30+ Things To Do in Santa Barbara with Kids

Riding the beach with Los Padres Outfitters, photo by Mommy Poppins
Riding the beach with Los Padres Outfitters, photo by Mommy Poppins

There is more to SoCal than just Los Angeles; only slightly farther afield families can indulge in the balmy breezes of Santa Barbara. A hundred or so easy miles away, the seaside community is equally convenient for a day trip or weekend getaway. Santa Barbara is chock full of educational outings for kids and adults and a great option for a vacation in our back yard. Day-trippers can make it even easier by taking the Amtrak train from any of the LA or OC stations then riding Santa Barbara's downtown and waterfront shuttles—or the water taxi—to enjoy the local attractions below.

1. Santa Barbara Zoo

The perfect size for younger kids, Santa Barbara Zoo offers families a welcome distraction that can be covered in an afternoon.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Santa Barbara Trolley Company

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

5. Fishermen’s Market

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

6. Take a cruise

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

7. Quinlan Museum

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

8. Alameda Park and Kids' World playground

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

9. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History 

The museum's outdoor exhibits and Sea Center are open for visits when the indoor exhibits need to be closed.

There's a great whale model hanging in the Museum of Natural History's Sea Center. Photo courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara / David Collier

10. Stearns Wharf

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

11. Deep sea fishing

Take half a day on the high seas in search of a great photo op.

12. Santa Barbara Public Market

The many food vendors at the public market offer great opportunities to eat outdoors.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Walking the garden is a treat at any time of year.

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

16. Ride bikes or a surrey along the trails

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.

17. Channel Islands National Park

Visit Santa Cruz Island or Anacapa on an easy day trip. Wander the islands or kayak the perimeters.

18. Lil Toot water taxi

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

19. El Paseo of Santa Barbara

Visit California's first shopping center and check out the shops and restaurants of this pedestrian-friendly zone.

20. Carriage and Western Art Museum

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

Photo courtesy of the Shoreline Beach Cafe

21. Tomol Interpetive Play Area

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

22. Santa Barbara Museum of Art

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

23. MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation

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

24. Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Learn about the history of the Santa Barbara Channel.

25. Old Mission Santa Barbara 

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

Some Kid-friendly restaurants:

26. Shoreline Beach Cafe

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

27. Scarlett Begonia

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

28. Cajun Kitchen

One word tells why to have breakfast here: beignets

Some Kid-friendly Hotels:

29. 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.

30. El Capitan Canyon

Staying outside the town in a glamping cabin gives you the best of both worlds: nature and shopping, without no one in your path but the wildlife.

31. Hilton Beachfront Resort

If you're ready for some serious pampering, check out this property that's high on luxury and entertainment.

Brick Building Playtime
Donald Bruce Kaufman Library - 3:00 PM Pick
Read to Pups at the Library
San Pedro Branch Library - 3:30 PM Pick
Annual Lighting of the Bay
Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort - 4:00 PM Pick
Disney on Ice: Road Trip Adventures (Crypto.com)
Crypto.com Arena - various times Pick
Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides