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17 Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara this Weekend with Kids

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Looking for the perfect family getaway this weekend? Santa Barbara is calling! Nestled along California’s stunning coastline, this vibrant city is packed with fun, family-friendly activities. From exploring scenic beaches to discovering captivating museums, there’s no shortage of adventures to keep kids entertained.

Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara this Weekend with Kids
Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara this Weekend with Kids

In this guide, we’ll reveal the top 17 best things to do in Santa Barbara this weekend with kids. Whether your family enjoys outdoor excitement or prefers indoor fun, we’ve got you covered with a mix of both. Get ready to make unforgettable memories with these fantastic weekend activities in Santa Barbara!

See also: 10 Best Things to Do in San Francisco With Kids

Shoreline Park

Strolling through Shoreline Park in Santa Barbara is a must-do for nature lovers. This 14.6-acre coastal park is perched on the bluffs between Leadbetter Beach and the Harbor, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands. The park’s paved walking paths are perfect for a leisurely walk or jog, with plenty of spots to pause and enjoy the scenery.

Shoreline Park Santa Barbara
Shoreline Park Santa Barbara

One of the highlights is the whale watching area where, if you’re lucky, you might spot migrating whales. There are also binoculars for a closer look at the ocean. The park is family-friendly with a playground, picnic areas, and a grassy expanse ideal for a relaxing afternoon.

The best times to visit are early mornings or late afternoons when the light is perfect for photography and the weather is typically pleasant. Remember to bring a hat, sunscreen, and water, especially if you plan to walk down to the beach via the Shoreline Park Staircase.

Shoreline Park is open from sunrise to 10 PM, and parking is available in two lots as well as on nearby streets. Dogs are welcome on-leash, making it a great spot for a walk with your furry friend​.

Santa Barbara Zoo

Exploring the Santa Barbara Zoo is an adventure for all ages. Located at 500 Ninos Drive, the zoo is home to over 500 animals and spans 30 acres near the ocean. One of its star attractions is the Masai giraffes, where you can feed these gentle giants and learn about their care from the knowledgeable staff. Watching a giraffe’s long tongue snatch food right from your hand is a memorable experience!

Santa Barbara Zoo
Santa Barbara Zoo

The zoo is dedicated to conservation, participating in efforts like the California Condor Recovery Program and the Island Fox Recovery. They also partner with California State University Channel Islands for innovative conservation education.

A personal favorite is the Australian Walkabout, where you can stroll among kangaroos and wallabies. The zoo’s lush gardens and scenic views make it a relaxing spot for a family picnic too.

The zoo is open daily from 9:30 AM to 5 PM (closing early on some holidays), and tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children. Parking is available on-site for a fee​.

Arroyo Burro Beach County Park

Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, affectionately known as Hendry’s Beach, is a gem in Santa Barbara. This beach, framed by picturesque bluffs and adjacent to the Douglas Family Preserve, offers stunning natural beauty and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s the perfect spot for a variety of activities, whether you’re into picnicking, surfing, or just relaxing by the shore.

Arroyo Burro Beach County Park
Arroyo Burro Beach County Park

One of the best things about Arroyo Burro is its dog-friendly policy. Your furry friends can roam off-leash on the east side of the creek, making it a favorite for local dog owners. The park also has a self-service dog wash station, so your pup can get clean before heading home.

Exploring the tide pools at low tide is a must-do. You’ll find sea anemones, hermit crabs, and maybe even an octopus if you’re lucky. There are also picnic tables, BBQ grills, and grassy areas perfect for a family gathering. The Boathouse, a beachfront restaurant, offers delicious meals with a view.

Arroyo Burro Beach is open from 8 AM to sunset, and there’s plenty of free parking available. It’s just a short drive from downtown Santa Barbara, making it a convenient getaway for locals and tourists alike​.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Discovering the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is like stepping into a living museum of California’s diverse native plants. Located on 78 acres in Mission Canyon, the garden showcases over 1,000 species of native flora across various habitats. Wander through sections like the Redwood Forest, Meadow, and Desert to see the rich tapestry of California’s plant life.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The garden hosts numerous special events and educational programs. You can join guided hikes, participate in workshops on native plant gardening, or attend seasonal festivals that celebrate the local flora. One highlight is the family-friendly Solstice Celebration, perfect for engaging kids with nature.

My personal favorite is the Redwood Section, which offers a serene escape with towering trees and shaded trails. It’s a great spot to relax and reflect.

Practical details: The garden is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, with last admissions at 4:30 PM. Tickets are $16 for adults and $8 for children, with members enjoying early access from 9 to 10 AM. Parking is available on-site, and reservations are recommended​.

MOXI

Visiting MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, is a fun and educational experience for all ages. Located at 125 State Street, this hands-on museum is packed with interactive exhibits that ignite curiosity and creativity.

MOXI Santa Barbara
MOXI Santa Barbara

The museum’s three floors are filled with exhibits focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Highlights include the Tech Track, where you can leave your mark on the Handprint Globe, and the Speed Track, where you can build and race your own cars. The Sound Track features a Giant Guitar and the mesmerizing George Rhoads-designed Sound Machine​.

One unique feature is the Sky Garden on the rooftop. It offers breathtaking views of Santa Barbara and the ocean, and includes interactive installations like the Whitewater exhibit, where you can play with fluid dynamics, and the Weather Orchestra, which lets you create a symphony using natural elements​.

MOXI is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM. Tickets are $17 for adults and $14 for children. It’s easy to get there by exiting the 101 at Garden Street, and parking is available nearby​.

Paseo Nuevo

Shopping at Paseo Nuevo is an enchanting experience in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. This premier outdoor shopping destination blends Spanish-style architecture with a vibrant mix of over 50 stores and eateries. From high-end retailers like Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, and American Eagle to unique local boutiques, Paseo Nuevo caters to every shopper’s taste.

Paseo Nuevo Santa Barbara
Paseo Nuevo Santa Barbara

Dining options are just as varied. You can grab a quick bite at Panda Express or Pressed Juicery, enjoy a leisurely meal at Eureka! Burger, or savor Italian classics at California Pizza Kitchen. The outdoor patio seating at these restaurants enhances the charming, relaxed ambiance.

A personal favorite is wandering the romantic pathways lit with string lights after sunset, making it a perfect spot for an evening stroll. The famous Spanish-tile steps also offer a picturesque photo-op.

Practical details: Paseo Nuevo is open daily from 11 AM to 7 PM. Located at 651 Paseo Nuevo, parking is conveniently available nearby. It’s a short walk from the beach, making it a great stop during a day of exploring Santa Barbara​.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA)

Exploring the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) offers a rich journey through diverse art collections. Located at 1130 State Street, this museum houses over 27,000 works spanning 5,000 years, including American, Asian, and European art. Notable exhibits include pieces by Monet, Picasso, and O’Keeffe, along with significant photography collections.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA)
Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA)

The museum regularly hosts exciting events and exhibitions. Upcoming highlights include “A Legacy of Giving: The Lady Leslie and Lord Paul Ridley-Tree Collection” and “Moving Pictures,” featuring video art by Liliana Porter and Christian Marclay. These exhibits showcase both historical masterpieces and contemporary works, providing a comprehensive art experience.

One of my favorite memories is attending the Art Matters lecture series, which offers deep dives into various art topics. It’s an engaging way to connect with art on a deeper level.

Practical details: SBMA is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM, with extended hours until 8 PM on Thursdays. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for seniors, and free for members and children under 6. Parking is available nearby, making it a convenient stop in your Santa Barbara itinerary​.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

Learning at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center is a must for anyone interested in marine life. Located on historic Stearns Wharf, this interactive aquarium offers close encounters with the diverse marine animals of the Santa Barbara Channel. The Sea Center features a range of exhibits, from touch tanks where you can feel sea stars and urchins, to the Wet Deck, where you can use oceanographic tools to explore marine samples.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

A standout exhibit is the “Dive In: Our Changing Channel”, showcasing species like the Two-spot Octopus and Moon Jellies, while the Marine Mammal Mezzanine presents a life-sized model of a Gray Whale mother and calf. The Sea Center also participates in the White Abalone Restoration Consortium, aiming to save this endangered species.

I remember visiting with my kids; they were thrilled by the hands-on experiences and educational programs like the Live Dive series.

Practical details: Open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, tickets are $15 for adults and $11 for children. The Sea Center is easily accessible, with parking available nearby on Stearns Wharf​.

Channel Islands National Park

Visiting Channel Islands National Park offers an unforgettable adventure just off the coast of Southern California. Comprised of five islands—Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara—the park is celebrated for its unique ecosystems and abundant wildlife, often referred to as the “Galapagos of North America.”

Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park

The islands provide a range of activities. Hiking is a favorite, with trails like the Pelican Bay Trail on Santa Cruz Island offering stunning coastal views and encounters with the island’s native fox. Kayaking through sea caves around Scorpion Cove provides a breathtaking perspective of the islands’ rugged coastline and clear waters, where you can spot kelp forests and colorful marine life.

Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy birdwatching, particularly on Santa Barbara Island, home to numerous seabird species, and whale watching around the islands, where migrating whales can often be seen. For those staying overnight, camping at Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island is ideal for stargazing and experiencing the islands’ tranquility.

Practical details: The park is open year-round, with ferry services provided by Island Packers from Ventura and Santa Barbara harbors. It’s recommended to visit from late spring to early fall for the best weather and wildlife viewing opportunities​.

El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

Discovering El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park offers a fascinating glimpse into California’s early history. Founded in 1782, this park preserves the last of the four military fortresses established by the Spanish along the Alta California coast. Situated in downtown Santa Barbara, it played a crucial role in protecting the region and served as a governmental center during the Spanish colonial period.

El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park
El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

The park features two original adobe structures—El Cuartel and the Cañedo Adobe—alongside reconstructed buildings that provide a vivid picture of 18th-century life. Highlights include the Presidio Chapel, Comandancia, and Padre’s Quarters, each furnished with period pieces. Visitors can explore the gardens and archaeological sites, offering a tangible connection to the past.

A memorable experience from my visit was walking through the reconstructed northeast corner, where the rooms of soldiers and their families are brought to life with historical displays. It’s a captivating journey through time.

Practical details: Open daily from 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM, admission is $5 for adults and $4 for seniors, with free entry for children under 16. Parking is available nearby at 115 E. Canon Perdido Street​.

Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Touring the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is an exciting dive into the region’s rich nautical heritage. Located at 113 Harbor Way, this museum spans nearly 8,000 square feet and showcases captivating maritime exhibits and collections. Key exhibits include the “Whales Are Superheroes” exhibit, highlighting the role whales play in climate change mitigation, and the “Women of the Santa Barbara Harbor” exhibit, celebrating women’s contributions to the local maritime industry.

Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Special programs and events enrich the museum experience. The Munger Theater hosts lectures and films, while hands-on activities and interactive exhibits make it family-friendly. Upcoming events feature the “Coastal Moments” exhibit, showcasing plein air paintings by local artists, and engaging talks such as “The History of the Goleta Slough.”

My visit included a fascinating tour of the historic vessels docked nearby, offering a tangible connection to Santa Barbara’s seafaring past.

Practical details: Open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children. It’s easily accessible with parking nearby in the Santa Barbara Harbor

Old Mission Santa Barbara

Visiting Old Mission Santa Barbara is like stepping back into California’s early history. Established in 1786 by Spanish Franciscans, this historic site, known as the “Queen of the Missions,” features stunning architecture and a rich past. The mission’s church, completed in 1820, is built from solid sandstone and showcases original chandeliers, frescoes, and stonework by Chumash artisans. The mission grounds also include a beautiful cemetery and mausoleum, lush gardens, and a nine-room museum filled with historical artifacts and artwork.

Old Mission Santa Barbara
Old Mission Santa Barbara

Tour options are varied. Self-guided tours are available daily from 9:30 AM to 5 PM, with the last admission at 4 PM. These tours provide an in-depth audio guide in multiple languages. For a more immersive experience, guided tours are offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at specific times. During these tours, you can explore areas like the Mission Church, with its intricate altar and religious art, and the historic mausoleum.

Practical details: Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $10 for youth aged 5-17. Children under 5 enter for free. Parking is free and available on-site. The mission is located at 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara​.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Exploring the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is a delightful journey through diverse exhibits that showcase the natural wonders of the region. Nestled along Mission Creek, the museum spans 17 acres and features over 3.5 million specimens covering everything from geology and paleontology to birds and marine life.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

A major highlight is the Butterflies Alive! exhibit, held in the Sprague Butterfly Pavilion each summer. Here, visitors can walk through a garden surrounded by nearly 1,000 live butterflies, including exotic species from Costa Rica. It’s an immersive experience that captivates both kids and adults alike. Another special feature is the Gladwin Planetarium, where you can explore the stars and planets in engaging, interactive shows.

During my visit, I was particularly enchanted by the butterfly emergence chamber, where you can watch butterflies at various stages of development. It’s an extraordinary sight to see a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis!

Practical details: The museum is open Wednesday through Monday from 10 AM to 5 PM, and the planetarium shows are included with admission. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for children aged 2-12. Ample free parking is available on-site​.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens

Relaxing at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens is an experience of historical and architectural beauty. Built in 1929, the courthouse is a prime example of Spanish-Moorish style, designed by William Mooser III. The stunning architecture features white stucco walls, red-tiled roofs, and intricate details like wrought-iron chandeliers and colorful tiles. The courthouse also boasts a magnificent mural room painted by Daniel Sayre Groesbeck, depicting scenes from Santa Barbara’s history​.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens
Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens

The Sunken Gardens, located behind the courthouse, provide a serene setting perfect for picnicking and photography. These lush gardens are a popular spot for locals to enjoy lunch and for couples to host weddings. A favorite activity is climbing the clock tower for a panoramic view of the city, ocean, and mountains, offering one of the best vantage points in Santa Barbara.

Practical details: The courthouse is open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM, and on weekends from 10 AM to 4:30 PM. The gardens are always open. Located at 1100 Anacapa Street, free docent-led tours are available daily​.

Butterfly Beach in Montecito

Relaxing at Butterfly Beach in Montecito offers a serene and picturesque escape. This charming beach, located along Channel Drive, is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying stunning ocean views. Known for its unique east-west orientation, Butterfly Beach provides spectacular sunrises and sunsets, making it a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike.

Butterfly Beach in Montecito
Butterfly Beach in Montecito

The beach is simple yet beautiful, with golden sands and gentle waves. During low tide, you can walk all the way to East Beach in Santa Barbara or Hammonds Beach in Montecito. It’s a popular spot for beach walking, biking, and paddleboarding. While there are no public facilities, the peaceful ambiance and scenic beauty make it well worth a visit.

A memorable experience from my visit was walking the beach at sunset, where the sky painted a breathtaking palette of colors over the ocean. It’s also a great place to bring your dog on a leash.

Practical details: Butterfly Beach is open year-round with no entrance fee. Parking is available along Channel Drive or Butterfly Lane, but can be tricky on weekends. Be sure to bring your own food and water as there are no amenities on site​.

Stearns Wharf

Visiting Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara is like stepping back in time. Built in 1872, it’s the oldest working wooden wharf in California, offering a rich history and breathtaking ocean views. John P. Stearns, the wharf’s namesake, envisioned a structure that would withstand the test of time—and it has, surviving fires, storms, and even a tornado.

Stearns Wharf Santa Barbara
Stearns Wharf Santa Barbara

Today, Stearns Wharf is a vibrant hub of activity. Whether you’re interested in dining, shopping, or simply taking in the sights, there’s something for everyone. You can enjoy fresh seafood at restaurants like The Harbor Restaurant and Moby Dick Restaurant, or explore unique shops selling everything from candy to local crafts. For families, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center offers a hands-on marine experience that kids love.

Getting there is easy, with ample parking and the option to take the Lil’ Toot water taxi from the Santa Barbara Harbor. Once you’re on the wharf, don’t miss out on fishing off the pier or watching the playful harbor seals. Stearns Wharf is open daily, and while there’s no entrance fee, individual businesses set their own hours and prices​.

West Beach

Relaxing at West Beach in Santa Barbara is a real treat. Nestled between Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor, this 7.5-acre beach offers stunning views of the ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. The palm tree-lined sandy shore is perfect for sunbathing, and the gentle waves make for a refreshing swim.

West Beach Santa Barbara
West Beach Santa Barbara

West Beach isn’t just about soaking up the sun; there’s plenty to do. You can join a game of beach volleyball at the public courts or rent a kayak or paddleboard for some fun on the water. The nearby bike path is perfect for a leisurely ride, offering scenic views of the coastline.

For a personal touch, one of my favorite memories at West Beach is watching the 4th of July fireworks. The beach comes alive with festivities, and the view is unbeatable. It’s a great spot for a picnic too, with several nearby restaurants offering takeout options.

Practical details: West Beach is open from sunrise to 10 PM, and while there’s no entry fee, parking is paid. It’s easily accessible by bike or on foot from downtown Santa Barbara.

See also: 14 Best Things to Do in San Diego With Kids

Final Thoughts on Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara

As your weekend in Santa Barbara comes to a close, you’ll have a treasure trove of cherished memories to look back on. From the sandy shores to the lively attractions, Santa Barbara offers countless ways to bond and create lasting moments with your kids.

We hope this guide to the top 17 best things to do in Santa Barbara this weekend has inspired your itinerary and helped you discover the magic of this beautiful city.

FAQs on Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara

Is Santa Barbara worth visiting?

Absolutely! Santa Barbara is often highlighted as a top travel destination in major publications, including BuzzFeed’s list of Most Under-rated Travel Destinations for 2023. This picturesque university town, located on the central California coast, offers stunning scenery, a vibrant cultural scene, and a relaxed coastal vibe. Its blend of natural beauty and rich history makes Santa Barbara a must-visit location.

Where can I spend the day in Santa Barbara?

Spending a day in Santa Barbara is a delightful experience. Start your morning with breakfast and coffee in town. Afterward, enjoy an easy hike at Arroyo Burro Beach. Visit the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara and then grab lunch in downtown Santa Barbara. In the afternoon, explore the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and shop along State Street. Wrap up your day with drinks at the Funk Zone and end with a delicious dinner at one of the local restaurants.

What is the best month to visit Santa Barbara?

There isn’t a bad time to visit Santa Barbara, but for a classic beach experience, July and August are ideal. During these months, you can enjoy warm sunshine and pleasant water temperatures. However, these are also peak tourist months, so expect larger crowds and higher prices. If you prefer a quieter visit, consider coming in the spring or fall when the weather is still lovely, but the tourist numbers are lower.

What is the cool street in Santa Barbara?

State Street is the place to be in Santa Barbara. This palm-lined thoroughfare is bustling with shops, boutiques, enticing eateries, and beautiful buildings. It’s perfect for exploring on foot, but you can also hop on the electric shuttle that runs the length of downtown. Whether you’re shopping, dining, or just people-watching, State Street offers a quintessential Santa Barbara experience.

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