Best Things To Do in Santa Barbara with Kids

Play lawn games at the Hilton Santa Barbara while looking at the ocean and palm trees. Photo Courtesy of Gina Ragland
Play lawn games at the Hilton Santa Barbara while looking at the ocean and palm trees. Photo Courtesy of Gina Ragland
7/9/23 - By Audrey M

Santa Barbara offers a lovely coastal getaway with the promises of balmy breezes and swaying palm trees. An easy day trip from Los Angeles at a hundred or so miles away, this picturesque seaside community offers equally glorious ocean and mountain views in every direction. 

While Santa Barbara provides endless serenity, it's also a marvelous place to take the kids. Home to one of America's best small zoos, a plethora of enticing museums, and playgrounds with ocean views and castles to climb through, it's a perfect family destination. Keep reading below for the not-to-miss kid-friendly local attractions in Santa Barbara. 

Combine your Santa Barbara excursion with things to do in Ventura with kids or an adventure to the Channel Islands, and check out other nearby destinations to pack the car for in our Weekend Getaway Guide and Day Trips for Los Angeles Families


Best Museums and Zoos in Santa Barbara for Kids

Kids can go wild in the backyard of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Photo courtesy of Gina Ragland 

1. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History 

The Prehistoric Forest and Museum Backyard are big draws here, but after all the outdoor fun, don't forget to step inside Mammal Hall and the Chumash Life exhibits. 

2. Santa Barbara Zoo

A perfect-sized zoo offering families a welcome distraction for an afternoon that goes beyond seeing animals from giraffe feedings, an Australian Walkabout, train, and play area. 

3. MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation

Get hands-on with the many interactive science, arts, and technology exhibits at MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. 

4. Santa Barbara Museum of Art

This beautiful museum houses Asian, American, and European art that spans 4,000 years.

5. Old Mission Santa Barbara 

Have your kids read Island of the Blue Dolphins? The Lone Woman from the story is based on is buried here. 

RELATED: The Aquarium of the Pacific: What Makes LA's Biggest Aquarium So Spectacular

Best Things To Do in Santa Barbara with Kids: Museum of Natural History of Santa Barbara Sea Center
There's a great whale model hanging in the Museum of Natural History's Sea Center. Photo courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara / David Collier

6. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center 

Kiddos can get up and close with the ocean floor at this interactive aquarium on Stearns Wharf. 

7. Quinlan Museum

This is a museum for kids who like old dolls or teddy bears; it's got the largest collection of both of these in the world.

8. Carriage and Western Art Museum

Santa Barbara's collection of carriages, saddles, and western art is always free to visit.

Amazing Santa Barbara Playgrounds Kids will Love 

9. Alameda Park and Kids' World playground

Tire the kids out for free at Santa Barbara's most popular playground and park.

10. Oak Park Wading Pool 

Younger children will love cooling off in this seasonal wading pool, intended for ages seven and under. 

11. Shipwreck Playground

This playground in Chase Palm Park offers ocean views and palm trees just blocks from Stearns Wharf, and multiple play structures for different age ranges. 

12. Tomol Interpetive Play Area

Kids can get creative at this unique, Chumash-inspired play area in Carpinteria.

Awesome Outdoor Activities in Santa Barbara

RELATED: Best Botanic Gardens for Los Angeles Kids, Plus Cool Hidden Oases

There's lots to see in The Discovery Garden at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Photo by Don Matsumoto 

13. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Walking the garden and exploring the different landscapes is a treat at any time of year.

14. Stearns Wharf

Santa Barbara's most visited landmark is its wharf, with food, shopping, and beautiful views.

15. Rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards

Explore the shore along the Gaviota coastline or in the harbor with Santa Barbara Sailing Center or Paddle Sports Center.

16. Hiking

Step outside onto one of the many hiking trails throughout Santa Barbara. The 1.6-mile Stevens Park easy trail runs along a creek, and there's a playground in the park. 

17. Santa Barbara Trolley Company

Get your bearings with the local trolley, then hop on and off all day.

18. Paseo Nuevo 

Check out the shops and restaurants at this pedestrian-friendly outdoor shopping mecca. 

19. Take a cruise

From whale watching to sailing, concerts to sunset rides, there are several ways to enjoy sailing the waters off Santa Barbara.

20. Lil Toot water taxi

Use this little gem to travel between Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf. The 15-minute trips are narrated.

RELATED: Best Beaches for Kids and Families in Los Angeles & Orange County

Best things to do in Santa Barbara with Kids: horseback riding
Riding the beach with Los Padres Outfitters. Photo by Roberta Brown

21. Ride horses on the beach

Los Padres Outfitters leads one of the few beach rides in Southern California, kicking up a little sea and sand before riding into the nearby hills.

22. Deep sea fishing

Take half a day on the high seas in search of a great photo op and maybe a fish or two. 

23. Neal Taylor Nature Center

This nature center at the Cachuma Lake Recreation Center is a great spot to launch a hike and learn about local wildlife.

24. Ride bikes or a surrey 

Santa Barbara is a great town for biking; if you don't have your own, your hotel may lend you some, or you can rent bikes and surreys from Wheel Fun Rentals.

25. Shoreline Park

Take in the stunning ocean and harbor views on the splendid walking paths, playground, and expansive grassy areas. 

26. The Beach 

Santa Barbara is a sunny seaside coastal city, so naturally, going to the beach will provide hours of entertainment for the kiddos. 

Family-Favorite Food in Santa Barbara

RELATED: LA's Best Ice Cream and Frozen Treats

best things to do in Santa Barbara with kids: McConnell's Ice Cream
Delight in Santa Barbara strawberry ice cream at McConnell's. Photo courtesy of Gina Ragland 

27. McConnell's 

This Santa Barbara staple is an ideal way to end a fabulous day next to the sea or even after a visit at Moxi since there's a McConnell's across the street. 

28. Lucky Penny

A quick-service wood-fired pizza spot in the Funk Zone that will please both parents and kids alike. 

29. Santa Barbara Public Market

The many food vendors at the public market offer ample opportunities to eat outdoors while trying many local bites at once. 

30. Fishermen’s Market

Fresh fish are available at this local market every Saturday; buy some, or just look over the variety.

31. Cajun Kitchen

One word is convincing enough to have breakfast here: beignets. 

RELATED: Best Outdoor Dining in Los Angeles at Family-Friendly Restaurants

best things to do in Santa Barbara: shoreline beach cafe
It only makes sense to eat at the beach. Photo courtesy of the Shoreline Beach Cafe

32. Shoreline Beach Cafe

Enjoy some fish tacos by the beach. Have a picky eater? The kids' menu covers all bases.

33. Scarlett Begonia

Kids love the cinnamon rolls and lemon pancakes; parents love the happy hour and banh mi. Everyone loves the outdoor seating.

34. Rori’s Artisanal Creamery

This Santa Barbara original has some of the best flavors of ice cream you'll ever taste, with locations in Carpinteria, Montecito, and the Public Market.

Some Kid-friendly Hotels:

35. Hilton Beachfront Resort

If you're ready for some serious pampering, check out this stunning property emitting luxury and entertainment. Roast s'mores, play lawn games and enjoy the gorgeous oceanfront Santa Barbara scenery. 

36. El Capitan Canyon

Staying outside the town in a glamping cabin gives you the best of both worlds: nature and shopping, with no one in your path but the wildlife.

37. Brisas del Mar

Walking distance to the shore or the main downtown area, Las Brisas is an affordable motel-style spot that wins kids over with the pool, and parents with the free champagne.