10 Ways to Experience the Best of Santa Barbara

By Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor April 22nd, 2016 Posted in DIY Travel, Travel Blog, Travel Guides One Comment

About Santa Barbara and Things to do

If you’re visiting Santa Barbara, you’ll find there are a variety of different types of activities to partake in.  Weather isn’t ever a concern.  If you’re searching for an outdoor activity, you’ve chosen the best place.   Whether leisure, sightseeing, or all the above, you’re in luck.  This review will cover everything from luxury to the rugged outdoors.  I’ll make some suggestions that locals and tourists alike can enjoy.  There’s plenty of off the beaten path free activities many reviews won’t cover.  I’ll give you my local advice, and share some of my favorite things to do.  

Santa Barbara resembles a quaint Spanish Villa, with near perfect consistency among its architecture.  You’ll find white buildings, with red tiled roofs that line the cityscape. What it’s setting is conveniently sandwiched between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

The Weather

The weather in Santa Barbara a fantastic the Southern Mediterranean geography like  Greece, Spain, or Italy. These all share a similar geographical latitude.  Santa Barbara is technically classified as a coastal desert, the Los Padres mountains and the ocean and offer it lush and temperate. 

Santa Barbara Harbor
Santa Barbara Harbor view from Breakwater

When it’s Happening in Santa Barbara is between May and September, this is when the majority of tourists will arrive.  But, in my opinion, the best time to visit is December through February. 

To best enjoy your stay in Santa Barbara considers planning your visit accordingly.

Peak Season– Santa Barbara’s peak season is undoubtedly between May and September.  Weather can be slightly overcast in the morning May-July. Early mid morning sunshine will break up the fog and turn abundantly sunny, and a refreshing onshore breeze can be expected later in the day.  Temperatures range from 58/75 Fahrenheit at night and day, or 14/24 Celsius respectively.  Later in the season, temps are much drier, and range from 63/83 Fahrenheit night and day, or 17/28 Celsius.  Summer has it’s advantages and disadvantages. It will be much busier to get tours arranged.  There will be fewer tables at restaurants.  Roads will have more traffic, etc.   But, if you want to see Santa Barbara come alive, this is the time to visit. Note, Ocean temperatures range from 62/67 Fahrenheit or 16/20 Celsius.

Off Peak Season– Santa Barbara’s off peak season is around October-March.  California has been experiencing a climate phenomenon lasting semi permanently called La Nina.  This pattern stimulates more sunny days with less rain, and hot “Indian summer” like days.  Many days in the winter can be equally as warm as summer, however with much cooler evenings, and clearer days, with less wind. It is always a good idea to dress in layers.  If you are an active person, the off peak season is the best time to explore the mountains, go on a wine tour in the valley, or lay out on the pristine beaches. Ocean temperatures range from 55/62 Fahrenheit or 13/16 Celsius with the coldest temperatures during spring due to coastal upwelling.  Just check online to see the Santa Barbara Average Weather.

What to do in Santa Barbara, California!

1. Go for a hike! 

Santa Barbara is known for having excellent mountain terrain right next to the beach.  You can treat yourself to some scenic exercise where the beach-scape Vista is prominent as you ascend thousands of vertical feet.  There are a variety of different day hikes that are easily accessible with street parking.  Trails are usually dog-friendly, and range in difficulty there is something for everyone.  For references refer to Santa Barbara Hikes.

Hiking Santa Barbara Trails
Hiking Santa Barbara Trails

2. Cruise by the beach

By now you’ve figured out Santa Barbara is a coastal town and there are many ways to enjoy the beach.  For starters, beaches are clean and free of seaweed, with plenty of space to throw a towel down.  The most popular are East and West beach, on either side of Stearns Wharf respectively.  There’s a convenient path for bikes and pedestrians that span the entire length of Santa Barbara’s limits. Spanning from the Bird Refuge on the east end, to Santa Barbara City College on the west end, it’s truly a spectacular ride.

Cabrillo Blvd Surrey Ride
Cabrillo Blvd Surrey Ride

One popular method of transportation is to take a surrey bike with you and your friends.  They can Sports through Wheel Fun Rentals. They are directly across from the Dolphin fountain and Stearns Wharf.  You’ll pedal with your friends, and enjoy all the sights.  You can stop at your leisure for a picnic, or dip in the refreshing Pacific Ocean. 

Wheel Fun Rentals Surrey Ride
Wheel Fun Rentals Surrey Ride

3. Leisure at the beach

If you are thinking about lounging beachside, with your toes in the sand, bringing a quiver of beach accessories can be tiring, and unnecessary.  Don’t bother with carrying chairs, umbrellas, and water toys through the hot sand.  This is both unnecessary and tiring in my opinion.  Just head down to East Beach Rentals and grab a chair, umbrella, kayak, and or paddle board and call it a day.  They conveniently located within walking distance from the Cabrillo Bath House.   The address is 1118 Cabrillo Blvd. You can call or just stop by.  Phone number (805) 564-1106.

4. Relax at the Salt Caves

One of Santa Barbara’s downtown hiding gems are the Salt Caves located at 740 State St. Treat yourself to a subterranean Salt Cave experience. There you’ll find anti gravity chairs and dimmed lighting.  You can also listen to relaxing music and absorb minerals into your body from the salt.  There are 40 Tons of 250 million-year-old Himalayan salt blocks, and crystals line the walls.  The Salt’s ionic charges can be felt as your lungs breathe in the healing minerals.  This is the biggest salt cave in North America.  You can just relax for a session or even get a full massage and spa treatment.  Be sure to check them out. It’s an experience your body won’t forget.

5. Wine, Dine, and Stay

There are many hotels to stay at in Santa Barbara.  Considering prime location first, I’ll cover two that you should consider.

 

Hilton Double Tree Two Monkeys
Arriving at the Hilton Double Tree

 

The Fess Parker: A Doubletree by Hilton Resort is one of the hotels located best in Santa Barbara.  It’s green lawns, and beachfrontrooms span the entire east side of Cabrillo Blvd.  Its views are unobstructed, other than palm trees, the Channel Islands, and the horizon.  You could throw a rock and end up on the beach path that connects to State St. and downtown.  The Hilton Double Tree ranks high on my scale of luxury hotels in Santa Barbara for the reasons mentioned above.  Also, it’s a top-tier luxury hotel, offering 5-star service, and amenities.  From the moment you walk in the door, you’ll know why chose to stay there.  Service, decor, ambiance, and luxury vibes are on point.

Looking to stay off the beaten path, and beachfront?  Wouldn’t recommend any other than the Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara.

Treat yourself to Santa Barbara’s best beachfront hotel and private restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, and Coral Casino Spa and Cabana Club.  This is a must stay and eat destination for the luxury traveler and food enthusiast.  Gain access to the private Coral Casino and Tydes restaurant through a night’s stay at the Four Seasons Resort, The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara
Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara

If you’re staying at the Four Seasons Biltmore, eat dinner, and enjoy an unforgettable sunset cocktail.  The Tydes restaurant and coral are not open to the public.  They are an exclusive member club, other than Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel guests.   Reference my article, Coral Casino Santa Barbara for further details.   I cover the food and our personal experiences in greater depth. 

The Two Monkeys Travel Group at Tydes Restaurant
The Two Monkeys Travel Group at Tydes Restaurant

6. Go for a Drive

Looking for a fun road to see Santa Barbara from beaches to mountains in the comfort of your car?  Start down by the beach on Cabrillo Blvd after a day in the sand, and head up Gibraltar Rd to East Camino Cielo Rd.  It’s approximately a 30-minute drive up this windy mountain road. 

East Camino Cielo Gibraltar
East Camino and Cielo Gibraltar Rd

The road carves its way through the luscious chaparral-covered mountains and reveals 20 miles of visible coastline in both directions.  It’s such an iconic vista that photos won’t even do it justice, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to try.  Just a word of caution, bicycles, pedestrians, and locals use the road frequently so, please be vigilant while driving. Drive slowly, and take in all the beautiful sights.  Best of all, you can get the bigger picture of Santa Barbara’s layout, and it’ll only cost you gas.

East Camino Cielo Drive View
East Camino Cielo Drive View

7. Santa Barbara by Sea 

Want to experience Santa Barbara by way of both land and ocean, then the Land Shark will offer the perfect guided short tour, which you’ll share with other enthusiastic tourists.  The Land Shark will peruse some of Santa Barbara’s most popular sights. Then the tour will culminate with a galavant through the harbor and surrounding beaches.  This is a good all in one experience to check out the town, and some of its most historic landmarks. 

Serena and the LandShark
Serena and the LandShark

If you are Looking for something more intimate, try a sports fishing trip, or a trip to the Channel Islands.   The islands are only 22 miles off shore and easily accessible.  I’d recommend the following guides. 

For a fishing trip, Tony Vultaggio at Santa Barbara Sport Fishing.   He will take care of all the details, from supplying the hooks to filleting fish you’ll catch.  One of our favorite ways to bring the friends and family out and guarantee a catch.   He’s a US Coast Guard Licensed guide and is local to Santa Barbara and has fished here his whole life.  He’s easy going, professional, patient and accommodating to everyone’s needs.  Book with him at (805) 637-3425, tell him Kalon sent you. 

Fishing Trip with Santa Barbara Sport Fishing
Fishing Trip with Santa Barbara Sport Fishing

A captain that can take out for the day to the nearby Channel Islands I’d call Martin Santos with 450Dive.  He’ll take you Scuba diving, snorkeling, beaching, or relaxing.  He operates a renovated Boston Whaler.  The powerful fun boat will take you charging down the coast, or be at the Channel Islands within an hour.  Martin can organize any level of the custom tour you’re looking for.  His vessel can accommodate around 4-6 people with comfort.  Give him a call or text at (805)450-3483

450 Dive Boat
450 Dive Boat

8. Take a trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo

Looking to safari without traveling to Africa?  The Santa Barbara Zoo brings that experience right to you and on the beach no less.  The Santa Barbara Zoo is an amazing place for all ages.  The Zoo is a great place to check out various events, especially during the summer.  Besides their regular tours, they are always hosting educational sessions, events, live music, etc.  It’s a powerhouse for activity in Santa Barbara and is much more than just a place to see animals.  They have an amazing little train that will take you all the way through the premises. It’ll guide, and educate you about the premises.  A scenic way to kick back and relax with the whole family.  Check them out online for up to date events and programs. SBZoo.org 

9. Water Sports

Looking to explore the beach through athletic activities.  Taking a surf lesson in the temperate waters, or going for a relaxing paddle board could have your name on it.  The water in Santa Barbara is never too cold to enjoy. There’s always a wetsuit available for those that need some extra warmth. 

If you are going to be adventurous and go for a surf, give the guys at A-Frame Surf Shop a ring.  Call (805) 684-8803 to schedule a lesson or get local info.  They are the most knowledgeable local guys to a take a lesson from.  They grew up in the area and specialize in reading local swells, and working with beginners.

A Frame Surf Shop full service retail needs
A Frame Surf Shop full-service retail needs

A Frame can set you up with everything from sunscreen and sandals, to surfboards.  They are on the famous Santa Claus Lane Beach, in Carpinteria, just 10 minutes from downtown.  On a side note, it’s always good to support local surf shops.  They are essential to the beach community and  offer local ocean knowledge.  They also keep the beach safe and a fun place for all. 

Surf Instruction at A Frame Surf Shop
Surf Instruction at A Frame Surf Shop
Kalon Surfing
Kalon Surfing

Harbor Activities and More

If you’re looking for a soft, yet assertive workout, try Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP).   The Santa Barbara Harbor is a great place to get adventurous.  The folks at Paddle Sports Center can get you aquatinted with a board or vessel.   They are located conveniently in the Santa Barbara Harbor behind Brophy Brothers Restaurant.  They’ll be happy to show you the tricks and tips, to keep you on your feet.  You can cruise at your own pace and relax, or work up a sweat.  You’ll check out a host of different sailboats, yachts, local dolphins and friendly sea lions. This is a great activity by yourself, or in any size group.  Rates are reasonable, and gear is well maintained.  Check them out online Paddle Sports Center.  SUP’ing is not as hard as it looks, and falling in the water might put a smile on your face. Give it a try. You won’t regret it.

Serena Stand up Paddle Boarding (SUP)
Serena Stand up Paddle Boarding (SUP)

Explore the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands Outfitters are an excellent spot for Island Camping, and Kayaking trips.  Then you can talk to them about booking a trip while renting a stand-up paddleboard.  As a local, I can tell you one thing.  If you haven’t been to the Channel Islands and paddled through sea caves, you are missing out.  Santa Barbara Channel Islands are home to some of the biggest sea caves in the world.  Tidal fluctuations allow you to rise and fall giving visibility to a plethora of marine life.  Their trips are all inclusive, lunch, wetsuits etc.   All you need to do is show up and bring your attitude for adventure.  You can get a better idea of what they offer at their site Channel Islands Outfitters.

Channel Islands Outfitters
Channel Islands Outfitters Island Trip

10. Experience being a Local

Santa Barbara has a strikingly active local culture, from micro breweries and wineries to art galleries and a farmers market. There’s plenty to suit your desires.  The “Funk Zone” is one of Santa Barbara’s most up and coming havens for local artisans.  The Funk Zone is in the old warehouse district of Santa Barbara.  You’ll see creative multi-use spaces, including industrially themed art galleries, breweries and wineries alike.  There’s too much information for the scope of this article.  But be sure to visit this site and get a grip on the many ways to enjoy “The Funk Zone.”

Art Funk Zone
Art This Way
Food Funk Zone
Wall of Pennies at Lucky Penny Funk Zone
Drink Wine in the Funk Zone
Drink Wine in the Funk Zone

There are usually one farmer’s markets per day all week.  Year round, organic, local produce are available to the public. It’s a treat to grab some fresh honey, strawberries, greens, nuts and so much more.  Check out this site to get up to date information and details, Santa Barbara Farmers Market.

Santa Barbara has a tremendous local art community.  The inspiring American Rivera has led so many people to create art. Luckily it’s available the to public to enjoy and buy on Sundays along Cabrillo Blvd.  You’ll find everything from local Photography, wind chimes, paintings, woodwork, ceramic work, textile creations and more.  If you’re here on Sunday, you owe yourself a stroll through the Artwalk.  All creations are handmade, local, range in price, and are mostly themed around Santa Barbara.  More information about the Artwalk Arts and Crafts show at Art Walk Santa Barbara site

Note: Many of these unique experiences are organically my opinions.  Some of these awesome activities were made possible in part with cooperation from Visit Santa Barbara.

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One thought on “10 Ways to Experience the Best of Santa Barbara

  1. Hey Kalon,

    Great post mate! I only had one day in Santa Barbara when I went, but I’m heading back to SoCal for a wedding later this year – think you’ve just cemented where I’m going to book my accommodation 🙂

    I can’t remember the name of the actual place – but theres a microbrewery there which serves the best French Dip Sandwich I’ve ever had in my entire life. My favourite memory of SB, haha.

    Thanks for the share,

    James

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Written by Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor

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