Santa Barbara is famous for its wide beaches and stunning natural beauty. Just 2 hours drive north of Los Angeles, this coastal location is the perfect getaway for anyone seeking a beautiful beachside getaway with easy access from Los Angeles.

This area enjoys pleasant temperatures all year round aka Mediterranean climate, and has lots of gorgeous Spanish architecture. Santa Barbara is rather spread out and quite hilly. Consequently a car is definitely the best way to appreciate Santa Barbara and all it has to offer.

We hired a car upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), you can read all about how to do that by clicking HERE.

The Old Mission

Old Mission

The Old Santa Barbara Mission is a wonderful place to just stroll around and enjoy the historical scenery. You can take self guided tours paying $9 for adults and $4 for children. Founded in 1786 the Old Santa Barbara Mission was the tenth of twenty-one California Missions to be founded by the Spanish Franciscans.

More than 200 years later, the Mission continues to be one of the iconic landmarks in Santa Barbara, and attracts tourists by the bus-load. The Mission website states “The Mission’s commanding position and grand proportions, graceful lines and soft, blending colors all reinforce her title, Queen of the Missions”. I’ll go along with that.

Ramon at the front of the Mission

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

This is located right behind the Old Santa Barbara Mission so it’s a good idea to see this right before or after the Mission. Outside the museum there’s a 74-foot Blue Whale skeleton. Once inside visitors are treated to several exhibit halls where they are shown all about the wildlife, topography and human history of Southern California, especially the Santa Barbara region.

Inside the Museum of Natural History

The museum is dripping with Spanish architectural charm which also shows in the gardening styles. There are also large gardens to stroll around and a creek side walk. 2-3 hours should be allowed for this interesting museum, the cost is $12  for adults and $7 for children respectively.

Blue Whale at the front of the Museum

Stearns Wharf

The main wharf in Santa Barbara is named Stearns Wharf. It is rather touristy however it does offer great views of Santa Barbara and the surrounding hills. There is free parking (time limited) and plenty of eating options at the wharf. You can watch a variety of yachts, paddle boards, kayaks and jet skis all strutting their stuff in the surrounding waters. You can also watch the pelicans and gulls on the wharf, or look to the surrounding buoys to see some Sea Lions.

Birds sit atop Moby Dicks on Stearns Wharf

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Centre

This museum is located on Stearns Wharf and offers a range of interactive exhibits for children. It offers them the opportunities to work like scientists with many hands on activities. It also has a theatre which showcases the wonders of the Santa Barbara Channel. The cost is $8.50 and $6 for adults and children respectively.

Marine life on Stearns Wharf

Moby Dick

If you want a great place to eat Moby Dick on Stearn’s Wharf if a great choice. As well as enjoying outstanding waterfront views they have a great range of sea-food on offer. Be warned, the meals are BIG!

Enjoying fish and chips in Moby Dicks

Beachfront

There is a beautiful white sand beach near Stearns Wharf where visitors can stroll around. There are volleyball nets set up, and a lovely bike path running along it. Bike rentals are available in the area.

Favourite activity just off the main beach

Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens are in the foot-hills on the outskirts of Santa Barbara. They are a place of natural beauty with a canyon and creek forming a wonderful wildlife corridor. There is even a redwood grove planted in the 1930’s, these trees are huge already.

View from the Botanic Gardens

There is a wonderful picnic location about 10 minutes walk from the car park, on the opposite side of the road, where you can enjoy wonderful views of the Santa Barbara Channel.  Entry is $12 for adults and $6 for children.

Taking a break under a Giant Redwood at the Botanic Gardens

Santa Barbara Courthouse

The Santa Barbara Courthouse is actually used as a courthouse. As well as lovely gardens to stroll around, the Courthouse is a wonderful example of Spanish Colonial architecture. You can go inside and walk around, and during our visit there was a real live court case taking place! A walk up to the top of the bell tower is a must, where you will get unimpeded views of Santa Barbara, the mountains and the ocean.

Outside the courthouse

Santa Barbara looks very different from this angle, because you see the red-tiled roofs which give this city it’s Spanish look. You can take an elevator however I highly recommend the stairs. The long way up the stairs offers some lovely views of the old mosaic tiles, and also an open window viewing of the clock and bell mechanisms in action.

View from the top of the courthouse

 

Whale Watching

If you want to splash out and purchase an unforgettable tour, try a half day whale watching tour in the Santa Barbara Channel. Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and a host of other marine mammals are normally seen on these tours. To read all about this tour check out our blog post here.

If you would like to spend a little more on a Full Day Private Sailing Trip to the “Galapagos of North America”, check these options to book your very own Yacht:

Santa Barbara Whales

Humpback Whale breaching

Where to stay?

Santa Barbara has many options for accommodation to suit all budgets. Our budget was modest so we booked ahead on Booking.com for a great deal at the Sandpiper Lodge Santa Barbara. We chose the Sandpiper Lodge because it had a very high customer review score of  8.0 when we booked, this is our golden rule for booking on Booking.com. Overall we spent a lovely 2 nights in Sandpiper Lodge, the rooms were large and well appointed, the breakfast was complimentary and delicious.

How long to stay?

Although we only visited for a couple of days, we really fell in love with Santa Barbara. It has a lovely relaxed feel and is a charming place to visit. It is a delightful place just to stroll around. 4-5 days would be a much better time frame to spend here, hopefully you can find a bit longer than us to spend in Santa Barbara.

Roaming around the streets in Santa Barbara

 

On the whole Santa Barbara is one of the most relaxing an interesting places we have stayed. There are heaps of things to do and we only just scratched the surface. This place is highly recommended for a family getaway.