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Top things to do in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara sits in the centre of the Californian coast, with the Santa Ynez Mountains as a backdrop. It is a perfect mix of mountains and sea and offers so many different activities. We stayed in Santa Barbara for 3 nights on our way to LA from Monterrey. Here’s my top things to do in Santa Barbara in a few days:

Enjoy the beaches

There are 7 gorgeous beaches along the Santa Barbara coastline, so you can pick the perfect one for you, depending on what you fancy getting up to.

Leadbetter or East beaches are the places to go for sporting activities, or for somewhere quieter, head to Summerland or Butterfly beach.

Unfortunately, the weather was a little cool for sunbathing when we visited, but it was lovely to have a stroll along the beach and sit by the shore relaxing, especially as the sun starts to set early evening.

Enjoying the late afternoon sun at Leadbetter beach

Get out on the water

Kayaking, boogie boarding or surfing are all on offer at Leadbetter beach. You can also book onto a Kayaking day trip out to Painted Cave. If you're visiting between mid-February to mid-May, you can join a whale watching cruise from the harbour.


Backed by the Santa Ynez mountains and the Los Padres forest, there are many hiking trails to choose from. Lizards mouth is a short popular trail with stunning views across the ocean. If you prefer something more easy-going, walk the length of the beachfront along the promenade from East beach to Leadbetter beach.

Take a day trip to Solvang

I would really recommend spending a day here. Located in the Santa Ynez valley, Solvang is often referred to as ‘A little slice of Denmark in Southern California’. It was founded in 1911 by three Danish immigrants who wanted to create a little colony town for other Danish Immigrants and it really does have a Danish feel to it. It is only 45 minute’s drive to Solvang from Santa Barbara, so it's perfect for a day trip. The village holds year-round festivals and events and has many wine-tasting rooms. Not to mention many cafes and bakeries serving traditional Danish treats. There are also many shops selling authentic gifts for souvenirs.

The Danish town of Solvang is well worth a visit!

Wine tour

We took a half day wine tour with Captain Jacks Tours and visited three vineyards in the Santa Ynez mountains. I would really recommend this tour company. We had originally booked onto a group tour, but ended up with our own private car. Our driver was brilliant, he was so friendly and knowledgeable, giving us recommendations for the rest of our trip. At each vineyard, he left us to taste the wine and enjoy the vineyard and then met us later. He found out that Lee was interested in golf and took us to a local country club where we got chatting to some locals. The whole experience was great, the three vineyards we visited were beautiful and we tasted some gorgeous wines in each one.

I would really recommend getting out of the city to visit the wine vineyards, but there are also many wineries in the city where you can join a wine tasting experience.

Wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley

Wander around the city districts

You can easily spend the day wandering around the different areas of the city, taking in the sights. The Santa Barbara Harbour and Stearns Wharf are a great area for a stroll along the waterfront and taking in activities at the beaches.

In downtown Santa Barbara, State Street is the main shopping area, with restaurants and a mix of brand and independent shops. For smaller boutiques and galleries, visit La Arcada Court.

For the full details of my 3 week Las Vegas to LA road trip, view my itinerary here

All links on this website are my own recommendations or sites I found useful when planning and are not affiliated. I do not receive any commission from including these links within this blog.


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