You can always find a good excuse to get away to Santa Barbara whether it’s for the beautiful beaches, fresh seafood, ample wine-tasting options, or just to chillll. It’s only about a two-hour drive from LA, and there’s something for everyone — plus, over the summer, it’s usually 10-20 degrees cooler than LA, which means a respite from those 100-plus-degree days. Here the 9 best outdoor things to do in Santa Barbara to have the best weekend possible.
The best luxury hotels in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara has two luxury hotels I love: El Encanto and The Ritz-Carlton Bacara. Both resorts are beautiful and have great restaurants. A lot of people rave about Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito but since I haven’t personally stayed there I can’t speak to it.
For a relaxing couples getaway El Encanto is one of my favorite hidden gems in Santa Barbara. Most people think of The Ritz-Carlton Bacara or Rosewood Miramar Beach and those are both excellent choices, but if you are looking for a little more privacy then I would recommend El Encanto. While the hotel is not marketed as an adults-only property, you won’t find a ton of kids here. The five-star sprawling resort is perched on a hill which means amazing views from the hotel restaurant and pool.
Pros: Rooms are located in private bungalows, service is excellent, there’s a zero-edge pool, the resort offers an extensive list of fitness classes
Cons: The resort can be quieter and draw an older crowd, there is only one pool
The Spanish-style resort nestled on the bluffs is set on 78 lush acres and offers beautiful oceanfront views. The resort is spread out and features a 42,000-square-foot spa and several dining options including one of my favorites, Angel Oak, a contemporary steakhouse facing the ocean (pro tip: make a reservation during sunset hour and enjoy cocktails while watching the view). Here’s a video I made from my last trip to the resort but I have recently heard from a few people that service has been lacking but I presume it’s because of the present COVID challenges and staff shortages that the industry is currently facing as a whole.
Pros: A private Club Lounge, three heated pools including an adults-only pool, complimentary resort activities including yoga by the beach, tennis lessons, and guided hikes, great resort for multi-generational trips
Cons: Rooms are a bit outdated, the service has been inconsistent
Things to do in Santa Barbara
There is so much to do in Santa Barbara whether you want to get outdoors and be active, chill by the beach, or have a nice meal, the laidback beach town has something for everyone. Here are some of my favorite things to do when I’m in town.
Watch a show at the Santa Barbara Bowl
Going to the Santa Barbara Bowl is one of my absolute favorite things to do when I’m in Santa Barbara. I actually plan my trips to Santa Barbara-based on who is playing at the venue and I’ve seen some of my favorite performers here including the comedian Sebastian Maniscalco and the indie band, Alt-J. The Santa Barbara Bowl is my favorite venue because it’s outdoors, similar to the Hollywood Bowl, except smaller and way more intimate. Some big names have upcoming shows this season including Chelsea Handler, Sebastian Maniscalco, John Legend, Haim, and Glass Animals!
Visit the Santa Barbara Farmers Market
When I’m traveling, one of my favorite things to do is visit the local farmers market. I can shop what’s in season and see what’s fresh. Santa Barbara has 6 different farmers markets happening throughout the week but the largest and most popular is the Downtown Market every Saturday morning from 8:30 am-1 pm at the corner of Santa Barbara and Cota Street. You can find everything from the famous Harry’s Berries to even pretty pink oyster mushrooms!
Go bike riding along the beach
Bike riding (or walking) along the beach path in Santa Barbara is one of my favorite things to do in Santa Barbara. It can get crowded on the weekends, especially in the summer, but I have found that it’s way less crowded than what I’m used to at the Santa Monica Beach Path. Rent bikes from Wheel Fun Rentals and ride along the Cabrillo Bike Path, a 4.5 mile long flat, easy bike path that will take you from Leadbetter Beach to Butterfly Beach in Montecito.
Walk along State Street
State Street is to Santa Barbara what Third Street Promenade is to LA. It’s a 10-block pedestrian promenade lined with boutiques, big-name retailers, and restaurants that have alfresco dining thanks to parklets. Definitely stop by McConnell’s Ice Cream and try their unique flavors like Pumpkin Pie and Turkish Coffee or go for the classics like Salted Caramel and Cookies & Cream. For lunch or dinner, try Bibi Ji for modern Indian cuisine or Loquita for Spanish tapas.
Go wine tasting in the Funk Zone
The Funk Zone in Santa Barbara is a small, industrial neighborhood across from the ocean with converted warehouses that have been turned into tasting rooms and art galleries. You can easily spend a whole day wine tasting in the Funk Zone. Some of my favorites include Margerum Wine Company and Kunin Wines which have outdoor seating. And when you’ve worked up an appetite, stop by The Lark for a farm-to-table dinner. For fewer crowds, the Presidio Neighborhood on the eastside also offers wine tasting at Potek in The Mill, Carr Winery, and Samsara in Goleta. If you love wine tasting, also check out these 6 Paso Robles wineries open for wine tasting.
Have a picnic with Slate Catering
If you want to have a picnic on the beach or at the park, make a reservation with Slate Catering. You pick the date and time and they will take care of the rest! They provide the table, blankets, pillows, umbrellas, utensils, and cheese platters and all you have to do is show up! They have the cutest set-up and it’s perfect for birthdays, special occasions, or even just a warm, summer afternoon.
Get outdoors and go on a hike
Santa Barbara offers plenty of hiking trails for every kind of hiker. If you love butterflies, the Ellwood Mesa trail passes through eucalyptus groves and is home to Monarch butterflies between November and February. Seven Falls is a 3.2 moderate hiking trail that has a waterfall, although that depends on the time of year. For a super easy trail, the Douglas Family Preserve is a flat loop along the coastal bluffs which offers beautiful ocean views. It’s not really a hike, but more of a leisurely walk.
Get lost in the gardens of Ganna Wask Lotusland
Named after the Polish singer, the 37-acre garden lined with rare and exotic plants has been frequently listed as one of the 10 best gardens in the world. Reservations for the Ganna Wask Lotusland are required and costs $50 for adults and $25 for children which is a bit steep for what it is but if you love nature and plants, it’s something different to do in Santa Barbara. Guided tours are approximately two hours long where you’ll see a few different areas including the Japanese garden, a cactus garden, and the lotus pond which was originally the estate’s swimming pool and is now overrun with foliage.
Watch the sunset from Stearns Wharf
The Santa Barbara pier offers some of the best views of the sunset. There’s not a whole lot to see or do on the pier but one of my favorite things to do is order a clam chowder bread bowl from Santa Barbara Shellfish Company and watch the sunset on the outdoor patio.