The Best Things To Do In Santa Barbara – A Local’s Guide

The Best Things To Do In Santa Barbara

If you want to experience this coastal city in California like a local, these are the best things to do in Santa Barbara — and tips on where to stay!

Ever since my first real visit to Santa Barbara a few years ago, I just keep coming back for more. Maybe it’s the fact that it reminds me so much of the small beach town where we currently live or, perhaps, it’s the differences from San Diego that draw me here.

When Visit Santa Barbara invited us to experience the culture of their town, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Most of our trips are heavily adventure and outdoor focused, but seeing a new side of Santa Barbara intrigued me.

I found that getting to the heart of a destination, learning about its roots, and chatting with locals can be a very fulfilling experience. I definitely have more of an appreciation for The American Riviera and a better idea of what it would be like to live there.

Best Things To Do in Santa Barbara


The Funk Zone

I love the small town, creative vibe I get when visiting downtown and nearby neighborhoods of Santa Barbara such as The Funk Zone, where locals and tourists gather to drink wine and sample farm-to-table dishes at restaurants like The Lark.

Santa Barbara Cuisine Wheat Grass Shots

When Scott and I “hiked” the Urban Wine Trail on a previous visit, I remember thinking how fun it would be to have so many wine tasting options in a town you call home. Now, several years later, there’s an unlimited amount of tasting rooms, award-winning microbreweries, and cuisine that will satisfy even the most experienced palate.

Urban Wine Trail Santa Barbara

We stayed at Hotel Indigo — right in the heart of this hip subculture. This gorgeous Euro-style hotel painted in bright hues of blue and green houses art from the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, so it’s no surprise that I felt like I had stepped into an art gallery.

Read more: 15 Best Weekend Getaways in California (And Where to Stay!)


Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

I’m guilty of ignoring some of the beautiful gardens in destinations we visit. I spent an afternoon at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and learned a lot about my home state’s native plants. With over five miles of trails, this place is a wealth of information. Not only is it a gorgeous place to hike, this garden plays a big part in the conservation and research of California’s native plants and that’s something I have a huge amount of respect for.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden


Old Mission Santa Barbara

Okay, I’m also guilty of never stepping foot inside any of the 21 Missions in California before. The Old Mission Santa Barbara is known as the icon of Santa Barbara and should be included on any visit, especially for people who want to learn how Santa Barbara began. These gorgeous grounds quickly became one of my favorite spots for photography.

Read more: El Capitan Canyon, You Stole My Heart


Kayaking in The Channel Islands

You can’t get to the heart of Santa Barbara without visiting the ocean. I took a day trip with Santa Barbara Adventure Company to learn a bit of history about the Channel Islands while kayaking in this stunning marine sanctuary. Their knowledgeable guide made me extremely comfortable with kayaking inside the caves on Santa Cruz Island, even with some swell in the water.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to California’s Channel Islands

Kayaking Channel Islands Santa Cruz Island

Towards the end of our kayaking adventure, our guide led us to a blowhole and we each took turns getting soaked from the spray. I loved this island so much that Scott and I booked camping reservations there this summer!

Channel Islands Santa Cruz Scorpion Anchorage

Channel Islands Santa Cruz Island Scorpion Anchorage


Plan Your Trip to Santa Barbara

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  1. Kate-Frankie Brennan says:

    I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been to the west coast of USA at all yet. The photos look incredible and it sounds like there is so much to do. Kayaking is a favourite activity for me when travelling and everywhere should have a wine trail. This needs to go on my list!

  2. Betsy Wuebker says:

    Ah, you made me remember decades ago when I lived close enough to SB to visit frequently. Getting to know it every other weekend was one of the joys of living just down Pacific Coast Highway a piece. The most perfect weather in the world, too.

  3. iluv2globetrot says:

    This looks like it was a fabulous getaway! You had me at wine and sold me with these fabulous pictures.

  4. Olga Rabo says:

    I’d go to Santa Barbara just to do some kayaking – the place looks perfect for that, judging from your photos!

  5. Venturists says:

    So many memories from Santa Barbara – now that I’m very far away it was nice to see you pictures to remind me of some good times there.

  6. Claudia Luxembourg says:

    You had me at the wine tasting!!

  7. Natalie - From Tourist 2 Local says:

    Yes, I definitely like to travel more like a local! This looks awesome to me, especially the kayaking..!

  8. Toni | 2 Aussie Travellers says:

    We love sea kayaking and always look for an opportunity whether at home or travelling, your tour looked heaps of fun. That botanic garden and loads of wine in walking distances are winners too in our book

  9. California is paradise! So diverse and interesting. We didn’t make it to Santa Barbara on our travels but will do it next time for sure.

  10. Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate says:

    I adore Santa Barbara! It was one of those places that while living in California I wished I could visit every month, but unfortunately it was a wee bit far from SF. Glad you’re coming to love it, too! And that outfit in the third pic is soooo cute.

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      I’m the same way. I could totally visit SB every month!