The Santa Barbara Waterfront is the perfect neighborhood for outdoor enthusiasts who appreciate quality seafood, meeting salt-of-the-Earth characters and getting on the water. Boating excursions, kayak and SUP rentals and beaches are among the many to-dos on land and at sea. Two excellent family-friendly museums invite all ages to get hands-on while learning about the region’s history and marine ecosystem. Our “Like a Local” insider Captain Fred Hershman can help you make an adventure out of museum hopping from the Harbor to Stearns Wharf on the adorable Lil’ Toot water taxi. As he says, “Look for the bubbles and listen for the toot.”
This guide will help you navigate the Waterfront’s many treasures, bubbles and all.
ThinGs to do:
Walk along the Santa Barbara Harbor’s breakwater to Sandspit for the classic Santa Barbara photo op of the mountains meeting the sea. Another jaw-dropping vantage at the Harbor is from the fourth-floor observation deck of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, where you get a panoramic view of the working harbor. Tour the museum’s first two floors to learn about the Santa Barbara Channel and the life aquatic, from surfing and sailing to SCUBA and sustainable fishing. Visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center to get up close and personal with sea creatures.
Head out to sea with one of the sailing charter operators, like the intimate Sunset Kidd which feels like your own private yacht. Santa Barbara Sailing Center offers a range of customizable private charters and public cruises, including the epic Double Dolphin sunset cruise—book one of their monthly Sipping on the Sea evenings to tap into the changing line-up of featured guest wine and beer makers. Hop aboard the high-speed Condor Express catamaran to embark upon on a whale watching excursion which may take you all the way out to the Channel Islands.
Hit Paddle Sports Center to rent surfboards, stand up paddle (SUP) boards and kayaks—or book a surf or SUP lesson if it’s your first time. Paddle Sports also offers 1.5-hour SUP yoga classes on weekends. Santa Barbara Adventure Company’s Santa Barbara Harbor Coastal Kayak Tour comes with the added benefits of a knowledgeable guide/kayak instructor and picnic lunch enjoyed at sea.
Say hello to Captain Fred when you ride the Lil’ Toot water taxi between the Harbor and Stearns Wharf—rides are just under 15 minutes each way and kids can even help out with steering. After your peaceful cruise on the Lil’ Toot, stroll along Stearns Wharf and browse the souvenir shops. Stop by Stearns Wharf Bait & Tackle for fishing supplies. Sample local wines while enjoying the sweeping 360-degree views from the Conway Deep Sea Tasting Room deck.
Places to EAT:
Between the Saturday Fisherman’s Market, the Santa Barbara Fish Market and eateries on the Harbor and Stearns Wharf, the Waterfront is a pescatarian paradise where you can taste right at the source. Immerse yourself in the working Santa Barbara Harbor, where another Waterfront “Like a Local” insider, commercial fisherman Paul Teall, sells his family’s crab and fish hauls, fresh off the boat.
On the Alley makes a mean fast-casual breakfast that you can enjoy seated at their communal picnic tables or takeaway to savor from a picturesque perch elsewhere on the Harbor. Brophy Brother’s is a bustling go-to for a seafood-centric lunch paired with refreshing ocean breezes. Longboard’s Grill is an idyllic spot to end the day with a cocktail at the bar followed by dinner on the deck. And Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. is the dining destination for a super fresh catch on Stearns Wharf.
Spots to SHOP:
Pop into Santa Barbara Fish Market even if you don’t plan to purchase any fish—this is where locals and chefs shop for the freshest catch brought in daily. You can get all your tchotchkes on Stearns Wharf with its many gift shops and galleries carrying everything from toys and candy to shells and souvenir t-shirts. And the gift shops at the Sea Center and Maritime Museum are full of items designed to delight the little ones.
Visit the weekly Saturday morning Fishermen’s Market (7:30 – 11:00 a.m.) at the Harbor, where you can meet and buy directly from local fishermen. Here you can see and pick up the freshest catch of the season, literally caught the day before. If you’re staying in accommodations with a kitchen or outdoor grill, the market has a fillet station that can clean and fillet your purchases for you, making it very easy to prepare back at your home away from home.