Incredible Santa Barbara Day Trip

Planning a Santa Barbara day trip?  I have got the guide for you!  

Located along California’s central coast, Santa Barbara is a popular day trip from neighboring towns like Los Angeles, Ventura, and Camarillo.  Santa Barbara is an iconic, sometimes less explored town due to its more famous neighbors.  

The Santa Ynez Mountain Range sweeps over the Pacific ocean painting an unforgettable backdrop when entering Santa Barbara.  Adding to its dramatic views is red-clay roofs and white washed walls signifying its historical Spanish architecture.  

So how did all of its Spanish influence come to be?  In 1925, Downtown Santa Barbara turned to rubble following a high power earthquake.  Santa Barbara’s leader at the time decided its rebuild should reflect current Spanish architecture of the town, like Old Mission Church and recently built Lobero Theatre.  

Next thing you know, red-tiled roofs spilled above high arched doorways against white-washed walls were born.  The most famous example of this architecture can be seen from Santa Barbara’s Courthouse, beautifully embellished with Moorish and Spanish style structure.  

There are so many fun things to do in Santa Barbara for couples, solo travelers, friends, and families.  This lively town bursting with culture is just waiting to be explored on your next epic Santa Barbara day trip!  There is no shortage of reasons Santa Barbara is increasing in popularity and should be added to your California bucket list.  

Overview of Santa Barbara from Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Santa Barbara Details

Location: Central California Coast

When to visit: Santa Barbara is known for mild temperatures year round.  Expect sunny skies during all seasons, and an average of just 5 days of rain during the winter and early spring.  The summer high is 77 degrees F and the summer low is 56 degrees F.  The winter high is 66 degrees F and the winter low is 45 degrees F.  You really can’t go wrong when planning your visit! 

How many days: While some visitors spend three days vacationing in this coastal town, you can easily catch the top spots on an enjoyable Santa Barbara day trip.  

Getting there: Visitors can choose between flying, driving, or training into Santa Barbara.  

The simplest option is to fly into LAX airport and drive or train 2 hours northwest into Santa Barbara.  A benefit to driving is the flexibility of having car access while exploring, or connecting your Santa Barbara day trip to a longer California itinerary such as Big Sur or Pinnacles National Park. Alternatively, catch a flight from LAX or SFO into Santa Barbara Airport.

Santa Barbara Things to do

There is no limit to beauty in ANY coastal California town.  Combined with waterfront, mountains, and Spanish architecture, enjoy a variety of activities and exploring in Santa Barbara, all while surrounded by European architecture.  

Stearns Wharf

Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, California

Stearns Wharf is the longest wharf between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Take a stroll along Santa Barbara’s famous pier, enjoy postcard-worthy views, or grab a bite at one of many small restaurants along its boardwalk.  Parking at the pier costs $1.25 per hour.  Receive a ticket from a booth upon entering the parking lot, and pay by providing the ticket booth cashier your ticket upon exiting.  

 

The boardwalk itself is relatively small so I recommend spending only one hour here.  There is free access to a public bathroom house located along the pier. 

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Viewpoint from Santa Barbara County Courthouse

When I first heard about this, I was like, why would I visit a courthouse on vacation?  Just wait a second!  The views outside, inside, and OVERLOOKING the city from above the Santa Barbara County Courthouse became my absolute FAVORITE in all of Santa Barbara!  This visit is not overrated, and somewhere everyone should add to their bucket list.  

 

The Santa Barbara county Courthouse is my number one pick for a stop on a Santa Barbara day trip.  

 

A security check is required to enter the building.  There is no entrance fee. 

Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center

Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, California

Beautiful tiled steps and high arched doors bring visitors hidden Spanish charm located within the heart of a shopping center!  The architecture alone is reason to stroll through the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center when visiting Downtown Santa Barbara. 

Santa Barbara Beaches

Santa Barbara Beach via Little Dragon on Unsplash

East Beach and Stearns Wharf are among the most popular beaches in Santa Barbara.  Arroyo Burro Beach is known for being dog-friendly.  Leadbetter Beach is popular for water sports like surfing and paddle boarding.  There is no limit to beach choices on a Santa Barbara day trip!  

Old Mission Santa Barbara

Old Mission Santa Barbara

Old Mission Santa Barbara provides one of Santa Barbara’s most iconic views, for free!  It serves as an active Parish church today.

Lobero Theatre

The Lobero Theatre was built shortly before the 1925 earthquake hit, and survived.  It is the oldest operating opera theater in California.  Simply stroll past its beautiful Spanish architecture or purchase tickets in advance to experience a show.  

Santa Barbara Neighborhoods

One of Santa Barbara’s most highly rated neighborhoods is the Funk Zone.  Comparable to Wicker Park in Chicago or Asheville in North Carolina, this eclectic and hip neighborhood brings a different side of Santa Barbara to life.  

Montecito is most associated with its celebrity lifestyle. Admire humongous houses (that I myself will NEVER afford) 

Santa Barbara Hiking

Hiking 15 minutes from Santa Barbara in Ventura, California

Explore Alltrails to learn more details about the most popular and off the beaten path hikes in Santa Barbara.  

Rattlesnake Canyon– hard- 4.5mi

Cold Spring Trail Loop– Moderate – 2.1 mi

Arroyo Burro Beach Loop– Easy – 1.3 mi

Santa Barbara Day Trip Packing List

Here are a couple of can’t-miss items to toss in your suitcase when completing an incredible Santa Barbara day trip:

Supportive Shoes– A lot of exploring means a lot of walking.  Comfort is key!  

Sandals– Carry a pair of sandals or flip flops in your bag in case you decide to lounge at the beach in between exploring

Water bottle– I always recommend a water bottle for long days exploring.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Packable backpack– if this is what you fancy!  Love it because it collapses/folds so easily into your travel suitcase or backpack.  It’s an ideal size for day exploring.  

Travel Towel– I recommend this too, for a random beach stop, if it fits in your bag!  It’s so light weight and easy to take on the plane.  

Rain Jacket– Keep a lightweight rain jacket handy because in the spring or winter because you just never know.  I wear the same rain jacket for city exploring that I use on my day hiking trips.

Fleece jacket– A fleece jacket is ideal for winter months.  

Santa Barbara, California

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Alyssa

As a full time employee who loves her job, learn how I honor my wanderlust while working a 9:00-5:00 (because I want to!) This blog welcomes all, and specifically provides resources for those seeking travel intertwined into a busy schedule (3 days to 5 weeks).