Best things to do in Santa Barbara

28 Best things to do in Santa Barbara (2023)

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article. 

Located a short drive from Los Angeles, San Diego makes for a perfect getaway from Southern California. There are so many awesome things to do in Santa Barbara that it could take up a few days and even longer.

Wondering about how to spend a weekend in Santa Barbara (or longer), but don’t know where to start? I’m here to help you!

Santa Barbara is one of the most spectacular places in Central California. It boasts postcard views, Spanish Colonial architecture and wide sandy beaches that are perfect for watching those famous California sunsets.

Keep on reading if you plan to spend this weekend in Santa Barbara for advice on things to do, places to eat and so much more!

What is so great about Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara is home to many landmarks that offers a blend of culture and outdoors. It boasts many hiking trails and world-class surfing that you can enjoy year-round thanks to the mild climate. Santa Barbara’s wine country offers daily of one of California’s top producing wine regions.


El Presidio de Santa Barbara is a great place to start your weekend in Santa Barbara.

1. El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park

Start your weekend in Santa Barbara with a visit to El Presidio, the most prominent historic landmark in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. El Presidio is a former military settlement that was built by the Spanish in 1782 to protect their district in California.

It’s one of the best places to visit in Santa Barbara if you want to learn the history of this city.

El Presidio is located in downtown Santa Barbara and is a perfect place to visiting during your weekend in this Central California city.
Begin your weekend in Santa Barbara by making a stop in El Presidio, a historic site that dates back to the Spanish rule.

Today, it’s a popular tourist attraction that consists of an archaeological zone and museum. While two buildings of the Presidio have been restored, the El Cuartel building is one of the two old remaining parts (another part that has survived to this day is Canedo Adobe).

FUN FACT: El Cuartel is one of the oldest buildings in California and the oldest building in Santa Barbara.

Browse the most popular tours of Santa Barbara!

Other parts of El Presidio that are fun to explore are called Comandancia, the Padre’s Quarters and old Leutenant rooms. Don’t forget to check out Casa de la Guerra, a museum and the monument to the city’s Histpanic heritage that served as the center of the city’s political and cultural life.

Once you visit El Presidio, you will see why it’s easily is one of the most popular things to do in Santa Barbara!

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except for major holidays. Admission is $5 for adults.

Address: 123 E. Canon Perdido Street, Santa Barbara 

Old Mission is one of the most popular historic landmarks in Santa Barbara, and is an unmissable stop on your weekend itinerary.

2. Old Mission Santa Barbara

Your weekend in Santa Barbara isn’t complete without a visit to Old Mission Santa Barbara!

One of the 21 Spanish missions in California, religious outposts that were constructed in coastal areas of the state, Santa Barbara mission stands out because of its pastel colors.

Situated against the backdrop of the Santa Ynez mountains, the mission is one of the major historic and cultural landmarks in Santa Barbara.

While the original chapel was destroyed during the earthquake in 1812, the church that you see today was reconstructed by the Native American Chumash in 1820.

Old Mission Santa Barbara makes for a great educational stop.

Address: 2201 Laguna Street in Santa Barbara

The entrance costs $12 and includes access to the museum and the historical La Huerta Garden nearby. The mission is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Wine tasting is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara during your weekend in town.

3. Book a tour of Santa Barbara wine country

Santa Barbara is one of the most well-known wine destinations in California, and taking a tour of Santa Barbara’s wineries will allow you to get a glimpse into the winemaking history of the region.

Although you might think that this is a fun activity for wine lovers, touring local vineyards and barrel rooms is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara for just about any traveler because it gives you a perfect chance to enjoy the beautiful countryside and meet local winemakers.

Best Santa Barbara wine tours

Most tours are limited to a small number of people (6-10 people is about the average size). They offer a lunch in the most picturesque surroundings that you can imagine as well as introduce to local wine makers passionate about their craft.

Touring local vineyards is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara for couples!

👉This popular small group tour has great reviews and sells out VERY fast!

4. Parasail over Santa Barbara skyline

The best way to enjoy the Santa Barbara’s skyline is by taking a parasailing tour.

This tour will allow you see the Coast of Central California and get a bird-eye view of the the wharfs, beaches, and the best sites in Santa Barbara like the historic Stearns Wharf. 

If you have never done parasailing and are worried, fear not: the tour is accompanied by a professional parasailing captain who will ensure that safety protocols are met and you have a great experience. 

This tour is a great addition to your Santa Barbara itinerary, if you are craving a break from the city and want to try a new exciting activity in one of the most beautiful places in California.

The tour depart from Santa Barbara Parasail at 237 Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara. 

The meeting point is 3/4 of the way down the Stearns Wharf across from Moby Dicks Restaurant. Look for the yellow and black flag the reads PARASAIL.

5. Santa Barbara Food Tour

If you are a foodie, taking part in the downtown food tour is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara. The event helps to support local businesses as it includes stops at restaurants, cafes and wineries (that depends on drinking or non-drinking tickets).

You can book tickets online ahead of your visit.

Top rated Santa Barbara food tours

Exploring local beaches is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara for a fun weekend getaway.

6. Ride a bike along East Beach

The tranquil East Beach is located just across from Chromatic Gate. Separated from West Beach by the Stearn’s Wharf, East Beach is a popular place for beach volleyball, and you can often see the games near the Cabrillo Pavillion.

The best thing about this beach is that it’s not as crowded as many other beaches near Santa Barbara. Besides playing volleyball, you can enjoy picnicking, sunbathing and swimming.

PRO TIP: Head to Santa Barbara Harbor where you can take a 2-hour kayak tour and enjoy the palm-fringed coastline of the American Rivera!

Butterfly Beach is one of the best beaches in Central California and is a perfect spot to catch the sunset during your weekend in Santa Barbara.

7. Butterfly Beach

Your weekend in Santa Barbara isn’t complete without enjoying the sunset from one of Santa Barbara beaches. My favorite is Butterfly Beach in Montecito.

Here you can swim, surf and enjoy the idyllic atmosphere. Santa Barbara has some of the best surfing conditions along California’s Central Coast for beginning surfers, and Butterfly Beach is that place!

✅ And if you have never surfed before, you can even take a surfing lesson.

The point breaks here are calm and long enough for surfers to catch all the power and get to the shore!  The best chance to catch a wave is winter.

Book one of the best surfing lessons in Santa Barbara

If you are not into surfing, try kayaking, SUP or paddleboarding.

Catching the sunset at Butterfly Beach is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara with scores of people flocking here in the evening!

To find Butterfly Beach, take a drive on Highway 101 and get off at Olive Mill Road. As you continues driving, Olive Mill Road will become Channel Drive and will lead you all the way to the shoreline.

8. Take a trolley tour of Santa Barbara

If you are short on time, but want to see Santa Barbara’s highlights, take a trolley tour. This 90-minute tour is narrated by a professional guide and leaves every day from the Santa Barbara Visitor Center 10 a.m., 12 p.m., and 2 p.m.

The tour includes many landmarks of Santa Barbara such as Santa Barbara Courthouse, Mission Santa Barbara, Stearns Wharf and East Beach.

9. Follow the Urban Wine Trail

One of the most popular activities in Santa Barbara is the Urban Wine Trail that features  more than 20 wineries where you can try wines from Santa’s Barbara’s wine regions.

The wineries included in the Urban Wine Trail are located in the Funk Zone, and Presidio neighborhood, in downtown Santa Barbara as well as surrounding areas like Midtown, La Arcada, Goleta and Summerland

One of the wineries is located near Stearns Wharf, one of the main historic landmarks of Santa Barbara. 

It’s a perfect place to finish your day with a glass of wine while enjoying the incredible Santa Barbara sunset.

10. Moreton Bay Fig Tree

Santa Barbara’s Moreton Bay Fig Tree is an official historic landmark and is thought to be the largest Ficus macrophylla in the United States with the span of over 170 feet.

It is located at the intersection of Chapala Street and Highway 101 near the Amtrak station, and its a great stop if you are headed into the main shopping district, it’s worth a stop.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

11. Santa Barbara County Courthouse

If you want to get a panoramic overlook of the city and learn some of Santa Barbara’s history, head to Santa Barbara County Courthouse, a National Historic Landmark that is often called one of the most beautiful courthouses in the United States.

Throughout the building, you will see many example of the Colonial Spanish style such as hand-painted walls and ceilings, ornate tiles and rich decorations.

Santa Barbara Courthouse is one of the most popular landmarks in Santa Barbara. Make sure not to miss it during your time in the city.
A visit to the historic courthouse is a must during your weekend in Santa Barbara.

The entrance to Santa Barbara County Courthouse is free. All you need to do is to take an elevator to the top of the El Mirador Tower that has an observation platform.

Climbing to the top of this historic building will show you the bird-eye view of the city.

After taking in the views, check out the intricate murals, furnishings and other parts of the interior dating back over 100 years.

Address: 1100 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara

12. Lobero Theater 

The historic Lobero Theater is one of the best places to visit in Santa Bárbara for culture buffs. 

Located less than a block away from Presidio, Lobero Theatre was built as an opera house by Italian immigrant Jose Lobero in 1873. Today it is California’s oldest continuously operating theater.

Liberó Theatre is a registered California Historical Landmark and frequently hosts performances of Santa Bárbara art groups such as ballets, musicals and live shows.

Address: 33 E Canon Perdido St. Santa Barbara

13. Best restaurants in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara has a great foodie scene, and you will have a chance to try it out during your weekend in town!

Here you can find tons of great restaurants from casual Mexican eateries to fine dining options. Plant-based Santa Barbara restaurants that can easily rival vegan eateries in places like Los Angeles and San Diego.

  • Oliver’s Montecito – If you are a carnivore visiting Santa Barbara, you absolutely have to drop by Oliver’s Montecito! This upscale vegan restaurant in Montecito offers delicious elaborate dishes, cocktails and yummy deserts. Stop here and you will learn that vegan food doesn’t have to be boring!
  • Satellite – A corky wine bar in downtown Santa Barbara, Satellite boasts a vegan menu where many items are made with ingredients that come straight from local farmers. And, their wine is all organic and comes from local vineyards.
  • Modern Times – A casual eatery with more than 30 types of beer on tap, this place has a 100-percent plant-based menu. It’s a popular hangout spot thanks to its relaxed atmosphere, cool wall art and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.
  • Corazon Cocina – A vegan Mexican place, Corazon Cocina is one of the most beloved spots in Santa Barbara Public Market
  • Mesa Verde – This restaurant offers a Mediterranean-inspired cuisine with items like grilled polenta with braised garbanzo, lasagna, and burgers. One of the most popular plant-based restaurants in Santa Barbara
No weekend in Santa Barbara is complete without taking a walk along State Street.

14. State Street

State Street is a main thoroughfare in Santa Barbara and the top place for shopping and dining. Here you will also find the entrance to Paseo Nuevo, a beautiful outdoor shopping mall that is home to local boutiques, big retail chains and eateries for every taste and price point.

State Street is great for shopping, people watching and finding some of the best food in town in Zaytoon, Satellite, Modern Times and many others.

15. Santa Bárbara Museum of Art 

An unmissable stop on your Santa Bárbara itinerary, Santa Bárbara Museum of Art is home to more than 27,000 pieces of art such as paintings, sculptures and ceramics from European, Asian and American artists. 

Although this is a smaller venue, Santa Bárbara Museum of Art has a great diversity in its permanent exhibits and is a must stop on your Santa Barbara itinerary.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Hours are extended until 8 p.m. on Thursdays.

Address: 1130 State Street, Santa Bárbara 

16. Santa Barbara Public Market

Check out Santa Barbara Public Market where you can enjoy food made by some of the best Santa Barbara chefs.

Trying local delicacies is great not only for foodies, but also for anybody who wants to enjoy local gastronomy. The venue is a large food hall with plenty of seating space both indoors and outdoors.

Among some of the most popular restaurants at Santa Barbara Public Market are Wabi Sabi, Corazon Cocina, Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar, and Valley to the Sea.

Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 11:00 a.m.-9 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.

 Address: 38 West Victoria Street, Santa Barbara 

Checking out the historic Stearns Wharf is one of the best free things to do in Santa Barbara.

17. Stearns Wharf

Walk to the end of State Street, and you will arrive at Stearns Wharf, the oldest working wharf in California that dates back to 1872.

At the time of construction, Stearns Wharf was the longest pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Today it is home to shops, restaurants, the Sea Center, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Strolling along Stearns Wharf will allow you to enjoy the spectacular views of the harbor framed by the Santa Ynez mountains. But if you would like a quicker trip, rent a bicycle at one of the shops in the area.

Rent an electric bike in Santa Barbara for the ultimate fun! 🚴🏽‍♂️

Biking along the spectacular Cabrillo Bike Path is a perfect way to enjoy the Santa Barbara Coastline.

18. Arroyo Burro Beach County Park

Also known as Hendry’s Beach among locals, Arroyo Burro is about 5 miles from downtown Santa Bárbara. It is a perfect place to enjoy outdoor fun and explore one of the best beaches in Santa Barbara.

Unlike many other Santa Bárbara Beaches, Arroyo Burro Beach County Park doesn’t feel as busy, although it is still a popular place for surfing, jogging, sunset watching and wildlife watching – it’s not uncommon to see a whale pop from the water while walking along the coastline! 

Rent a car ahead of your trip to visit Arroyo Burro and other stunning beaches in the area 🌊

Many locals come to Arroyo Burro to enjoy the picnicking while savoring the magnificent sunsets, and I suggest you do the same.

Good to know: Arroyo Burro is adjacent to the Douglas Family Preserve where dogs can roam off leash, but if you want to bring your four-legged friends to Arroyo Burro, a leash is required at all times.

Address: 2981 Cliff Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93109

Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset 

How to get there: From Highway 101 turn onto Las Positas Road toward south to Cliff Drive. Turn right and travel half a mile toward the park entrance.

You can also get to the park by car or MTD bus and get off at the bus stop outside the park’s entrance.

Chromatic Gate is a popular place for taking photos in Santa Barbara.

19. Chromatic Gate

The Chromatic Gate is a perfect place to snap a colorful photo for your social media. The gate sits right next to the beach, and the background is no less than spectacular!

If you are looking for another cool shot to share with your social media fans, look for colorful tiled stairs that can be found in many places in downtown Santa Barbara. The most famous of them adorn the stairs of the Paseo Nuevo.

The botanical garden is one of the best places to visit during your weekend in Santa Barbara
Photo courtesy Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

20. Explore Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Visiting Botanic Garden is a perfect idea for your weekend in Santa Barbara!

Part of the garden is designated as Santa Barbara County Historic Landmark, and also offers guided tours.

This sprawling garden boasts a collection of more than 1,000 plants native to California amid the stunning mountain views.

Here you can explore 5.5 miles of trails where you can find several highlights such as spectacular redwood grove; the historic Mission Dam that was built in 1807 to provide water to the Santa Barbara Mission, as well as the colorful Japanese garden with a teahouse.

Address: 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara

Hiking to the Inspiration Point is one of the best free things to do in Santa Barbara for adventure lovers.
Inspiration Point provides amazing panoramic views of Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas.

21. Inspiration Point

If you want to get away from the city but don’t want to drive too far, take a trail to Inspiration Point, one of the best hikes in Santa Barbara. It sits at about 1,800 feet in the Santa Ynez Mountains and makes for a decent workout. It also opens sprawling views of the ocean and the entire city of Santa Barbara.

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara.

There are a few ways to reach Inspiration Point, but I suggest taking a shorter route (3.5 miles) that will take you from Tunnel Road to the Jesusista TrailThe hike is rated as moderate and takes about 1,5-2 hours to complete.

Before you leave, make sure you have enough water and some snacks. Don’t forget to wear comfortable footwear as the trail has a few rocky patches after it starts with a paved entrance.

PRO TIP: The entrance to Inspiration Point begins behind Old Mission Santa Barbara, so you can combine the two. Arrive to Mission Santa Barbara early to avoid crowds and proceed to the trail before 10 a.m. because the hike is very popular and parking spots get full quickly.

22. Santa Barbara Funk Zone

Visiting Funk Zone is one of the most popular spots for a fun night out in Santa Barbara because of its colorful art and great ambiance.

Although it used to be a part of the city’s industrial zone, it quickly changed after many street artists painted numerous graffiti on its walls. Now it’s a hipster mecca with a thriving art scene, trendy bars and hotels where you can take photos of murals, have a good time and enjoy a nice atmosphere.

Channel Islands National Park is one of the best day trips from Santa Barbara

23. Channel Islands National Park

One of my favorite day trips from Santa Barbara is the Channel Islands National Park.

Known as the Galapagos Islands of the North America, this place is home to many endemic species that can’t be found anywhere on the planet – a result of isolation from the mainland. During warmer months, Channel Island National Park offers plenty of opportunities for recreation such as kayaking, camping and hiking.

It’s one of the most beautiful islands in the U.S. with scenic rugged beaty and no development.

PRO TIP: While you can go kayaking on your own, hiring an experienced tour guide will make for a much safer trip as tides and waves can be unpredictable especially inside the caves.

How to get to Channel Islands from Santa Barbara

Most boat tours depart to Channel Islands from Ventura Harbor. Don’t confuse Ventura with Santa Barbara as they are two separate cities, and it will take between 30 and 40 minutes to get from Santa Barbara to Ventura via Highway 101.

When I visited Channel Island National Park, I booked a tour with Island Packers which is located right next to the harbor. You can look at their schedule online and boat tours to all of the islands within Channel Island National Park. 

Another option is to book a private tour of Channel IslandsWhile sailing on an individual yacht through the Pacific is no doubt a cool experience, it comes with a hefty price tag.

24. Enjoy the views in Lotusland

Dubbed as one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, Lotusland can be reached by car from downtown Santa Barbara.

Over the course of its history, this popular venue has had three owners, but it was the opera singer Madame Gonna Walska who transformed it into the exotic display that features agaves, cacti and euphorbia, among many other plants. The highlights of the park include Palm Garden; Blue Garden; and the Japanese Garden.

Entrance costs $50 per person. Lotusland is a popular venue for special events, so check its website ahead of your visit, to make sure you can enter.

Address: 695 Ashley Road, Santa Barbara

25. Explore your creative at Moxi

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, tries to inspire creativity and encourage its visitors to learn and innovate by interactive exhibits and colorful displays for all ages. Visiting this museum is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara for the curious-minded.

Hours: The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for holidays and special events.

Address: 125 State Street in Santa Barbara

Whale watching tour is one of the best things to do in Mexico

26. Go on a whale watching tour

Did you know that Santa Barbara Channel is home to nearly 30 species of dolphins and whales that visit this area at various time of the year?

Sheltered by the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara offers a great opportunity to witness migrating grey whales, dolphins and sea lions 🐋

The best time to see grey whales is from February through early April and if you visit in summer or early fall, you will have a fantastic opportunity to see humpback whales and blue whales. If you get lucky, you can even see orcas on occasion!

There are a few companies in Santa Barbara that offer wildlife watching tours. Among them are Condor Express, Santa Barbara Sailing Center and Celebration Cruises.

27. Santa Barbara Certified Farmer’s Market 

The Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market is a non-profit that provides farmers with a space to sell their produce directly to the public. Although you can always find fresh produce in stores, buying it at the market is a better idea because your money will go straight to local farmers. 

Some of the specialty products that you can find here are olives, pistachios and berries.

Downtown Santa Barbara Market takes place on Saturday from 8 a.m.- 1p.m. at 119 E. Cota Street.

Old Town Santa Barbara takes place on Tuesday from 3 p.m.-7 p.m. at Lower State Street between Cota Street and Canon Perdido Street.

San Luis Obispo is one of the best day trips from Santa Barbara.

28. Take a day trip to San Luis Obispo

There are many cool day trips from Santa Barbara thanks to its location along California’s Central Coast. If you love adventure, make sure include a day trip on your Santa Barbara itinerary.

One of them is San Luis Obispo. Located 95 miles north from Santa Barbara via US-101, San Luis Obispo makes for a cool getaway from Santa Barbara thanks to its low-key vibes, many beaches and impressive outdoor opportunities.

Read my guide to the best San Luis Obispo hotels

Nicknamed “The Happiest City in America,” San Luis Obispo boasts cool restaurants, big student population and year-round sunshine. Stroll around downtown to feel the cheerful atmosphere of this place and see some of the highlights like Bubblegum Alley and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

Best hotels in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is not a cheap place to visit, but you can still find affordable hotels if you book them ahead of time.

Here are a couple of options for accommodations for your weekend in Santa Barbara from budget-friendly to five-star resorts along the beautiful Pacific Coast.

🙈 Browse hundreds of Santa Barbara hotels at affordable rates!

Hotel Rez Carlton is one of the best places to stay for your weekend in Santa Barbara
Photo Courtesy Hotel Ritz Carlton Santa Barbara

Hotel Californian

Californian is one of the most popular hotels in Santa Barbara, and it’s not hard to see why. Located a few steps away the beach, it boasts sweeping views of the coastline and the Santa Ynez Mountains in the background. The property features oriental designs and Spanish Colonial architecture.

The Ritz Carlton Barbara

If you don’t mind going on a splurge, Ritz Carlton Bacara is your place!

This gorgeous property built in the Spanish Colonial Style is facing the coast and it’s all about scenery, relaxation and pampering yourself. Guests enjoy the big spa area, multiple restaurants with ocean views and a long sandy beach with many activities that can be arranged at property.

Beachside Inn

Beachside Inn is a budget-friendly hotel with a great location: It sits across from Santa Barbara Harbor and about 5 minutes from the beach. You will also find several restaurants in the area.

Hotel Santa Barbara

Need a place closer to downtown? Hotel Santa Barbara is a gorgeous historic property in the heart of the city within walking distance from major landmarks, tons of restaurants and stores. This is one of the best hotels in Santa Barbara if you don’t want to drive around and want to be in the center of action!

Santa Barbara: FAQ’S

You need about 3 days to explore some of the best things to do in Santa Barbara.

Where is Santa Barbara located?

Santa Barbara is located along the Central California Coast. It is one of the most popular stops for tourists who travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco thanks to its vibrant culture, history and outdoors.

How to get to Santa Barbara

If you plan to spend a fun weekend in Santa Barbara, you have a couple of options. You can take a flight, take a train or drive, depending on where you are coming from. Santa Barbara Airport has daily flights from many places in California and other West Coast cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

Does Amtrak go through Santa Barbara?

Another option is to arrive to Santa Barbara by Amtrak. The railroad traverses through the city and from Santa Barbara you can get to Los Angeles and San Francisco via train.

Amtrak station in Santa Barbara is located at 209 State Street.

Take a fun train ride from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara

Want to enjoy the stunning coastal views on your way to Santa Barbara?

This popular tour departs Oxnard Railway Station and gets you straight to Santa Barbara! Take in the stunning coastline views, enjoy a lovely lunch and explore the true beauty of Santa Barbara.

✅ Book it here!


Los Angeles → Oxnard → Amtrak Coast Starlight (60 mins, ticket included, no tour guide during the trip) → Pier Santa Barbara (90 mins) → Superior Court Of California (60 mins) → Old Mission Santa Barbara (40 mins) → Los Angeles.

Take a drive to Santa Barbara

Here is the distance to Santa Barbara from LA and other popular destinations in California. Remember that California traffic can affect your travel time, especially during holidays.

  • San Diego to Santa Barbara – 218 miles (about 4 hours and 50 minutes)
  • Los Angeles to Santa Barbara – 95 miles (2 hours)
  • San Francisco to Santa Barbara – 325 miles (6 hours)

Don’t miss cool state parks and beaches near Santa Barbara! Rent a car for your trip! 🚗

Taking a road trip to Santa Barbara

If you want more freedom and want to explore some of the best beaches near Santa Barbara as well as check other incredible destinations Central California Coast off your bucket list, rent a car.

Where to rent a car in Santa Barbara?

I recommend Discover Cars, one of the best car rental companies that has thousands of vehicles at reasonable prices. All you need to do is type in your travel dates and browse the available options.

I have personally used this company several times and always had a good experience!

Best time to visit Santa Barbara

When planning your trip to Santa Barbara, it’s important to keep local weather in mind.

Santa Barbara has a slightly cooler climate compared to Southern California thanks to its location along Central California Coast. Still, the difference is not significant: the best time to visit Santa Barbara is from March through May before the peak season and from September through early November before the cold spell arrives.

Summers in Santa Barbara bring hot temperatures and can be really busy, since a lot of kids are on school break. July and August is the most expensive time to visit Santa Barbara when travelers from all over the country flock to this part of California.

How many days is enough in Santa Barbara?

I recommend spending no less than 2 in Santa Barbara. 3-5 days is the best amount of time that will allow you to explore the city and also take one or two day trips from Santa Barbara to places like Channel Islands National Park or the Santa Barbara wine country.

Is Santa Barbara safe to visit?

Generally, Santa Barbara is a safe place to visit, but just like with any city, always watch your surroundings and follow common sense, especially when visiting busy places like downtown or public beaches.

Tips for visiting Santa Barbara

  • Budget you trip – Santa Barbara has been named one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Hotels in San Barbara can be especially pricey, that’s why you should book your stay ahead of time. Platforms like and are great for finding deals on accommodations
  • Visit during off-season – Summer is the busiest time in town. Plan your weekend in Santa Barbara during off-season from October through December or from March through early May to save money and avoid crowds.
  • Explore nearby areas – When visiting Santa Barbara, don’t forget to take a day trip and visit some of the nearby areas like San Luis Obispo or Hearst Castle
  • Santa Barbara is best explored by walking – Santa Barbara is a pedestrian-friendly city and you can explore downtown Santa Barbara on foot. But you still need a car to get around and see some of the best beaches near Santa Barbara and take day trips
  • Learn to surf in Santa Barbara – If you ever wanted to learn surfing, Santa Barbara is the place to do it. Santa Barbara offers some of the best surfing conditions for beginner surfers
  • Spend more than just a day in Santa Barbara – If you are traveling the California Coast, don’t treat Santa Barbara just as a pit stop. Spend a few days in the city to appreciate its culture and enjoy the outdoors
  • Take advantage of free things – Although it is a pricey place, there are still plenty of FREE things to do in Santa Barbara. From walking around downtown to visiting historic landmarks like mission Santa Barbara, to hitting the trails, you don’t have to break your bank to afford a weekend in Santa Barbara

Best things to do in Santa Barbara: Final word

There are so many reasons to spend a weekend in Santa Barbara (and possibly, even longer)!

The city boasts perfect weather year-round and you will never run out of things to do, whether you are into culture, spending time outdoors or fine dining.

From the rich colonial heritage to the beautiful post card views and relaxing vibes, there are countless reasons to make Santa Barbara your next travel destination.