Are you looking for top tourist destinations? You cannot go wrong with Santa Barbara!
With so many Santa Barbara attractions and numerous places to visit brimming with exciting activities, it can be difficult to figure out what to do while you’re in this location.
Whether you are here for a full-on sightseeing excursion or just to have a good time, there are plenty of options available.
Here are the 30 best and fun things to do in Santa Barbara, California, one of the most beautiful places to visit in the US.
1. El Presidio de Santa Barbara
El Presidio de Santa Barbara is one of the most popular historical points of interest in Santa Barbara, California.
Originally built in 1782 by Spaniards, this structure is a fortified military settlement that holds a lot of rich history and it’s fascinating to explore.
Though it has changed over the years, you can still view a couple of its original structures mainly the Cañedo Adobe and El Cuartel.
But there is more than just that to explore.
Visitors can also enjoy walking through the Comandancia, the chapel (which has been reconstructed), old Lieutenant rooms (also reconstructed), and the Padre’s Quarters.
Near these many enticing spots in El presidio, you can also find an observation tower spanning two stories, a Heritage Garden packed with old era plants, the famous Whittaker Orchard, and what remains of the outer defense walls.
If you’d like, you can go on a tour which will give you some interesting tidbits about the building’s history before you begin to roam on your own.
Address: 123 E Canon Perdido St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
2. Old Mission Santa Barbara
Old Mission Santa Barbara is an incredibly elegant and graceful attraction that was completed back in 1786.
It is currently the only mission in all of California that continues to be lived in by Franciscans, making it one of the best places to visit in California.
Unfortunately, the original chapel was destroyed in an earthquake in 1812, and the new church that you see today was finished in 1820 by Chumash Indians.
Much of the architecture of the old mission was inspired heavily by other buildings in Santa Barbara at the time.
Visitors can get a real Tree by examining the double towers (which are unusual in mission structures), a facade inspired by Roman design, and a variety of sculptures and art dating back to the Colonial era.
Within the building, you can also find a museum that is packed with artifacts and art from all the times.
Surrounding the complex is the gorgeous La Huerta Historical Garden that looks like it was ripped straight out of a Colonial setting.
So if you’re looking for what to see in Santa Barbara and you love history, this might be a good bet.
Address: 2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA
3. Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is a unique and fun must-see spot in this California region.
It is dedicated to preserving the interesting and rich history of the Santa Barbara coast and does so through the use of a wide range of exhibits, artifacts, and even events.
Among the many items on display, you can view seaplanes, cannons, interactive maps, paintings, and a lot more.
This is also a great place to bring your kids, as there are many educational programs and activities available.
Kids can learn valuable skills such as teamwork and problem-solving in special educational opportunities.
You can also go on guided tours through the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum that provides you with additional information and lots of fun facts.
Address: 113 Harbor Way #190, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, USA
4. East Beach
Of the three major Beaches that you can find in Santa Barbara, the least crowded is probably the East Beach.
Due to its location, it is much less likely to be packed like sardines when you go to catch some sun.
But that doesn’t mean it’s any less good, as many people believe East Beach hosts the greatest stretch of ocean that you can find in all of Santa Barbara.
There are plenty of activities that you can enjoy on the beach, including playing volleyball at one of the several courts available.
You may also go for a picnic, enjoying a swim, or even borrowing a beach wheelchair for those in need of extra mobility.
The East Beach Grill is also a great restaurant to sample some fresh seafood and other delectable dishes.
Even better, East Beach is fairly near to other Santa Barbara attractions!
Address: 1400 E Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108-2880, USA
Planning a California road trip? Be sure to check out our list of things to do in California!
5. Santa Barbara County Courthouse
Paying a visit to the historical and ornate Santa Barbara County Courthouse is among the top things to do in Santa Barbara, California.
It is an official National Historic Landmark that was finished in 1929 after being constructed following a 1925 earthquake.
Wakfu the Santa Barbara County courthouse to find lavish tiles, resplendent ceilings that are hand-painted to perfection, and chandeliers wrought delicately from iron.
It is one of the best samples of interesting Colonial and Spanish Revival architecture that you can find across the whole region.
Explore the opulent mural room to discover more about the history of the area, or take a walk outside the courthouse to find a sunken garden full of plants from over 25 countries.
You can also join in on community events taking place within the building’s compound or climb to the top of El Mirador tower, which stretches 85 feet into the sky.
Address: 1100 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
6. Knapp’s Castle
Knapp’s Castle lays concealed within the hills of Santa Barbara, California.
It was finished in 1916 by Union Carbide founder George Knapp and was, once upon a time, a wealthy and opulent home to the chemical magnate.
He eventually sold the home in 1940, and just 5 weeks later, it was largely destroyed in a forest fire.
The fire destroyed much of the home’s most lavish rooms, including an organ room, an observatory, and multiple bedrooms.
In fact, after the fire raged, all that remained was the home’s stone skeleton.
Since then, the home was turned into a Santa Barbara landmark, so although it is still owned privately, it cannot be developed or restored.
Today, the ruins of Knapp’s Castle remain, and it is one of the most popular places to visit by hikers touring Santa Barbara.
Photographers also enjoy taking eerie and melancholy pictures of the once-great home.
7. Stearns Wharf
Stearns Wharf was finished in 1872 and is now the oldest of its kind in California, being the only wooden wharf that continues to be used in this modern day.
It sits on the popular State Street, where it is home to more than 17 different businesses, an educational facility, and a market specifically for Santa Barbara shellfish.
Once the longest deep-water pier, not just in Santa Barbara, but between SF and LA, taking a stroll along this significant piece of the area’s history is a good option if you’re looking for what to do.
You can rent a bike and ride your own way through, or you can go for a walk and sample some of their famous ice creams.
Stearns Wharf is often considered to offer some of the top sights in all of Santa Barbara, with spots that overlook the breathtaking harbor and the many stretches of beach that rush across the region.
A backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains provides an even more picturesque appearance to the entire wharf.
Address: 217 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
8. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Visiting the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is definitely one of the must-do things if you’re a nature-lover.
78 acres of lush green await you, holding more than 1,000 species of fauna that are indigenous to the area or are extremely rare.
Among these is one of the most beautiful Santa Barbara attractions: a teeming Redwood Forest that will take your breath away.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden was first opened in 1926, though it has a history dating far back to 1806.
Python Native Americans built a rock dam for Mission Creek, which still continues to run through these gardens now.
But it’s not just lavish green the visitors can enjoy in this California garden.
A herbarium, a library, and a retail nursery are all available to explore.
Tours are available to follow, but you can also just wander on your own.
Address: 1212 Mission Canyon Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA
9. Cold Spring Tavern
Cold Spring Tavern is a great place to drop by on a weekend night.
It was originally built back in 1886, where it’s served as a stop for stagecoaches and was basically a way station connecting Santa Barbara, California to other regions, near and far.
Now, this lesser-known feature of Santa Barbara’s history remains preserved.
A number of historical buildings litter of the compound, and a bar and tavern remain open for you to visit if you like.
You can enjoy musical entertainment showcased in the tavern, wander through the grounds to discover more of Santa Barbara’s history, or just stop by to enjoy some good food and drinks.
Address: 5995 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA
10. Whale Watching
Whale watching is one of the top fun things to do in Santa Barbara, California.
Plenty of whale watching cruises are available to take you through the ocean, where you can potentially spot over 27 different species of dolphins, whales, and marine life.
The types of marine mammals that you can spot depend largely on the season in Santa Barbara.
With blue whales and humpback whales appearing between May and November, and gray whales appearing during the standard Southern and Northern immigration types.
But even if you aren’t fortunate enough to spot any whales, you will still be able to see other forms of marine animals, such as sea lions, dolphins, and orcas.
Certain cruises will also provide you with a guarantee that determines that you’ll be able to see a whale while you’re here in Santa Barbara.
11. Salt Cave, Santa Barbara
The Salt Cave of Santa Barbara isn’t exactly one of the more popular tourist attractions around California, but it is full of such unique charm that is more than worth dropping in.
You can book a session to stay within this relaxing and calming cave.
Each cave is lit in a subtle and gentle manner, with pink Himalayan salt crystals enrobing the entire room.
Some of these crystals even date back over 200 million years.
You can use your rented cave to take a nap, meditate, lounge in a zero gravity chair, or just enjoy the relaxation of the ambient music surrounding you.
If you’re a believer of healing crystals, then there’s, even more, to be gained from a stay in the Salt Cave of Santa Barbara.
Standard sessions run for about 45 minutes, but there’s more you can do then just set in a cave.
You can go from massages, yoga classes, workshops, and more.
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop before you leave to take your pick of salt scrubs, soaks, and other bath and body items.
Address: 740 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
12. Santa Barbara Zoo
The Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the best places to go for a little fun, especially if you’re there with family.
It’s one of the standard stops along any sightseeing tour of this California region.
Over 500 animals call this zoo their home, including 146 different species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and even insects.
The Santa Barbara Zoo spans across 30 acres and is widely considered one of America’s greatest small zoo.
Its compound is largely composed of lush botanic gardens displaying rare exotic plants including succulents, ornamentals, trees, and more.
The zoo first opened in 1963, with a mission of researching, conserving, and enhancing natural life as well as recreating and educating.
Address: 500 Ninos Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93103, USA
13. Susan Quinlan Doll & Teddy Bear Museum & Library
The Susan Quinlan Doll & Teddy Bear Museum & Library is arguably one of the most distinct Santa Barbara attractions.
This building was founded by Susan Quinlan herself, a retired librarian who collected these teddy bears and dolls over the course of three decades.
This Santa Barbara museum and library opened to the public in 2005.
Every single toy displayed in the museum is interesting and individual, often made from different materials and crafted in different designs.
Somewhere based on fictional characters, summer holiday themed, and many look like they came straight out for the fantasy book.
If you don’t get creeped out easily, you might even enjoy the shockingly lifelike iterations of dolls that you will see.
It might not be your typical Santa Barbara tourist spot, where else in California, or in the entire country, are you going to see such an eclectic collection?
Address: 122 W Canon Perdido St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
14. The Lobero Theatre
The Lobero Theatre of Santa Barbara, California puts on many interesting shows that are a must-see for any entertainment lover.
The theatre was first founded in 1873 before it was rebuilt in 1924, and it is one of the most valuable architectural masterpieces in Santa Barbara.
A healthy mix of the local community and professional performances are put on at the Lobera.
A number of performing arts groups local to Santa Barbara call this theatre their home, including the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra and the State Street Ballet.
Much of the Lobera is dedicated to presenting jazz performances, so if you’re a fan of the genre and are near the area, why not spend a night basking in the wonderful music and rich experiences of this theatre?
Address: 33 E Canon Perdido St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
15. Arroyo Burro Beach Park
The Arroyo Burro Beach Park is an extremely popular location for a wide range of water activities.
Known locally as Hendry’s Beach, this Santa Barbara location is a famous spot for swimming, fishing, surfing, picnics, horseback riding, and bird watching.
The Arroyo Burro Beach Park has been around from as early as 1947, beginning at just 6 acres and slowly growing over time.
It is easily one of the most enjoyable points of interest in this California region for those who enjoy a bit of sun and surf with an extra helping of nature.
Now, this beach park has plenty of picnic tables, lots of barbecue grills, and a big parking compound to allow for as many visitors as possible.
Better yet, this Santa Barbara county beach is totally dog-friendly, so you can bring your canine companions along to roam with you!
Address: 2981 Cliff Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, USA
16. Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation
The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, known also as MOXI, is one of the new additions to the Santa Barbara, California attraction list.
This incredibly unique and fun museum was first opened in 2017, and it covers over 17,000 square feet.
The building’s design is breathtaking with a Spanish Colonial general architecture style, punctured with marine-themed accents.
The museum focuses on science and technology and is a great place to bring your children over a weekend.
Tons of one-of-a-kind attractions and exhibits are on display at this Santa Barbara Museum.
This includes a giant guitar that you can strum, sound overdubbing booths, an Innovation Workshop, a customizable mosaic selfie, and a toy car race track.
You can also step into the Sky Gallery on the rooftop, which offers plenty of amazing views of the mountains, large telescopes to observe the sky with, and exciting water features.
Address: 125 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
17. Santa Barbara Orchid Estate
The Santa Barbara Orchid Estate is located very close to the ocean, upon 5 acres of land.
It was first created in 1957, and today, it is managed and owned by a man named Paul Gripp as well as his two children.
The family is well known for being orchid collectors and propagators, and you can see their love for these breathtaking flowers in this Santa Barbara location.
If you love these flowers too, then the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate is one of the greatest Santa Barbara attractions for you.
The estate specializes in temperature tolerant orchids that can easily grow outdoors.
Visitors are welcomed in this must-do California stop, and it’ll be all too easy for you to believe that you have stepped into a fantasy novel.
While you’re here, you can purchase one of hundreds upon hundreds of different orchid types that are available for sale.
Gripp and his children themselves are also happy to provide information and advice regarding the correct way to safely and successfully grow orchids through exhibitions and lectures.
Address: 1250 Orchid Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93111, USA
18. Paseo Nuevo
If you love shopping, Paseo Nuevo is one of the best places to go in Santa Barbara, California.
This outdoor shopping mall is packed with renowned chain stores, cute boutiques, and quaint cafes that are decorated with a variety of fountains and potted plants.
This is especially true during the holidays when this Santa Barbara mall is decked out in all sorts of enchanting decorations.
Again, if you’re a bit of a Shopaholic and I looking for where to go in Santa Barbara, this is definitely a good bet.
Address: 651 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
19. Shoreline Park
Shoreline Park gives you the best of both worlds.
It provides incredible views of the coastline of Santa Barbara, but also giving you a glimpse into the bustling city.
You can even spot the Santa Ynez Mountains in the background.
There are a number of fun activities that you can do while you are here.
You can play water sports, have a barbecue, go for a walk, enjoy a picnic, and even gaze out into the ocean and hope to see some of the whales that Santa Barbara is so known for.
It’s true that if you’re looking for the best things to do in Santa Barbara, you might not necessarily think of a beach or a park, but this 14.6 acre spot is more than worth a visit or two.
Address: Shoreline Dr & Santa Rosa Place, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, USA
20. Moreton Bay Fig Tree
The Moreton Bay Fig Tree is one of the lesser-known Santa Barbara attractions that you can visit for absolutely no charge today.
It is the largest tree of its kind not just in California, but also in all of America.
Moreton Bay fig trees, known scientifically as Ficus macrophylla trees, are not actually native to Santa Barbara, but to Australia.
This particular tree has a special legend to it.
Supposedly, a young girl who lived in Santa Barbara in 1876 presented a fig tree seedling to a sailor who was visiting.
The seed was then planted, creating the gigantic and imposing wonder of nature that we know now.
You can easily spot this large fig tree very close to the famed Amtrak station.
Its many limbs sprawl out from it, winding up and sideways, and you may be tempted to climb it, but do keep in mind that this is not allowed!
This is a great one-of-a-kind sight to see while you are in Santa Barbara.
Address: Chapala St & Montecito Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, United States
21. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History can be found near the old Santa Barbara Mission, where it sits in wait on Puesta Del Sol.
This museum has a simple goal: to educate visitors regarding the natural history of Santa Barbara.
This museum was first opened in 1916, making it the oldest of all the museums in this California city.
It spans across 12 acres of the famous Mission Creek, and exhibits are divided among multiple different buildings which are backdropped by an oak-filled woodland.
Stop in over a weekend and walk around to really take in all the amazing exhibits on display.
You’ll be able to see fossils, a nature trail, and old books in the library.
Of course, there is also the centerpiece of this museum: a whale skeleton that spans 74 feet!
You might not be able to believe your eyes when you see this majestic artifact.
Address: 2559 Puesta Del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA
22. Funk Zone
The Funk Zone is one of the top tourist attractions in Santa Barbara, California for a good party.
Once upon a time, this interesting location was an industrial spot, but artists began to move in and turned it into a lively, artistic, and exciting hipster area.
Murals line the walls of this Santa Barbara district, and if you come here at night, you’ll be able to find plenty of delicious alcoholic drinks, artistic displays, and more.
For those who want to go on a vacation to have a really good time, the Funk Zone is one spot in Santa Barbara that you just can’t miss.
Address: Yanonali Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
23. Santa Barbara Tasting Tours
If you’re a real foodie, the Santa Barbara Tasting Tours are probably the most fun and definitely among the top things to do in Santa Barbara, California.
These food walking tours will take you through State Street and the downtown area of Santa Barbara.
Each tour lasts for about 3 1/2 hours and involves a variety of food tastings in 6 different locations.
You will be able to sample cheese, chocolate, deli offerings, desserts, and wine.
If you like you can even book a private tour instead of a group one.
But it’s not just all about food!
Tour guides will also be happy to tell you all about the rich history of the Santa Barbara locations that you pass through.
It is truly an enriching experience.
24. Sustainable Vine Wine Tours
There are plenty of wineries in Santa Barbara, California.
That’s probably why Sustainable Vine Wine Tours are so popular in the area.
Run by Brian Hope and Scott Bull, these tours involve a personal experience were these two owners and sommeliers drive you in a luxury vehicle, bringing you to some of the finest wineries and vineyards that Santa Barbara has to offer.
You will join a small tour group of fewer than 10 people throughout a day of adventure as the tour guides take you to all the greatest places to visit in Santa Barbara for wine.
You’ll also get to have a delicious and healthy organic lunch during the store.
While you’re at it, there are plenty of sights to see as you explore the wide-reaching vineyards.
Address: 27 W Anapamu St Suite 104, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
25. Casa del Herrero
With a name that directly translates to “house of the blacksmith”, Casa del Herrero, which is a short 9-minute drive from Santa Barbara, was built in 1925, around the era of the Spanish Colonial Revival.
Unlike many other historical landmarks, Casa Del Herrero has not changed significantly in the past decades.
The estate covers 11 acres, made up of the home itself and the formal gardens.
Today, within the home, a museum has been curated, holding multiple antiques that can be dated all the way back to the 15th century.
The house once belonged to a noble Santa Barbara industrialist, and it was constructed specially by a famous architect.
The Casa del Herrero is an official National Historic Landmark and is listed on the country’s National Register of Historic Places.
It offers many things to see, including drawings, books, records of horticultural activity, and other fascinating tidbits of history.
As renovations are commonplace, make sure to check out the website for the Santa Barbara, California location before visiting.
Address: 1387 E Valley Rd, Montecito, CA 93108, USA
26. Santa Barbara Museum of Art
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art holds a collection of nearly 30,000 different kinds of works, sourced from Europe, Asia, and across America.
It originally served at the Santa Barbara post office, but in 1941, it was opened as a museum after some renovation.
Now, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art encompasses 60,000 square feet of land.
This doesn’t just include art exhibits, but also a library, an auditorium, a cafe, and a store.
Due to the museum’s commitment to education, lots of informational activities are available to participate in.
You can watch performances, attend lectures and seminars, and go on guided tours.
So if you’re in Santa Barbara, California this weekend, you should definitely check this place out.
Address: 1130 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
27. Lil’ Toot
Taking a ride on the Lil’ Toot is one of the most fun things to do in Santa Barbara, California.
The small boat is a bright yellow color and holds up to 19 passengers, ferrying them between a wide range of Santa Barbara landmarks and attractions.
But you can visit all those attractions through land, and they’re quite near to each other.
So, why exactly does the Lil’ Toot exist?
It is purely an exciting and novel way of traveling around, especially if you have children.
It can be quite an enjoyable journey, as kids can go up to the boat wheelhouse in order to help the captain.
Just like with any other Santa Barbara boat tour, if you’re lucky, you may be able to spot sea lions, seals, dolphins, and more.
So if you’re looking for a different way to see all the greatest locations in Santa Barbara, you can give the Lil’ Toot a try!
Address: Between Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
28. Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park
There isn’t much left of Chumash Indian history in Santa Barbara, California, but a slice of it can be found in the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park.
As far as state parks are concerned, this Santa Barbara one is rather small.
But if you persevere and travel up the steep and winding road, you will soon find yourself at historically rich cave entrance that makes for good sightseeing.
While a lot of native art was lost when European settlers took over the state and Santa Barbara, this cave still contains some relatively preserved symbols and drawings made by the Chumash Indians.
Smeared over a sandstone wall, these colorful images are a bit of a Santa Barbara mystery.
Experts estimate that they may be more than 1000 years old, but the meaning behind them is not known.
Address: CA-154, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA
29. Santa Barbara Farmers Market
The Santa Barbara Farmers Market is one of the best places to go if you are interested in local products, fresh produce, and other fun things to see.
A total of 130 members from this California region come together under this market’s name to sell their goods to the public.
The Santa Barbara Farmers Market was first opened in 1983, where it has served as a non-profit organization that provides an easy and convenient selling spot for local farmers in the Santa Barbara area.
You can find a wide variety of different items here, including pistachios, fresh berries, olives, and olive oil, and much more.
The most opportune time to visit this location is probably on Tuesday or Saturday when you can find it on Anacapa Street.
However, the market can also be found in different spots on different days, so do your research before going to find out where would be most convenient for you.
Address: 3302, 232 Anacapa St ste 1a, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, United States
Taking a walk around Lotusland is definitely one of the top 10 things to do in Montecito, a place located just 4 miles (10-minute drive) from Santa Barbara.
Unlike many popular tourist spots, Lotusland is situated on private property.
Spanning across 37 acres, this exotic garden was once owned by Madame Ganna Walska, a famous opera singer from Poland.
The gorgeous, rare, and often unusual plants that you can find in Lotusland are not local to Santa Barbara, or even to California.
Madame Wolska herself collected these eclectic bits of fauna throughout the course of her life, and also received many as gifts from her fans and friends.
After her passing in 1984, this garden was opened as a nonprofit public attraction, which also boasts a number of educational programs that currently help the surrounding Santa Barbara community.
When you visit, you will be taken aback by just how whimsical and breathtaking this magical and traumatic botanical garden is.
It’s a great way to get a taste of the flair and personality of Madame Walska herself foot.
Address: Cold Spring Rd, Montecito, CA 93108, USA
Start Planning Your Trip To Santa Barbara
There are so many tourist attractions, points of interest, sights to see, and stuff to do in Santa Barbara.
Whether you’re here for a week, a weekend, or a day trip, we hope that this list of the best things to do in Santa Barbara has given you a good idea of what to do when you get here!