A beautiful coastal city located in the sunshine state of California, Santa Barbara is a paradise that everyone should visit. It is one of the most popular resorts and vacation destinations in the United States. With its red-tile clay roofs to its iconic whitewashed walls and arched doorways, Santa Barbara is still heavily influenced by the Spanish Era in terms of its architecture. And it is definitely stunning to see the preservation of the city’s history and culture. If you are planning to visit sometime soon, and don’t know exactly what to do in the city. Check out my list of things to do in Santa Barbara below. And hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll already have some ideas for your itinerary! Hope you enjoy!
Sightseeing & Entertainment In Santa Barbara
1. Inspiration Point
The first activity on my list of “Things to do in Santa Barbara” is HIKING! Haha, I know some of you are like, please don’t! But I have to say, the hike up Inspiration Point is relatively easy, even for someone like me who considers going to the gym an annual event. The hike is only around 1.5 hours one way with an elevation gain of 800 ft. Plus, you can take a bunch of Instagram-worthy photos once you get up to the peak! Does that entice you a bit more?
2. Wine Tour
One of the most important things to do in Santa Barbara is to go wine tasting! (Only if you’re over 21 and love wine, of course). Santa Barbara’s weather is cooler than Santa Ynez yet warmer than Santa Maria Valley, which means that it has the perfect climate condition for some of the world-class wine varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. With more than 200 wineries in Santa Barbara, wine-lovers can spend a life-time here drinking to their heart’s content. If you’re ready to taste some fine wine, head to the Funk Zone in Downtown Santa Barbara or join a wine tasting country tour!
MOXI (The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation), is probably one of the coolest interactive spaces I’ve seen in a while. No matter your age, you’ll find the hands-on learning experiences and science experiments super intriguing and educational. If you’re traveling with children and want to have a day of activities planned out for them, I would highly suggest visiting this museum. It’s located right near the harbor and across from the Amtrak station. And for more info and ticket purchase, visit MOXI’s Official Website!
4. Arroyo Burro Beach County park
Also known as Hendry’s Beach by the locals, Arroyo Burro is located around 5 miles west of the city center and near Hope Ranch. This is one of the cleanest beaches in the area because volunteers from the South Coast Watershed Resource Center venture out to clean it monthly. So bring a basket of sandwiches and snacks to picnic out at the park if you want to enjoy a relaxing day near the ocean. Dogs are also allowed as long as they’re on a leash.
5. Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center
If you’re tired of outdoor activities and just want to be in the comfort air-conditioned clothing stores, then head on over to Paseo Nuevo. This shopping center on State street is basically where all locals go to hang out and shop! Check out their store directory to find out more info on what’s available.
6. Lizard’s Mouth
The Lizard’s Mouth hiking trail is another popular hiking location in Santa Barbara. There’s an iconic rock formation there that looks like a lizard opening its mouth wide, hence how the trail got its name. However, I would say that this hike is more like climbing rocks than just walking through plain trails. So make sure to wear proper shoes. For some reason, I decided to wear my Converse flats there, and almost busted my behind several times due to how slippery my shoes were. But all in all, the Lizard’s Mouth is a super fun hike to do with your friends and family while burning extra calories at the same time!
7. Santa Barbara Court House
This Spanish Colonial Revival Style building was constructed in 1929 by William Mooser III. Located on Anapaca street in Downtown Santa Barbara, this breath-taking building has become one of the most popular tourist sightseeing destinations in the city. The admission is completely free, but do be aware of its hours (Weekday hours: 8 am to 5 pm; Weekend hours: 10 am to 4:30 pm). And if you do decide to visit, head up to the observation deck to check out the beautiful city view of Downtown Santa Barbara from above.
8. Watch The Sunset in Isla Vista
Isla Vista, or locally known as IV, is a small town/community where lots of young and adventurous kids reside. Since it’s directly next to the University of Santa Barbara, Isla Vista has become one of the most famous “college party towns” in the US. However, Isla Vista isn’t just all parties and drinking. The sunset views are absolutely stunning here. There are different viewpoints and beaches in IV where you can catch the sunset. Sometimes, as the sun starts to set, you can see college students coming out of their houses and admire the sunset together. It’s a beautiful atmosphere! Oh yea, and remember to grab a jacket with you since it can get pretty windy at night near the ocean.
9. Kayaking + Paddle Boarding
Kayaking and Stand Up paddleboarding is a popular activity for tourists and locals alike in Santa Barbara. There are tons of tour agencies online that provide different types of kayaking tours. However, you can simply rent a kayak, surfboard, or stand up paddleboard for $15 USD an hour at the Paddle Sports Center near the harbor. But if you want to make sure there are kayaks and boards available on the day you visit, make sure to reserve your slot online!
10. Bar Hop In The “Funk Zone”
There are lots of things to do in Santa Barbara, and one of my favorites is to go bar hopping in the “Funk Zone”. The Funk Zone is a young and hip part of Downtown Santa Barbara where unique Art, food, culture, wine, and events are showcased and celebrated. You can spend a day here admiring exquisite work by creative artists in the art galleries and studios, and later hit up the “Santa Barbara Wine Therapy” to socialize and have fun! (They have events like Open Mic and Trivia Night every evening). And lastly, check out this map of the Funk Zone to help guide you in your exploration! Don’t drink too much now!
11. Old Mission
The Old Mission is another famous city and cultural landmark of Santa Barbara. It was founded in 1786 by Spanish Franciscan. And more than 230 years later today, the Old Mission is still an active church that continues to carry the vital traditions of this history. You can do a self-guided tour here every day from 9 am to 4:15 pm. But if you’d prefer a private tour to learn more about the history of this place, please visit the Old Mission website for more information!
12. Stearns Wharf
Stearn’s Wharf is an icon of Santa Barbara and is probably the city’s most visited tourist destination. This pier was built in 1872 and is still to date the oldest working wharf in California. Stearn’s Wharf is located right adjacent to the East and West beach on Cabrillo Street, so if you don’t want to drive directly onto the wharf and pay a bunch for parking, I’d recommend finding a free parking spot nearby the beach and then walk up to the pier. There are a few waterfront restaurants that offer pretty good seafood. Moby Dick serves delicious clam chowder that you can bring to-go, perfect for when the sun sets, and you need something to keep your tummy warm. There’s also a number of gift shops here for souvenir shopping. The Stearn’s Wharf is a must-visit for me every time I go to Santa Barbara. I just can’t get enough of the beautiful view and breeze of the ocean! It’s definitely a great way to de-stress and just enjoy the present moment.
Food-Related Things To Do In Santa Barbara
McConnell’s Ice Cream is one of the most popular ice cream shop in Santa Barbara. Especially at the location on State Street, the line is almost also out the door, but it’s definitely worth the wait. There are tons of unique flavors you can try, and you’ll be tempted to get more than one scoop. McConnell’s is still one of my favorite ice cream places today. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
2. Brophy Bros
Out of all the things to do in Santa Barbara, eating seafood is one thing you must do! (I mean, unless you’re allergic). Brophy Bros is located right next to the Santa Barbara Harbor. And from the second floor of the restaurant, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the sea while you indulge in some mouth-watering crab cocktails, fried shrimp, and white sea bass from local waters. This restaurant is without a doubt a seafood lover’s heaven!
If the wait is too long at Brophy Bros, head to the restaurant right to it called “On The Alley”. They have legit on the BEST fish tacos and fish & chips I’ve ever tried in my life. Every time I visit Santa Barbara, I have to pay a visit to this place, or else my body will hate me.
3. The Habit
Fun Fact! The Habit Burger was originated in Santa Barbara in 1969 as a family-owned business. And today, with more than 50 years of history, it has now expanded to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, with a total of 23 restaurants. In Santa Barbara, people like to compare the Habit with In N Out burgers. They’re both affordable, fresh, and better than McDonald’s haha. I personally prefer the Habit over In N Out, but hey! We all have different preferences, so please don’t come for me in the comments if you’re a die-hard In N Out fan!
4. Sushi Go Go
Sushi Go Go is an affordable seafood option if you don’t want to spend over $15 on your meal. Since it’s situated right next to the harbor, you still get to enjoy the beautiful view of the sea without having to break the bank on a fancy restaurant. Of course, since the price point is relatively low, I wouldn’t say that the quality of the seafood is “top-notch”. But for the nice view and cheap food, I won’t complain!
5. Hana Kitchen
Hana Kitchen is definitely one of the Santa Barbara locals’ staples. It’s super affordable ($5 USD for a chicken bowl). And the amount of chicken and rice they put in your bowl is definitely much more than what you’re paying for. This place opens until midnight, so it’s a great place to go for a late-night munchie. Besides their rice bowls, they also have Boba Tea and Boba slushies that come in all kinds of flavors. For under ten dollars, you can get a hearty, calorie-packed meal that will put you to sleep right after. Isn’t that great?!
6. The Blue Owl
One of the best things about this cafe is that it is open till 2:30 am, which is quite rare for restaurants on State Street. This means that after bar-hopping Downtown, you can simply walk to this Blue Owl Cafe to satisfy your growling stomach. They serve everything from hot herbal tea, chicken fried rice, Banh Mi, Pad Thai, to lemon cake and brownies. It’s basically an Asian Fusion restaurant disguised in the exterior of a hippy Americanized cafe. The interior design of this cafe is not only super cozy and inviting, but also provides an interesting juxtaposition to the Asian food they serve. I love it!
If you love mimosas and pancakes, Jeannine’s Bakery is the place to hit up on a nice Sunday morning. Jeannine’s Bakery is agreed among the locals as one of the best brunch places in Santa Barbara. The food is super tasty and will definitely leave you with a food coma. The breakfast and brunch menu has everything from oatmeal, french toasts, quesadillas, eggs benedict to breakfast burritos. And make sure to take a look at the menu before going so you won’t struggle to choose on the spot.
The Freebirds in Isla Vista is where all the drunk UCSB college students gather to shove their faces with cheesy nachos and fat burritos after a long night of crazy partying. This place is always packed and super lively, and there are plenty of indoor and outdoor seatings available for you to enjoy your food. Freebirds is known for their insanely large portions, so usually, a plate of nachos is just the right size to share between two people. However, you can always challenge yourself to finish it on your own. Trust me, you’ll be so stuffed that you won’t want to eat anything else for the rest of the day.
Major Events & Festivals In Santa Barbara
1. Old Spanish Days-Fiesta Week!
Over the course of five days in the month of August, the Old Spanish Days Fiesta celebrates Santa Barbara’s rich and beautiful culture. The whole town comes alive in celebration of the traditions of its founders. It’s definitely a wonderful gathering to be a part of. Not only are there endless amounts of activities, performances, and music, and parades every day, but the FOOD! Ugh, heavenly. I’ve attended this festival three times, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it! Confettis everywhere, people drinking, laughing, dancing, and enjoying themselves with friends and family. I mean, what else could you ask for!
2. California Avocado Festival
The California Avocado Festival is without a doubt one of my favorite festivals EVER! I love Avocados and I can’t be friends with anyone who doesn’t. So if you’re an Avocado-lover like me, make sure to free your schedule up in early October! This FREE festival takes place in Carpinteria, which is only a 15-minute drive from Downtown Santa Barbara. And since this is a three-day festival that usually starts from Friday and ends on Sunday, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the fun. Eat as many avocado dishes as you can, and don’t forget to check out the Best Dressed Avocado Contest! It’s ADORABLE.
3. Santa Barbara Fair & Expo
The Santa Barbara Expo & Fair is a 5-day event that takes place usually from the end of April to early May. Tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of vendors attend this festive annual fair each year. So definitely expect to wait in line for almost everything. There is an insane variety of food, but the majority of them can be a bit pricey. So make sure to bring enough cash, because you’ll probably want to go on the Ferris Wheel later to catch the beautiful sunset from above. All in all, I think even though the fair is a bit pricey, the experience makes it worth-while.
4. Santa Barbara International Film Festival
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is an event in January/February that lasts for almost two whole weeks! This annual celebration that started in 1986 has quickly become one of the leading film festivals in the US. Major movie stars like Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lupita Nyong’o, and Cynthia Erivo have all blessed the red carpet and panel discussions. For more information on tickets, passes, and admission info, please visit the SBIFF Official Website. There are lots of independent and indie films that you can actually watch for free during the festival. So be on the lookout for the screening schedule on their website as well.
5. Fourth Of July Parade & Celebration
The Fourth of July celebration in Santa Barbara is an all-day festival just like any other place in the States. The parade starts midday and continues until late afternoon. The festive performers march and dance from upper State street all the way down to the harbor. And as the night starts to set in, crowds begin gathering near the pier to watch the spectacular fireworks that last for minutes on end. Restaurants on State street are usually packed on this day, so make sure to bring your own snacks to keep your “hanger” at bay.
Enjoy Your Time In Santa Barbara
As you can see, there are a lot of things to do in Santa Barbara. It is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. I hope you will enjoy this paradise as much as I do. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve decided to participate in any of the activities suggested above. And also, if you would like to add to my list and make it “MORE THAN 25 Things to do in Santa Barbara”, let me know as well!
Lastly, check out my curated list of “20 Things To Do In Downtown Los Angeles” if you will be passing through LA on your way to Santa Barbara!