Santa Barbara is one of our favorite, close-to-home getaway destinations. Visiting Santa Barbara with kids, or without, is always a great idea.
There’s plenty to do in this beautiful California beach town, yet it’s small enough that you don’t feel like you’re in a big city.
So, if your family is like ours and likes to find adventurers without breaking the bank, here is a collection of fun activities to help you enjoy your getaway to Santa Barbara with kids!
Take the Train (Amtrak)
If you live within a few hours of Santa Barabara, it’s easy enough to drive there. BUT, if you want to make an extra memorable experience, take the train!
Growing up, our family took the train across the United States and even to Canada. As children and teens, we loved the freedom of moving around on the train, relaxing in the lounge car, and playing card games on the tables in the snack car.
Although it’s a little more expensive than driving, taking the train is a fun option and can make for a unique adventure.
Tip: Kid’s tickets are usually 50% off when riding with an adult on Amtrak. Often, in October (in California), kids ride free!
Visit the Santa Barbara Zoo
The Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the most picturesque zoos I have visited. It sits atop a hill at the south end of town and you can catch glimpses of the ocean within the park.
It’s a 30-acre park that houses approximately 146 different species including giraffes, elephants, capybaras, and penguins.
For an additional fee, guests can ride the small train around the park and get a behind the scenes tour that is sure to delight younger adventurers!
Explore the Santa Barabara Harbor
Fish, crabs, birds, and boats make the harbor a fun place to visit. You can dream about which houseboat or yacht you’d like to own, watch the fishermen off-load their daily catch, and walk out to the end of the bay on the boardwalk.
If you’re lucky you may spot some dolphins on the open ocean side of the walkway.
The smell of hot clam chowder and fish and chips from the neighboring restaurants will waft past you as you walk along the docks. We recommend that you enjoy at least one meal near the marina! After all, you are on vacation!
Bike Along the Waterfront in Santa Barbara
Did you know you can bring your bike on the train? Depending on what train you take, it’s sometimes free to bring your bike as long as you make a bike reservation ahead of time. Doublecheck requirements for bringing your bike on the Amtrak website.
If you’re not taking the train, you can bring your bikes on your bike rack, or you can rent bikes from several local companies.
If you want to get fancy, rent a surrey bike! (Does anyone else start singing, “Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry / when I take you out in the surrey / when I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top!” whenever they hear the word surrey? No? Honestly, I haven’t even seen Oklahoma! but apparently, I listened to the soundtrack far too many times as a child.
Bike and walking trails follow the waterfront and are a great way to see more of Santa Barabara safely.
Play on the Beach
Kids are perfectly content to play for the hours at the beach. Dig in the sand, build sandcastles, play ball, jump over waves, and search for sea creatures.
The kids will be entertained while the adults lounge and read a book or hit the volleyball around.
Obviously, the water in Santa Barbara is cooler than tropical water but it’s warmer than most northern California beaches, and is great for swimming or body boarding! It fluctuates throughout the year and is typically warmest in late summer or early fall.
Go Kayaking in the Harbor
If you want to explore in the water and not just from the shore, rent a kayak or paddleboard from one of the local rental shops.
With kids, it’s often easiest to rent a double-kayak.
If you want to play it safe, or if your paddling arms aren’t up to exploring the open ocean, you can kayak around the harbor. Don’t forget to be mindful of harbor etiquette. Avoid the main channel, yield to larger boats (don’t cross in front of them), and avoid fishing lines.
More experienced paddlers can explore outside the harbor area.
Explore More of Santa Barbara with Kids
There’s plenty to see and do in Santa Barbara. For nature lovers, visit The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. History buffs will enjoy touring the Santa Barbara Mission or the Maritime Museum. Aspiring scientists and innovators will want to visit MOXI, a contemporary museum geared toward children (and children at heart). Avid hikers will enjoy a variety of trails to choose from. There’s something for everyone in Santa Barbara!
Ready to go! Pack your bags in 30 minutes and hit the road!