Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do with Kids in Santa Barbara, CA

  • Published 2022/12/23

As a coastal city in Santa Barbara County, California, Santa Barbara has a lot of things going for it.

Some of these are its beautiful views, fascinating maritime history, and unique and vibrant culture from its relationship with the sea.

Like most places in California, Santa Barbara has a unique charm that is impossible to ignore.

If you want to visit with your family, you’ll never have a shortage of things to do.

Here are some of the best things to do with kids in Santa Barbara, California:

See a Show at the Lobero Theater

Exterior of the Lobero Theater

Prayitno / Thank you for (12 millions +) view from Los Angeles, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Lobero Theater is a truly remarkable place that serves as the venue for internationally acclaimed events like the Santa Barbara International Festival.

It’s also a beloved stage of many celebrities and notable artists, such as Pat Metheny and Jeff Bridges.

If you want to share in the magic of the place, you and your family are more than welcome to do so.

Entrance to the Lobero Theater

Terry Straehley /

They host various shows every season, ranging from plays and orchestral performances to concerts by famous musicians.

Whatever your tastes, you should find an eclectic mix at the Lobero Theater that’ll keep you captivated for a night.

Musicians in the Lobero Theater

Stefano Cirla, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Explore the Santa Barbara Botanic Museum

The plant life at the Santa Barbara Botanic Museum forms a sight that everyone in the family will instantly love.

The place is a living museum, meaning that every plant you’ll see growing is part of their unique collection.

Because of this, you’ll get a more hands-on and interactive experience than you would typically get in more traditional museums.

Aside from that, this also means that you and your kids must exercise caution not to damage anything around you.

Everything you see at the Santa Barbara Botanic Museum is valuable and essential, and your visit will undoubtedly give you a new appreciation and love for the natural world.

Explore the Interactive Exhibits of MOXI

Exterior of MOXI

JJava Designs /

MOXI’s mission is simple: to ignite learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity.

The center will give you and your family enough time to go through as many exhibits as you want.

There’s certainly a lot to go through!

There’s the tech track, for example, which features the Sheldon Family Handprint Globe and where you can learn about the stories of different innovators.

The tower of MOXI

StandbildCA /

You can also stop by the Sky Garden and enjoy a breathtaking view of Santa Barbara.

That’s just a tiny taste of what you’ll find at MOXI.

Make sure to visit MOXI if it sounds like the kind of thing you and your family find interesting.

Take a Trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo

People feeding a giraffe at Santa Barbara Zoo

Alexandra Bilham /

Every child will love a trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Purchase your tickets online and see the extraordinary animal exhibits in their establishment.

Your kid will get the chance to feed a giraffe, play at being paleontologists, and so much more!

Flamingos at Santa Barbara Zoo

Cassandra Faye /

They can ride a zoo train to get around the area in fun and exciting ways.

Santa Barbara Zoo is every child’s dream destination, and you will miss out if you don’t add it to your travel itinerary.

Penguins at Santa Barbara Zoo

NatalieJean /

Learn Cowboy History at the Santa Barbara Carriage and Western Art Museum

If your kid wants to know about cowboys and the old West, bring them to the Santa Barbara Carriage and Western Art Museum.

Step into a magical world filled with swashbuckling heroes, horseback riders, and fun-filled adventures.

The place was established in 1972 to collect, display, and preserve remarkable Western memorabilia, such as saddles and historic horse-drawn carriages.

You can view the museum’s saddle collection, consisting of more than 50 items.

Check out saddles owned by the Cisco Kid, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and many other famous personalities.

You can also look at their extensive collection of stagecoaches and carriages, containing more than 40 horse-drawn carriages made between 1850 and 1911.

Every piece is unique and remarkable.

They should take you back to the good old days of the Western Frontier.

Your kid can learn much from the Santa Barbara Carriage and Western Art Museum.

Add it to your family’s to-do list and set aside time to visit this museum.

See Another Show at the Arlington Theater

Exterior of the Arlington Theater

Baiterek Media /

Built in 1931, the Arlington Theater was designed in the Mission Revival style reminiscent of Spanish colonial architecture.

With its unique look and long history, the theater has earned its spot as a mainstay and iconic landmark of the area.

However, the Arlington Theater isn’t there to look pretty.

It’s still a fully functional theater you can visit with your family.

Neon lights of the Arlington Theater's marquee

Joe Seer /

From film festival entries to live performances, there’s no shortage of variety in the things the place hosts.

Look at their schedule and check for family-friendly shows.

With its seating capacity for 2,000 guests and a lovely interior, the viewing experience at the Arlington Theater is second to none.

Interior of the Arlington Theater

DillyLynn, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Watch the Whales at Shoreline Park

Trail at Shoreline Park

Lux Blue /

Shoreline Park, with its remarkable view of the beach and harbor, is one of the most popular parks in the area.

If you’re looking for a unique activity, it doesn’t get any more impressive than whale watching.

Watch the great mammals break through the seawater and marvel at their size and beauty.

Don’t forget to take pictures because it’s always nice to have something tangible to go along with the memory.

Whales have a unique place in Santa Barbara’s history, and there’s no better place to see them with the family than Shoreline Park.

Check Out a Spanish Fortress at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

Exterior of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

Hibiscus81 /

When you head to downtown Santa Barbara, you’ll find the El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historical Park, which preserves one of the last Spanish fortresses in Upper California.

Get started on your visit by heading to the visitor center.

You’ll get an orientation about the park there, and the staff will be more than happy to answer any questions.

Go through their exhibits to learn more about the place’s history and the exciting stories on the historic fortress.

Interior of a house at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

Emily Marie Wilson /

After that, feel free to explore on your own.

Several portions of El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historical Park are open to self-guided tours.

Take advantage of the opportunity and explore the place with your family at your own pace.

Chapel at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

Emily Marie Wilson /

Share Your Love for Reading with Your Kid at Chaucer’s Books

A love for reading is one of the best gifts you can give to your kid.

A trip to Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara will nurture an endless fascination with the written word within them.

The bookstore is independent, locally owned, and has been a mainstay for book lovers in Santa Barbara since 1974.

They’re always overstocked with new and exciting titles.

Look through their vast and varied collection and let your kid pick out what calls to them.

Whether it’s fantasy, sci-fi, or nonfiction, the place should have many options for the entire family.

If your kid wants a book that’s not currently in stock, consult the friendly staff, and they’ll be more than happy to procure the title for you.

If you’re unsure what to choose or what kind of story will be appropriate for your child, you can also check out the staff recommendations.

You can also ask them directly.

Everyone in Chaucer’s Bookstore is experienced and well-read, so they’re bound to have a few suggestions for you and your child.

Learn Science History at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Exterior of Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

VDB Photos /

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History was founded in the early 1900s.

Nowadays, it houses millions of specimens that cover various aspects of natural history, ranging from anthropology to astronomy.

If you or your family are interested in this kind of thing, then there’s no better place to visit.

Chumash diorama in Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Jllm06, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no shortage of new things to learn at this museum.

There are even state-of-the-art interactive exhibits that people of all ages can use if they want to learn more about the displays.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History does an excellent job presenting this side of the place to visitors.

Experience the Unique Culture of the Funk Zone

A winery at Funk Zone

Steve Cukrov /

If you want to know Santa Barbara’s contemporary side, the Funk Zone is where community and culture converge.

The district, spanning the area between Highway 101 and the ocean, is full of galleries, cafes, and shops that are perfect stopovers for the entire family.

Walk the lovely streets and find converted warehouses decorated with colorful murals.

A shop at Funk Zone

Kevin Yuan /

Take a food tour with the kids, discover the tantalizing tastes of the area, and explore the many shops surrounding you.

There are about a thousand things to do in the Funk Zone, and you’ll need a to-do list if you ever visit.

Pizzeria at Funk Zone

Steve Cukrov /

Appreciate the Art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Exterior of Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Jllm06, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1941, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art opened its doors and expanded its collection and galleries.

They’ve had a lot of displays over the years and continue to set up new and exciting exhibits for their visitors.

Some of their notable exhibits include displays featuring photographs that capture Europe’s Greco-Roman legacy and an array of media that represent how the contemporary experience of the natural world has been shaped by technology.

The staff continuously updates their display for visitors, ensuring it stays enjoyable.

Visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art with your family to awaken a new interest in you.

Marvel at the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden

Pond and gazebo at Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden

Summerrrz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden is the “crown jewel of city parks.”

It has everything you and your family could ever want in a warm, relaxing Sunday afternoon with each other.

One of the main highlights of the place is its expansive botanical garden, containing more than 70 different plant and tree species, a koi pond, a sensory garden with audio posts, and so much more.

But this place isn’t just for humans.

You can take your beloved dogs there.

As long as you keep them on a leash, you’re more than free to take your pet dogs with you so they can join the fun.

Explore the place, marvel at the breathtaking beauty of the natural world, and spend more quality time with your kids.

The Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden is an exceptional place, and a visit there is the kind of thing you’ll want to savor and remember for the years to come.

Catch a Broadway Hit at the Granada Theatre

Exterior of the Granada Theatre

Cory Woodruff /

The Granada Theater is the home to the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts (SBCPA).

It is an organization wholly dedicated to providing the best-in-class productions and entertaining shows for the entire community.

Located in Santa Barbara’s historic theater district, you and your family can feel the city’s rich culture and history by catching a show there.

There’s a wide variety of things to see, ranging from plays to world-class performers or comedians.

Marquee of the Granada Theatre

Logan Bush /

Catch some classic Broadway hits, such as local productions of Anastasia, The Book of Mormon, and R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

You can even see some old films that the staff occasionally puts on or performances from full orchestras!

Granada Theater has hosted endless performances, and its history will only grow with time.

Stop by the place with your family when you get the chance and see the magic of theater with your own two eyes.

Learn Local Maritime History at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Exterior of Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Emily Marie Wilson /

Located in the Waterfront Center Building, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum documents the area’s long and exciting relationship with the sea.

It first opened its doors in 2000 with a mission to interpret the rich and diverse maritime history of the Santa Barbara Channel.

The place dedicates two entire floors for its historical and art exhibits.

Boat docked at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Emily Marie Wilson /

You and your kids will learn about early seafaring explorers like Juan Cabrillo and the area’s whaling history.

Moreover, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum also has various fun and interactive maritime exhibits that your kids should love.

Waterfront at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Emily Marie Wilson /

Final Thoughts

The magic of Santa Barbara is undoubtedly tied to its proximity to the ocean.

Wherever you go, you’ll see signs of it everywhere, including the inescapable gorgeous view of the vast and endless sea.

It’s a place that’s easy to visit and hard to leave behind.

Bring your family to the city and explore the best things to do with kids in Santa Barbara, California!

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