Pack up the family and explore Santa Barbara for your next weekend getaway. The kids would love to hop aboard an Amtrak train for a stress-free way to arrive from Los Angeles. Or make it a longer trip and discover the Danish hamlet, Solvang,just a few miles away. Regardless how much time you spend, here’s where to go with kids in Santa Barbara.
Where to Go with Kids in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Trolley Company City Tour
During my visit, I walked from my hotel, Hotel Santa Barbara, located along State Street to the Santa Barbara Visitors Center. Located at 1 Garden Street at Cabrillo Street, it’s the main trolley stop for the Santa Barbara Trolley Company.
Since the tickets are good for two days, I used it to get around. Or you can just see Santa Barbara’s highlights on the standard 90-minute tour. Best of all, friendly and knowledgeable drivers shared all the local’s places.
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.
Stearns Wharf is located at the intersection of State St. and Cabrillo Blvd. Free
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 along with the art are tops. The self-guided tour walks through the courtyard that features a lush garden.
Santa Barbara Mission is located at 2201 Laguna St. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.Admission.
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. But to my surprise one of the best views in the city is from its clock tower.
To add to my delight, the Spanish Mission style building offered a richly painted court room 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.
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is located at 1100 Anacapa St. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free
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. it’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission, though Thursdays offer free admission from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Santa Barbara Zoo
Take the kids to the zoo to explore a smaller zoo with 146 species with a total of 500 animals in open naturalistic habitats. Don’t miss the zoo train that circles the perimeter.
Located at 500 Ninos Dr. The zoo is open every day from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Admission and train ticket extra.
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. Walking up and down State Street is pleasant year-round.
Though bustling with shops and restaurants, State Street closes to vehicular traffic one day a week for the popular farmer’s market. On State Street vendors sell everything from hand-tied bouquets to organic produce.
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.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission based on age. The Moxi is located at 125 State St.
Chase Palm Park Carousel
Located across from the Santa Barbara’s Visitor Center, I found the Chase Palm Park Carousel. As a lover of carousels, I hopped on a hand-carved horse. Built by the Allan Herschell Company in 1916, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and operated in Santa Barbara since 1999.
The carousel is located at 323 E Cabrillo Blvd. in the Chase Palm Park. Admission charged.
Santa Barbara Beaches
California beaches offers some of the U.S. top beaches though notoriously don’t offer much parking. I recommend West Beach or East Beach since both are on either side of Stearn’s Wharf along Cabrillo St.
Steps from the beach, Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone offers visitors a chunk of the Urban Wine Trail. A self-guided tasting room tourfeatures wine from across the region. Shop vintage shops along with art galleries in Maker’s Mecca of Santa Barbara.
Where to Stay
During my visit I stayed at the Hotel Santa Barbara. 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 movie makers 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.
Where to Eat
Since it’s located in the center of downtown Santa Barbara, I walked to dinner. Since 1977, Enterprise Fish Company offers a casual nautical-themed dining room serving sustainably sourced seafood.
I recommend the Lobster Bisque. With a combination of heavy cream, butter, lobster and flaky pastry, it’s heaven in a spoon. The Blackened Ahi Sashimi Tuna is another stand-out.
Enterprise Fish Company is located at 225 State St, next to the train station. Open seven days a week from lunch to dinner.
Where to Relax
Getting away with a spa treatment tops my list for vacation musts. During my visit to Santa Barbara I enjoyed a massage at Float Luxury Spa, in the heart of Santa Barbara.
Float Luxury Spa features individual treatment rooms and several areas for longing before and after services. I enjoyed the outdoor courtyard with a fountain and loungers during my visit. Additionally, I used the locker room outfitted with a shower and complimentary toiletries.
Located at 18 E. Canon Perdido St. and steps from State Street, Float Luxury Spa is open everyday.
How to Get to Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Car Free
I arrived at the 1902 Santa Barbara Train Station after a spectacular train ride abroad Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. One of the best scenic routes in North America, I rolled through untouched coastal scenery.
The train offers 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 offers a destination, as an 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 arrived to Santa Barbara via U.S. 101 or the airport.
Consideration for Brands Mentioned