Free & Cheap Things to do in Santa Barbara

Top 5 Free Things To Do in Santa Barbara

Many celebrities call Santa Barbara home, and there’s a video that’s been making the rounds recently where some of those celebrities talk about why they love Santa Barbara. But what about me?  Why do I love Santa Barbara? Many of what the celebs mention isn’t the high-profile attractions, but the lifestyle that they are able to have here. That is what I love about Santa Barbara too. The natural beauty of the ocean and mountains, the lovely weather, and a beautiful city creates a place that you don’t have to go to any place to feel content. Simply sitting in a lounge chair in the backyard, looking at the beautiful mountains and trees while sipping lemonade feels right.

camino_II-015aHaving said that I do feel guilty for not taking advantage of some of the great amenities we have at our disposal here. I am going to skip the obvious must-dos and let you in on 5 of our local favorites — and most of them are completely free!

1. Visit Farmer’s markets

There is a farmers market each day of the week here, year-round. Some are small, and when I say small these are bigger than most weekly farmers’ markets. Santa Barbara is in right next to some great agricultural lands and there is a large population of healthy-minded people so there is such variety at the markets. Organic produce, custom-crafted cheeses, and grain-fed beef in addition to rows of beautiful flowers and fresh fruit. Amid these booths are musicians, balloon sculptors, and people petitioning for all kinds of causes. It is always a great and entertaining time.

2. Go to the beach &  see the tide pools

Santa Barbara has many beaches and each one has pros and cons. Some have wide-open sand with volleyball courts and boat rentals.  East Beach near downtown Santa Barbara is a great example of this type of beach. Others have cliff-lined coves with gentle point break waves rolling in, like Refugio Beach. The ones that have become favorites of ours and especially as our kids are getting a bit older are the ones with tide pools. Campus Point, in particular, is a favorite of ours. .There is a lot of sea life here and a strong marine biology presence because of that. National Geographic and the BBC are often is here filming whales, dolphins and other sea life. We stroll along the rocks and observe sea stars, sea urchins, crabs, and a myriad of other small sea life. We often see dolphins playing in the surf and have once spotted a whale making it’s way up the coast. The kids collect rocks and shells and my sister usually finds a piece or two of sea glass to add to her jar.


3. Visit Parks

There are so many parks in Santa Barbara. It is really amazing. Parks that have playground equipment, some that are just rocks, some with fields and bike tracks. We have come to like a few in particular, but Kids World, Alameda Park is at the top of the list.  It is a huge park with older style wooden playground equipment right in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. The kids love the wooden equipment, it looks a bit like an old castle, tire swing, and the huge whale and shark sculpture. It is also across the street from Alice Keck Park which is a stunning botanical garden. There is a pond with loads of turtles, ducks, and cranes. The small trails and “secret” passages keep the kid’s imaginations running wild while the beauty of the trees and plants keep mine in awe.

Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, Santa Barbara, CA

4. Concerts in the park

We haven’t been to this series in a while, but it is well worth a visit. Each Thursday evening during the summer the city hosts a free concert series in a park right across from the ocean. The artists are all usually remarkably good. The park is lovely and very one brings a picnic dinner, and wine although not technically allowed, to eat as the music plays and the sun begins to set. Hard to beat sitting on the manicured grass, listening to good music, eating a picnic, and watching the sunset through the palm trees with the Pacific behind them.


5. Hike to 7 Falls & Inspiration Point

One thing that makes Santa Barbara so unique is the combination of mountains and ocean. The foothills that line the city on one side have some excellent hiking trails. One of my favorites is the 7 falls hike. It is a fairly easy hike that winds up the hills and into the trees. It crisscrosses several streams until finally crossing at 7 falls. A spot where you can actually sit in the water and slide down 7 small waterfalls. The hike continues on quite a while to the top of the mountain to Inspiration Point where you can see the whole panorama of the city mountains and ocean. It is breathtaking.

Final Word

Even as I write this list I am reminded of the hundred other things I am not including, like the zoo or aquarium, the great restaurants, performing arts, shopping, wine tasting, nightlife…on and on…Santa Barbara is truly remarkable. Look for our post 50 things to do in Santa Barbara coming soon. No wonder we always end up back here and why we usually end up extending our time. As one famous Santa Barbarian put it “Ocean washed, mountain guarded, island girded. Sunny sun-kissed Santa Barbara enjoys the most equitable year-round climate of any place in the world.” Harold Chase, I happen to agree.

Free Santa Barbara Resources

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