3 Days in Santa Barbara for Nature Lovers

Photo credit: @cmfish via Instagram

Environmental stewardship is part of Santa Barbara’s DNA, beginning with the Chumash people who first inhabited the land thousands of years ago and continuing with the seeds of the modern-day environmental movement planted here in the 1960s, known as the first-ever organized Earth Day. Between Mother Nature’s bounty, an abundance of outdoor adventures and the carefully cultivated urban landscapes, Santa Barbara is an Eden for outdoor types. In this three-day itinerary, we’ll cover everything from epic hiking adventures to numerous ways to get out on the water—and some noteworthy places to grab a bite to eat along the way. 

Book Your Stay


Morning: Rise and shine for a sunrise hike up to Inspiration Point. The 3.4-mile out and back loop climbs to an 1,800-foot vantage point, delivering sweeping views of Goleta, Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands. Before you hit the trail, pick-up breakfast burritos from Lito’s to savor while you soak in the landscape once you’ve reached the peak.

Afternoon: Rent a premium e-bike from Mad Dogs & Englishmen and take one of its guided tours, or explore Montecito’s backroads and leafy neighborhoods independently. Get green thumb envy on a docent-led tour of Ganna Walska Lotusland, an extraordinary botanical Shangri-la and center for scientific research and conservation (advance reservations required).

Evening: Hit Summerland Beach for a peaceful sunset stroll before making your way to dinner at Bettina, a farm-to-table Italian restaurant along Coast Village Road, in Montecito Country Mart.


Morning & Afternoon: Prepare for a wow-worthy adventure to the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. Considered the Galapagos of North America, the pristine islands are home to an astounding array of plant, animal and marine life. Book the “Giant Sea Caves Day Trip” with Channel Islands Expeditions; the tour operator will take care of every detail from the moment you depart Santa Barbara Harbor.

Breakfast will be served as you journey the 25 miles to Santa Cruz Island, where naturalist guides will lead a kayak expedition into one of the world’s largest (and perhaps most colorful) sea cave, Painted Cave. After kayaking, snorkeling is on the menu, along with a hot lunch before it’s time to head back to the mainland.

Evening: After a refreshing hot shower and an active day working up an appetite, head to Rare Society for a filling steakhouse-style feast. Then, have a nightcap at neighboring Test Pilot in the Funk Zone—where you’ll find tiki-themed craft cocktails amongst the tropical island-style atmosphere—as you continue to rehash the day’s adventures and marvel over the natural wonders you witnessed.


Morning: Fuel up on a hearty breakfast at Farmer Boy and then drive to Goleta to hit the trails of 230-acre Ellwood Mesa. Hike or mountain bike through the 10-mile coastal trail network. (November through February, the Goleta Butterfly Preserve is transformed by thousands of Monarch butterflies who winter here during their migration.)

Afternoon: Head to the harbor to rent paddleboards from Santa Barbara Sailing Center. Get an upper-arm workout and check out the impressive yachts, rustic houseboats and salty fishing vessels as you make your way to Stearns Wharf. Along the way, you might find seals, sea lions, birds and—if you’re extra lucky—dolphins as you glide beside the shoreline.

Evening: Score a prime bar or patio seat at the always busy, buzzy Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant. (Insider tip: Order the garlic-baked clams to start—best enjoyed with a chilled glass of white wine or a refreshing pint of beer.) Enjoy one last epic sunset overlooking the boats bobbing in the harbor with the Santa Ynez Mountains backdrop while digging into fresh-as-it-gets local catch. Chances are quite high that some of the fisherfolk responsible for what’s on your plate will be dining at a table nearby.


El Capitan Canyon

This outdoorsy hotel ventures off the beaten path and invites guests to enjoy the natural beauty and diversity of the Santa Barbara South Coast. Just 20 minutes north of downtown Santa Barbara, eco-friendly El Capitan Canyon is a stay fit for nature-lovers and glamping enthusiasts alike.

Book Now

The Eagle Inn

Conveniently located near many of Santa Barbara’s most-frequented beaches (and, subsequently, the Santa Barbara Harbor), a stay at The Eagle Inn puts you right in the heart of many on-the-water activities.

Book Now