1936 to provide entertainment, it underwent improvements to become an excellent outdoor music venue to chill and dance under the stars.

Lift your mood with great music and impressive performances in this iconic spot with 4,500 seats.

Concession stands sit throughout the venue if you need to grab a bite or quench your thirst.

Aside from watching live entertainment, appreciate the astounding vistas and natural spaces surrounding Santa Barbara Bowl on North Milpas Street.

Find Solace at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Vibrant poppies at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

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Take a quiet retreat at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, a 78-acre living museum on 78 acres of space in the foothills along Mission Canyon Road.

Established in 1926, it focuses on California-native plants and has grown a collection of more than 1,000 plants spread across its many garden sections.

It’s a nice, tranquil outdoor space with five miles of walking trails twisting through its distinct featured ecosystems, such as varied deserts, rich grasslands, and redwood forests.

The pond of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

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There are many other features, like a bridge, pond, gallery, and a massive sandstone boulder, that you may find interesting as you traverse the garden.

If you suddenly get inspired to start your garden, there is a nursery in the courtyard with a wide selection of native plants.

See the plants at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden!

Stone steps at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

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Final Thoughts

You’ll never run out of places to visit in Santa Barbara, from its marvelous beaches to museums and iconic landmarks.

Moreover, you can have a spectacular vacation in the city without blowing your budget since it has plenty of affordable and accessible destinations.

Try the best things to do in Santa Barbara, California!

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