Sunny Santa Barbara boasts beautiful year-round weather with lots of sunny days and cool nights. With its convenient location in Southern California, Santa Barbara offers a quick getaway perfect for families. Located about 100 miles almost due west from Los Angeles. Santa Barbara offers a bit of everything for active families. Instead of driving, consider hopping aboard an Amtrak train for a stress-free way to arrive from Los Angeles. From a trolley tour to the zoo to kites on the beach, here are the Top Things to do in Santa Barbara with kids.
Top Things to Do in Santa Barbara with Kids
- Build a sand castle at the Beach.
See the animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
Take a Trolley Tour.
Watch the sunset at Sterns Wharf.
Visit the Sea Center.
Head to the Moxi.
See the Animals at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
Savor some Art.
Grab a bite to eat.
Santa Barbara Beaches
It is California, so a trip to the beach is a must-do. Here are the top Santa Barbara beaches for your getaway.
West Beach or East Beach–Find sand volleyball, summertime lifeguards, restrooms with showers, picnic tables even a skate park. No dogs. Located on either side of Stearn’s Wharf along Cabrillo St.
Leadbetter Beach–Get a swathe of grass with picnic tables with straw-colored sand beyond. Concessions, restrooms with showers, and summertime lifeguards make this a popular beach. Located west of Santa Barbara Harbor at 801 Shoreline Rd.
Hendry’s Beach–Also known as Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, this beach is popular with surfers and sunners. Find concessions, restrooms with showers and a DIY dog wash since dogs can play on a section of the beach. Located at 2981 Cliffside Dr.
Butterfly Beach–The name is enough for some beachgoers. This beach faces west so get that iconic sunset photo. Butterfly Beach is dog-friendly though it doesn’t have restrooms, showers or picnic tables. Located at 1260 Channel Dr. in Montecito.
Summerland Beach–If your beach vacay begs a sunset horseback ride head to Summerland Beach. In-between Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, arrange horseback rides through Santa Barbara Horseback Rides. Located at 2297 Finney St. It’s accessible through Look Out Park.
Santa Barbara Zoo
The Santa Barbara Zoo is an intimate zoo with 146 species with a total of 500 animals in open naturalistic habitats. Giraffe feeding is a popular activity. The Western Lowland Gorilla is a family favorite. Kids also like the African lion and the Giant Anteater.
Don’t miss the zoo train that circles the perimeter afterward. During the holiday season, the Santa Barbara Zoo transforms with animal-themed lights for its annual Zoo Lights exhibit. This runs from mid-November to mid-January.
Located at 500 Ninos Dr. The zoo is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advance reservations are required for the zoo and train. Admission ranges from $15 to $25 depending on the day. Train and giraffe feeding is extra. Parking is $11.
Note: Santa Barbara Zoo is closed dates in November to prepare for its annual Zoo Lights exhibit.
Santa Barbara Trolley Company City Tour
Take a tour of Santa Barbara on an open-air trolley and see the highlights. During my visit, I walked from my hotel, Hotel Santa Barbara on State Street to the main trolley stop for the Santa Barbara Trolley Company. The standard 90-minute tour features friendly and knowledgeable drivers who share all the local places.
Located at 1 Garden Street at Cabrillo Street, tours run from Thursday to Monday at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Adult tickets are $28 on weekdays, $30 on weekends and holidays, kids are $10 on weekdays and $12 on weekends and holidays. Advance reservations are recommended.
On a local’s tip, I headed to Stearns Wharf in the late afternoon. In 1929 when it was built, it was the longest deep water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Now home to souvenir shops and ice cream cones, visitors are surprised to see the sun set behind the mountains instead of over the water. Remember Santa Barbara’s beach faces south.
Located at the intersection of State St. and Cabrillo Blvd. Free to visit.
Sea Center at Stearns Wharf
As a satellite location for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, The Sea Center is on historic Stearns Wharf with a focus on the marine life of the nearby Santa Barbara Channel. Kids will marvel at the Moon jellyfish, Giant Pacific Seahorses and the Two-Spotted Octopus.
Located at 211 Steans Wharf. Open Wednesday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Tuesday). Adult admission is $14, teens (13 – 17) are $12, and kids (2 – 12) are $11.
Chase Palm Park
Across from East Beach, famillies can find a themed playscape at Chase Palm Park.
Note: The Chase Palm Park Carousel has moved out of the area.
Located at 323 E Cabrillo Blvd. Open from dawn to dusk and free to enter.
Moxi—The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation
The Moxi offers a place for families to learn and discover while exploring. Since it’s opening in early 2017, the Moxi is the Santa Barbara destination for families.
Located at 125 State St. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $18, and kids are $14.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Explore the natural world around Santa Barbara at this favorite museum for kids. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History features a Mammal Hall, a prehistoric forest, a Bird Hall along with exhibits on space and includes indoor and outdoor spaces.
Learn about the Chumash people in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History basketry exhibit. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History also offers Star Parties on certain nights.
Located at 2559 Puestra del Sol. Open Wednesday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $19, teens (13 – 17) are $17, and kids (2 – 12) are $14.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
What a surprise when I walked up the steps of the SB Museum of Art. Inside the regal building, I found a well-curated collection. It even offered some big city surprises, like Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Located at 1130 State St. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m, Adult admission is $10, and kids (6 – 17) are $6, with free admission on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Old Mission Santa Barbara
Originally built in 1786 by the Spanish, Old Mission Santa Barbara is commonly called the Queen of the Missions. With views in all directions, including the Pacific Ocean, it’s a must for architecture and history buffs.
The Spanish Mission architecture and the art are the top things to see at the Old Mission Santa Barbara, a 15-acre site. The self-guided tour walks through the courtyard that features a lush garden.
Located at 2201 Laguna St. Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adult admission is $15 and kids 95 – 17) are $10 and includes an audio tour.
Santa Barbara County Courthouse and Sunken Gardens
When my trolley driver told me I should check out the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, I thought he was kidding. Though to my surprise, one of the best views in the city is from its clock tower. The gardens surrounding the courthouse are a delight as well and a popular location for weddings.
Inside, the Spanish Mission-style building offered a richly painted courtroom as well, a must for architecture nuts like myself. If traveling with kids, head to the top of the clock tower and skip the interiors.
Located at 1100 Anacapa St. Free to enter.
Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market
As one of Santa Barbara’s major roads, State Street offers visitors wide sidewalks shaded in trees and flanked with flower beds, pleasant year-round. State Street closes to vehicular traffic on Tuesday afternoons for the popular farmer’s market. Find everything from hand-tied bouquets to organic produce along with ready-to-eat food items.
Located on State St. between Cota and Canon Perdido. Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m. Free
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
During my visit, I stayed at the Hotel Santa Barbara. It is a historic property with cozy rooms, and I loved the mix of traditional interiors with modern touches.
Built after the devastating earthquake, Hotel Santa Barbara opened its doors in 1926. Almost immediately, Hollywood’s stars, like Clark Gable, walked through the lobby doors. To this day, Hotel Santa Barbara hosts stars and moviemakers as the official hospitality hub for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
After an extensive renovation, Hotel Santa Barbara offers its guests all the rich details of a historic property. In addition, I found all the modern conveniences that travelers need. As a train traveler, this is where to stay in Santa Barbara without a car.
How to Get to Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Car Free on Amtrak
I arrived at the 1902 Santa Barbara Train Station after a spectacular train ride abroad Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. As one of the best scenic routes in North America, I rolled through untouched coastal scenery.
The train offered a moment to shine when I got a glimpse of the vintage 1950s parlor car. Featuring wood-grain interiors, the parlor car reminds me of a glamorous hotel bar where women wore gloves and hats while men smoked cigars.
Even the train station is a destination, a top example of Mission Revival architecture. The Santa Barbara Train Station underwent a complete restoration in 2000. It’s listed on the National Historic List of Historic Places. Walk through the waiting room even if you arrive in Santa Barbara via U.S. 101 or the airport.
Consideration for brands was mentioned, and this trip was part of a media trip.