The Obvious and the Not-So-Obvious

Vacationing in Santa Barbara

When it comes to finding things to do in Santa Barbara, one of the most desired destinations to vacation and to live, there are a plethora of activities.  Vacationing in Santa Barbara is dreamy; it takes planning and saving, but it is a realistic goal.  Living in Santa Barbara, on the other hand, is well … more complicated (that’s a whole other article).  For the sake of this article, let’s focus on things to do in Santa Barbara from a tourist perspective (obvious activities) and a local perspective (not-so-obvious activities).

Out-of-state and out-of-country tourists have read and seen images of our paradise, but even many other Californians consider Santa Barbara the best town in California.  I mean, other than the cost of living, (which if it weren’t high can you imagine how many people would live here and that would take away from its paradise qualities), it is near perfection. 

What is Santa Barbara like?

Santa Barbara Mission Sidewalk Art

Central California – not Northern … or Southern, both of which have pros AND cons (I won’t go into those, but I’m sure you can imagine what they are based on facts and stereotypes (which come from some truth).

Perfect climate – aside from a little bit of May Grey and June Gloom, we are mild all year – not too hot, not too cold.

erfect combination of landscape and environment – we have the ocean and beaches … and the mountains and hills scattered with vineyards.  Our streets and highways are lined with flowers…yes, flowers and there is something blooming all year – Jacaranda Trees – April-July, Jasmine in the spring and summer, bougainvillea all year and the list goes one and one (yep, another article).

 Perfect size – This is not LA or San Francisco or San Diego.  Folks, Santa Barbara is the perfect combination of small town feeling with everything you need for shopping and cultural activities and still being so close to nature – no traffic, no pollution.

Perfect architecture – the city has strict guidelines – no tall buildings, obnoxious signage and limits on chain companies coming into town.  SB has a strong and beautiful Spanish architecture influence/appearance throughout town.

What Is There To Do In Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Wine Tasting Clairmont Farms

And regarding the things to do in Santa Barbara … it’s a perfect combination of restaurants, must-sees, museums, tours, relaxing and outgoing activities whether you are on a girls trip, honeymooning or with the entire family.

Not only will you be “entertained” by the beauty and perfection as described above (literally when I moved here I just kept looking around thinking, “This can’t be real” and still after 16 years of living here, I’ll be driving on the 101 and notice something, “Look at those flowers!”), let’s start with a list of obvious (touristy) things to do in Santa Barbara (that locals enjoy too by the way) and then we’ll move on to less obvious things that is more of a locals take on things to do in Santa Barbara.

Obvious (well-publicized, touristy) things to do in Santa Barbara -- basically, these are must-sees while you are here and yes, locals love them too.  They are (and all are kid-friendly unless noted):

Nature and Architecture Locations

Strawberries Farmers Market Santa Barbara
  • Santa Barbara Mission and Rose Garden
  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
  • Santa Barbara Court House
  • Arlington Theater
  • Granada Theater
  • Museums and Zoo:
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (kid favorite)
  • Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (kid favorite)
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • Santa Barbara Surfing Museum
  • Santa Barbara Zoo (kid favorite)
  • Water and Beach:
  • Santa Barbara Harbor
  • Santa Barbara Stearns Warf
  • Surfing lessons, Stand up paddling lessons
  • Kayaking, jet ski and outrigger rentals
  • Whale watching
  • Sailing, parasailing
  • Horseback riding on the beach
  • Land and Air:
  • Paragliding, hang-gliding
  • Ziplining
  • Hiking
  • Wine-tasting
  • Skydiving
  • Horseback riding in the hills at a guest ranch
  • Shopping, Restaurants, Nightlife:
  • Downtown – Shopping and nightlife
  • The Funk Zone (adults) – dining, nightlife and wine tasting

Now that you have done all of the obvious things to do in Santa Barbra, here are suggestions for the not-so-obvious things to do.  Many of them actually involve going outside of our paradise bubble and to the surrounding areas. 

Add these to your to-do and must-see list:

Santa Barbara Valley Mountain Range
  • Go to the Farmer’s markets
  • Go to the festivals (Lemon, avocado, strawberry, Greek, French)
  • Go to the Santa Barbara Blueberry farm and pick your own blueberries
  • Go to the Painted Cabernet:  Paint and drink wine
  • Take a photo tour
  • Get pampered at one of the many boutique spas, including the Salt Cave on State Street
  • Go to annual events such as:  Fiesta, Imadonnari, Summer Solstice, Holiday Parade of Lights
  • Visit the SBCC and UCSB campuses (both have ocean views)
  • Visit the Coronado Butterfly preserve (November-January is the best time)

And visit the surrounding Santa Barbara towns:

South of SB:

  • Montecito (5-10 minutes from SB):  Go to Butterfly Beach
  • Summerland (15 minutes from SB):  Antique shops and wine tasting
  • Carpinteria (15-20 minutes from SB):  Go to:  Rose Story Farm, Beach, the Hot Spot
  • Ojai (45 minutes from SB):  lavender festival, wine tasting, artist community

North of SB:

  • Cold Springs Tavern (20 minutes from SB):  Sunday is the best day for tri-trip bbq and live music
  • Camping sites (20 minutes from SB):  El Capitan, Refugio
  • Jalama Beach (45 minutes from SB)

The Santa Ynez Valley:

Blueberries in Santa Ynez Valley

Los Olivos, Solvang, Los Alamos and Santa Ynez: 

  • Bakeries and wine tasting
  • lavender fields
  • apple picking in the fall
  • must-see wildflower/Poppy blooms at Figueroa Mountain
  • Wine tasting and antique
Santa Barbara Sunset

This list should give you plenty to do while in our beautiful town.  If fact, you may have to come back annually to fulfill the Santa Barbara Bucket list.  Know that as locals, we are aware of the somewhat unrealistic and beautiful bubble we live in … here’s a video that portrays that 

Once you vacation here, you will see that Santa Barbara is real, but when you return home, it will seem like a dream.  Good thing for all of those selfies!

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Article written by: Melissa Broughton