Mother Nature wasn’t messing around when she made Santa Barbara an outdoor recreationalists’ paradise. Mountains? Check. Pacific coastline? Over 100 miles of it. Islands? Yes, we’ve got those too. The landscape list goes on and on. Even better, these phenomenal playgrounds for adventure are very easy to access and abound with a diversity of ways to push your limits while having fun under the sun. These inspiring outdoor adventures promise to put a huge smile on your face and be embedded in your memory for years to come.
A trip to the majestic Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary is as epic as it gets—the islands are considered the Galapagos of North America. Book a daylong trip to Santa Cruz Island with two local and extremely knowledgeable outfitters: Channel Island Expeditions and Santa Barbara Adventure Company. With trips departing daily from both Santa Barbara and Ventura Harbors, you’ll be able to get in on the action with a variety of excursions with varying length and style.
After traveling 25 miles from the mainland—spotting whales and dolphins en route—expect to have your breath taken away by the pristine environment. Your jaw will continue to drop as you kayak over crystalline waters, along jutting cliffs, and through sea caves. (Fun fact: during your trip to the islands, you’ll get the chance to explore Painted Cave—one of the world’s largest sea caves.) Your adventure doesn’t have to stop when the kayaking ends: Snorkeling gear and wetsuits are available through both of these companies so you can explore the abundant marine life from an underwater perspective. Hiking and learning about the flora and fauna on land are also possible, depending on your tour type.
Head to Elings Park to embark upon an aerial adventure that will get your adrenaline pumping and elevate your perspective. The 230-acre wonderland’s South Bluffs are renowned as one of the United States’ premier training hills for hang gliding and paragliding—complete with ocean views. With gentle prevailing winds coming in from the Pacific, it’s a relatively reliable spot for novices and experienced fliers alike to take off. Three park-sanctioned outfitters can get you soaring: Eagle Paragliding, Fly Above All and Fly Away Hang Gliding.
Channel your inner adrenaline junkie and take to the sky in a different way with Santa Barbara Parasail, where parasailers can fly as high as 1,000 feet while taking in breathtaking views of The American Riviera®, the Channel Islands and the vast Pacific Ocean. Arriving to this excursion is easy—just head to the end of Stearns Wharf and wait for a crew member to take you down the ramp to board the boat. Pro tip: Request to be “dipped” and you’ll get to splash your feet in the water while gliding through the air.
Santa Barbara is a quintessential California surf town. If you’ve never tried to catch a wave, it’s easy to make your Endless Summer dream come true here—especially at one of these popular surf breaks. (The late filmmaker Bruce Brown was a longtime local.) Surf Happens offers year-round private and group surf lessons, plus seasonal surf camps. With an endorsement from the World Surfing Lead, I Surf School is another great outfitter with private and group classes. It also specializes in helping beginning and intermediate surfers up their game.