Santa Barbara: California's Top Destination for Outdoor Fun
July 7, 2019
by Alida Newson
From San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco, California bears some of the most popular destinations for travelers in the whole country. Many turn to Google to pinpoint California’s “best” destination cities, which are, more often than not, California’s most visited and therefore most run-down-by-slow-walking-tourists destinations (i.e. Hollywood, SF Fisherman’s Wharf, etc.). These places are notable and popular for a reason, however, I recommend a few other beautiful destinations as a supplement to your California adventure that will guarantee it to be a unique one. Which brings us to the hot spot of the day: Santa Barbara, California.
Spend Your Weekend Out in the SB Sunshine
Although one could easily drop everything, pack up, and move their life to the laid back paradise that is Santa Barbara, I recommend starting off with a small trip of 2-3 days to at least get a taste of the town. Located only 1.5 hours North of Los Angeles up the famous Pacific Coast Highway, this chill beach town dotted with breathtaking hikes, incredible Spanish style architecture, and unbeatable eateries is easily accessible and great for outdoor fun.
Many find Santa Barbara to be the perfect escape as it encapsulates breathtaking coastal and mountainous scenery, a perfect SoCal climate year-round (65 – 80 degrees F), and is inviting to a plethora of options for fun in the sun. One will never run out of outdoor activities to do in Santa Barbara (even on the tightest budget!) considering how abundant the natural beauty is throughout the city.
The hikes in Santa Barbara are my number one recommendation – even for those that do not normally enjoy hiking. There is an option for everyone whether you prefer long, strenuous hikes up the mountain, or simple, scenic walks overlooking the ocean and town below.
Here are some of the top hikes in the Santa Barbara area:
A little piece of history perched atop one of the most captivating views in the area, Knapp’s Castle is a sight to savor when traveling through the Los Padres Forest. I wouldn’t exactly call this one a “hike”, but rather a brief walk along a trail to the remnants of an early-1900s mansion. The perfect setting for a sunset.
Not for the faint hearted, this hiking trail is only a mere 4.4 miles, but will move you through large boulders, along a creek, and up the sunny, wildflower-dotted canyon with the gleaming blue ocean in the distance.
A favorite of many Santa Barbara locals (myself included), Lizard’s Mouth is one of the most iconic viewpoints in the Santa Barbara area. It gets its name from the most prominent feature of the landscape – a gigantic rock formed in the shape of a lizard opening its mouth. You could make it a short 15-minute walk up through the rocks to the view, or you could explore your way down and around the many rock formations to make it more challenging activity of bouldering/hiking. Nonetheless, the view atop Lizard’s Mouth is not one to miss.
20 minutes down the Santa Ynez mountains and back into town, you are greeted by the lovely stretch of sea that hugs the city of Santa Barbara at it’s shore. From Carpinteria to Gaviota, Santa Barbara County is overflowing with unbeatable beaches. Here are the town’s most popular beaches:
Santa Barbara Waterfront
Split by the famous Stearn’s Wharf, the town’s waterfront is a popular, and extremely accessible destination for people kicking back after a day out on State Street waiting for happy hour on the pier to kick off.
If you’re looking for large, secluded, uniquely landscaped beach (i.e. the opposite of the SB Waterfront beach), look no further. This one requires a bit of a drive and a small rock wall scaling to get to, but has a sense of calm that is unmatchable.
This seaside spot is not only dog-friendly and full of friendly dogs, but also has Hendry Boathouse (a local favorite) right there on the beach! Need I say more?
Although Santa Barbara is not the most touristy (thank goodness), there are still plenty of options for the explorer in you that wants to learn the area a bit more. Some of which include:
The Santa Barbara Mission
Founded in 1784, this architectural beauty is definitely worth a visit to get a taste of the town’s history, or even just for a peaceful stroll through the gardens.
Many think of State Street as the stitch or staple that ties East and West Santa Barbara together. This prominent avenue that cuts through downtown to Stearn’s Wharf has well-earned its fame with heaps of delicious restaurants, lively bars and clubs packed all nights of the week, world-class wineries, and shops on shops on shops!
Santa Barbara Courthouse
Not feeling like climbing a mountain for a panoramic view of the town? Head over to the aesthetically appealing building that is the courthouse and take the elevator to the top for a knock-out view of SB in all its glory.
Whether you want to get lost on the other side of the mountains in Santa Ynez or stay local and try some wines right downtown in Santa Barbara’s “Funk Zone”, your options are endless as far as local wineries go.
Some of the most popular wineries in the Funk Zone include Area 5.1, Melville, and Pali Wine Company. These are some downtown favorites, but many would argue Santa Barbara’s best wines are found over the mountains in the quaint wine town of Santa Ynez. If you make your way here, be sure to stop by Demetria, Gainey, and Sunstone Wineries for world famous wines among the valley’s incredible landscape. Cheers!
Wine tasting at Demetria Winery in Santa Ynez
Rent a Land Shark
Last, but surely not least, this is one of the most exciting (and possibly absurd) outdoor activities one can opt for when visiting Santa Barbara. Essentially, a “land shark” is a vehicle that will transport you and all your friends around town hitting all the best sights, streets, bars, and so on, throughout the day. After said festivities, the land shark will do as land sharks do and head for the ocean where you and your party will enjoy a ride out at sea for sunset. Definitely a fun way to top off your weekend in the Santa Barbara sunshine!
Who said “the great outdoors” was limited to one kind of landscape or activity? Here in Santa Barbara, you’ll have something to do for any day you feel like having.