Santa Barbara Travel Tips

Santa Barbara is a pristine stretch of California coastline below the Santa Ynez Mountains that is as laid-back as it is beautiful. Just two hours north of Los Angeles by car (or five hours on the easy Pacific Surfliner train from San Diego), Santa Barbara is a great destination for a day trip or a week-long getaway. My parents lived here after I graduated from college, so I know the area well.

There’s a lot to do in this area, sometimes called the American Riviera. The beaches are absolutely stunning, as you might expect given the nickname, and there’s nothing like strolling along and gazing at the quintessential red-tile roofs of the area’s Spanish architecture, but it only takes a few minutes of browsing Santa Barbara travel tips to discover a wealth of other things to do in this city for solo travelers and families.

Santa Barbara Hotel Tips

You’ll find some absolutely beautiful, world-class luxury hotels in Santa Barbara. Choosing the right one for your getaway will largely be a matter of considering your must-haves and then narrowing down your options. For instance, are you dreaming of a room with a gorgeous view of the ocean or your own private villa tucked up in the hills? Maybe you’re traveling with kids and want to stay somewhere close to the city’s top attractions.

My personal favorite hotel in Santa Barbara is the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. It’s a beautiful luxury resort full of old-world charm with plenty to do for guests of all ages. There’s a heated pool with underwater music, spa services galore, and a private stairway leading down to the famous Butterfly Beach. The Four Seasons Biltmore is a parent’s paradise, with 24-hour babysitting and a fantastic kids’ club. It’s also walking distance to the shops of Montecito.

When you’re ready to book a Santa Barbara hotel, keep in mind that I have access to exclusive VIP amenities as an Independent Consultant with Cadence® Travel. If you book through my Santa Barbara Virtuoso page, you’ll enjoy extras like complimentary breakfasts, room upgrades, spa credits, and more.

Tips for Traveling to Santa Barbara with Kids

In addition to going to the beaches and parks, you’ll easily stay busy with your kids in Santa Barbara. One of the Santa Barbara travel tips I share with friends and family is to pack the sunscreen! This city has 300+ days of sunshine each year, and chances are good that you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors.

The Santa Barbara Zoo is the perfect half-day outing for families with young children. There are 30 acres of gardens and exhibits housing 146 species — including gorillas, giraffes, lions, and elephants.

And on the off chance your trip includes a rainy day, definitely check out Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, or the MOXI — The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. The MOXI has three floors of hands-on exhibits focused on science and technology that are as much fun for grownups as they are for kids.

Fun Activities While Traveling in Santa Barbara

There are so many things to do in Santa Barbara beyond going to the beach. You can rent kayaks or stand up paddleboards, take a trolley tour, bike around the city, visit the farmer’s market, or wander around Shoreline Park. Definitely check out the playground at Alameda Park (known as Kid’s World) if you’re visiting Santa Barbara with kids.

This extremely bikeable city is also home to the world-famous Stearns Wharf, art museums, El Presidio State Historic Park, and Madame Walska’s Lotusland gardens. For a taste of something different, check out the vibrant cultural district known as the Funk Zone. It’s full of art galleries, boutique wine tasting rooms, and cafes, and it’s a great place to pick up souvenirs.

Dining Tips for Eating in Santa Barbara

No Santa Barbara travel guide could be complete without some mention of the brilliant dining scene. Because Santa Barbara has a year-round growing season, the foodie culture that has flourished here is hyper-focused on locally-grown produce. And given its coastal location, the fresh seafood in Santa Barbara is second to none. We like the Brophy Bros but if on Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara Shellfish Company followed by a wine tasting at the Deep Sea Tasting Room works. Mexican at La Superica is a must as is a scoop of coconut ice cream at McConnell’s, both are easy when traveling with kids.