Just a few hours north of Los Angeles, you’ll find the quiet beach community of Santa Barbara, which is bursting with many exciting things to do with kids. In addition to the amazing beaches, you can explore unique museums, lush gardens, and family-friendly shopping and dining experiences. With so much in one spot, Santa Barbara is the perfect place to take a road trip with kids for your next family vacation.
Fun Things to do with Kids in Santa Barbara
Note to our readers, we try to keep things as up to date as possible, but things change all the time. Please contact the venue directly before visiting.
From outdoor adventures to historic sights, Santa Barbara has so much to offer visitors of all ages.
Water Sports and Activities, Parks & Trails
If you are looking for outdoor adventure, there’s plenty to be found, including:
- Whale watching
- Stand-up paddleboard at the local surf breaks
- Guided kayaking excursions for all levels
- Explore the marine life around the Santa Barbara Harbor or the Channel Islands National Park.
Santa Barbara Parasail Co. is new to the scene, and their invigorating flights will get you soaring up to 1,000 feet above the sea, granting absolutely epic views. The family-friendly experience is open to ages five and over, and even those afraid of heights walk away feeling safe and happy they conquered their fears.
Spring is also the prime time for whale watching season in Santa Barbara. Massive gray whales can be spotted migrating through the nutrient-rich channel, many with their newborn calves in tow. Whale-watching cruises promise to surprise and delight all ages with nature’s majesty.
If you’re short on time but really want to get out on the water, hop aboard Lil’ Toot, a charming water taxi that runs between Stearns Wharf and our working Harbor. (The captain even lets kids take the helm for a spell!) Back on shore, you can take advantage of the sightseeing telescopes on Stearns Wharf to scout for whales or watch the fishermen bring in their hauls at the Harbor. There are also tons of popular bike trails in Santa Barbara to check out.
Attractions & Activities
Ranked consistently as one of the country’s best small zoos, the Santa Barbara Zoo alone is worth a trip to the city. The 30 acres of lush botanical gardens are home to more than 500 animals, including lions, gorillas, California condors, Masai giraffes, and more. Don’t miss the Zoo train, a fan favorite for the younger kids.
Take a stroll along the pier, where you can take advantage of the sightseeing telescopes on Stearns Wharf to scout for whales or watch the fishermen bring in their hauls at the Harbor. There are plenty of restaurants and shops to explore and even an aquarium.
Nothing beats exploring Santa Barbara by bike. Rent a double surrey from Wheel Fun Bike Rentals and cruise along the famous coastal bike paths together, or hit one of several other popular bike trails in Santa Barbara.
As many SoCal fifth graders know, Old Mission Santa Barbara was established in 1786. Today the Mission operations include a museum, gift shop, cemetery, mausoleum, and several historic gardens, as well as being the home to a community of Franciscan Friars on about 15 acres.
Museums & Gardens
This innovative family museum is the perfect spot for kids of all ages who enjoy hands-on, creative exploration and experiences in STEAM. Kids will love engaging in the highly interactive exhibits that feature problem-solving, art, and imaginative play.
Widely regarded as a model botanic garden, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a living museum dedicated to researching, educating, and conserving California native plants. The 78-acre space is divided into zones representing the various geographical regions of California and the habitats and small wildlife found naturally in these spaces. The garden also features several walking trails and even climbing rocks, perfect for young explorers.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History includes more than 3.5 million specimens covering every aspect of natural history—from mammals, birds, and marine life to geology, astronomy, paleontology, and anthropology. Newly renovated in 2018, the Museum boasts state-of-the-art interactive exhibits for all ages, paired with the Central Coast’s only planetarium on 17 acres of oak woodland along Mission Creek. Guests learn about the Santa Barbara region’s unique and diverse natural history and then go outside to explore nature in the Museum’s Backyard. Dino fans will go crazy for the Prehistoric Forest, where you can discover dinosaurs out in the wild!
Lotusland is a Botanic Garden located in Montecito, California. The 37-acre estate and botanic garden is home to nearly 3,600 plants from around the world. The Gardens are a delight to everyone. The rare and exotic collections are nestled among 25 different gardens in an idyllic setting in the foothills of Santa Barbara.
Discover the wonders of ocean life at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Located on historic Stearns Wharf, this highly interactive regional aquarium offers close encounters with Santa Barbara Channel marine animals. In addition to permanent exhibits, the Sea Center hosts unique events and special educational programming.
Pack a picnic and head to the A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden. Adjacent to the Santa Barbara Mission, the garden contains over 1,500 rose plants among grassy fields and is maintained throughout the year by Rose Society members, Parks Division staff, and volunteers.
The Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden boasts a large botanical collection of 75 different tree and plant species, walking paths, picnic areas, and a gazebo. Families can feed the ducks, and your little ones can play at Kid’s World playground across the street. The newest garden within the park is the sensory garden area where visually and physically impaired visitors can enjoy the variety of scents and sounds and the interesting textural variation of the foliage of plants.
Life is better at the Beach–and so is breakfast, lunch, or dinner! Located right on Leadbetter Beach, Shoreline Café is the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of Santa Barbara while enjoying a delicious meal. With an extensive menu sure to satisfy any craving, they have served Santa Barbara locals and visitors since 1997.
Located on Santa Barbara’s pristine waterfront, the Santa Barbara FisHouse offers some of the central coast’s finest fresh seafood.
In the heart of downtown, right off State Street, is the Santa Barbara Public Market, where the sheer variety of options is key to the perfect family meal. The whole family can get entrées from different vendors—tacos, noodles, burgers, pizza, vegan wraps, sushi, you name it! And everyone can end with a scoop of ice cream at Rori’s. Speaking of icy treats, the kids’ meals at Creekside Bar & Grill in “Noleta” include a popsicle dessert.
Sometimes familiarity is what kids seek, and for that, we steer you towards Eureka! in Paseo Nuevo, where you’ll find the reliable craft American classics the chain is known for—as well as their stellar beer selection.
Wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches are so delicious the kids won’t even know they are digging into the gourmet-level fare.
Family-Friendly Hotels & Accommodations
The Ramada by Wyndham is the perfect setting for your Santa Barbara getaway, featuring lush gardens, a fresh-water lagoon, and colorful koi ponds. The kids will love splashing in the year-round heated pool and feeding the turtles in the pond, while the grown-ups will appreciate the first-rate accommodations at a budget-friendly price.
For bigger budgets, families will enjoy the outdoor family programs at the Bacara: The Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment leads hiking tours, among other activities near the hotel.
Need some ideas on places to go? Check out these fun for kids city guides!
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