Best Santa Barbara Attractions in 2023
You will be delighted by the best Santa Barbara attractions in 2023 that are superb for couples, families and groups of people traveling together within the American Riviera. There are several museums in the area like the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History as well as the Sea Center. Waterfront activities include a stroll along Stearns Wharf, a picnic at Shoreline Park or you can head to one of the local beaches like Leadbetter. Santa Barbara has great opportunities for viewing local artwork along State Street or the Funk Zone and there is plenty of boutiques for shopping. The Mission Santa Barbara showcases Spanish Colonial architecture and there are unique towns like Solvang, the Danish Capitol of America. Wine enthusiasts can travel through the countryside of Santa Ynez Valley where you can stop at one of the 120 wineries tasting rooms along the way.
Santa Ynez Valley
The Santa Ynez Valley is an ideal Santa Barbara attraction for people who want to get outdoors and experience nature as well as for wine enthusiasts who are seeking to savor the taste of many award winning wineries. Located 35-miles from Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez Valley is nestled between the mountain ranges of San Rafael and Santa Ynez. The Santa Ynez Valley is home to small towns such as Solvang, Los Alamos, Ballard as well as Santa Ynez. The valley is most noted for the 120 wineries of the area that produce some 50 varietals of wine throughout the year. When you visit Santa Ynez Valley you can sample many of the various vineyards wines as you dive through the valley. In recent years the Santa Ynez Valley has been a focal point for craft beer with many breweries following the traditional wine tasting room approach to draw visitors to their establishments. The valley holds numerous recreational opportunities from hiking to camping to horseback riding to mountain biking and there is always a beautiful place to be found for a nice picnic lunch.
Santa Barbara Waterfront
One of the more visited Santa Barbara attractions by families and all travelers looking for a variety of activities is the Santa Barbara Waterfront. Located along the Santa Barbara Harbor, the Santa Barbara Waterfront reaches from the Santa Barbara Zoo and Bird Sanctuary to East Beach and past Stearns Wharf until you reach Leadbetter Beach. The Santa Barbara Waterfront includes numerous activities from sport fishing to boat and watersport equipment rentals to a skate park. The waterfront is connected by a series of bike paths and a promenade which is lined with shopping boutiques, restaurants and other entertainment venues such as art galleries as well as museums. The heart of the Santa Barbara Waterfront is centered at Stearns Wharf which is the oldest operating wooden pier in California. Other activities include art walks, picnics at Shoreline or Chase Palm Park and there are great opportunities for marine life watching. The Santa Barbara Waterfront is an ideal place to spend a day strolling along the harbor coastline while indulging in your favorite activity.
Photo by Rafal Próchniak
State Street is one of the best Santa Barbara attractions for travelers looking for unique shopping, dining, art work and a plethora of entertainment venues. Located in the center of downtown Santa Barbara, State Street reaches from the beach to Highway 101 and is an ideal place to relax while enjoying numerous activities. Along State Street you will find numerous boutiques offering specialty items from wine to home furnishings to trendy clothes. Dining is superb with choices that range from Italian to French to Mexican to American dishes and there are usually a number of independent food trucks where you can indulge in some tasty cuisine. There several art galleries to browse which feature artwork by local artists and you won’t be disappointed watching the creativity of the street performers. State Street is also lively in the evening with night clubs, movie theaters, theatrical performances as well as dozens of live music venues along the brick lined walkways.
Photo by La Citta Vita
Mission Santa Barbara
When you are interested in learning more about the settlement of the Santa Barbara area then an ideal Santa Barbara attraction for you is to visit the Mission Santa Barbara also known as the Queen of Missions. Located north of downtown Santa Barbara near the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Mission Santa Barbara was created 1786 as the tenth Franciscan mission in California and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as a National Historic Landmark. The Mission Santa Barbara was constructed in 1820 with a Spanish Colonial architectural design with impressive features such as two domed towers and detailed stonework. The inside of Mission Santa Barbara is filled with numerous murals, stained glass windows and a number of ornate religious items. The Mission Santa Barbara is perched on a hilltop and boasts incredible views of the surrounding area as well as the manicured grounds that include a gorgeous rose garden. When you visit you can learn about the early colonization of the area by the Spanish as well as during Mexican rule and if you are lucky you might have a chance to listen to the longest running choral singers in California.
Photo by Ken Lund
If you are searching for a place to relax that offers beautiful views of the area and plenty of space for families to enjoy a picnic then the best Santa Barbara attraction for you is Shoreline Park. Located southwest of downtown Santa Barbara, Shoreline Park is situated on 15-acres of land along the coastline of the Santa Barbara Harbor. The park is a superb place for spectacular views of the surrounding area which includes the Channel Islands, downtown Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Mountains and many people will gaze out over the Pacific Ocean to spot migrating whales as well as other marine life. Shoreline Park offers a great path for activities from walking to jogging to roller blading and there are plenty of grassy areas for Frisbee, volleyball as well as a playground for children. The park boasts several picnic areas with barbeque grills, tables and benches. Attached to the park is Mesa Beach which is ideal during the summer months when more of the sandy beach is exposed for you to enjoy.
Photo by PJK
The Funk Zone is an outstanding Santa Barbara attraction that is ideal for several activities from shopping, eating and viewing incredible pieces of local art. Located between Stearns Wharf, East Beach and State Street, the Funk Zone is an eclectic neighborhood that is filled with trendy and hip establishments. The Funk Zone is home to more than forty specialty shops, fourteen restaurants and twenty one art galleries/museums as well as over eighteen wineries/breweries. The Funk Zone has numerous intricate wall murals on several of the renovated warehouses in the area which adds to the trendy charm of the neighborhood. Many visitors will wander along the Urban Wine Trail which is a self-guided tour of over twenty wine tasting rooms that are located in the Funk Zone. Another big attraction in the Funk Zone is the Funk Zone Art Festival which highlights artwork from local artists. The Funk Zone is very relaxed and the creativity which is offered from the numerous galleries and gourmet restaurants makes this area a great place to spend the day or evening.
Photo by Sergei Gussev
One of the most visited and interesting Santa Barbara attractions that is superb for families is the Stearns Wharf. Located south of downtown Santa Barbara along the waterfront of the Santa Barbara Harbor, the Stearns Wharf was originally constructed in 1872 and is the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Steans Wharf is the oldest working wood pier in California and occupies 3.8-acres of space at a length of 2,300 feet long while being supported by more than 2,300 pilings. Today Stearns Wharf is home to seventeen shopping boutiques and five restaurants that offer numerous fresh seafood dishes. Other interesting items at Stearns Wharf include the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center where you go can learn about the local eco and marine system which is so important to the Santa Barbara legacy. The Stearns Wharf is the perfect place to arrange for an exciting water adventure from fishing to boating to sailing. The wharf includes sufficient space for many fishing enthusiasts to enjoy a day of fishing the Santa Barbara Harbor and the wharf is a superb place to watch marine life such as the dolphins and the migrating whales during the winter months.
Photo by Ken Lund
When you are searching to relax in a quiet coastal town with perfect weather and nice beaches then the best Santa Barbara attraction for you to visit is the city of Goleta. Located 10-miles west of Santa Barbara along the Pacific Ocean coastline, the city of Goleta boasts a laid-back atmosphere and numerous activities for all types of visitors. Also known as the Good Land, the city of Goleta is a perfect community for you to visit with plenty of outdoor activities for you to enjoy such as the Refugio State Park and Beach, the Coal Oil Point Reserve and you can watch dolphins as well as sea lions at Goleta County Beach. Other attractions include the Rancho La Patera and Stow House, the South Coast Railroad Museum as well as excellent shopping opportunities at the Calle Real Shopping Center. The city of Goleta is famous for migrating Monarch butterflies which arrive here every October. You can stop by the Coronado Butterfly Preserve as well as the Goleta Butterfly Grove where you will be amazed at viewing thousands of these colorful butterflies in one spot.
Photo by Damian Gadal
One of the more unique Santa Barbara attractions for visitors looking to be transported to a different part of the world is to take a trip to Solvang. Located 35-miles north of Santa Barbara, the city of Solvang is fashioned after a quaint Dutch town and is also known as the Danish Capitol of America. Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danish teachers who proceeded to build a community filled with Danish style architecture as well as windmills, other trademark Danish structures and beautiful tree lined streets. Solvang offers you a look into the history and culture of Denmark with replicas of the Round Tower in Copenhagen, a bust of Hans Christian Andersen as well as the famous Little Mermaid statue. Solvang boasts a tremendous amount of Danish shopping boutiques, restaurants and you can sample several of the Santa Ynez Valley wineries while you relax at a street side cafe. The city of Solvang holds several festivals throughout the year such as Danish Days in September and numerous theatrical performances are given at the open-air 700-seat Festival Theater.
Photo by zemistor
Santa Barbara Courthouse
If you like viewing incredible historic architecture then one of the more interesting Santa Barbara attractions for you is to visit the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Located in the heat of downtown Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Courthouse was constructed after the devastating earthquake of 1925 that destroyed much of the city and is now listed on the Register of Historic Places as well as being a National Historic Landmark. The Santa Barbara Courthouse was completed in 1929 with a superb Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style that includes Moorish ascents. The courthouse is complete with several unique features such as the 85-feet El Mirador clock tower and two enthroned figures along the front facade with a legal transcription in both English as well as Spanish. Visitors may ride the elevator to the top of the clock tower for a fantastic panoramic view of the area. Inside you will find numerous wall murals which were hand-painted as well as the Spirit of the Ocean Fountain. Outside you can wander the grounds and view the beautiful Sunken Garden where numerous wedding ceremonies are held yearly.
Photo by HarshLight
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a must see Santa Barbara attraction for all types of travelers including families and outdoor enthusiasts. Located north of downtown Santa Barbara in Mission Canyon, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is situated on 78-acres of land which is packed with more than 1,000 species of rare and indigenous plants from the California Floristic Province. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has eleven distinct areas which include the Teahouse Garden, an Arroyo, the Desert Section, Woodland Trail and the Redwood Section. Within the garden you will find over 5.7-miles of nature trails to enjoy as well as seven unique landmarked items which include the 1926 Sears Roebuck cottage, the Mission Dam and Aqueduct which was constructed by Chumash Indians in 1807 and the Blaksley Library. Some of the more rare plant species you can view are manzanitas, jojoba, desert lavender, California poppies, white alders, Pacific ninebark and Douglas iris. There are numerous benches, outlooks and interpretive signage to help with identifying as well as learning more about the special plants within the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The garden also holds several workshops and lectures throughout the year to help further educate visitors.
Photo by dailymatador
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
When you want to discover the natural history of the area as well as the world then an ideal Santa Barbara attraction for you and your family is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Located north of downtown Santa Barbara along the Mission Creek in the Mission Canyon area, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History contains eleven specific gallery halls that are packed with interactive exhibits which are perfect for the whole family. Exhibits within the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History range from a blue whale skeleton to the Chumash Indian to a geology and Paleontology. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has a great area on minerals and gems, insects and plants as well as birds. Your family can stroll through the exhibits while learning incredible facts about the natural history of our world in a fun and interactive environment. Other interesting activities include an outdoor nature trail with interpretive signage as well as the Sea Center which concentrates on marine life which even includes a touch tank full of sharks. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History features a planetarium which sports events that are suitable for all ages.
Photo by brewbooks
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
When you are interested in viewing exquisite artwork that spans some 5,000 years of creativity then the ideal Santa Barbara attraction for you is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Located directly in downtown Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is housed within a 60,000 square feet facility which contains more than 27,000 pieces of art. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art offers numerous exhibits that rotate throughout the year which have included Rodin and His Legacy of Bronze Statues, Judith Shea: Mid-Life Venus, British Art from Whistler to World War II as well as Puja and Piety. One of the more stellar pieces within the collection is at the front door which is the only intact mural in the United States by well-known artist David Alfaro Siqueiros entitled Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932. Other notable collections include French Impressionism, 19th and 20th Century European sculptures, Asian Art, Greek and Roman sculptures as well as Myth and Materiality: Latin American Art, 1930-1990. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art holds several educational and lectures series throughout the year and within the facility you will find a 154-seat theater.
Photo by Trisha Fawver
Santa Barbara Zoo
One of the most popular Santa Barbara attractions for families is to visit the wonderful Santa Barbara Zoo. Located in the Waterfront area just blocks from the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Barbara Zoo is situated on 30-acres and has consistently been ranked as one of the best small zoos in the United States. The Santa Barbara Zoo is home to more than 500 animals from more than 146 different species from the around the world. Animals range from Western Lowland Gorillas to a snow leopard to Channel Island foxes as well as Masai giraffe, golden lion tamarin and Asian elephants. The Santa Barbara Zoo is home to numerous species of birds that range from a laughing kookaburra to a California condor to an Inca tern. Reptiles are well represented from a Mexican beaded lizard to a rosy boa to beaded dragon. The Santa Barbara Zoo offers several unique experiences for children and adults that include family safari sleepovers, zookeeper for a day and watching food be prepared for the 500 plus animals. Other exciting activities for children include a climbing wall, a play area and there is the Zoo train as well as several live animal shows throughout the day.
Photo by Andy Rusch
Reagan Ranch Center
When your family is interested in learning about the life of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, then you should visit the Reagan Ranch Center. Located between the center of downtown Santa Barbara and the Stearns Wharf, the Reagan Ranch Center concentrates on conservative political ideology and the life as well as accomplishments of the late United States President Ronald Reagan. The Reagan Ranch Center is filled with numerous interactive exhibits which help decipher the life of this former film star turned politician. In 1974 Ronald and Nancy Reagan bought a 686-acre ranch which they would name Rancho del Cielo also known as Heaven’s Ranch in the nearby Santa Ynez Mountains. During his political career the ranch served as the Western White House for President Reagan while he was vacationing or just resting from the demands of the presidency. Within the Reagan Ranch Center you will find a movie theater, numerous exhibits about Rancho de Cielo, a research library and several lecture spaces for guest speakers. The Reagan Ranch Center is a good starting point to view his intricate and complicated life before setting out to tour the actual ranch which is some 45-minutes away.
Photo by Damian Gadal
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
One of the best Santa Barbara attractions to visit that will help you understand the maritime history of the area is to plan a trip to Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. Located along the Harbor’s Waterfront Center, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is situated within an 8,000 square feet Works Progress Administration (WPA) building that was constructed in 1943 and overlooks the Santa Barbara Harbor. The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is dedicated to educating the guests about the maritime history of the Santa Barbara Harbor and has more than twelve specific interactive exhibits. These exhibits range from the Geology of Oil in Santa Barbara Channel and the Chumash us of Asphaltum to the Point Conception Lighthouse Fresnel Lens to the Lost Posters of Surf Artist Rock Sharp to Maritime Ranching. Other interesting exhibits include the Diving Technology and Abalone Diving, Historic Path which concentrates on the Chumash Indians and the Goleta Cannons. In addition to the many interactive exhibits you can view the 1916 Sea Mew David T. Nidever as well as a 1917 sport fishing yacht Ranger which acts as the museum’s flagship.
Photo by Al R
Casa del Herrero
The Casa del Herrero also known as the House of the Blacksmith is a fascinating Santa Barbara attraction that is ideal for history buffs and families. Located in Montecito, the Casa del Herrero is situated on an 11-acre estate which features one of the best examples of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the United States and is listed on the Register of Historic Places as well as a National Landmark based on the exquisite Moorish designed gardens that surround the house. Constructed in 1925 for George Fox Steedman the Casa del Herrero contains hundreds of artifacts from the Golden age of Spain which was during the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of the outstanding artifacts you can view include sketchbooks, drawings, fine and decorative art works as well as hundreds of horticulture records pertaining to the beautiful gardens surrounding the house museum. As you stroll the grounds you will feel transported back in time as you view the period furnishing within the main house and you can even catch a glimpse of the intricate work shop that George Fox Steedman spent hours creating useful everyday items with precision craftsmanship.
Moreton Bay Fig Tree
When you want to see one of the top natural Santa Monica attractions which feature the largest specimen of a specific tree species in the United States then you should plan a visit to see the Moreton Bay Fig Tree. Located between downtown Santa Barbara and Stearns Wharf, the Moreton Bay Fig Tree was planted in 1876 and was listed as a historic landmark by the city of Santa Barbara in 1970 and is also on the California Register of Big Trees. A seedling was planted by a local girl in 1876 along State Street and after she moved away from the area her friend Adeline Crabb replanted the year old seedling in its present location at the corner of Chapala and Montecito Streets. Today the Moreton Bay Fig Tree is massive with a circumference of more than 42-feet and has a canopy well over 200-feet at the widest point. The Moreton Bay Fig Tree also boasts a majestic height of more than 80-feet and is visible from many blocks away from its current location. The Moreton Bay Fig Tree has become a very popular photograph stop for many travelers that are thoroughly amazed by this grand old tree.
Photo by David Merrett
Santa Barbara Historical Museum
The best Santa Barbara attraction for people to visit that are interested in learning more about the culture and history of the area is the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Located in historic downtown Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum concentrates on telling the story of the Chumash Indians, Chinese, Mexican, Yankee and Spanish cultures that have been instrumental in the development of Santa Barbara as well as the surrounding area. The Santa Barbara Historical Museum feature 1,000’s of artifacts that range from textiles to photographs to furnishings and everything in between. There are ten permanent exhibitions that can be viewed at the museum which are the Saint Barbara Legend, Native American Civilizations, the Story of Santa Barbara, the Arts Movement, Spanish Settlement, Paradis in the 19th Century, A new Century, Santa Barbara under Mexican Rule, China and California Statehood as well as the De la Guerra Family. The Santa Barbara Historical Museum also features a number of temporary exhibits which are related to the Santa Barbara theme of the institution. Also at the museum is a collection of historic houses like the Fernald Mansion which you can walk through and view period furnishings.
Photo by Al R
Santa Barbara Orchid Estate
If you are interested in viewing some of the world’s most rare and beautiful flowers, then the best Santa Barbara attraction for you to visit is the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. Located along the Pacific Ocean near More Mesa, the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate is situated on 5-acres of land that contain numerous greenhouses and outdoor garden spaces which contain more than 175 different orchid plants from around the world. The estate is instrumental in helping educate the public on planting and growing techniques that will increase the number of horticulturists dedicated to preserving the beauty of orchids. The Santa Barbara Orchid Estate contains orchid species that include Laelias, Dendrobiums, Cymbidiums and Cattleyas. The Santa Barbara Orchid Estate is a superb place for novice and expert orchid horticulturists to find out trends in the industry as well as new species that have been cultivated. As you walk through the greenhouses and garden areas the sweet aroma of orchids fill the air and the incredible colors of each plant are vibrant to the eyes making this one of the more pleasant places you can visit.
Photo by Morgan Hartt
One of the more intricate and beautiful Santa Barbara attractions for people of all ages including families is to visit Lotusland. Located northeast of Santa Barbara in Montecito, Lotusland occupies 37-acres of themed landscaped gardens that were created by Ganna Walska beginning in 1941. The Lotusland gardens contain 25 uniquely themed gardens that feature more than 3,000 plants from a variety of species from around the world. When you arrive you be pleased with layout of the 25 gardens which feature areas of the world such as Australia, Japan as well as specific species of plants like shade palm trees, ferns, cactus, bromeliads as well as specialty gardens such as topiary, cycads, Dracaena, an insectary and a butterfly garden. Lotusland contains numerous other interesting features that range from fountains, ponds and gorgeous cobblestone pathways which are packed with plenty of interpretive signs allowing the opportunity to learn more about these incredible species of plants. Another interesting portion of Lotusland is the beautiful historic architecture that is exhibited by several buildings with Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial Revival designs.
Photo by brewbooks
Santa Barbara Cruise Port
If you are arriving by cruise ship or just want to watch the incredible ships moored in the harbor then a great Santa Barbara attraction for you is the Santa Barbara Cruise Port. Located in the center of the waterfront along the American Riviera, the Santa Barbara Cruise Ship Port is situated only a few blocks from many exciting activities. Once at the cruise port you can easily walk to State Street where you will find numerous shopping boutiques, fine restaurants and there are plenty of opportunities for watersport adventures like surfing or kayaking. Cruise ship passengers are generally transported from their ship by tenders that dock between the Waterfront and historic Stearns Wharf. There are plenty of activities to make for a fun filled day such as a trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo or perhaps the Santa Barbara Museum of Art as well as just sipping a glass of wine from one of the many wineries located in the Santa Ynez Valley.