Exploring Santa Barbara doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag, especially when you can experience the natural wonders of our seaside haven wallet-free. To help you soak up all that Santa Barbara has to offer, we’ve compiled a list of the most memorable, free activities to do throughout the Santa Barbara South Coast. Put your credit card away and get ready to soak up the miles of pristine beaches and the rolling hills of wine country, or hike majestic cliffs and picnic in a serene park.
Sunshine, majestic mountains, wide beaches and fresh air–what more could you ask for? Santa Barbara has no shortage of epic outdoor adventures, whether you’re an avid hiker, water lover or simply like to stop and smell the roses. Explore all that nature has to offer in our small slice of paradise.
Fish off Goleta Pier, the city’s rustic, massive 1,000-foot pier. Don’t forget a cooler to transport your fresh catch back home.
Uncover the Thousand Steps Beach, a local secret, and watch as the sun dip into the Pacific Ocean.
Explore Santa Barbara’s incredible waterfalls as you hike through the mountains. Our top recommendation? Picnic in the park and explore Nojoqui Falls. From Highway 101, take the Old Coast Road to Alisal Road, and you will reach the park. Pack a cooler and settle in for a day of sunshine and exploring.
Bring your board and surf Santa Barbara’s well-known surf spots. Beginners paddle out at Leadbetter Point off Cabrillo Blvd., and advanced surfers either head north to Sands Beach in Goleta or take Highway 101 South and exit Bates Rd. to surf Rincon Point.
Visit Lagoon Island on the beautiful campus of the University of California Santa Barbara to take a meditative walk through the Labyrinth Trail, made out of decomposed granite and river rocks.
Investigate Cabrillo Point and the Demonstration Gardens at Santa Barbara City College.
Cruise along Channel Drive, the dreamy bike path that leads you to Butterfly Beach in Montecito. It’s the perfect place to breathe in the fresh ocean air and blooming bougainvillea flowers along the path.
Play a competitive round of Frisbee Golf on the 6700 block of Sueno in Isla Vista or at the Evergreen Disc Golf Course in Goleta, which has 18 Innova Discatcher baskets and is free to park and to play.
Travel through winding Romero Canyon in Montecito. This 5.5-mile loop trail reveals incredible views of the Santa Barbara South Coast and the glittering Pacific.
Stroll the beautiful grounds of the Douglas Family Preserve. Bring your four-legged friends to enjoy off-leash freedom.
Bike on any of Santa Barbara’s numerous trails, all with varying degrees of difficulty and stunning views. Test your cycling strength up in the Santa Ynez mountains, or cruise along beachside Cabrillo Blvd.
Ride through miles of paved bike paths around the University of California, Santa Barbara campus.
Hike Hot Springs Trail to the top and experience one of the most beautiful views in Santa Barbara; located off of East Mountain Drive.
Traverse the hills until you reach Inspiration Point (clearly marked trail above the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden on Tunnel Road). A casual 3.8-mile round trip that has spectacular sky views at night!
Visit the Outdoor Visitors Center on the Harbor at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, where you can view the gorgeous sights of the Channel Islands, downtown Santa Barbara and the Los Padres National Forest.
Parks & Gardens
Admire a wide variety of beautiful, fresh blooming roses at The A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden across the street from Old Mission Santa Barbara.
Bring the family to Kids World Park in Alameda Park where they can enjoy hours of fun and entertainment on a large climbing structure and playground.
Enjoy the view and explore the trails at Franceschi Park. The city expanse seen from the Riviera is unmatched.
Take Highway 1 to catch the splendor of the colorful Lompoc Flower Fields, usually in bloom May – September. Before you frolic through the colorful fields, please note that these farms are for viewing from the comfort of your car, and all vehicles are required to remain on paved roads.
Enjoy the splendor and breathe in the fragrant smell of over 100 varieties of orchids at the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.
June through July, delight your senses with the beauty of lavender at Clairmont Lavender Farm.
Arts & Culture
Santa Barbara is chock-full of vivid art installations, historic landmarks and incredible architecture. The town’s Spanish heritage shines through the white-washed adobe buildings, red tile roofs and hacienda-style design. Use this list to track down notable statues, culturally significant sites and modern murals that pay homage to Santa Barbara’s local art scene.
Visit the Chromatic Gate, on the corner of Cabrillo Blvd and Calle Puerto Vallarta near East Beach, and appreciate its iconic, brightly-colored arches against the Pacific Ocean backdrop. It’s a perfect spot for your next Instagram post. Don’t forget to tag #SeeSB!
In 1782, King Carlos established the El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. Tip your hat to the King Carlos statue and relive Santa Barbara’s Spanish heritage at this Spanish-built fort on Canon Perdido Street.
Stroll past the Native American heroine Sacagawea, whose statue resides at the corner of State and Victoria Streets.
Admire the dolphin fountain, officially known as the Santa Barbara’s Bicentennial Friendship Fountain, by artist Bud Bottoms that welcomes visitors to Santa Barbara, at the foot of Stearns Wharf on Cabrillo Blvd.
View classic and modern art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; free admission every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Stroll through the historic courtyard and window shop the boutiques of El Paseo, “Street in Spain” on De La Guerra Street.
Take a step into the playful world of Architect Jeff Shelton on a colorful walking tour visiting five beautiful and iconic locations including Ablitt Tower, El Zapato, Vera Cruz, El Andaluz, and The Pistachio House.
Take the historic self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour, a 12-block journey through historic downtown
Explore the stunning exterior of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and sunken gardens on a self-guided, mobile tour.
Lace up your walking shoes and choose between three popular (and free!) walking tours by Free Walking Tours of Santa Barbara. Guided by long-time resident John Ummel, you’ll undoubtedly get your steps in and learn about the city’s history from beginning to present day along the Waterfront Tour. Or, see Santa Barbara’s most electric neighborhood with an in-depth tour of The Funk Zone, complete with art galleries, wine tasting rooms, breweries, and more. Finally, tour Old Town while taking in the Brinkerhoff Victorian District as well as three of Jeff Shelton’s most acclaimed architectural wonders.
As you make your way from the Santa Barbara Harbor to The Funk Zone Neighborhood, take a moment to bask in the sunshine and let your imagination soar at the Dream Plaza at Hotel Californian.
Take a breezy beachfront walk along Cabrillo Boulevard on Sundays and enjoy handmade arts and crafts at the Arts & Craft Show. Local artisans display their wares for viewing and perhaps purchase if you find something you want to keep.
Walk the picturesque grounds of the Vedanta Temple and see the award-winning structure designed by architect Lutah Maria Riggs.
See the Moreton Bay Fig Tree on the corner of Chapala and Montecito Street Planted in 1877, it is the oldest of its kind in the nation, with a 21,000 square foot area of shade. Check out the retired Southern Pacific Santa Barbara SP142 Train situated near the tree as well.
Visit the colorful Painted Caves of the Chumash Indians, an archaeological wonder! The site is located three miles south of the San Marcos Pass. To get there, simply take Highway 154 North and turn right on Painted Cave Road. The cave is located on the left, about two miles.
Tour Westmont College campus, located off of Sycamore Canyon Road in Montecito. Be sure to make a reservation prior.
Visit Rancho La Patera and Stow House, the oldest frame house in Goleta built in 1872; small donation suggested.
Tour the picturesque campus of UCSB and don’t miss the bird’s eye view from Storke Tower.
Explore Santa Barbara South Coast Neighborhoods
From pier to peak, Santa Barbara offers fun, free activities for all ages and interests. Learn more about the Harbor’s historic roots, experience the rolling hills of wine country, or stroll about town taking in the vibrant culture. The local neighborhood districts each have their own distinct fusion of relaxed and energetic zest for life.
An ideal pit-stop for boaters and land lovers alike; the waterfront’s novelty stores, restaurants and marine shops make for a memorable walking adventure; Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor, along Cabrillo Blvd.
Stroll, window shop and take in the sights along State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.
Stroll through the Santa Barbara’s Certified Farmers’ Market on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings to relish in the sights and sounds of fresh produce, flowers and gifts from local farmers and producers.
Conjure images of old Denmark via Danish architecture and authentic foods in Solvang.
Rest in the shade and experience a classic Santa Barbara courtyard at the La Arcada Court which houses boutiques, restaurants and galleries.
Take a road trip through Foxen Canyon Road to experience the beauty of Santa Barbara wine country.
Peruse Coast Village Road, an elegant shopping locale in Montecito with rare finds and high-end classics. You can also scout for antiques in various shops throughout Summerland, Santa Barbara, Los Alamos, and Solvang.
Drive along East or West Camino Cielo roads in the Santa Ynez mountains and relish in incredible views of the coast.
Load up the family car and see the iconic coastal sights on a one-hour scenic drive through Santa Barbara. Make sure to pull over safely and take a memorable family selfie!
The whole family will enjoy the opportunity to observe Santa Barbara’s resident wildlife, including species large and small. Throughout every season, you can expect marine life, flocks of birds and various local critters to make an appearance. These animals can be enjoyed safely from a distance, and don’t forget the camera for those once-in-a-lifetime whale tails!
View the numerous species of birds at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge. However, please don’t feed our avian friends.
Watch for Pacific Gray whales (January – March) and Blue and Humpback whales (June – August) spouting, breaching, and smacking their tails on the water. The best viewing spot from land is at the statue of the bronze whale tail at Shoreline Park.
See turtles sunning themselves on rocks, koi swimming in ponds, and beautiful flowers at the Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens. Pack a picnic and enjoy the fresh air.
Check out the great views, nature trails, and War Memorial at Elings Park in the hills above Las Positas Rd. During the first few months of Spring, visit the herds of sheep on the hills filling their bellies and helping clear tall grass.
Walk the trail and spot birds and ducks at Lake Los Carneros, a picturesque park in Goleta.
During the winter months, admire the migration of monarch butterflies in their natural habitat at the Ellwood Bluffs, north of Goleta.
Plan This Itinerary
Arroyo Burro Beach
Located just ten minutes from downtown Santa Barbara, Arroyo Burro Beach is often referred to by locals as Hendry’s Beach. This beach is known for its winding coastline and light surf. Arroyo Burro Beach is also surrounded by tall bluffs that…
Located in the chic and laid-back village of Montecito, Butterfly Beach is a favorite among Santa Barbara locals. The beach’s pristine shoreline is ideal for swimming, surfing and sunbathing, and its unique east-west orientation makes for…
Cachuma Lake Recreation Area & Campground
A reservoir nestled in the Santa Ynez Mountains, Cachuma Lake has become a haven for camping enthusiasts, watersport fanatics and families vacationing in Santa Barbara, especially during the warmer months. Things to Do at Cachuma Lake Recreation…
Douglas Family Preserve
Located on the mesa above Arroyo Burro Beach (Hendry’s Beach), the Douglas Family Preserve spans 70 acres of undeveloped oceanfront land, making it the largest area of open coastal space in the City of Santa Barbara. THINGS TO DO AT…
Downtown Santa Barbara
Downtown Santa Barbara features world-class shopping, from major retailers to unique local specialty shops. Wander through outdoor paseos, beautifully landscaped plazas, and along brick-lined sidewalks for a truly memorable shopping…
El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park
Explore an 18th-century historic symbol of Santa Barbara—and the many cultures that intersected here—at the site of the last Spanish fortress in California. Operated by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) for…
Elings Park has been serving the Santa Barbara community for more than 50 years. The park is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is one of the largest privately-funded parks in the country. It provides pristine recreational and event facilities…
Editor’s note: The grassy areas will temporarily closed through January 2024 for turf renovation. Located along Shoreline Drive and directly adjacent to the Santa Barbara Harbor, sits Leadbetter Beach, one of the most popular beaches in Santa…
Old Mission Santa Barbara
Walk the halls of history at one of Santa Barbara’s most iconic sites, Old Mission Santa Barbara. With its grand bell towers, lush gardens and views of the San Ynez mountains and Pacific Ocean, the Mission is one of the city’s most…
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Founded in 1916 as the Museum of Comparative Oology, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has evolved to include more than 3.5 million specimens covering every aspect of natural history—from mammals, birds and marine life to geology,…
Santa Barbara Harbor
With unbeatable views, delicious dining and dozens of exciting activities, the Santa Barbara Harbor is the perfect place to spend the day by—or, better yet, on—the water. Located along the bustling Santa Barbara Waterfront, this…
Enjoy the seaside sights and sounds of Stearns Wharf, one of Santa Barbara’s most iconic landmarks. Named for builder John P. Stearns and located at the end of State Street, it is California’s oldest working wharf and the perfect spot…
Located just 6 miles south of Santa Barbara is Summerland Beach at Lookout Park. Known for its laidback vibes, Summerland Beach is the perfect oceanfront venue for rest and relaxation. Its proximity to the park also makes it an ideal location for…