Spring Break in Santa Barbara
This year, it’s all about “coastal distancing” as we collectively emerge from our at-home hibernations. For those who are ready to safely get back to the simple pleasures of exploring and rediscovering the places within road trip distance, Santa Barbara is here to make your spring break dreams a reality. Between enticing outdoor adventures, flavorful culinary escapades, and inspiring cultural attractions, all of the ingredients for a good, old-fashioned vacation await. Whether you’re traveling solo, with a partner, or with the entire family, this guide showcases some of the best ways to enjoy spring break in Santa Barbara—in accordance with the healthy travel practices recommended by the California Department of Public Health.
Traveling with children? Be sure to check out our dedicated guide to Educational Experiences geared towards learning that’s so fun, the kids won’t even know their minds are being expanded. Lastly, please know that good value is also on the menu this season. When you book two nights, you can receive a third night free at more than 20 participating properties.
Wishing you safe, happy, and restorative spring travels!
MOUNTAINS TO BEACHES
Make spring in Santa Barbara as relaxing or adventurous as you want it to be while taking full advantage of our great outdoors, from the mountains to the sea. Clear your mind and breathe in fresh air on a scenic, meditative hike. Admire our hillsides covered in spring wildflowers on trails suited to all levels. For something short and sweet along the coast, stroll out to the overlook of the Ellwood Bluffs. Inland, creekside Rattlesnake Canyon is a family-friendly front country hike with an easy-to-access trailhead on Las Canoas Road.
You can also hit the trails on horseback thanks to trusted operators like Circle Bar B Guest Ranch & Stables, a dude ranch located a quick 25-minute drive north of Santa Barbara proper. Los Padres Outfitters also offers rides in the foothills as well as right on the sands of Summerland Beach.
If wheels are more your speed, take a spin on a coastal bike path and tap into the variety of rental options available through Wheel Fun Rentals—from surreys and electric bikes to beach cruisers and tandems. Or, let someone handle the itinerary planning and gear rentals for your crew when you book a bike tour with an outfitter such as Cal Coast Adventure or Santa Barbara Adventure Company. For an action-packed ride, mountain bikers especially love the challenge of Santa Barbara County’s backcountry trails. No matter what path you take, enjoy the free-wheeling feelings of the sun on your face and the breeze in your hair.
Of course, if you simply want to soak up some serious beach vibes and keep the adrenaline to a minimum, we’ve got you covered there, too. Think swaying palm trees, unforgettable sunsets, and sparkling waters. Get your feet wet, build sandcastles, and splash in the sea at one of the area’s seven not-to-be-missed beaches.
GET ON THE WATER
Spring is when that “Endless Summer” spirit really starts to come alive along our stunning shores. From surfing and sailing to kayaking and whale watching, Santa Barbara’s life aquatic is where it’s at. An array of adventure outfitters can teach you to ride waves and stand-up paddleboard at our local surf breaks. Some also offer guided kayaking excursions for all levels, whether you want to explore the marine life around the Santa Barbara Harbor or out around the Channel Islands National Park.
We are particularly stoked to welcome newcomer Santa Barbara Parasail Co. to our hospitality community. Their invigorating flights will get you soaring up to 1,000 feet above the sea, granting absolutely epic views. The family-friendly experience is open to ages five and over, and even folks who are afraid of heights walk away feeling safe and happy they faced their fears.
Spring also happens to be prime whale watching season in Santa Barbara. Massive gray whales can be spotted migrating through our nutrient-rich channel, many with their newborn calves in tow. Whale watching cruises promise to surprise and delight all ages with nature’s majesty. And if you’re short on time but really want to get out on the water, hop aboard Lil ‘Toot, a charming water taxi that runs between Stearns Wharf and our working Harbor. (The captain even lets kids take the helm for a spell!) Back on shore, you can take advantage of the sightseeing telescopes on Stearns Wharf to scout for whales or watch the fishermen bring in their hauls at the Harbor.
EXPLORE OUTDOOR MUSEUMS
Santa Barbara’s outdoor museums and cultural institutions offer a safe way to learn about flora, fauna, conservation, and history. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a glorious living museum with 78 acres dedicated to showcasing California’s diversity of native plants with 5.5-miles of paths to explore. Nearby, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is another community treasure set on 17 acres of oak woodland. While their indoor exhibit space remains closed, there is plenty to see and do outside (with advanced ticket reservations). Be sure to check out the new dinosaur exhibits: Prehistoric Forest and Dinorama: Miniatures through the Mesozoic. As you head back towards downtown, stop by the Old Mission Santa Barbara for an exterior photo op of the “Queen” of California’s 21 historic missions.
The Santa Barbara Zoo is another must-see for families visiting the area. The 30-acre park with priceless ocean views reopened just in time for the public to get to see the adorable new lion cub, Pauline. In addition to her cuteness, there are more than 140 species to get acquainted with, including giraffes, Channel Island foxes, flamingos, and more. Reservations are currently required, and bookings can be made online.
PACK A PICNIC
Picnics were trending in Santa Barbara long before the pandemic made them de rigueur. That’s because we’re spoiled with so much scenic outdoor territory and delicious eats—not to mention companies dedicated to the art of the picnic-like Santa Barbara Picnic Co. and Slate Catering Co., who style and cater to Instagram-worthy picnic spreads.
Some of our favorite picnic locales include the Mission Rose Gardens, which are particularly fragrant and all abloom come spring. Down the road is low-key Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, where you can feed the ducks and your little ones can play at Kid’s World playground across the street. Another dreamy, under-the-radar spot is Lake Los Carneros adjacent to the historic Stow House in Goleta. When you’re finished with your picnic, take the one-mile walk around the lake where you can put your birdwatching app to good use. Located between downtown Santa Barbara and the Mesa and Hope Ranch neighborhoods, sprawling Elings Park offers tons of social distancing space and places to play. Keep an eye out for the roaming flock of “resident” sheep while savoring your lunch.
Santa Barbara’s outdoor dining scene is better than ever thanks to expanded patios, new parklets, and the pedestrian-only State Street Promenade. For the purposes of this guide, we are focusing on family-friendly outdoor dining options that will please even the pickiest of young palates. Overlooking Leadbetter Beach, Shoreline Cafe is quintessential Santa Barbara. Here, kids can play in the sand while their grown-ups enjoy a libation or two paired with elevated comfort food classics. Similarly, Boathouse is all about the seaside setting and views. Perched right above Hendry’s Beach and serving three meals a day, you can dine-in on the patio or order food to-go for a picnic at the beach.
In the heart of downtown right off State Street is the Santa Barbara Public Market, where the sheer variety of options is key. The whole family can get entrées from a different vendor—tacos, noodles, burgers, pizza, vegan wraps, sushi, you name it! And everyone can end with a scoop of ice cream at Rori’s. Speaking of icy treats, the kids’ meals at Creekside Bar & Grill in “Noleta” include a popsicle dessert.
Sometimes familiarity is what kids seek and for that, we steer you towards Eureka! in Paseo Nuevo, where you’ll find the reliable craft American classics the chain is known for—as well as their stellar beer selection. Last but not least, Lucky Penny’s wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches are so delicious, the kids won’t even know they are digging into gourmet level fare.