ParentClick Ventura

Day Trip Ideas with kids in Santa Barbara


Santa Barbara is the ideal locale for a day trip where families can take a short drive up the coast to relax and play. You can find everything in Santa Barbara including horseback riding, bike riding, boating, fishing, kayaking, tennis, golf, camping, movies, theatre, fun festivals throughout the year, beaches, parks, hiking and pools. Parks you won’t want to miss: La Mesa Park, Kids World, Chase Palm Park, Alice Keck Park.

  1. Breakfast on the beach. It only feels decadent. Try Shoreline Restaurant, where you can sit out back, dig your toes in the sand, and let the kids play with sand toys while you unwind and watch surf break at Leadbetter. Put your tourist glasses on as you begin your staycation experience. Decide to see your city as if for the first time. Sip coffee. Deep breath. Savor the family time.
  2. ‘Lil Toot and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. They go together like PB&J. Your little toot will be thrilled to water taxi between the wharf and harbor. The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is a gem. Even if you’ve been before, check out the new children’s exhibit on Surf Creatures brought together by legendary surfer and SB local Shaun Thomson.
  3. Take your bikes wine tasting. Follow the Santa Barbara Wine Trail; SB tasting rooms are worth staying in town. If your kids are adventurous, but safe to have near class bottles, hook up the bike trailer and bring them along. Snacks, toys, and, yes, multimedia on your iPhone, will keep them entertained while you swirl and sniff. Bonus: Recreate the feel of a trip to Los Olivos while saving gas: 1) Wine taste. 2) Dine at any one of our three local Panino’s 3) Find a port-a-potty … and hold out for one hour before using (you wanted authentic Los Olivos, right?!)
  4. Hit the beach at off-peak hours. Even during fog-bound summers, the sun blazes by late afternoon when other beach goers are packing it in. Can’t surf? Try stand-up paddle board – ask a friend for a loaner if you must. The surf is small, the water clear. What’s more exhilarating: skimming along near dolphins, taking in the view, or not being able to hear the kids going nuts with one parent left on shore? You decide!
  5. Camp at El Capitan or Refugio. Refugio offers the special pleasure of waking to the sound of surf at campsite level, and for lazy bones like me the ease of flat beach access with kids and gear is especially sweet. Bonus: While making s’mores, debate the proper pronunciation of “Refugio.” Most persuasive debater earns trophy made of driftwood and tar.
  6. See stars at the 80-year old Arlington theater. Magical: sitting “outside” in the plaza of a colonial Spanish town. Sign up for Metropolitan Theatre’s e-newsletter or “like” them on Facebook for discounted tickets and coupons for popcorn.
  7. Duck-feeding “progressive dinner”. Make it a one-day extravaganza or the starting point for daily family adventures. Start at Lake Los Carneros, letting the kids play Tom Sawyer on the rope swing before moving on. Zip to Alice Keck Park, and wander the relaxing footpaths to hear audio about the flora. Finish off tossing crumbs to ducks mingled among feisty seagulls at the Andre Clark Bird Refuge parking lot. The city is full of hungry ducks waiting for your kids to feed them! Bonus activity: From Alice Keck, cross to Kid’s World and see how many times you experience the panicky sensation of “losing” your kids in the wooden jungle. Whichever parent feels the most stressed, may choose the next tasting room (see Staycation idea #3).
  8. See real stars together. Westmont Observatory is open for public viewing every third Friday of the month at 7:30 p.m., weather permitting. The viewings are held in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit. If that starts too late for your little ones, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History offers planetarium shows every day, for every age.
  9. Casitas Water Adventure. For a mini-adventure, take a 40-minute drive toward Ojai for a day of water-play fun. It offers a multi-level jungle gym with waterfalls, bridges and slides in a lagoon with water up to 18 inches deep. A Lazy River offers a cool water ride on inner tubes. (summer only)
  10. Take a tour. Captain Jack’s Tours and Events, for example, facilitate an amazing array of activities. Doesn’t Channel Islands Sea Cave Kayaking sound like something you’ve always meant to try? This author and spouse went horseback riding and wine tasting as part of their tour services, and we live here.



  • Start at East Beach or the Harbor and walk or drive along Cabrillo Blvd. Great for biking, walking, rollerblading or running.
  • Shop every Sunday at the Arts & Crafts Show near the Wharf.
  • A fun place for kids to skateboard is Skaters Point, located at the beach, just east of Stearns Wharf.
  • Take the kids across the street to Chase Palm Park so they can enjoy the amazing playground and a ride on the carousel. Great place to picnic during the summer. Home of fun evening concerts every Thursday during the summer. Pack a picnic dinner and take the kids for a night of dancing under the stars.
  • Stearns Wharf and the newly redone Sea Center are fun to explore with family friendly restaurants, shopping and pelican watching.
  • Ride the downtown shuttle from the wharf up State street for just 25 cents each way.
  • You can also jump on the SB Trolley or the Lil Toot Water Taxi Excursion for a city tour.
  • You can rent surrey bikes from Wheel Fun Rentals.
  • The Harbor and Breakwater is home to both yachts and fishing boats. You can rent sail boats and jet skis. You also have the opportunity to go whale watching. Fun area to walk around and great places to eat with the kids.
  • Stop by the Maritime Museum and let your kids view the special discovery section for children.
  • The Andree Clark Bird Refuge near East Beach is a great starting point for rollerblading. This park is a safe-haven habitat for native and migratory waterfowl.
  • Travel a few minutes up from the beach to the Santa Barbara Zoo. Amazing animals, a carousel, a train, great picnic areas or enjoy their snack bar.


  • Historical Attractions: Casa de la Guerra is a wonderful museum with some fabulous vignettes located next to de la Guerra Plaza. El Presidio de Santa Barbara on Canon Perdido was the last of four military fortresses built by the Spanish along the wilderness frontier. Santa Barbara Historical Museum: collections of photos, maps, books and manuscripts. 136 E De la Guerra St. Free guided tours Wed., Sat. & Sun. 1:30pm, free admission. Hours: Tues.- Sun., closed Mondays. Go to the top of the SB Courthouse Tower for a great view of the city. Outside the Courthouse is the Sunken Gardens. Fun festivals and concerts are hosted here throughout the year. Santa Barbara Museum of Art open Tuesday through Sunday.
  • Enjoy a huge Farmers Market every Tuesday afternoon located on lower State St. near Paseo Nuevo.
  • Paseo Nuevo Mall includes Nordstrom, Macy’s, and more than 50 specialty shops. Selection of fine restaurants, art galleries and theaters. The kids can run around outside and have fun throwing coins into the fountain.
  • If you don’t want to walk the whole length of State Street with the kids, then hop on the shuttle or one of the pedi-cabs. This is a blast for the kids.
  • Farther up State St. is Victoria Court with some fun shops, kids haircuts, restaurants and more.
  • You can head up to the Mesa for a visit to the Wilcox property/Douglas family preserve. Another beautiful area to explore.
  • Lazy Acres Market has great take-out from their deli if you want to do a picnic.
  • Hendrys Beach (Arroyo Burro Beach-Mesa area) is great for walking dogs and tide pooling.


  • The Mission is a landmark you will not want to miss. Enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the steps of the Mission. You can start with a picnic at the Rose Gardens across the street.
  • The SB Botanic Garden features 78 acres of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, cacti, in natural settings. Great walking trails for kids.
  • The SB Museum of Natural History is a great indoor activity. Exhibits feature mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, plant life and geology of the Pacific Coast and Channel Islands as well as prehistoric Native American life. Great events, camps and kids classes.
  • We have amazing hiking in Santa Barbara. There are moderate ones you can do with the kids or leave them with a sitter and really challenge yourself on the more extreme terrain. (You can find some really simple trails at Tucker’s Grove.)
  • When planning an adult date night, don’t miss a chance to see a concert at the outdoor County Bowl during the summer.


  • La Cumbre Plaza is a great shopping mall located on the 3800 block of upper State Street. It includes two department stores, Robinsons-Macy’s and Sears, Vons Grocery, and more than 60 shops, restaurants, services and easy parking.
June 15, 2014

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  1. sbmom says:

    One of our favorite activities is a picnic at the rose gardens where you have great views of the ocean and the Mission.