The top reasons to go to Santa Barbara are for the beautiful sun and sand along the coastline beaches. Nicknamed the American Riviera for its temperate weather and lush vegetation, the area is more than just a luxurious paradise. In fact, you will find plenty of fun things to do in Santa Barbara, including brushes with impressive art, tours of magnificent gardens and activities fit for people of all ages.
If you are looking for things to do in Santa Barbara, give some of these options a try between your relaxing trips to the beach.
1. Watch a Performance at the Lobero Theatre
As the oldest continuously performing theater in the state of California, Lobero Theatre is both an architectural achievement and a performance treasure. The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra and the State Street Ballet both consider the Lobero Theatre to be their home, but you will find other professional and community groups gracing the stage at different points during the year. With a track record of jazz greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, and notable actors, such as Clark Gable and Igor Stravinsky, having appeared at the Lobero Theatre, this venue is definitely worth a visit.
You can purchase tickets to theater performances online, in person or by phone. The box office is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets are also available at the box office two hours before any performance begins. Although the cost of the tickets varies for each show, there is a $4 facility fee applied to all purchases that goes toward the upkeep of the theater. However, that is a small price to pay for such excellent things to do in Santa Barbara.
2. Tour the Santa Barbara County Wineries
You can combine your time outdoors in the beautiful California weather with wine tasting at the many local vineyards. Taking a tour through the wineries with experienced sommeliers is one of the most satisfying things to do in Santa Barbara. Most wine tours are small, with fewer than a dozen people allowed in the group, to give you a better opportunity to enjoy the experience.
There are many different groups that lead these types of tours through the county. Find one that is certified and that plans to visit the wineries that most interest you. Although most tours will allow participants of any age, keep in mind that only those over the age of 21 will be permitted to enjoy the free samples typically included in the tour package. Most tours last for the entire day because you are shuttled to various wineries, and many also include a packed lunch in one of the vineyards.
3. Wander Along Stearns Wharf
Stearns Wharf is the oldest wooden wharf continuously used in California. It was constructed in 1872, and since then it has been used first for passenger and freight services and now as a business and tourist location. Today, there are a wide variety of different restaurants and shops along the expanse, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center and the Channel Islands Exhibit Hall. These exceptional informational experiences are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Take the water taxi from the Santa Barbara Harbor to Stearns Wharf any time between noon and sunset, or book a session on the Celebration Cruises luxury passenger yacht. You can have your fortune read at Madame Rosinka’s palm and tarot card parlor, or you can shop at one of the many clothing and sea-themed shops along the pier. Finish your day with a meal at the Harbor Restaurant, the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company or Longboard’s Beach Bar and Grill for a little piece of the sea cooked fresh and on your plate.
4. Explore the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
If the weather is unexpectedly rainy or if you are looking for an indoor activity, check out the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. This local museum was founded in 1916, and it has been providing some informative things to do in Santa Barbara ever since. You will find the exhibits distributed between several mission-style buildings throughout the 12 acres of oak woodlands. These exhibits include a 74-foot whale skeleton as well as several other fossils of birds, mammals and marine life. There is a great children’s collection in the Museum Library as well.
This natural history museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Adults pay $12 to enter the exhibits, and teens ages 13-17 years owe $8. Children ages 2-12 years cost just $7 to enter this museum. You can also purchase tickets to the planetarium for an additional $4 per person. The museum runs a Free Family Sundays program on the third Sunday of every month except those in May, June, July and August.
5. Browse the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market
The Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market has been serving the area since 1983 via its more than 130 members. If you are looking for a place to buy agricultural products directly from local farmers, visiting this market is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara. You will find a wide variety of fresh options, from olive oil to berries to many nut varieties.
You can wander through the aisles of the downtown market on Tuesday and Saturday, but there are also several other locations throughout the city that are open on other days of the week. Go to Goleta on Sunday and Thursday, Montecito on Friday, Carpinteria on Thursday and Solvang on Wednesday. The times vary by location, but all information is readily available at the market’s well-kept website.
6. Stroll the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
You will find 78 acres of beautifully maintained land containing more than 1,000 different plant species at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Since its founding in 1926, this spot has become one of the most popular things to do in Santa Barbara. You can hike the trails along Mission Creek and view the Native American rock dam that has been a part of the area since 1806. Marvel at the garden’s Redwood Forest that is home to some of the most impressive specimens of this giant tree. You will also find the garden’s Herbarium, Garden Shop and Garden Growers Retail Nursery worthy of your visit.
You have the option for a self-guided tour or a docent-led tour upon your visit to the Botanic Garden, both of which are excellent ways to spend a sunny afternoon in the city. The garden is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from March to October, and it closes earlier at 5:00 p.m. from November to February. Adults pay $10 to enter while children ages 13-17 years and senior citizens over 60 years cost $8. Children ages 2-12 years are permitted for $6.
7. Indulge in a Romantic Meal at Toma
There are many fantastic places to eat in Santa Barbara, but one of the top attractions is Toma, an Italian restaurant located directly on the coastline. Visitors love Toma because it serves classic and delicious Italian dishes, and it offers beautiful views of the harbor that are perfect for a romantic occasion. The executive chef of Toma creates each menu based on the produce of local farmers, the creations of local food artisans and the catches of local fishermen. This attention to Santa Barbara ingredients is part of what makes Toma such a unique dining option.
The small menu changes frequently with the local provisions, but most entrees run $20-30. Be sure to check out the cioppino with fresh fish, the clams in saffron tomato broth and the fresh prawns and calamari. Toma also boasts an impressive list of Italian wines that will perfectly complement the chef’s special creations.
As a city famous for its nearly perfect year-round weather and its fantastic views of the water, there are many fun things to do in Santa Barbara. From learning about local maritime customs and creatures to wandering gardens of flowers and redwoods, there are many activities in Santa Barbara that will allow you to enjoy its outdoor atmosphere and its rich seaside history. Be sure to check out this gem of a city on the California coastline.