Top Things to Do in Santa Barbara, California

These are some of the most popular and most interesting things to do in Santa Barbara.

If you're like a lot of other Santa Barbara visitors and have been there before, you may find a few ideas here for some new things to do on your next Santa Barbara trip.

You can use this list for a day trip or a weekend trip. And of course, you'll need a place to stay — which can be hard to find.

  • 01 of 08

    Best Thing to Do in Santa Barbara: A Scenic Drive

    Santa Barbara Waterfront View
    Travis/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    It's no wonder locals like to keep this scenic drive to themselves.

    It's a 17-mile drive that's as beautiful as its cousin down in Pebble Beach, but without the entrance fee. It takes you on a loop through some gorgeous neighborhoods, past lovely beaches, along the city's waterfront, up through the hills overlooking the town and to the city's oldest landmark, Mission Santa Barbara.

    It's hard to find a good description of this drive, signs are scarce and sometimes missing, and the only online map we could find was a challenge to use, so we created a map for you to use.

  • 02 of 08

    Santa Barbara Waterfront

    Stearns Wharf on the Santa Barbara Waterfront
    Damian Gadal/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Santa Barbara's south-facing coastline and sheltered bay make for some outstanding coastal views. Among the things you'll find on the Santa Barbara waterfront are:

    • Stearns Wharf: One of the most visible features of the waterfront, the oldest working West Coast pier once belonged to Hollywood legend Jimmy Cagney and his brothers. It is home to restaurants, ice cream stands, and a fish market. 
    • Chase Palm Park: This long, narrow park hugs the waterfront with a palm-lined walking/riding path. Rent bicycles, pedal-powered surreys, windsurfers or kayaks at one of the nearby shops and cover it all. On weekends, you can also enjoy the arts and crafts festival that sets up along the sidewalk.
  • 03 of 08

    Shopping

    Shopping in Downtown Santa Barbara
    Carlos Gomez/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    Shopping is one of the things Santa Barbara visitors do most often, according to surveys done by the visitor's bureau.

    State Street, Santa Barbara's main street is also its busiest shopping area. Shops are not as high-budget as they once were, but they're all nice, and a few are locally owned, selling unique merchandise.

  • 04 of 08

    Red Tile Walking Tour

    Santa Barbara's Red Tile Rooftops
    Willem Van Bergen/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The thing you'll see in every picture of Santa Barbara is the red-tiled roofs. They've been a feature of the town since the early days when the Spanish first arrived.

    A self-guided walking tour covers some of Santa Barbara's oldest and most fascinating architectural landmarks. You can find a map on the Santa Barbara Car Free website and a podcast audio tour on the city visitor bureau site.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Channel Islands National Park

    Willows Cave, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park
    Dhilung Kirat/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    Just offshore and beautifully unspoiled, the Channel Islands which have never been part of the mainland are California's version of the Galapagos. You have to take a boat trip to get there, and it will take most of a day.

  • 06 of 08

    Polo Matches

    Polo Match in Santa Barbara
    GC Images/Getty Images

    It's fascinating to watch people whacking balls around with mallets while riding a horse. Santa Barbara is one of the few places in California where you can watch them do it.

    Polo season runs from April through October, and anyone can watch at the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club.

  • 07 of 08

    Santa Barbara Mission

    Mission Santa Barbara
    David McSpadden/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Often called the "Queen of the Missions" it's a few blocks inland from the State Street shopping area. Its classical-styled exterior was copied from an early architecture book. The interior is the most beautiful of the California missions.

  • 08 of 08

    Lotusland

    Japanese Garden at Lotusland
    brewbooks/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    Many Santa Barbara visitors have nice things to say about Lotusland in Montecito. Its gardens cover 37 acres.

    Be aware that you'll need an appointment to take one of their guided tours, and they're closed in the winter.