13 Best Beaches in Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara beach surrounded by palm trees and mountains, California, USA
Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

Santa Barbara can only lay claim to 110 of California’s 840 miles of picturesque coastline. Lucky for residents and visitors of the American Riviera, that mileage includes some of the finest beaches in the Golden State. Whether you seek a secluded respite or a gnarly surf break, chances are this oceanside retreat has a stretch of shore to fit the bill. 

Before we get to detailing the 13 best beaches in the county, it’s important to note a few general details. Many of SB’s hot spots are connected via the California Coastal Trail network, making biking between beaches easy. To increase access to all aspiring water babies, many of the high-traffic beaches like East, Goleta, and Refugio lend beach wheelchairs (some even motorized) for free. Advance reservations are highly recommended. 

You should also be aware that while all beaches in California are public, it’s illegal and often unsafe to walk across railroad tracks without an official crossing. We chose to leave beaches like San Onofre that require that dangerous dash—no matter how breathtaking—out of contention. And lastly, beaches in this region are plagued by tar and oil that naturally seep up from below, licking the water’s surface and puddling up on rocks and sand. It happens regularly enough that warning signs are posted around town. Since it can attach to skin, shoes, surfboards, and clothes, stock up on Oil Slick wipes, Goo Gone, mineral oil, or Vaseline for easier clean-up.

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East & West Beaches

Exterior of Mar Monte Hotel, across from East Beach

Courtesy of Mar Monte Hotel and Visit Santa Barbara

No list of Santa Barbara beaches is complete without this side-by-side, palm-lined pair divided by the 150-year-old Stearns Wharf. Linked by a wide walk/bike path and easily accessible from numerous oceanfront hotels, the Funk Zone, and State Street, these 4 miles of beach are the city’s most used.

West is closer to the harbor and the Small Craft Quiet Water Area and is popular for kayaking and windsurfing. It’s also where SB's Fourth of July celebration is commonly staged. East is alive with the thrill of competition as it has more than a dozen volleyball courts. Together, they offer all the facilities and amenities you could need, including bathrooms, parking lots, restaurants, picnic tables, playgrounds, boat and equipment rentals, tour operators, public art, educational/historic signage, trash cans, showers, and even audio tour stops.

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Arroyo Burro Beach

Arroyo Burro Beach

Blake Bronstad / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA 93109, USA

Hendry’s Beach, as it is more commonly referred to by locals, has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. While many area beaches require leashes or forbid fur babies altogether, this Hope Ranch-adjacent spot allows dogs to chase balls and roam unrestrained on the side east of the creek. Don’t worry about them getting dirty, as there are self-serve dog washing stations in the parking lot. (The money is funneled back into park maintenance.)

After taking in a fabulous sunset or a workshop at the on-site Watershed Resource Center, hang out on the great lawn or sit by a fire with a cocktail at Boathouse. Its patio is also a brilliant brunch location. (One catch: They no longer allow dogs inside.) Despite a spacious parking lot, expect to wait for a spot, especially on gorgeous weekends.

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Refugio State Beach

Refugio State Beach

Santa Barbara Adventure Company / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara.

10 Refugio Beach Rd, Goleta, CA 93117-9717, USA
Phone +1 805-968-1033

A stately row of palm trees, in an almost perfect line, stand sentinel around this crescent-shaped sliver of sand and shallow cove, located 22 miles west of town. They've been around for decades, ever since the Rutherford brothers planted them to attract tourists between the 1920s and the 1950s. The natural bay’s calm waters beckon beginner swimmers, fishermen, scuba divers in training, and paddlers of all varieties. In fact, lifeguards give kayak tours from Memorial Day through August. Those who prefer to remain dry can bird watch, hole up in the campground, or hike part of the California Coastal Trail. Once you reach the top of the striated escarpments, you’ll be able to see four of the Channel Islands in all their glory. Beach wheelchairs are available.

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Goleta Beach

Sunset at Goleta Pier in Santa Barbara County
Kelly Lane / Getty Images
5986 Sandspit Rd, Goleta, CA 93117-3903, USA
Phone +1 805-568-2461

Also known as Good Land Beach, this 29-acre park is located in the suburb of Goleta, near the city’s airport and UC Santa Barbara campus. It’s reachable by city bus and bike path. While away hours splashing in the shallows, playing volleyball or horseshoe, setting the kids free on the playground, throwing a barbeque, or casting a line from the 1,500-foot fishing pier. The boat launch is available on weekends and holidays for a fee and the Paddle Sports Center offers non-motorized water sports equipment rentals and tours seasonally.

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El Capitán State Beach

El Capitan State Beach
James Michael House / Getty Images
El Capitán State Beach, California 93117, USA

This patch of Pacific paradise was the site of a Chumash Indian village, a Spanish fortress, and a cattle ranch before the Golden State turned it into a park and campground in the 1950s. Despite being only 15 minutes from downtown on the Gaviota Coast and across the train tracks from Sun Outdoors RV park and glamping hot spot, El Capitan Canyon, it feels worlds away from civilization. With hanging fog and often the region's clearest water, the state beach invites city dwellers to explore its rocky tidepools, creeks, sycamore and oak groves, and 10 miles of hiking trails that climb up 1,000 feet from coast to crest.

In fall and winter during low tide, swimmers will have to compete with surfers who come in search of the elusive west swell and its perfect hollow waves. Campgrounds, from which you can see playful pods of dolphins and gray whales during the annual migration, are rustic, but the park has hot showers, fire rings, and flushing toilets.

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Leadbetter Beach

Leadbetter Beach

JessyLynn Perkins / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

801 Shoreline Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, USA
Phone +1 805-564-5433

Across the street from Santa Barbara City College, near the busy harbor and the breakwater, grass gives way to soft beige grains and lapping waves loved by boogie boarders, stand-up paddleboarders, and kayakers. Sporadic palm trees, known to dump debris after high winds or vigorous storms, are interspersed with picnic tables and grills atop concrete slabs. There are typically lots of joggers, walkers, and bikers taking advantage of the paved path that lines Leadbetter. Shoreline Park, a short hike up the road, provides bird’s-eye views of the city. Stock up on snacks at the Shoreline Beach Café.

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Butterfly Beach

Bike path overlooking Butterfly Beach

Karna Hughes / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Butterfly Beach, Montecito, CA 93108, USA

Located in the bougie enclave of Montecito—as in the home of Oprah, Harry and Meghan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ariana Grande—Butterfly’s claim to fame is its unique east-west orientation, which allows visitors to witness both the sunrise and the sunset from the same pristine stretch of sand. It’s good for the basics—long walks, sunbathing, building sandcastles, taking a dip—as there are no services or facilities. Paddleboarders and kayakers are occasionally visited by seals or dolphins. Walk up to Coast Village Road (five minutes) for restaurants, shops, or bathrooms. To avoid summer traffic or parking hassles, rent bikes from Wheel Fun near Sterns and take the Cabrillo Bike Path for 3 flat miles.

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Ellwood Mesa

Exploring Santa Barbara's Coastal Charms
George Rose / Getty Images
Parking, lot 7729 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA 93117, USA

A wander around this 230-acre wild and wide open space in Goleta will likely result in butterfly sightings—especially between November and February when more than 100,000 monarchs congregate in a preserved grove tucked in a thicket of trees. Outside the Golleta Butterfly Grove are 10 miles of mesa-top dirt trails beloved by runners, bikers, and horseback riders, as well as beach access. People willing to make the almost mile-long walk from the car, haul all of their snacks and accessories, and forego even the most basic of amenities (read: no bathrooms!) won’t have to share the sand with many others. It can get pretty windy in this section of shore, which lures kiteboarders, windsurfers, and remote-control plane enthusiasts.

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Coal Oil Point

Black Turnstone
Dieter Schaefer / Getty Images
Slough Rd, Isla Vista, CA 93117, USA
Phone +1 805-893-5092

Technically, this area comprises two beaches in Isla Vista that surround the Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve at the edge of the UCSB campus. Devereux Beach, on the east side, is known for tide pools when the water levels are low, an exposed reef and point break that creates reliable waves for surfing, and the ruins of a 1920s cement beach house.

To the west, Sands Beach is bigger, wider, and has a history of inspiring famous musicians. According to lore, Jim Morrison and Jack Johnson, a former UCSB student, wrote their respective songs “Crystal Ship” and “The Horizon Has Been Defeated” after spending time on this patch of land. A handful of sand bars also draw surfers to this side, but this is more of a birder's paradise as the dunes are the nesting grounds of endangered snowy plovers (respect the fences.) Meanwhile, the nearby Devereux Slough and vernal pools attract ducks, herons, egrets, sandpipers, grebes, and many other feathered friends.

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Summerland Beach

Sanctuary in Summerland
Anthony Johnson / Getty Images
Beach Access, Summerland, CA 93067, USA

Topped by Lookout Park, this is a popular spot on sunny days, even in winter. It draws in beach bums thanks to its long stretch of sand surrounded by towering bluffs and a picturesque panorama that spans as far as peripheral vision allows. Families and groups can take advantage of picnic tables, restrooms, a volleyball court, grills, well-kept lawns, and a playground in the park before committing to the climb down and up to the coast. Be aware that Summerland seems to suffer from the oil issue more frequently than many of its list mates. Pro tip: Fuel this adventure with a snickerdoodle latte from Red Kettle Coffee, a block from the park.

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Mesa Lane Beach

Mesa Lane stairs

JessyLynn Perkins / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Mesa Lane Beach, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, USA

Hidden below an unassuming residential tract, this sea-sprayed slice of heaven is almost entirely enjoyed by locals. Timing is everything here: At low tide, a beautiful band of sand is revealed as are some active tide pools, making for a nice meander in the salty marine air. (High tide swallows almost every speck, so definitely check the tide charts before your visit so you don't get stuck down here.) The 241 steps it takes to reach the sand are popular with the fitness-minded. Luckily for those in lesser shape, some of the landings have benches. Those and a bike rack are this beach's only manmade amenities.

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Rincon Point State Beach

Surfing Rincon Point Surfers Beach
Amparo E. Rios / Getty Images
Rincon Point Rd, Carpinteria, CA 93013, USA

Located on the Santa Barbara County line, Rincon is a legendary surf spot for right-hand waves that break on the east side of the rocky point—so much so that it’s the site of an annual surf competition. The narrow access point is just below some covetable houses, restrooms, a parking lot, and a paved bike trail that takes cyclists along the gorgeous coast.

Across the street is Rincon Park County Beach, which is larger, sandier, and better for swimming. Though seaweed and driftwood tend to accumulate here, it’s possible at low tide to walk north to the Carpinteria Bluffs. For those with kids, keep in mind that the further you venture from the parking lot, the more likely you might encounter a nude sunbather. Do not enter the harbor seal sanctuary as the rookery is off-limits to keep pups safe. (Take the bluff trail to the overlook, often manned by a knowledgeable volunteer, to view wildlife.)

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Loon Point Beach

Loon Point Beach
DavidMSchrader / Getty Images
Carpinteria, CA 93013, USA

Craggy sandstone cliffs and colorful succulents rise up to meet the blue skies from an isolated patch of sand nestled between Carpinteria and Summerland. (If you time your stroll just right, you can venture north to Summerland Beach or south to Santa Claus Beach. If you don’t, high tide consumes much of the walkable swath.) Peaceful and unpopulated, it’s ideal for beachcombing and life-contemplating constitutionals. The price of that tranquility is a 0.2-mile hike each way from the free Padaro Lane parking lot, which you’ll have to make every time you need to use the outhouse. As you walk the mostly flat trek, watch where you step as horses are allowed.

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13 Best Beaches in Santa Barbara, California