Meditation and mindfulness are all about being grounded in the present moment, which also happens to be a wonderful side benefit of travel. If you’re looking for ways to enhance your wellbeing when visiting us here in Santa Barbara, we invite you to dip a toe in the meditative waters. There are a variety of unique wellness therapies and experiences on offer that deliver the healing benefits of mindfulness and meditation—including improved cognition and emotional health, increased insight and resiliency, and heightened concentration abilities. There is no one “right” way to meditate. It’s something anyone can do, anytime, anywhere. No experience is necessary, just an open mind. Read on to find your perfect mindfulness match.
Animal-assisted therapies are one way to practice mindfulness by tapping into the powers of the animal-human bond. Enter Cat Therapy, Santa Barbara’s signature cat café that gives customers a chance to bond with foster cats before they are adopted. There are generally 15 to 20 healthy cats roaming the café and visits are booked by the hour. Pop in for a pet sesh and let your worries purr away.
Watching birds is another way to connect with the natural world and heighten your senses of sound and sight. You can discover birds all over Santa Barbara, especially at places like the Andree Clark Bird Refuge. We’re fans of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s monthly guided bird walk led by a local expert naturalist, Rebecca Coulter. She can teach you how to identify birds by their sounds and you’ll spot a variety of local birds in their natural habitat on the garden’s 78 acres.
Horses are renowned for their healing capabilities, especially given their sensitivity to human emotions. Known as equine therapy, there are several local stables and farms that specialize in using horses for therapeutic purposes—the most famous being Flag Is Up Farm, home of the original “horse whisperer,” Monty Roberts. Another easily accessible option for visitors who want to get attuned to equestrian energy is booking a guided horseback ride with a company like Los Padres Outfitters or Circle Bar B Guest Ranch & Stables.
Art is incredibly healing and meditative, whether you’re making it or observing it. Santa Barbara Museum of Art offers hands-on workshops and classes such as “Studio Sunday” and the monthly “Sketching in the Galleries.” Create Your Life Studio is an art therapy studio founded by a local licensed psychotherapist, Christine Scott-Hudson, who wanted to create a space for “creativity, magic, and healing.” She offers art therapy sessions by appointment for individuals and couples. Treat yourself to some DIY art therapy at The Crafter’s Library, a co-working space for crafters. You can drop in and take advantage of their robust suite of tools and supplies like sewing machines, a 3-D printer, paint, glue guns, knitting looms, and so much more. Or register for classes on everything from sewing 101 and soapmaking to macrame, flower arranging, and painting.
Salt Cave Santa Barbara is a den of Zen located in the heart of downtown State Street. It features an apothecary, spa, and two salt caves—the largest underground crystal Himalayan salt caves in North America. Salt therapy is an ancient practice of breathing in fine salt particles to improve respiratory health, so when you book a salt cave session, you’ll reap the benefits of both halotherapy and meditation. Salt cave sessions are offered hourly and give you 45-minutes of chilled-out bliss reclining in the cool, dark room while meditative music plays. You’ll leave grounded and refreshed.
Nature therapy comes in many forms. A leisurely walk among trees, a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”), is a trusted cure for reducing stress and boosting immunity. Make that leisurely walk a walking meditation by infusing mindfulness, connecting breath and movement, going slowly, and paying attention to each step and breath as you observe the elements around you. Walk among redwood trees at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden or through 78-acres of eucalyptus groves at Goleta’s Ellwood Mesa Butterfly Grove, where monarch butterflies stop on their annual migration. Stroll alongside the exotic plant collections at Lotusland* and its neighboring Aloes in Wonderland nursery. The Douglas Family Preserve is another good spot for a walk among the trees with the added bonus of ocean views.
Speaking of the ocean, as the Danish writer Isak Dinesen famously professed, “the cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” It’s easy to find an empty stretch of sand along the Santa Barbara coastline to settle in for a meditation with the soothing soundtrack of the crashing waves and fresh sea air to clear your mind. Our guide to Seven Not-to-Be-Missed Beaches can help you find a beach that speaks to your soul. You could also make it a walking meditation along the Breakwater at the Harbor. Or, take an invigorating cold plunge with a quick dip in the Pacific. There’s been a lot of buzz lately over cold-water therapy—59 degrees being the optimal temperature, which is exactly where Santa Barbara’s average ocean temperature hovers in winter and spring.
Sound baths wash you with healing sound waves generated from crystal bowls, gongs, and Tibetan singing bowls. Since our bodies are made up of mostly water, the resonance of these good sonic vibrations releases stress and lifts spirits. Sound baths often begin with a guided meditation as you’re laying down, followed by the playing of different bowls, bells, and gongs that create different tones. It’s not uncommon to fall asleep during a sound bath given the deep state of rest and inner peace that ensues. Here in Santa Barbara, yoga studios such as Santa Barbara Beach Yoga, Yoga Soup, and Sol Seek are the go-to resources for sound bath and yoga nidra (yogic sleep) experiences. Salt Cave Santa Barbara also offers sound baths in the caves.