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Things to Do in Santa Barbara

A culturally rich and enchanting piece of California, Santa Barbara—also lovingly referred to as the American Riviera—truly does have something to offer everyone. Whether you’re looking for an island getaway, a walking tour of downtown, a whale-watching expedition, an urban Santa Barbara wine tasting adventure, or a locally sourced seafood dinner on Stearns Wharf, we guarantee your itinerary will be filled with captivating views, delicious food and drink, and memorable entertainment. With so many things to do, you may have to book a second trip! In the meantime, enjoy the following destinations and attractions in Santa Barbara County beloved by tourists and locals alike.

sunset at the channel islands

Sunset at the Channel Islands

nature & outdoor excursions

  • Channel Islands National ParkThe least visited National Park in the United States, Channel Islands National Park is one of North America’s magnificent treasures. Close to the California mainland, yet worlds apart, the park encompasses five of the eight California Channel Islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara) and their ocean environment, preserving and protecting a wealth of natural and cultural resources. The park bridges two biogeographical provinces and in a remarkably small place, harbors the biologic diversity of nearly 2,500 miles of the North American coast. The Channel Islands are home to over 2,000 plant and animal species, of which 145 are found nowhere else in the world. Compared for its biodiversity to the Galapagos, the Channels Islands are definitely a Santa Barbara must-visit for adventurers, nature lovers, divers, kayakers, and ocean explorers.
  • Inspiration Point Hike – For those wanting to spend some time in the Santa Barbara front country, Inspiration Point is one of the most popular local hikes for locals and visitors alike. The hike is about 3.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 800 feet. Once you make it to the top, the hike lives up to its name. You’ll be inspired as you take in the beautiful views of Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands, the Pacific Ocean, and more! Don’t forget to bring water and sunscreen!
  • Lotus LandMadame Ganna Walska, a well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, purchased the Montecito, California estate in 1941 and spent the next 43 years creating Lotusland, today recognized as one of the ten best gardens in the world. The spectacular collections of exotic plants on the 37-acre property are a personal expression of Walska’s penchant for the dramatic, the unexpected, and the whimsical. Lotusland is home to several extraordinary plant collections and around each corner, there is a surprise of unique garden design and plant species. Truly a quirky and captivating Santa Barbara offering not to be missed!
  • Presidio de Santa BarbaraLocated in downtown Santa Barbara, El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park (El Presidio SHP) is a 5 1/2-acre park that preserves the site of the last Spanish fortress, or presidio, founded in Alta (Upper) California in 1782. Two of the fort‘s original adobe buildings still exist and are open to the public—El Cuartel and the Cañedo Adobe.
  • Private Sailing CharterBring a friend for a few hours (or a whole day) aboard one of the Santa Barbara Sailing Center’s many yachts! You pick the yacht size and the Santa Barbara Sailing Center will provide you with a US Coast Guard Licensed Captain. Your private group (6 passengers maximum) will experience the fun and magic of sailing along the Santa Barbara pristine coastline.  You can simply enjoy the views or feel free to help sail the yacht. Enjoy!
  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden – Widely regarded as a model botanic garden, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a living museum and a member of the American Alliance of Museums, dedicated to research, education, and conservation of California native plants. As an accredited museum and botanic garden, the SBBG differentiates itself from being just another beautiful place with open space and pretty flowers. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a living museum where collections-based research preserves California native plants and displays them in a beautiful setting.
  • Whale Watching ToursCruise into the Santa Barbara Channel on this 4 1/2 hour trip that takes place on a 75-foot catamaran with soft drinks, beer, wine, and snacks available for purchase. In addition to the California Gray whales that grace Santa Barbara waters between February and April and as the Humpback, Minke, and Blue whales that come around between May and September, you’ll also get a chance to see our regular cast of dolphins, sea lions, otters, and more! Schedule Departs 10:00 am and returns at 2:30 pm. 

educational experiences: art, science, and wildlife

  • MOXIMOXI’s mission is to ignite learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity. As Santa Barbara’s newest hands-on destination for families and curious minds of all ages, MOXI is a place where you can explore and discover new things about the world around you, ask questions, seek answers and have a blast doing so. The MOXI is open daily from 10am-5pm except for holidays and special events.
  • Santa Barbara Museum of ArtThe Santa Barbara Museum of Art opened in 1941 and encompasses 60,000 square feet include exhibition galleries, a Museum Shop, Cafe, a 154-seat auditorium, a library containing 50,000 books and 55,000 slides, a children’s gallery dedicated to participatory interactive programming and an 11,500-square-foot off-site facility, the Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House.
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Natural HistoryFounded in 1916 as the Museum of Comparative Oology, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has evolved to include more than 3.5 million specimens covering every aspect of natural history—from mammals, birds, and marine life to geology, astronomy, paleontology, and anthropology. Newly renovated in 2018, the Museum boasts state-of-the-art interactive exhibits for all ages, paired with the Central Coast’s only planetarium, on 17 acres of oak woodland along Mission Creek.
  • Santa Barbara Sea CenterDiscover the wonders of ocean life at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Located on historic Stearns Wharf, this highly interactive marine education facility offers you close encounters with marine animals from the Santa Barbara Channel. In addition to permanent exhibits, the Sea Center hosts unique events and special educational programming, including the Live Dive series.
  • Santa Barbara Zoo – The Santa Barbara Zoo is dedicated to the preservation, conservation, and enhancement of the natural world and its living treasures through education, research, and recreation. The zoo is open daily.

landmarks & staple attractions

  • Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Markets – The Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market Association (SBCFMA) was established in 1983 as a Nonprofit Mutual Benefit Corporation to provide California farmers with direct access to market their products to the local community. The initial farmers’ market in Santa Barbara was held at the Santa Barbara Mission in 1979, which was among one of the first 20 farmers’ markets in the State of California. Today, multiple markets are held daily all week long, with the most popular market held in downtown Santa Barbara on Saturday. 
  • Santa Barbara Harbor – Located at the end of State Street, the Santa Barbara Harbor has something for everyone: boat rentals, kayaks, Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs), jet skis, a Maritime Museum, sunbathing on the beach, some of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, a water taxi, and whale watching, even an ice cream cone to enjoy in the shade.
  • Santa Barbara Mission – The Santa Barbara Mission or “Old Mission Santa Barbara,” was established on the Feast of Saint Barbara, December 4, 1786 and was the tenth of twenty-one California Missions to be founded by the Spanish Franciscans. More than 200 years later, the Mission continues to be the chief cultural and historic landmark in the city of Santa Barbara. Home to a community of Franciscan friars, a beautiful church with a large and active parish; a museum and gift shop; a cemetery and mausoleum; twelve acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, and the rugged and majestic Santa Ynez Mountains as its backdrop. The Mission’s commanding position and grand proportions, graceful lines and soft, blending colors all reinforce her title, “Queen of the Missions.”
  • Stearns Wharf – One of the most iconic attractions in Santa Barbara, Stearns Wharf is a pier located at the cross-section of the end of State Street and Cabrillo, in the Santa Barbara harbor. When completed In 1872, it became the longest deep-water Wharf between San Pedro and San Francisco. Named for its builder, local lumberman John P. Stearns, the wharf served the passenger and freight shipping needs of California’s South Coast for over a quarter-century. Stearns Wharf is also just a short walk away in either direction from Santa Barbara’s East Beach and West Beach. Considered two of the most beloved beaches in Southern California, they’re the perfect sea and sand setting for romantic strolls, surfing, or just laying out on the sand with a blanket and soaking in the sun and scenery.
  • Sunday Beach Arts and Crafts ShowThe Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show is a piece of living history highlighting the creative talents of local artisans. The show is located on Cabrillo Boulevard from Stearns Wharf to Calle Cesar Chavez. The show takes place every Sunday year-round and on Saturdays of major holiday weekends. Official show hours are from 10am until dusk.