Just a few hours north of Los Angeles, you’ll find the beautiful destination Santa Barbara beach community. Santa Barbara is so much fun, but it’s the perfect place to take a road trip with kids! Easy to get to, tons of family activities, awesome weather and great food! What more do you need?
Fun Things to do with Kids in Santa Barbara
Note to our readers, we try to keep things as up to date as possible, but things change all the time. Please contact the venue directly before visiting.
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Water Sports and Activities Parks & Trails
If you are looking for adventure, you have come to the right place!
- Whale watching
- Stand-up paddleboard at the local surf breaks
- Guided kayaking excursions for all levels
- Explore the marine life around the Santa Barbara Harbor or out around the Channel Islands National Park.
Santa Barbara Parasail Co. is new to the scene and their invigorating flights will get you soaring up to 1,000 feet above the sea, granting absolutely epic views. The family-friendly experience is open to ages five and over, and even folks who are afraid of heights walk away feeling safe and happy they faced their fears.
Spring also happens to be prime whale watching season in Santa Barbara. Massive gray whales can be spotted migrating through our nutrient-rich channel, many with their newborn calves in tow. Whale watching cruises promise to surprise and delight all ages with nature’s majesty. And if you’re short on time but really want to get out on the water, hop aboard Lil ‘Toot, a charming water taxi that runs between Stearns Wharf and our working Harbor. (The captain even lets kids take the helm for a spell!) Back on shore, you can take advantage of the sightseeing telescopes on Stearns Wharf to scout for whales or watch the fishermen bring in their hauls at the Harbor.
There’s also tons of popular bike trails in Santa Barbara to check out!
Attractions & Activities
The Santa Barbara Zoo is dedicated to the preservation, conservation, and enhancement of the natural world and its living treasures through education, research, and recreation.
Museums & Gardens
Widely regarded as a model botanic garden, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a living museum and a member of the American Alliance of Museums, dedicated to research, education, and conservation of California native plants.
As an accredited museum and botanic garden, the SBBG differentiates itself from being just another beautiful place with open space and pretty flowers. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a living museum where collections-based research preserves California native plants and displays them in a beautiful setting.
Founded in 1916 as the Museum of Comparative Oology, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has evolved to include more than 3.5 million specimens covering every aspect of natural history—from mammals, birds, and marine life to geology, astronomy, paleontology, and anthropology. Newly renovated in 2018, the Museum boasts state-of-the-art interactive exhibits for all ages, paired with the Central Coast’s only planetarium, on 17 acres of oak woodland along Mission Creek. Guests learn about the Santa Barbara region’s unique and diverse natural history and then go outside to explore nature in the Museum Backyard. Museum education programs serve all ages to promote scientific literacy and instill a passion for nature and learning.
Lotusland is a Botanic Garden located in Montecito, California. The Gardens are a delight to everyone. The rare and exotic collections are nestled among 25 different gardens in an idyllic setting in the foothills of Santa Barbara. The 37-acre estate and botanic garden is home to nearly 3,600 different plants from around the world. Lotusland was a nursery in the late 1800s and had a few owners until the property was purchased in 1941 by Madame Ganna Walska, who lived here until her death in 1984. The fascinating life and career of Madame Ganna Walska culminated with 43 years of designing unusual display gardens with exotic plants. In her writings she described herself as “an enemy of the average” – truly a woman of unique accomplishments, philosophies and imagination. Lotusland is home to several extraordinary collections including rare cycads, cacti, palms and euphorbias. Additional gardens feature ferns, aloes, lotuses, water lilies, bromeliads and cactus garden with more than 300 species.
Discover the wonders of ocean life at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Located on historic Stearns Wharf, this highly interactive regional aquarium offers you close encounters with marine animals from the Santa Barbara Channel. In addition to permanent exhibits, the Sea Center hosts unique events and special educational programming. The Sea Center is proud to participate in the White Abalone Captive Breeding Program, which is working to bring this endangered marine snail back from the brink of extinction.
MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation
Old Mission Santa Barbara is a community of many parts, but one spirit. The Mission has served as a gathering place and spiritual home for many since its establishment in 1786. Today the Mission operations include a museum, gift shop, cemetery and mausoleum, and several historic gardens, as well as being the home to a community of Franciscan Friars on about 15 acres. The Mission is also home base for Saint Barbara Parish, which operates under the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library, a separate Franciscan-sponsored non-profit, and a Novitiate which provides the first year of educations for Friars in training from across the United States.
The A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden, adjacent to the Santa Barbara Mission, contains over 1,500 rose plants and is maintained throughout the year by Rose Society members, Parks Division staff, and volunteers.
For many years the All-American Rose Selections designated the A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden as one of 130+ demonstration rose gardens throughout the country, displaying the top performing new rose varieties developed and selected each year after an extensive two-year trial program where they are judged on 15 characteristics – from disease resistance and flower production to color and fragrance. A significant portion of the roses displayed in the garden are past A.A.R.S. winners.
Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden features a large botanical collection of 75 different tree and plant species included in the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden Self-Guided Tree & Plant Tour; koi pond; sensory garden with audio posts and interpretive Braille signs; low water-use demonstration garden, walking paths, picnic areas; and gazebo. Families can feed the ducks and your little ones can play at Kid’s World playground across the street.
The newest garden within the park is the sensory garden area where visually and physically impaired visitors can enjoy the variety of scents and sounds as well as the interesting textural variation of the foliage of many plants installed here. A butterfly garden has been installed and includes host plants for butterflies and moths.
Family friendly restaurants
Life is better at the Beach–and so is Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner! Located right on Leadbetter beach, Shoreline Café is the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of Santa Barbara while enjoying a delicious meal. With an extensive menu sure to please any craving, we have been serving Santa Barbara locals and visitors alike since 1997. Come stick your toes in the sand and see why Everything is better at the Beach!
Located on Santa Barbara’s pristine waterfront, the Santa Barbara FisHouse offers some of the central coast’s finest fresh seafood.
In the heart of downtown right off State Street is the Santa Barbara Public Market, where the sheer variety of options is key. The whole family can get entrées from a different vendor—tacos, noodles, burgers, pizza, vegan wraps, sushi, you name it! And everyone can end with a scoop of ice cream at Rori’s. Speaking of icy treats, the kids’ meals at Creekside Bar & Grill in “Noleta” include a popsicle dessert.
Sometimes familiarity is what kids seek and for that, we steer you towards Eureka! in Paseo Nuevo, where you’ll find the reliable craft American classics the chain is known for—as well as their stellar beer selection.
Wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches are so delicious, the kids won’t even know they are digging into gourmet level fare.
Family Friendly Hotels & Accommodations
Ramada Santa Barbara does a fantastic job with kids. You can feed the turtles in the pond and families really enjoy staying there.
The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara
For bigger budgets, families will enjoy the outdoor family programs at the Bacara: The Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment leads hiking tours among other activities near the hotel.