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The 20 Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara for First Timers

If you are visiting Santa Barbara, California, then you should plan your itinerary before departing for your trip. This is because there are so many things to see and do in this diverse and fascinating coastal city. Set against the backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, this beautiful destination has something to suit everyone, regardless of their personal interests. To help you make the most of your trip to this city, here are the 20 best things to do in Santa Barbara for first-timers.

20. Explore the Pacific Ocean

While most of the attractions in Santa Barbara are on dry land, you should not forget to explore the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, says The Independent. There are plenty of sailing trips and wildlife watching excursions that will allow you to admire the beauty of the ocean views and to watch seals, dolphins, and whales in their natural habitat. You can also kayak across the harbor or go paddling in the shallow waters.

19. Spend Time at the Beach

The coast of Santa Barbara is lined with stunning sandy beaches, each of which has something different to offer. There are quiet coves for relaxation and beaches aimed at tourists where you can have family fun or try out some watersports. One of the most famous beaches in Santa Barbara is Muscle Beach, which is an outdoor gym on the beach.

18. Santa Barbara County Courthouse

In many people’s opinion, Santa Barbara County Courthouse is one of the most beautiful government buildings in the United States. There is a lot to admire in this building in terms of the architectural details. Climb to the top of the clock tower and you can enjoy stunning views across Santa Barbara. An interesting feature of this attraction is the painted Mural Room, which you will find on the second floor of the building.

17. Inspiration Point

For the best views of the city, the surrounding area, and the Pacific Ocean, you should hike to Inspiration Point. There is a short hike with paved paths or a longer and more challenging hike with steep inclinations. When you reach Inspiration Point, you can enjoy the panoramic views, which stretch as far as the Channel Islands. This is a wonderful opportunity to take some photographs to commemorate your visit to Santa Barbara.

16. Old Mission Santa Barbara

Time Out says that you should visit the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Constructed in the 18th century, this attraction gave the city its name. It is historically and architecturally interesting, and there is an exhibition about its construction and how people lived within the walls of Old Mission Santa Barbara. There is also a chapel and a cemetery at this attraction.

15. Casa del Herrero

Casa del Herrero was designed by architect George Washington Smith for the industrialist George Fox Steedman and his family. The structure was completed in 1925, and its name translates as The House of the Blacksmith. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is also designated as a National Historic Landmark. If you are interested in history and architecture, then this Spanish Colonial Revival building is one of the top places to visit in Santa Barbara. It is now a non-profit organization that is open to the public. Inside the house, visitors can tour a workshop that shows a glimpse of the lives of the former occupants. There are displays of antiques, artwork, drawings, books, and horticultural records. Visitors can also tour the 11-acre gardens.

14. Stroll the Markets

There are lots of markets to enjoy in Santa Barbara, and these offer a different shopping experience to the shops that line the streets of the city or the large shopping malls. One of the best to visit is Santa Barbara Public Market, and this is a chance to pick up some mementos of your trip. If you want to sample some of the local produce, then you should visit the Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market on Anacapa Street.

13. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Visitors to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden can enjoy seeing more than 1,000 rare and indigenous plant species spread over 78 acres. One of the areas at this attraction is a Redwood Forest, while another section features native California plants. You are free to wander around the gardens alone, or you can take a guided tour. This attraction, which is located on Mission Canyon Road, is also home to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Herbarium and the Blakesley Library. This is a peaceful activity to enjoy on the days when you need some tranquility away from the lively vibe of the streets of Santa Barbara.

12. The Lark

Santa Barbara’s culinary scene is amazing, and many of the outstanding restaurants in this city highlight the amazing produce of California. One of the best and most interesting places to eat is The Lark. Executive Chef Jason Paluska is at the helm of this restaurant, and he uses locally sourced ingredients to create internationally inspired dishes. This restaurant is located on Anacapa Street and it has both indoor and outdoor eating areas. Another fantastic restaurant to try is Outpost Restaurant in Goodland, a Boutique Hotel in Goleta.

11. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

An excellent museum to visit that will interest people of all ages is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. This is the oldest museum in Santa Barbara as it was founded in 1916. It is devoted to teaching visitors about local natural history, and the exhibitions include some interesting features, such as a 74-foot whale skeleton. Children will love many of the displays, and this is an excellent option if you need something to do on a rainy day. It is located by Mission Creek, and there is a nature trail through Mission Creek for visitors to enjoy once they have left the museum.

10. Arroyo Burro County Beach Park

Those who enjoy spending time outdoors will love Arroyo Burro County Beach Park. It is located on Cliff Drive just south of Elings park, and it is a fantastic place to enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities. Some of the ocean activities include swimming, surfing, and fishing. Activities on dry land include hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding, and cycling. There is plenty to explore if you spend a full day at the park, and you can use the picnic tables and BBQ grills to enjoy something to eat during your visit. This is a free attraction, so it is a good option for those who are visiting Santa Barbara on a budget. A visit to Arroyo Burro Park is probably the best place to appreciate the natural beauty of Santa Barbara and the surrounding area.

9. Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

There are many interesting museums to visit in Santa Barbara, and one of the best of these is the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. This museum is devoted to preserving the maritime history of Santa Barbara. It boasts interesting exhibitions and unusual artifacts, all of which are related to the area’s maritime history. There are interactive features throughout the museum, and these will appeal to people of all ages. You will find this museum on Harbor Way.

8. Take a Wine Tour

California is famous for its wine production, and the area surrounding Santa Barbara is home to some of the best vineyards and wineries in the state. There are several that you can visit to take a tour, which is a chance to learn about the production of the wine. Most tours include a wine tasting session so that you can sample the produce. Some of the tours also include food, which is usually made from locally sourced ingredients. Many of the vineyards in this area promote sustainability, and this is something else that you can learn about on your tour. This is an adults-only activity, so it is not the best option if you are visiting the area with children.

7. Stearns Wharf

You can enjoy different experiences at Stearns Wharf, depending on the time of day you visit. If you arrive first thing in the morning, you can watch the fishing boats arriving back in the harbor with their fresh catch. You can even buy fish and seafood directly from the boats. Later in the morning or in the afternoon, you can head to the pier at Stearns Wharf. There, you will find an aquarium with a touch pool for children and lots of shops and restaurants. In the evenings, you can dine in some amazing seafood restaurants and drink in the lively bars.

6. Santa Barbara Orchid Estate

A visit to Santa Barbara Orchid Estate is something that will awaken all your senses. It consists of five-acres of beautiful gardens that are set along the coast of the city. The attraction was first established in 1957, and it now has a fascinating collection of beautiful and rare orchids from around the world. Spending time at the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate is a lovely place to visit when you want to spend the day doing quieter activities.

5. Shoreline Park

If you enjoy spending time outdoors and you want a quiet and leisurely activity to enjoy during your stay, then you should visit Shoreline Park. This is a 14.6-acre park, and one of its best features is the stunning views, especially the vies of the Santa Ynez Mountains. As its name suggests, this park is set along the shoreline of Santa Barbara. There are plenty of things to enjoy, including pretty gardens, scenic sidewalks, children’s playgrounds, and picnic tables for you to enjoy an al fresco lunch.

4. Lobero Theater

To enjoy a performance in a theater, your best option is Lobero Theater. This is one of the oldest theaters in California. This venue has a jam-packed schedule of performance throughout the year, and these vary from musicals to comedies and from live music to ballets. Check out the schedule before embarking on your trip to see if there is something on during your stay that interests you and book your tickets in advance.

3. Lotusland

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Santa Barbara is Lotusland. It is a 37-acre exotic garden on the grounds of what was once the home of Polish opera singer Madame Ganna Walska. Following her death in 1984, the grounds became a non-profit public botanical garden. The floral collections in this garden are dramatic, whimsical, and somewhat unexpected.

2. Santa Barbara Zoo

If you are visiting Santa Barbara as a family, then one of the best attractions to visit is Santa Barbara Zoo as this is a great day out for all the family. The zoo covers 30 acres, and it is home to more than 500 animals from 146 species. It is considered one of the best small zoos in the country and it also features lush gardens, ornamental trees, and a range of interesting interactive activities for visitors to enjoy. You should set aside a full day to visit the zoo as it will take some time to see explore everything that this attraction has to offer.

1. Santa Barbara Museum of Art

According to Vacation Idea, the best attraction in Santa Barbara is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. This attraction has been open since 1941, and it now houses more than 27,000 pieces of American, Asian, and European art. It is the best attraction in the area for art enthusiasts to visit. There is an education program run from the museum, and the attraction also has an auditorium, a library, a café, and a museum store. You will find the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on State Street in the downtown area of the city.

Lily Wordsmith

Written by Lily Wordsmith

Lily Wordsmith is a freelance writer who has had a love affair with the written word for decades. You can find her writing blog posts and articles while sitting under a tree at the local park watching her kids play, or typing away on her tablet in line at the DMV. In addition to her freelance career, she is pursuing ebook writing with an ever-growing repertoire of witty ebooks to her name. Her diversity is boundless, and she has written about everything from astrobotany to zookeepers. Her real passions are her family, baking desserts and all things luxe.

Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith

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