Calling all spring breakers! Between enticing outdoor adventures, flavorful culinary escapades, and inspiring cultural attractions, all the ingredients for a good, old-fashioned vacation await you in sunny Santa Barbara. Whether you’re traveling solo, with a partner, or with the entire family—and whether you’re flying in or road trippin’—this guide showcases some of the best ways to plan a spectacular spring break in the Santa Barbara South Coast.
Traveling with children? Be sure to check out our dedicated guide toeducational experiences geared towards learning that’s so fun, the kids won’t even know their minds are being expanded. Lastly, please note that good value is also on the menu this season. When you book two nights, you can receive athird night free at more than 20 participating properties. So we hope you can linger a bit longer.
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MOUNTAINS TO BEACHES
Make spring in the Santa Barbara South Coast 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 at Ellwood Mesa.
If wheels are more your speed, take a spin along a coastal bike path or get around downtown car-free. A variety of rental options are available throughWheel Fun Rentals, from surreys and electric bikes to beach cruisers and tandems.Santa Barbara BCycle is our City’s official electric bike share operator with 80 bike stations placed in convenient locations including State Street, the Mission and waterfront.
A high-end bike rental company and bike shop in upscale Montecito,Mad Dogs & Englishmen carries premium bikes in pristine condition with electric models and handy (and charming!) accessories like sidecars. Need a guide to show you the way? Book its Montecito e-bike and gourmet lunch tour. Other bike tour outfitters likeCal Coast Adventure and Energized Bikes happily handle the itinerary planning and gear rentals for your crew. 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’sseven not-to-be-missed beaches.
Santa Barbara Parasail Co. runs invigorating flights that 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 aboardLil ‘Toot, a charming water taxi that runs between Stearns Wharf and Santa Barbara 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.
TheSanta Barbara Zoois another must-see for families visiting the area (reservations required). The 30-acre park with priceless ocean views is home to more than 140 species, including giraffes, Channel Island foxes, flamingos and more. Don’t miss the newly opened Australian Walkabout animal habitat to see the kangaroos, emus and wallabies. And be sure to stop by the Masai Giraffe area to say hello the newest kid on the block, Raymie.
Get your fresh air fix at theSanta Barbara Botanic Garden, 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, theSanta Barbara Museum of Natural History is another community treasure set on 17 acres of oak woodland with both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Be sure to check out the popular dinosaur exhibit,Prehistoric Forest. As you head back towards downtown, stop by theOld Mission Santa Barbara for an exterior photo op of the “queen” of California’s 21 historic missions. If you’re curious to learn more, pay the small admission fee to enter the museum and get access to the picturesque courtyard, cemetery and chapel.
In Goleta, the charmingSouth Coast Railroad Museum will help your little ones channel their favorite characters from “Thomas the Train” as they get up close and personal with vintage rail cars. The heart of the museum is the Goleta Depot, a 1901 landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
PACK A PICNIC
Picnics were trending in Santa Barbara long before social distancing 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-likeSanta Barbara Picnic Co. andSlate 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 kids can play at Kid’s World playground across the street. Another dreamy, under-the-radar spot is Lake Los Carneros adjacent to the historicStow 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, sprawlingElings Parkoffers 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’soutdoor dining scene is better than ever thanks to expanded patios, new parklets, and the pedestrian-only State Street Promenade. We’ve also made some additions to ourmust-try Santa Barbara restaurants list, which includes both indoor and outdoor dining.
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 Café 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 theSanta 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 atCreekside Bar & Grill in “Noleta” include a popsicle dessert.
Sometimes familiarity is what kids seek and for that, we steer you towardsEureka! 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.
Photo of the Sexton House at The Steward, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, courtesy of Twenty Four Seven Hotels Unveil the captivating history of some of Santa Barbara’s most iconic and storied hotels, where the allure of this coastal city has beckoned travelers for generations. In the aftermath of the 1925 earthquake, many of Santa Barbara’s historic hotels were reborn, each with…