The Santa Barbara lifestyle and ease of getting around make The American Riviera® a very attractive destination for active seniors. From the pedestrian-friendly downtown and waterfront neighborhoods to the compelling variety of guided tours and attractions available, Santa Barbara’s great outdoors, quality cuisine and cultural arts are top draws for visiting seniors. Many of the area’s leading attractions are equally accessible and enjoyable for seniors who have physical and mobility limitations.
Here’s a guide to the top 10 activities for visitors 65+, as well as some helpful information and resources for senior travelers.
Take a Scenic Walk
Santa Barbara’s pedestrian-friendly nature makes it prime walking grounds for those who like to get their 10,000 daily steps in. The downtown and waterfront areas are relatively flat and offer much to explore. Leisurely, scenic walks can be enjoyed along the Cabrillo Waterfront bike path that stretches from the Harbor to East Beach. Walks out along the Breakwater at the Harbor and onto Stearns Wharf present excellent photo ops looking back at the city—with plenty of spots to stop for refreshments with a view. Perched in the Mesa neighborhood above the Harbor, Shoreline Park has a nice paved path and benches to enjoy the coastal views of the Channel Islands National Park—migrating whales can even be spotted from this vantage. The dirt paths of the Douglas Family Preserve create a mellow hiking experience with a sense of solitude complemented by sweeping coastal views. In Goleta, the Ellwood Mesa is a popular nature preserve where you can walk among eucalyptus groves and spot migrating monarch butterflies in season. For a more urban walking experience with a historic bent, a self-guided stroll along the Red Tile Walking Tour brings you to top architectural and cultural landmarks such as the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park.
Hit the Beach
The Santa Barbara South Coast is home to a variety of beach styles with varying levels of accessibility and amenities. Flat city beaches like East Beach, Leadbetter and Goleta Beach Park are easily accessed with parking steps away from the sand and public restrooms. Quieter beaches like Butterfly, Arroyo Burro and Summerland Beach have ramps and stairs down to the sand and offer long beach walking opportunities at low tide. Refugio State Beach Park on the coast north of Goleta is another gem of a beach that feels more remote and secluded. Accessibility Note: The City of Santa Barbara has two complimentary beach wheelchairs available to the public and visitors at the Cabrillo Pavilion at East Beach. Visit the City Parks Department’s online reservation system to reserve a beach wheelchair for two-hour windows that begin at 8 a.m. and conclude at 4:45 p.m. daily. Santa Barbara County Parks also offers beach wheelchairs at Arroyo Burro (805.687.3714), Goleta Beach Park (805.967.1300) and Jalama Beach (805.736.3504). Also free-of-charge, reservations are recommended in advance to ensure the wheelchairs will be available.
Play a Round of Golf
Santa Barbara has two top-rated, championship golf courses located within minutes of each other. Right along the coast, Sandpiper Golf Club consistently ranks among the top courses in the country. Designed by William F. Bell, the seaside links layout has a 74.5 championship rating. Just up the road from Sandpiper, Glen Annie Golf Club sits in the foothills and the course offers both ocean and mountain views—and is equally well-known for its craft brews. In town, Santa Barbara Golf Club is considered one of the longest “short courses” in Southern California and offers a very affordable option to get out on the green.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a living museum featuring 78 acres of California native plants with five miles of walking trails through landscapes ranging from redwoods and chaparral to desert. Most of the exhibits are accessible via stone-paved pathways, which are wheelchair friendly, and free admission is offered to seniors ages 60+ six times a year (check the official website for specific dates). In Montecito, Ganna Walska’s Lotusland is another spectacular garden that opens to the public for docent-led and self-guided tours by reservation from February through November. Standard tours require walking and being on foot for approximately 90 minutes, and a modified tour can be created for seniors using wheelchairs and walkers.
Santa Barbara is an exciting destination for wine lovers, with more than 200 regional wineries producing award-winning vintages. The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail offers dozens of tasting rooms located right in town. Seniors may particularly appreciate the easy-to-navigate and calm indoor-outdoor tasting rooms tucked away in historic El Paseo, including Grassini Family Vineyards and Jamie Slone Wines. Other lovely in-town tasting rooms include Folded Hills on Montecito’s Coast Village Road and Summerland Wines in the quaint town of Summerland.
Guided Tours for Seniors
Guided tours allow you to connect with the destination in a deeper way thanks to the blend of local insider expertise, exclusive access and warm hospitality. Culinary tours are big here, with options as diverse as food photography tasting tours, private and group wine tours, craft brew tours and farmers’ market foodie strolls with a local chef. Get an overview of the city on a 90-minute narrated tour of the city with Santa Barbara Trolley Company, which offers three departure times from the base of Stearns Wharf Thursday through Sunday (10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m.). Land and Sea Tours – The Landshark also offers a 90-minute narrated tour with the added twist of seeing Santa Barbara from the water in the amphibious vehicle. Free Santa Barbara Walking Tours leads 90-minute and two-hour tours of the Funk Zone and Waterfront, respectively.
Get on the Water
If you’ve got your sea legs, there are many ways to experience Santa Barbara’s majestic coastline on the water. Companies like Condor Express Whale Watching, Sunset Kidd, and Santa Barbara Sailing Center/Double Dolphin Cruises offer scenic cruises that range from whale watching and private charters to small group sunset sails. Santa Barbara Adventure Company guides informative kayaking trips suited to a wide range of abilities.
Visit Museums & Galleries
Most of our museums and cultural attractions offer admission discounts for seniors. The newly renovated Santa Barbara Museum of Art is fully wheelchair accessible and the world-class exhibitions and collections are always impressive. History buffs will also appreciate the Reagan Ranch Center, which hosts group and solo exhibitions and doesn’t charge admission. If all things ocean-faring are of interest, Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is well worth a visit when at the Harbor. And Old Mission Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Historical Museum are two must-sees for history buffs.
Shop for Treasures
Browse for one-of-a-kind treasures at local boutiques, décor shops and antique collectives while exploring the Santa Barbara South Coast’s walkable neighborhoods. Open-air paseos along downtown State Street abound with retailers and beckon browsers. Meander around La Arcada Courtyard, El Paseo, Victoria Court, Arlington Plaza, Sevilla Square and Paseo Nuevo. Upscale Montecito shopping hubs include Coast Village Road, Montecito Country Mart and the Upper Village. Summerland is another hotbed of shops that specialize in homewares and antiques.
See a Show
Santa Barbara plays host to musical theater, opera, symphony, jazz, popular music and more performing arts all year round. Time your visit to see a show at one of our historic theaters or a concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl—the latter offers transportation services to help those in wheelchairs and with walking difficulties access the amphitheater. The Music Academy of the West and Santa Barbara International Film Festival are two fabulous events with a variety of ticketed programming for classical music and film lovers alike.
More Fun & Games for Seniors
If you’re feeling competitive, give lawn bowling a roll at MacKenzie Park Lawn Bowls Club or Santa Barbara Lawn Bowls Club. Arnoldi’s Café has a bocce ball court on its back patio, so you can pair fun and games with a leisurely Italian meal. Tennis and pickleball players can tap into the city’s 12 municipal tennis courts as well as resorts with tennis courts on property, including the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara and Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. Over in the Santa Ynez Valley, the Chumash Casino is the spot for bingo and gambling.
Note: Wheelchairs and walkers can be rented through Loan Closet.