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Car-Free Family Vacation

Ditch the car and catch the train for a weekend of stress-free family fun in Santa Barbara. Explore endless family attractions with ease, from museums to restaurants, and more. With a walkable downtown area, enticing waterfront boulevards and plenty of bikes to get you around town, The American Riviera® is an easy destination to explore car-free.

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Day 1

From Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Sacramento or the Bay Area, step on board Amtrak® for a stress-free ride into the paradise that is The American Riviera®. With Amtrak®, you’ll be rewarded with a blissfully traffic-free voyage, trading rush hour for amazing views, comfortable seats and an easily accessible café for mid-trip meals. The bonus? Along the way, you’ll gain access to some of the most coveted scenery along the coast, more conveniently viewable by train than by car.

Upon arrival, find yourself in the heart of Santa Barbara, within walking distance to a variety of hotels, shops, and wine tasting rooms, and a mere two blocks away from the beach. Luckily, getting around Santa Barbara with or without a car is no problem, and you’ll find yourselves arriving at your hotel with ease.

Belly flop or cannon ball? No matter which you choose, feel right at home at Best Western PLUS Pepper Tree Inn, a Santa Barbara Hotel Group property. Photo Credit: Best Western PLUS Pepper Tree Inn

Selecting the perfect hotel with just the right location can sometimes be tricky. That’s why, for this family getaway to Santa Barbara, we’d recommend Santa Barbara Hotel Group, a collection of hotels and inns that are both sophisticated and relaxed. The quaint accommodations offer unique charm, with traditional Spanish architecture, impressive gardens and a casual resort feel at a great value.  Each of the five hotels offer locations to a variety of popular attractions within the city. For beach lovers, Lavender Inn by the Sea, Inn by the Harbor, and Brisas Del Mar, Inn at the Beach are all just a short walk away from the Amtrak Station and some of the area’s most pristine coastline. Amenities for these beach hotels include complimentary bikes, deluxe continental breakfast, afternoon wine & cheese and evening milk and cookies. If you prefer a locale that’s close to  downtown Santa Barbara with on site dining,  Best Western Plus Pepper Tree Inn and Best Western Plus Encina Inn & Suites are conveniently located to get in and out of downtown with ease. Not to mention, for those traveling by train, a complimentary shuttle is offered to and from the Santa Barbara Station.

Once you’ve checked-in, dropped your bags and explored the property’s grounds, it’s time to explore the abundance of family-friendly dinner options available in Santa Barbara. Make your way through town and head to The Mill, one of Santa Barbara’s newest hotspots for food, drinks and shops. Stop into Wildwood Kitchen, where kids under nine eat free and everyone can try a taste of their famous “West Coast Barbecue.” Grown-ups can hop next door for a thirst-quenching craft beer at Third Window Brewery or a glass of local wine at Potek. Sit outside and soak up the sun, as Santa Barbara is known for year-round “summer” weather.

Santa Barba
Inn by the Harbor is a charming seaside escape not to be missed. Photo Credit: Inn by the Harbor

Day 2

Be sure to get a relaxing night’s rest, as day two is sure to be filled with family fun and exploration. Begin your day with breakfast at Live Oak Café, where the menu is designed to highlight Santa Barbara’s seasonal bounty and conviently located within Best Western Plus Encina Inn & Suites. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, the Lemon Zest Brioche French Toast is a must-try. We’re positive the whole family will love the food and comfortable atmosphere at Live Oak Café so much, you’ll make plans to retun for dinner.

Once you’ve had your fill, spend the next few hours exploring State Street, Santa Barbara’s main thoroughfare. Here, you’ll find local artisan shops, cozy cafes, exciting galleries and more, all while enjoying the traditional Spanish architecture and unmistakable red tile roofs.

Walking the alleyways and paseos of  downtown can work up quite an appetite. For a mid-day sip or snack, head over to Santa Barbara Public Market, which features a variety of food options, perfect for even the pickiest eaters, and boasts a central location right off State Street. Stop in for noodles, beer, poke bowls or ice cream—the options are endless!

Top off your afternoon with a glass of wine from Santa Barbara County. Sanford Winery’s downtown tasting room brings a taste of Santa Barbara wine country right to you, and is located in La Arcada Courtyard, a quaint alleyway full of shops and picturesque architecture. The tasting room, which is kid and dog-friendly, is managed by helpful wine experts ready to help you savor flights, tastings or bottles. Find your new favorite blend or bottle, and send some home to uncork more memories long after your departure.

For those staying an extra day, you can’t miss a trip to Santa Barbara’s wine country to experience Sanford Winery. The 45-min trek to the Santa Ynez Valley is well worth it—you’ll be able to experience the magic of the winery, and get to see where the region’s Pinot first got its start in the Sta. Rita Hills. Wines at Sanford are made in small batches, making each experience with them a personal and unique one. A visit wouldn’t be complete without a taste of their Chardonnay and Pinot, which are estate grown and have received numerous recognitions and accolades.

Santa Barbara
Bring the kiddos or spend an afternoon kid-free and wine tasting at Sanford Winery.

Day 3

On your final day, stay close to the water and rise with a seaside breakfast at Sambo’s. With outdoor seating and unbeatable ocean view, Sambo’s will be the just the right spot to soak up the last day of your escape in The American Riviera®.

After savoring your last bite, take the short stroll to Stearns Wharf, the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dip into candy shops, souvenir stores, restaurants and galleries—the Wharf is home to 17 different businesses, perfect to snag something to remember your time in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara
Build a castle, surf the waves or simply enjoy the sunshine of a family day at the beach. Photo Credit: J. Sinclair

Once you’ve hopped from shop-to-shop, linger on the always-welcoming beaches, stroll along breezy Cabrillo Boulevard, or stop into MOXI, the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. MOXI offers exciting exhibits and interactive showcases to entertain young minds on your final hours before departure. With all the fun you’ll be having, don’t worry about missing your departure. With a station located just a block away, you’ll have plenty of time to play before your train arrives.

Luckily, paradise doesn’t stop after departing The American Riviera®—you’ll get coastal views the whole way back.