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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!