In Santa Barbara County, beaches generally face south, following the temporary curve of the coastline that gives the city its "banana belt" climate. It can be a little confusing when you go for sunset and expect the sun to be going down straight ahead when instead it's on one side, but you'll quickly get used to it. And that Mediterranean climate more than makes up for any temporary disorientation.
At all Santa Barbara beaches, you may find balls of tar washing ashore. They're a natural phenomenon and it's been happening for centuries. Once the gooey stuff gets on your shoes or feet, it's almost impossible to get off. We recommend that you do not go barefoot, and you may want to take an old pair of shoes or buy some inexpensive ones that you won't mind throwing away. If you happen to get some of it on your skin, try removing it with any oily substance (baby oil, mineral oil, even peanut butter if you're desperate).
You can find a few places to go camping at the beach in Santa Barbara. If you enjoy the clothing optional lifestyle, you can use an online guide to Santa Barbara Nude Beaches to find out where to go (and where to avoid).
Arroyo Burro Beach
Arroyo Burro is a real local's beach, a little off the beaten path, with a nice restaurant right on the sand.
Some people call Arroyo Burro Beach as Hendry's Beach. No matter what you call it, this long, sandy beach is protected by cliffs, making it less windy and warmer than others in the area. It's also one of the nearest points to the Channel Islands, giving a nice view. This beach is well known to locals but seldom by visitors, giving it a comfortable, local feel Almost any time, you'll find people walking themselves or their dogs, sunbathing or watching their kids build sand castles.
Because of its slightly west-facing location, Arroyo Burro Beach is one of the best places to watch a Santa Barbara beach sunset.
Arroyo Burro is best for: This is the best beach in Santa Barbara for watching the sunset
What is There to Do at Arroyo Burro Beach?
At Arroyo Burro, you can go swimming or surfing - or take a walk and try a little beachcombing. It's also a popular spot for sunbathing.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Arroyo Burro Beach
- No entrance fee and no parking fee.
- The beach has restrooms and outdoor showers. Picnic tables are nearby in a grassy area.
- The sand here sometimes has a little more seaweed and other ocean detritus on it than we would like.
- The Brown Pelican restaurant serves full meals and also has a walk-up window where you can get hot dogs and other quick foods.
- Dogs are allowed but must be leashed on some parts of the beach.
How to Get to Arroyo Burro Beach
To get to Arroyo Burro from Highway 101, exit at Las Positas Road on Goleta, go to Cliff Drive and turn right. The beach is on your left in about half a mile.
From the Santa Barbara waterfront, follow Shoreline Drive west past West Beach, turn right Loma Alta Road and left onto Cliff Drive.
Local MTD Transit buses also stop at the beach entrance.
More information is at the Arroyo Burro Beach website.
Loosely defined, East Beach encompasses the sandy waterfront from Stearns Wharf east. Toward the east end of the beach, you'll find a big beach house facility and volleyball nets.
East Beach is the best place in Santa Barbara for a volleyball game. Protected by the curving coastline, this beach seldom gets really big waves, making it a good place for a walk or sand play.
This beach is in the harbor, and you'll see boats moored just offshore. It's also next to a busy street and you'll need to keep an eye on the kids.
East Beach is best for Beach volleyball games.
What Is There to Do at East Beach?
At East Beach, you can take a walk or ride a bike on the paved path. You can rent bicycles and other pedal-powered toys at local shops, which you can find near the pier.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to East Beach
- No entrance fee, you may find a free parking spot on the street, but on busy days, you'll probably end up in a paid parking lot.
- Restrooms are located near the wharf. Cabrillo Pavilion Bathhouse (1119 East Cabrillo Boulevard) offers restrooms, showers, lockers, a weight room, beach wheelchair, and volleyball rental.
- You'll find picnic tables near the volleyball nets. Alcohol is allowed by permit, but glass bottles are banned.
- No pets are allowed on East Beach.
How to Get to East Beach
If you're coming from Los Angeles, exit Highway 101 at Cabrillo. From town, take State Street, Garden Street or Milpas toward the water and turn left on Cabrillo. You'll find street parking near the volleyball courts and in other locations along the road, or you can park in any of the paid lots.
More information is at the East Beach website.
Butterfly Beach is a favorite beach of Santa Barbara residents. It's a long, sandy beach with a gentle slope, a good place to walk or to play in the waves. Dogs can run off leash here, and you'll often find lots of them running around and enjoying themselves.
It gets its name from the monarch butterflies that winter nearby, and it's one of the best places in Santa Barbara for a romantic stroll. It's also just across the street from the Four Seasons hotel.
What Is There to Do at Butterfly Beach?
Butterfly Beach is a natural kind of beach, where the most popular things to do are taking a walk and playing in the sand.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Butterfly Beach
- No entrance fee and no parking fee.
- Butterfly Beach offers no facilities, so bring your own water and snacks, and "go" before you go.
- Dogs can run free on Butterfly Beach.
How to Get to Butterfly Beach
Butterfly Beach is just a short distance from Santa Barbara's East Beach, but the only way to get to it is to take Highway 101 to Olive Mill Road in Montecito and follow it toward the ocean.
You can park along the street in front of the Biltmore, but if you go too far, beware. If you take the one-way road uphill, you won't be able to get back. However, when you're ready to go back to Santa Barbara, this route will take you to E. Cabrillo Blvd.
You can also get to Butterfly Beach by following the waterfront bicycle path from the Santa Barbara waterfront.
Butterfly Beach doesn't seem to have a web page, but you can get some good information about it at Yelp.
Rincon Beach is one of California's most popular surfing spots, and on a busy weekend day, you may see as many as 30 or 40 surfers here, sitting on their boards waiting to catch a wave.
Rincon Beach is right next to U. S. 101, and the surfers here are a familiar sight for most southern Californians. The pier you can see in the background provides a connection between offshore oil platforms and onshore refineries.
A relatively small beach, Rincon sits in the curve of the shoreline at an angle to the incoming waves. The surf is good, but houses line the shore and the sand nearly disappears at high tide, making it best for surfers or watchers.
Rincon Point just around the point is a long, sandy beach, good for walking your dog or taking a stroll, with nice views of the Channel Islands on a clear day. Steps and a sloping path leading to the sand.
The beach is often covered in driftwood.
What Is There to Do at Rincon Beach?
Rincon Beach is primarily a surfer's beach. Most people go there to surf - or watch the surfers. After a winter storm, it may be good for beachcombing.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Rincon Beach
- No entrance fee and no parking fee.
- You'll find restrooms in the parking lot.
- No pets are allowed on Rincon Beach.
- In Rincon Point Park on the other side of Bates Rd., you'll find picnic tables and soda machines.
- At high tide, Rincon Beach becomes very narrow, and at low tide, the seaweed can get a little stinky.
How to Get to Rincon Beach
Rincon Beach is about a ten-minute drive north of Santa Barbara. Exit Highway 101 at Bates Road. The parking lot for the surfing beach is on the left and parking for Rincon Point Park is on the right.
More information is at the Rincon Beach website.
Santa Barbara Beach Map
If you need more details or driving directions, use the interactive version of this map.