Santa Barbara Travel Guide 2024

Top 10 Restaurants in Santa Barbara

Top 10 Restaurants in Santa Barbara

When I meet people who have been to Santa Barbara, they often talk about the great dining the American Riviera…

2024 Santa Barbara Vacation Guide

Santa Barbara has a reputation for being a beautiful, coastal playground for the Hollywood elite. This reputation is certainly deserved—there is an aura of luxury in Santa Barbara that is unrivaled anywhere else in California. However, Santa Barbara also makes an excellent family vacation destination. Family vacationers find Santa Barbara to be extremely welcoming and accommodating for all types of families. Family vacation time in Santa Barbara is best spent outdoors, enjoying the mild weather, the stunning natural scenery, and of course, the cool waters of the Pacific. Family vacations to Santa Barbara are filled with a special, relaxed kind of excitement; where the consistent, peaceful hum of beauty and ease is a constant background to the plethora of family vacation activities.

The price tag that families assume comes with a Santa Barbara family vacation is not as high as you might think; free and economical family vacation activities abound. And the Santa Barbara public beaches are always free, always beautiful, and always fun. In Santa Barbara, you can indulge in a playground of natural wonders and crafted luxury, all while keeping an eye on the family vacation budget. Santa Barbara is an inspired choice for a family vacation.

Even if you are in Santa Barbara for just a day there will be so much you can do: shopping, dining, sightseeing, and theatrical entertainment are just the beginning. Take in some ocean activities such as scuba diving, dinner cruises, or sailing. You can spend some time at one of Santa Barbara’s world-famous beaches, take a tour tasting wine made by one of the 56 distinguished wineries, or take in a performance by the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera. We are quite sure no matter what you choose you are sure to enjoy yourself.

Santa Barbara, California Travel & Visitors Guide

Santa Barbara is a city that has a great deal to offer. The diversity of attractions and sights is enormous. You will have the opportunity to view some of California’s wine country with its beautiful landscapes, the Pacific Ocean with all of its life and beauty, and the architecture of the missions built by the Spanish in the 18th and 19th centuries. Come spend some time here and enjoy the beauty of Santa Barbara.

Even if you are in Santa Barbara for just a day there will be so much you can do: shopping, dining, sightseeing, and theatrical entertainment are just the beginning. You can spend some time at one of Santa Barbara’s world-famous beaches, take a tour tasting wine made by one of the 56 distinguished wineries, or take in a performance by the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera. We are quite sure no matter what you choose you are sure to enjoy yourself.

Santa Barbara Hotels

Whether you’re on a budget or not, you should be able to find affordable accommodations in Santa Barbara at any time of the year. All About Santa Barbara’s online reservations system offers many hotels & resorts to choose from with discounted rates. You can view individual hotel web pages with pictures and information. Check rates, and availability, and make secure online reservations. All About Santa Barbara also offers the guaranteed lowest rates on car rentals anywhere in the city from major companies like Enterprise & Thrifty. Our online services are easy to use and very secure. We provide quality service to all of our customers.

While visiting Santa Barbara you’ll never go hungry for quality food or shopping. Santa Barbara offers lots of great restaurants that will please anyone’s appetite ranging from Seafood to Cajun. And shopping is unlimited. There are lots of great places to shop, you will find outlets, collector’s shops, specialty shops, antique shops, boutiques, high-end shops, low-end shops, and the list keeps going.

Santa Barbara Historical Sites and Museums

You will discover on your Santa Barbara family vacation that Santa Barbara is more than just a luxury vacation destination: Santa Barbara has a wealth of important Spanish and Californian history. Santa Barbara is often called the Queen of the Missions because the Santa Barbara Mission is the most visited in the state. Founded on St. Barbara Day in 1786, the Santa Barbara Mission quickly became a center point for the California Mission culture. Make sure you visit the Santa Barbara mission on your family vacation in order to better understand this dense history.

Santa Barbara mission

Another interesting fact worth noting on your family vacation is that the architecture of the Santa Barbara Mission—a blend of Roman, Moorish, and Spanish styles—became the inspiration for the popular Mission style of California architecture. To fully understand Santa Barbara’s history on your family vacation, you need not venture far from the mission. Surrounding the mission is the Sacred Gardens, which is worth visiting on your family vacation. Also in the former living quarters are a rich collection of mission artifacts, a virtual Mission Museum that will help to illuminate the history of this place on your Santa Barbara family vacation.

Just a short way from the mission and a perfect stop for a family vacation are the Museum of Art, which has an outstanding collection of art and antiquities. Another museum that is popular for family vacationers is the Historical Museum, which is housed in two traditional adobe buildings. A little bit further away is the Presidio, which should be a stop on your family vacation, simply because of the surrounding coastal beauty.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, one of Southern California’s finest art museums, features nationally recognized collections and special exhibitions of international importance. Highlights of the museum’s remarkable permanent collection include antiquities; 19th-century French, British, and American art; 20th-century and contemporary European, North American, and Latin American art; Asian art; photography, and works on paper. Recent special exhibitions of significance include Nam June Paik: Video Art Pioneer, Copy Work: The Dictionary Pages and Other Diversions by Gilles Barbier, and The Jefferson Suites: An Audio-Visual Installation by Carrie Mae Weems. Museum visitors will also enjoy the interactive children’s gallery, the café, and the Museum Store.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Located in historic Mission Canyon, the Museum of Natural History is one of the most beautiful small museums in the United States because of its natural setting and Spanish-style structures and grounds. The Museum offers a close look at the story of the region’s birth, geology and minerals, native wildlife, rich marine life, and the culture of the Chumash Indians. Features include a 72-foot blue whale skeleton, the region’s only public planetarium and observatory, a creek-side setting,, and a multicultural and science gift shop.
The Karpeles Manuscript Library – preserves the largest private collection of original Manuscripts in the world. The museum is open daily from 10 AM to 4 PM and all of the Karpeles Manuscript Library services are free.

The Sea Center

Visit the Sea Center on the historic Steams Wharf, touch living ocean creatures, and look through the window facing the Santa Barbara Channel. See some of the creatures that live in the Santa Barbara Channel in the many aquariums. You will also see a life-sized whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.

Santa Barbara Downtown

Santa Barbara is a college town; UC Santa Barbara dominates some parts of the culture, which makes a family vacation trip to downtown Santa Barbara fun and informal. On your Santa Barbara family vacation, you will most likely be startled by the rare sight of a town that has perfect architectural symmetry: every building in Santa Barbara is built to follow a strict rule that dictates Mediterranean style.

You will discover on your family vacation that this gives Santa Barbara a close-knit, village-type feel that is often lost in the big California cities. The heart of Santa Barbara is State Street, and more than likely, you will spend a great deal of your family vacation time here, enjoying the shops, galleries, and restaurants. On State Street is the Arlington Theater, which is a great place to catch a movie on your family vacation and to enjoy the gorgeous history that is etched onto the theater walls. If the parents in the family enjoy art, but the kids do not, then the Santa Barbara downtown area is a perfect compromise for a family vacation—Fazzino 3D Studio Gallery has bright and colorful art that is enjoyable to observe and watch move.

Make sure you spin by the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on your downtown Santa Barbara family vacation, which is notable for its impressive architecture. The Lobero Theater is another great family vacation stop. It dates back to 1942 and stands on the site of the first theater in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara Beaches

Every family vacation needs to have some time dedicated to the outdoors, and this is never a problem in a lush, gorgeous location like Santa Barbara. The beaches get a lot of attention on a Santa Barbara family vacation, and well they should. Even at the height of the busy season, the beaches in Santa Barbara always seem to be calm and quiet. Classic beachside family vacation activities, from building sandcastles to taking surf lessons, are all available to do at Santa Barbara beaches.

East Beach

East Beach is often the first beach people see when they enter Santa Barbara. Palm-shaded lawns and clean sand make this one of Santa Barbara’s most popular beaches. The beach is also world-famous for hosting top-notch volleyball. East Beach is the most popular Santa Barbara beach—long, shady, and bordered by a park, it is the quintessential family vacation beach. Family vacationers will love the snack bars, the rollerblading path, and the child play area. East Beach is also a great place to see the local Santa Barbara culture on your family vacation; every weekend the path and park get busy with locals, college students, and tourists, all of whom descend to have fun and socialize. An East Beach pastime that you may want to discover on your Santa Barbara family vacation is paddleboarding, which is rapidly becoming a popular water activity. BlueLine Paddle Surf is located on East Beach and is a rental and school outfit that is well-reviewed by family vacationers.


UCSB  has about twenty thousand students, mostly tan, smart, and healthy, a lagoon, a fine point of land jutting into the Pacific, and good waves, good swimming, and good diving. They call the end of the rocky point

Butterfly Beach

Butterfly Beach is the most west-facing beach in Santa Barbara. This makes it the best beach to enjoy a sunset, you also have some of the most incredible views of Santa Barbara and the wharf. Butterfly Beach is a popular public beach that is located near some ritzy resorts: What this means for family vacationers it that there is a good chance of seeing someone famous! There are no facilities at Butterfly Beach, but the laidback, casual vibe makes it a great choice for your family vacation.

Goleta Beach County Park

Wide and sandy, and popular with locals. It’s one of the few public beaches for the 70,000-plus residents of Goleta. The fishing pier is occupied day and night. No fishing license is required on the pier. There’s a playground, large areas of lawn, picnic tables, barbecues, and a horseshoe area.

More Mesa

A long stretch of a beautiful, often deserted beach. Hardly changed since the days of the Chumash. Private property and cliffs make access possible only with a long walk. Hope Ranch Beach is in the middle of this stretch, but the road is private, guarded, and only open to the 500 or so residents of Hope Ranch Park.

West Beach

West Beach is located between the wharf and marina, right across from the Veteran’s Center. It is not a very crowded beach, despite being so close to many hotels. You won’t find anything but sand and water at this beach, but the food is available within walking distance.

Fernald Point (Shark’s Cove)

Fernald Point (Shark’s Cove) is the first beach you see driving into Montecito from LA on 101. Fernald property is among the most expensive in the country. Home to captains of industry and famous comedians. There’s a public access trail, but no parking, at Posilipo Road, south of the Miramar Hotel.

Summerland Beach

Summerland Beach is natural, quiet, and clean. A relaxed, old-fashioned California beach next to a tiny, old-fashioned California beach town. Accessible from Lookout Park, or from the end of a frontage road that runs south from Lookout Park. Lots of good food and shops just under the highway at Summerland. There used to be oil wells right in the sand here, and there are still some ragged metal pipes and pilings to watch out for. Most have been removed.

Rincon Beach Park

Rincon is one of the best surfing locations on the West Coast, with an incredible right break. The larger winter waves leave a rocky shoreline, but by summer, ocean currents have dropped off enough sand to form a great beach for swimming.

Santa Barbara Family Activities

There are plenty of ways to keep your family entertained on a Santa Barbara family vacation. None of them need to break your budget, either. Families often have specific needs on their family vacations: it is worth researching the best places to go in Santa Barbara that will accommodate those needs. The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden is a great place to visit on your family vacation; adults will appreciate the beauty of nature and will enjoy gaining a deeper understanding of the local plant life, while kids will enjoy the acres of small rolling green hills, perfect for running and playing along. Another great family vacation activity in Santa Barbara (and it is free!) is to spend some time at Shoreline Park, which is the best whale viewing spot in all of Santa Barbara. Of course, all kids on a family vacation love places that are made just for them: Kidsworld is a popular destination for family vacationers because it is made just for them.

Sport Fishing

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to go sport fishing while you’re in Santa Barbara. Sea Landing offers several different fishing trips. All vessels are available for charter.

Whale Watching

On the Condor–great narrated trips let you see whales, dolphins, sea lions with a friendly & competent crew–fun & educational for all!

Scuba Diving

Come join us on one of our “Live-Aboard” dive boats for a dive adventure you’ll never forget. Our vessels were designed and custom-built specifically for divers. Our captains and crews are expert divers who will take you to different locations throughout the day. Come aboard for a fun and memorable experience with Sea Landing.

Sunset Cruises

Dining, Dancing, and Cocktails at Sunset aboard the 88 ft. Condor all while cruising along the beautiful Santa Barbara coastline. Trips run from 7 pm to 10 pm–with advance reservations required.

Channel Islands

The islands of Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel have been preserved as a National Park. Just a couple of hours by boat off the coast of Santa Barbara,, these islands are available for you to experience and enjoy. Sea Landing is providing one and multi-day excursions to these islands aboard their comfortable, well-equipped vessels–with quality accommodations.

Santa Barbara Festivals

The lively, relaxed atmosphere in Santa Barbara makes it a great place to see a festival or attend a concert on a family vacation. In the summer, the city of Santa Barbara hosts live, free concerts at Chase Palm Park and Alameda Park. There are also spontaneous and frequent drum circles that form on the beaches, to which all and sundry are invited to join! Santa Barbara is famous for its wine and cuisine offerings.

Santa Barbara County Vintners Festival

One festival that celebrates this is the Santa Barbara County Vintners Festival. While the tastings are off-limits to the kids in the family, this is still a fun family vacation activity. All members of the family can enjoy the great food and music in the beautiful outdoor environment.


Madonnari is another popular Santa Barbara festival: 25,000 people descend onto Santa Barbara to see the more than 200 street paintings that are created by more than 400 artists. This all takes place around the Mission.

Final Word

If your family vacation does not fall during a festival, then you can catch the same vibe at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market on State Street. Music and food abound—as do fresh produce and gorgeous, bountiful bouquets of flowers. In Santa Barbara, living is easy and family vacations are fun and affordable!