A Santa Barbara vacation should definitely include a walk on the beach.

Use this Insider's Travel Guide to customize your Santa Barbara vacation.

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Santa Barbara Vacation
Planning Guide

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A Santa Barbara vacation means spending lots of time outdoors. The weather here is so beautiful, you can't help but get outside to enjoy the sunshine!

Santa Barbara County has everything you need for a first-class holiday, too. The best room and board that money can buy.

But you don't need a lot of money to enjoy a Santa Barbara vacation...

Santa Barbara On A Budget

Contrary to popular belief, it's entirely possible to have a great Santa Barbara vacation without spending a fortune. It IS possible to find a decent room for a reasonable rate in Santa Barbara County.

Of course, the least expensive place to stay is in your own tent or RV. Santa Barbara County is home to some of the best beach campgrounds on the Pacific Coast.

There are also two National Parks in Santa Barbara County. Los Padres National Park includes much of the mountain range between Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley. There are lots of places to go hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and camping in California.

You'll see Channel Islands National Park just offshore. Day trips are available. There are campgrounds on each of those islands, too. This post will help you plan your island trips.

Here are some free and discounted things you can do in Santa Barbara County:

One of my favorite free things to do in Santa Barbara is to go on the Red Tile Walking Tour, a self guided tour of Santa Barbara's historic downtown.

An earthquake destroyed much of Santa Barbara in 1925. This happened during the height of the Spanish Colonial architectural revival.

Santa Barbara leaders adopted the Spanish style and mandated its use in re-building many of the city buildings. The white stucco walls and red tile roofs have become symbolic of Santa Barbara, California.

I was awestruck the first time I saw the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. It's a National Historic Landmark and a MUST SEE during your Santa Barbara vacation.

If you're interested in seeing more of Santa Barbara's Historic District, download a map of the Red Tile Walking Tour.

Santa Barbara Things To Do

If you have more than a shoe-string budget, you can have lots of fun in Santa Barbara. Here are my recommendations:

Santa Barbara Attractions & Activities

Well-known Santa Barbara attractions include the Santa Barbara Mission, Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, and Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. Your vacation need not be limited to visiting these famous attractions.

You definitely want to spend some time along the waterfront during your Santa Barbara vacation. This is Tourist Central for a reason; there's so much to do here.

The beach along the Santa Barbara, California waterfront is composed of three individual beaches. Leadbetter Beach lies to the west of the harbor. West Beach is between Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf, and East Beach is east of Stearns Wharf.

  • Santa Barbara is famous for its wine tasting. Walk inland from East Beach on Anacapa Street, and you'll be surrounded by several Santa Barbara wineries. This area is known as The Funk Zone.

  • Visit Stearns Wharf. Download your map of this Santa Barbara pier.

  • if you're feeling nostalgic, have breakfast at the original and only remaining Sambo's Restaurant.

  • In Santa Barbara Harbor, there are sailing tours, SCUBA tours, and kayaking tours.

  • Have lunch at Brophy's at the Harbor. Download your Santa Barbara Harbor map for more other places to see at the harbor.

  • Go whale watching in Santa Barbara.

  • Shoreline Cafe tables in the sandStop at the Shoreline Cafe on Leadbetter Beach for a toes-in-the-sand dining experience.

  • Go on a Segway tour: along the beach, to the Courthouse, and around the Mission

  • Santa Barbara rentals are available for just about anything you need for fun in the sun at the ocean. Rent wheels on the waterfront: bicycles, Segway, surreys, and in-line skates. Rent a jet ski, jet boat, kayak, rowing scull or pedal boat.

  • Try stand up paddling or learn to surf on your Santa Barbara vacation. You'll see people windsurfing and kite boarding, too.

  • Pack a picnic and play volleyball on East Beach.

  • On most Sundays and several Holiday Saturdays, you'll see Santa Barbara County's Arts & Crafts Fair at Chase Palm Park along the beach. A Santa Barbara tradition since 1965.

    Art Walk on Cabrillo Blvd.

  • There's a Carriage and Western Art Museum in Pershing Park, across from the Harbor. If you're interested in the Old West and antique Western carriages, wagons, horse tack, bridles and saddles, this is definitely worth a stop.

  • East of Stearns Wharf at the corner of Cabrillo and Garden you'll find the Santa Barbara Tourist Center, Skater's Point skate park and the Chase Palm Park carousel.

  • From the beach, continue walking inland on State Street into charming Old Town.

    State Street in Santa Barbara, California

    You might need a whole day to explore the shops, restaurants, and extraordinary architecture there. Lower State Street near the beach is also the heart of Santa Barbara's night life.

Santa Barbara Events

One great way to plan a Santa Barbara vacation is to schedule it around an event you'd like to attend. There are several historic performing arts venues in Santa Barbara: The Granada, The Arlington Theatre, The Lobero, the Santa Barbara Bowl and the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez.

Annual events include:

Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Late January - Early February

Banff Film Festival - Late February - Arlington Theater.

Santa Barbara Tours

Taking a guided tour is a great way to learn more about Santa Barbara County. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Bicycle Tour

If you're in good shape and up for a challenge, try one of these Do It Yourself Bike Rides. Conditions in Santa Barbara County are perfect for cycling. In fact, Tour de France athletes often train here. There are several places in Santa Barbara County to rent a good bicycle.

You could even go cycling in wine country. Price includes a gourmet picnic lunch, wine tasting, bike rental, helmet, professional guide and water bottle.

Fly Over Santa Barbara

There are lots of ways to see Santa Barbara from above. If you follow my exclusive scenic drive you won't ever have to leave the ground! The views from the top of the mountain range behind Santa Barbara are breathtaking.

Pack a picnic lunch and plenty of water. This drive takes you past the Knapp's Castle ruins, a picnic table at La Cumbre Peak, and two paraglider/hang glider launches.

For those of you who are really adventurous, go for a tandem paragliding flight from the mountains or from the training hill.

Or, learn how to fly a paraglider yourself. Take paragliding lessons.

If you're a little less adventurous, go for a ride in a Cessna or learn to fly one yourself! Float over beautiful Santa Ynez Valley in a hot-air balloon. Or take a whale watching helicopter tour and fly over the Channel Islands.

Wine Tasting Tour

For wine tasting in the vineyards, take one of my self guided Santa Ynez winery tours. If you'd rather not drive (highly recommended), hire a private Jeep driver or go on a Jeep Wine Tour with a group.

There are lots of ways to go wine tasting: you can walk through the Funk Zone go by limo, hire a personal driver , use a pedicab, and travel by jeep , bus and bicycle .

Golfing & Fishing In Santa Barbara

Rather play golf during your Santa Barbara vacation? There are almost too many Santa Barbara golf courses to count.

Do you love to fish? There are 21 lakes and reservoirs where you can go fishing in Santa Barbara County. Or take advantage of the ocean and try deep sea fishing on your vacation.

Visit An Historic Estate

The Stow House Museum and Rancho La Patera in Goleta is an historic California lemon ranch. From the Railroad Museum there, take a scenic day trip to San Luis Obispo in a vintage Pullman railroad club car.

Several Montecito estates are open to the public. If you're interested in rare plants, take the Lotusland tour.

Lotusland Bath House A beautiful pond at Lotusland.

This tour does not include inside the home. I was a little disappointed by that, but the gardens are magnificent.

Another Montecito estate which is open to the public is Casa del Herrero, essentially unchanged since 1925. Many local residents still haven't discovered this local treasure.

As you can see, there are plenty of things to do and see on your Santa Barbara vacation. And the discount programs make it more affordable than you might think. So, pack your bags and come enjoy a California beach vacation in Santa Barbara County.

Plan Your Santa Barbara Getaway

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