Known as the “American Riviera”, Santa Barbara is one of California’s treasures. Beautiful landscapes, connection to historic roots, beach attitude, and appreciation of art and culture combine in this beloved seaside city. In honor of The Event Team’s 20 year anniversary we will celebrate this amazing city with 20 Ways to Play in Santa Barbara.
1. Queen of the Missions: Considered the grandest of the California Missions, Mission Santa Barbara is an immaculately maintained historic landmark, museum, Franciscan friary, and parish church. Founded in 1786, this must-see landmark is an amazing place to re-live California’s rich history of Spanish colonization. Festivals and community events are held at this spectacular mission from which the city gets its namesake.
2. Wonderful Wine: Santa Barbara Wine Country is a premiere wine region in California. Home to some of America’s most popular wines, the Santa Barbara area contains several options of wineries and vineyards to choose from. Wine tours allow guests to sample and experience many of them at one time. Some of the region’s most popular include Fess Parker Winery, Firestone Vineyard, Kalyra Winery, and Sanguis.
3. Artful Living: Art is a major part of Santa Barbara culture and many artists call the city home. In addition to children’s exhibits, The Santa Barbara Art Museum maintains a significant collection of ancient and modern pieces. Its classical courtyard is also a sight to behold. Dedicated to cultivating the next generation of artists, The Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum presents cutting edge exhibitions in visual, new media, and performing arts. Admission is Free!
4. Surf and Sand: Beach and surf culture is also a major part of Santa Barbara living. Head down to Arroyo Burro Beach or any of the area’s many gorgeous beaches to catch some waves and rays. You might run in to one of the city’s barefoot celebrity residents such as Tom Curren, Kelly Slater, and Jack Johnson.
5. Flower Power: Visitors may be surprised to learn of Santa Barbara’s stunning plant-based attractions. The incredible Lotusland is a 37-acre botanic garden dedicated to endangered exotics and cacti located on the former estate of famed opera singer and flower enthusiast Madame Ganna Walska. On the opposite side of the scale is Santa Barbara Botanic Garden which features 70 acres of native regional plants for viewing and hiking through. The Santa Barbara Orchid Estate boasts a massive collection of various orchid species. Don’t forget to rest in the generous shade of the famous Moreton Bay Fig Tree, the largest of its kind in the country!
6. Stroll on Stearns: Santa Barbara’s most visited attraction is Stearns Wharf. Likely the most beautiful wharf on the California coast, this is the premiere place to sample seafood and browse touristy souvenir shops. Take a stroll at sunset and capture the perfect Santa Barbara Kodak moment.
7. Animal Adventures: Dubbed “The World’s Most Beautiful Zoo”, Santa Barbara Zoo is located on 30 acres next to the ocean and features approximately 600 animals. Giraffes, capybaras, and California condors are among the most popular residents. Showcasing the local aquatic creatures is Ty Warner Sea Center located on Stearns Wharf. The educational center features many interactive exhibits for the whole family including shark and tidepool touch tanks.
8. Prestigious Performances: Built in 1924, the historic Granada is home to the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts. Since completion of a $60 million restoration project, the complex hosts a year-round schedule of world class talent. Local and international touring acts include classical and pop concerts, Broadway musicals, plays, dance, and much more.
9. Fabulous Food: An abundance of seafood and fresh produce, awareness of healthy organics and farming techniques, and wine country culture make for a perfect storm of incredible eateries in Santa Barbara. Some of the city’s finest foodie restaurants include Bouchon, Stonehouse Restaurant, Opal Restaurant and Bar, Pace Food+Drink, and Julienne. Mac’s Fish & Chip Shop, Freebirds, and Burger Bus serve popular local grinds.
10. Western White House: While Ronald Reagan’s historic west coast home, Rancho del Cielo, is closed to the public, the essence of the Western White House and the history of Reagan’s presidency come alive at the Reagan Ranch Center. Original Reagan artifacts accompany state-of-the-art, interactive, multimedia exhibits highlighting the time he spent in Santa Barbara. Enjoy exclusive speeches, interviews, radio addresses, and original video presentations while exploring the life of one of the century’s most influential figures
11. Nature Walk: While the beach is fantastic, there are many natural areas inland for hiking, camping, and recreation as well. Lake Cochuma is a popular spot for camping and boating. Seven Falls, Andree Clark Bird Refuge, Rattlesnake Canyon Trail, and Nojoqui Falls County Park are popular hiking destinations for wildlife watching. Spectacular views await on the old Pony Express and stagecoach trails traversing Cold Springs mountain.
12. Shopping!: State Street is Santa Barbara’s main commercial hub. It is seven attractive miles of shops, restaurants, and bars! Upscale, downscale, touristy, and every kind of shop in between line the often crowded street. There are plenty of outdoor café patios to rest at when the shopping gets too exhausting.
13. Link to the Past: Mission Santa Barbara is not the only historic sight in town! El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park houses the military center that protected the Spanish/Mexican soldiers back when the city began in 1782. Still in the process of renovation, El Presidio features displays and hosts special events that bring history to life. Some of the other many historic landmarks include Casa del Herrero, Lobero Theater, Casa de la Guerra, Rafael Gonzales House, and Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park, where one can admire authentic ancient Native American art.
14. Falling with Style: Enjoy Santa Barbara’s most epic panoramic views by jumping out of an aircraft 18,000 feet in the air with Skydive Santa Barbara. They offer the highest tandem jumps in the world with a flawless 15 year safety record. The largest publicly funded park in America, Elings Park, features numerous recreation opportunities, but perhaps its most thrilling is paragliding. Magnificent views of the city and ocean are found atop the designated paragliding hill.
15. Seafaring Scholars: Located on the yacht harbor, Santa Barbara Maritime Museum offers exciting and interactive exhibits celebrating all things nautical. Explore everything from the history of whaling to commercial diving. A variety of model ships round out the displays that honor coastal California history.
16. Equestrian Outings: What better way is there to experience Santa Barbara like the original settlers did than by horseback? Discover peaceful and beautiful vistas while riding along a coastal mountain paradise. A full authentic California rancho experience awaits at Rancho Oso Guest Ranch. The comfort of modern amenities combine with the recreational activities of old timey ranch life at this year-round guest ranch located in the scenic Santa Ynez River Valley. Check out the vast collection of restored carriages and western wear at the Carriage & Western Art Museum back in the city.
17. Non-Traditional Transportation: One can explore a new side of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands by kayak! Stand up paddling and sail boat are also exciting options. Tours by jeep or stretched jeep limousine through wine country or in to Los Padres National Forest are also popular ways to experience Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara Trolley Company offers tours around the city and, of course, there is always Segway!
18. California’s Denmark: A thirty minute drive in to the Santa Ynez Valley will bring you to the whimsical tourist town of Solvang. A Danish colony founded in 1911, the village is characterized by traditional Danish architecture that looks like it is straight out of a storybook. Bakeries, restaurants, and merchants line the quaint shopping streets and offer a true taste of Denmark in the hills of Santa Barbara.
19. Pre-Colonial History: The surprisingly expansive collections and gorgeous grounds of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History seem like they would be found in a much larger city. The diverse exhibits highlight mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, plant life, prehistoric Native American life, and geology of the Pacific Coast and Channel Islands. This community leader also hosts touring exhibitions, interactive family activities, and special events.
20. Dolls, Bears, & Books: The Susan Quinlan Doll & Teddy Bear Museum & Library houses one of the largest displays of dolls & teddy bears and the largest research library of related books in the world. Hand-painted wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor murals compliment the vast collection throughout the galleries. Admission includes a personal tour by the owner and free tea and coffee. This is a must-see attraction for those who love dolls, teddy bears, books, and the artists who create them.