Things to See and Do in
Santa Barbara County

Source: Wikitravel

Things to See

Karpeles Museum, 21 West Anapamu St., (805) 962-5322, open 7 days a week, 10 AM to 4 PM.  The Karpeles Library is the world's largest private holding of important original manuscripts & documents. Among those items on permanent display in the museum is an original Stone copy of the Declaration of Independence, a replica of the globe used by Columbus (sans the Western Hemisphere), handwritten scores by a dozen leading composers, and the computer guidance system used on the first Apollo lander flight to the moon.

Mission Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Mission, 2201 Laguna St. (from downtown State St., turn east onto Mission St. and follow signs pointing toward the Mission,) (805) 682-4149. Self-guided tours available daily from 9AM to 5PM. Known as "The Queen of the Missions," Santa Barbara's "Old Mission" is a superb example of California's Franciscan Spanish architecture. The tenth California Mission to be constructed, Mission Santa Barbara today is both a scenic wonder and a fine anthropological study of original native culture in the surrounding area. Well worth a visit, be sure to take note of adjacent pottery kiln and tanning vat ruins. $4 for adults.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta Del Sol Road (follow signs from SB Mission). Open 10AM to 5PM daily. (805) 682-4711. This large, well-presented natural history museum is - literally - a hidden treasure. Highlights include eleven exhibit halls focusing on regional natural history, and a life-size Blue Whale skeleton, as well as a rare skeleton of a pony-sized "pygmy mammoth." $6 for adults. Admission is free on the last Sunday of every month except September.

Stearns Wharf, located at the end of State Street along the Waterfront. This picturesque 1872 wharf - the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco - has tons of history. Badly damaged several times by fire, Stearn's Wharf has been repeatedly rebuilt and restored and today features more than a dozen shops and restaurants, and one of the best views in California from the end of its pier. The Wharf was also once owned by Hollywood legend James Cagney. Free.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State Street. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11AM to 5PM. (805) 963-4364. A remarkably well-provisioned museum considering the size of the town it resides in, Santa Barbara's main art museum features a strong collection of Roman antiquities, as well as an impressive lineup of classical European and modern art. Frequently rotated exhibitions are among the strongest in California. Adults: $7. Free admission on Sunday.

Santa Barbara Zoo, 500 Ninos Dr. Open 10AM to 5PM all year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and some private events. (805) 963-5695. Small but well-represented with over 600 animals, the zoo has provided entertainment for all ages since 1963 and is the largest zoo between Los Angeles and San Francisco (unless you count the Monterey Aquarium). Adults 13-59: $10. Children 2-13 and Seniors 60+: $8. Children under 2: Free.

University of California, Santa Barbara, open all year. Situated on a point somewhat west of Santa Barbara proper (but still part of the city), UCSB is commonly listed as one of the top public universities in the United States. Known for its high science programs and top scholars, it also houses a great Marine Biology department, Dance/Theater/Music programs, and much more. The campus itself is regarded as one of the more beautiful campuses among the UC system (perhaps due to its location). Head to the top floor of the campus library for one of the best views of the whole campus. Much of the campus, especially the areas near the beach, is undeveloped open space, and includes a man-made lagoon. Head to the UCen or the nearby college town of Isla Vista for food. From downtown, take Highway 101 north to Highway 217, and go past the airport exit. Admission is free to the campus, but parking costs, and parking restrictions are heavily enforced.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, 1212 Mission Canyon Road (Follow signs from Old Mission), ? 805 682-4726. 9AM-5PM Nov-Feb, 9AM-6PM Mar-Oct. Located on 65 acres in the foothills just above the city, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden features exquisite exhibits of California native plants displayed in beautiful landscaped settings. Walk along a meadow, through a canyon and redwood forest, across a historic dam, and along ridge tops that offer sweeping views of the Channel Islands. Established in 1926 as an educational and scientific institution, the Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in California dedicated to the study, conservation, and display of native flora. $8 adults, $6 seniors/teens/military with id, $4 children 2-12, under 2 free.

Santa Barbara Courthouse. Visiting the Courthouse is a must for any Santa Barbara visitors. The tower will provide great views of the city and the ocean. Visitors may see this working courthouse any time during the business day (8AM to 5PM M-F) or during the weekends (10AM to 4:30PM).


Things to Do

Although Santa Barbara is an atypical coastal town, it offers the typical Southern California variety of outdoor activities, from surfing to whale-watching.

Beaches, along the waterfront. Santa Barbara's most popular beach, East Beach, is a pristine stretch of blindingly white sand framed by postcard quality palm trees, surrounding hills and nearby harbor. For less crowded beachcombing, try nearby Leadbetter Beach, or further up the road, isolated Arroyo Burro (known to locals as Hendry's Beach,) where dog lovers bring their pets to frolic in a no-leashes-needed surfside dog park. Hendry's Beach is also home to a nudist beach, where one can often see a frolicking nude man pass by. Even more isolated is Butterfly Beach, tucked away in a cove beneath the high-toned Biltmore Hotel in Montecito.

Golf, Santa Barbara has numerous private and public golf courses located in and around the city. Hidden Oaks, Twin Lakes, and Ocean Meadows are nine-hole courses that provide budget prices for a round of golf. For those wishing to play 18 holes without spending a lot, the Santa Barbara Golf Club, located at 3500 McCaw, provides reasonably priced rounds. For those wishing to spend more, Sandpiper Golf Course, located north of Goleta on Hollister, or Rancho San Marcos, located about 15 miles up the 154, provide a world class golf experience.

Hiking, from the Mesa to the Santa Ynez Mountains, the unique geography of Santa Barbara provides amazing opportunities to see panoramic views and abundant wildlife. Hiking guides and maps are easily obtained at any local bookstore, well-equipped newsstand, or selected stores in tourist-heavy locations such as downtown. Examples include the Douglas Family Preserve, a great off-leash open space that often serves as the backdrop for numerous weddings, and East Camino Cielo Road off of Highway 154, which has several spots one can park and find a little trail to hike on, or even just sit and enjoy the view.

Paragliding, Santa Barbara offers year-round flying, and some of the best flying in the United States. You can fly solo on your first day at Elings Park. Tandem Flights are also available from the Mountains, the Beach, or the Elings Park Training Hill.

Surfing. There are numerous beaches in the area fit for surfing and several companies that rent surfboards. Although the surf tends to be much smaller in the summer, it is perfect for beginners. There are also several nice long board breaks that are suitable year round.

Wine Tasting. The Santa Barbara back country has a great collection of wineries, most of which are part of the Vintner's Association. Just pop up to Solvang or Buellton and enjoy. The region takes responsible consumption very seriously, and since the February 2008 launch of the CHP Disignated Driver Program, DUI checkpoints have been frequent. Consider hiring a limo or signing on for a wine tour.

Wine Tours, Daily wine tasting excursions depart from most area hotels, and you can pick from several different approaches. The Grapeline Wine Country Shuttle (888) 8-WINERY, offers a flexible day aboard deluxe shuttles. Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours offer a rugged outing in open air jeeps. Sustainable Vine (805)698-3911, focuses on the producers employing sustainable practices.

An easy walking tour. Find some free parking on the side streets from Cabrillo Boulevard after passing State Street (i.e. on Bath Street and Yanonali St). Then walk on the sidewalk or the beach to State Street. At the intersection of Cabrillo Boulevard and State Street you will find the pier which will give you great views of the city. After walking on the pier, take State Street up past the train station. Shops and restaurants line up State Street up and down providing a great visitor experience. Take a left on Carillo St and go one block and then take a left on Anacapa St. This should get you to the Santa Barbara Courthouse (details above under See), and the pleasant views from its tower. Next, walk up the street to Anapamu St and take a left. This will put you back on State Street. If you're not tired yet you can keep walking up State Street to Mission St and take a right. If you follow the street to Laguna St and take a left and after three blocks take a right on Los Olivos. This will get you to the Santa Barbara Mission. After visiting the the mission and the delightful rose garden in front of the Mission, you can walk back to Cabrillo Boulevard or just take the shuttle back to the waterfront.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Held annually towards the end of January/beginning of February, the film festival welcomes some of the biggest names in Hollywood with awards ceremonies and world premiere screenings.


This page was last updated July 19, 2009.