Santa Barbara is known to be the American Riviera, with its community, weather, and pristine each similar to the Mediterranean coast. It has all the amenities of a large city, only with a more laid-back vibe that’s just enough to give you a more relaxing stay. In fact, many natives in California consider this as their ultimate vacation spot.
If you’re in the area to explore museums, experience shopping, dining, and fabulous resorts along its pristine beaches, make sure to include these must-see tourist attractions, and check out the best things to do in Santa Barbara to get the most out of your travel.
What’s more exhilarating than watching a humpback whale from the ocean? Enjoy an unforgettable whale-watching cruise, as you see and experience all the action.
In the waters of the Santa Barbara channel, there are approximately 27 species of both dolphins and whales, making it the best place in the country to view these magnificent mammals in the wild.
Between the months of May to November, blue and humpback whales frequent the area, and gray whales move from the Santa Barbara coast to their northern and southern migration. Even if you don’t catch these whales, you can still see other forms of wildlife such as sea lions, orcas and dolphins.
Choose a tour that offers a whale-watch guarantee in case you don’t see any whales, giving you a chance to try to see them again for free for another season.
Just ten minutes from downtown Santa Barbara, you’d come across one of the most stunning gardens in the world. There are three various owners who contributed to this lively botanical garden, including Madame Ganna Walska, a famous opera singer who, for four decades, made it into the beautiful display that it is today.
The gardens are nestled at Walska’s estate, the place where she lived until her death in 1984. The highlights are the Palm Garden, Blue Garden, Theatre Garden, and Japanese Garden, together with a collection of antiques that came from France.
Also, don’t miss out on the extremely rare cycads, which is now considered as extinct. Guided tours are available between Wednesdays to Sundays, and from February to November. Advanced reservations are required.
Santa Barbara is known to be a haven for shopaholics, and al the action happens at the State Street downtown. Here, you’d find Paseo Nuevo, a Spanished-styled shopping mall filled with picturesque fountains and potted palms.
Trendy boutiques, quaint cafes, and big-name chain stores also line the walkways. Even if you decide not to buy anything, you could still take a relaxing stroll here. The area is especially charming when it lights up during the holiday season.
You can also walk further along State Street and come across a variety of specialty shops, boutiques, and antique stores. Cafes and restaurants also fill the sidewalks and make excellent people-watching spots.
Every Thursday afternoons, State Street hosts the famous Santa Barbara Street Market where fresh, local produce is being sold.
The facility houses an impressive collection of art with approximately 27,000 works all in all. The museum is well-known for its collection of Claude Monet paintings, 19th and 20th century European and American artworks, contemporary and Asian art, as well as photography.
When you enter, you’d also come across the stunning Portrait of Mexico Today, a 1932 mural of David Alfaro Siqueiros. Apart from that, the museum also hosts impressive traveling exhibitions, interactive displays, and a gallery for children. It also has a library, a gift store, and a cafe.
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum sits just right in front of the harbor and pays homage to the city’s colorful maritime history. The facility hosts impressive exhibits on surfing, military history, antiques, model ships, fishing and diving instruments, historic photos, and so much more. You can also take stunning photos of the city and harbor on the viewing deck located on the top floor.
After you’re done exploring the facility, the Santa Barbara harbor is another picturesque spot to take a stroll. Wander along the breakwater and look for harbor seals.
Just a short walk from the museum, check out the Brophy Bros- a favorite restaurant of locals, serving diners fresh seafood, and marvelous views of the harbor and sailboats bristling through.
If you’re looking for breathtaking views of the mountains and ocean, head off to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. One of the highlights of this place is the Mission Dam and aqueduct that was built back in 1807, a wildflower meadow, redwood grove, and a picturesque Japanese teahouse and garden.
Part of the garden is a historic landmark. Here, you can take guided tours, or opt to explore on your own. There’s also a gift shop in the area and a nursery where you can buy plants that are native to California.
The wharf offers you a breathtaking view of the beaches and harbor, against the backdrop of the stunning Santa Ynez Mountains. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area, where specialty shops and restaurants can be found.
It’s a great place to take a stroll with a scoop of ice cream, or just enjoy the views of the ocean as you you order a delectable seafood lunch. If you have youngsters, a great way to go here is to catch the Lil’ Toot water taxi from the Santa Barbara harbor.
Another great way to explore the area is to rent a bike in one of the rental shops, as you pedal along the path that traces the coastline near the entrance to the wharf.
With sparkling shorelines, Spanish-inspired architecture, lovely gardens, beautiful sunsets, and other enviable attractions, Santa Barbara is a picture-perfect seaside city. This is definitely one of California’s gems waiting to be explored.