Park It: Enjoy a Day in the Sand or on the Grass

Fun in the sun — that's what parks and beaches are all about. If you're looking to spend some time outdoors in the sunshine in Santa Barbara, this list is perfect for you. Read about the top 10 beaches and parks in the area so you can plan your visit accordingly.

Ready for a little surf? Try Santa Claus Beach to see where the locals hang out or - if you have little ones - head for Carpinteria State Beach, considered one of the safest beaches in the nation. If you're staying near Montecito, Butterfly Beach is a great spot to visit. The people watching is top notch in this celeb-studded neighborhood.

Not in the mood for a car full of sand? No problem! Santa Barbara has plenty of grassy parks, too. Watch the turtles at Alice Keck park and pack a picnic to enjoy on the lawn. Elings Park has an area for off-leash dog walking, multiple sports fields and great special occasion venues.

And if you only have time for one stop in Santa Barbara, may we suggest a visit to Chase Palm Park? Located directly across from a pretty stretch of coastline, this park gives you the best of both worlds! (It also has a super amazing, fully functional vintage carousel.)

10 Andree Clark Bird Refuge
Whether you're intrigued by local bird species and habitats or you simply enjoy the beauty of the Central Coast, you'll want to visit this avian refuge. Forty-two acres of dry terrain and brackish wetland feature paths for jogging, biking and bird-watching, and even those folks who come purely for sport find themselves paying attention to migrating species and long-term residents. Frequent bird visitors include Ruddy Ducks, Mallards and Black-crowned Night Herons. The Andree Clark Bird Refuge makes a great outing for science-minded kids. It's also conveniently bordered by the Santa Barbara Zoo so, if you like, you can easily make a day of it! (805-564-5418)

9 East Beach
A Santa Barbara leisure-time favorite, this busy beach offers recreational opportunities in spades. A children's playground, rollerblading trails, restaurant, picnic facilities, a bathhouse, showers and open lawns provide everything needed for a fun and worry-free day at the beach. Volleyball courts are prominent, given that the beach is home to various tournaments and is a favorite with aficionados. Swimming and sunbathing are popular as well, and special events are hosted regularly. Not far from Chase Palm Park, the Santa Barbara Zoo and area hotels. Street parking and paid parking lots are available. Located along the coastal bike trail, there is also a decent amount of parking for two-wheeled vehicles. (805-564-5418)

8 Alameda Park
Kids are especially enthralled by this downtown park, which boasts plenty of playground equipment and open spaces. Trees punctuate the greenspace, and a gazebo shelters musicians who play when the weather's warm. Alameda Park is a great destination for a lazy afternoon spent reading or napping in the sun or, alternatively, a fun pick-up soccer game among friends. Picnicking areas and restrooms are available, and the park often hosts large city celebrations and events. The Earth Day and Summer Solstice festivals are held here. Near Alice Keck Park, Alameda occupies two city blocks not far from the downtown area of State Street. Street parking is available. (805-564-5418)

7 Leadbetter Beach
Constantly busy, Leadbetter is a favorite with college kids and young people, who flock to it for surfing, swimming and tanning. They also enjoy socializing on the beach and picnicking on adjacent grassy expanses. A nearby restaurant, restrooms and showers make life easier during leisure time, and impressive private boats cruise in and out of the harbor nearby, making quite a spectacle. You're also likely to catch windsurfers and sailboats plying the offshore waters. There is an inexpensive parking lot onsite, in addition to multiple free parking spaces for visits lasting 90 minutes or less. A bike trail allows for easy, two-wheeled access. (805-564-5418)

6 Butterfly Beach
You won't find much in the way of amenities at this lovely beach, which is a bit ironic considering that it's across the street from the esteemed Four Seasons Biltmore. Nevertheless, the sweep of sand is ideal for lying in the sun, and the ocean proves irresistible to swimmers. Butterfly Beach is very walkable and overlooked by the fabulous Coral Casino. The rock wall that lines the upper part of the beach provides a great seat and vantage point, even on not-so-hot days. Another perk to Butterfly is that it looks west, unlike most of Santa Barbara's south-facing beaches. For that reason, it's one of the area's best spots for sunset views and long strolls. Street parking is first come, first serve.

5 Elings Park
Elings Park is the largest privately funded public park in America. Located at a high vantage point, it offers spectacular, panoramic views of Santa Barbara. It is a popular site for weddings and is home to baseball and soccer fields. Elings Park is also an off-leash dog park. This is a great spot for all sorts of outdoor activities, from hiking to mountain biking. There is a lot of free parking onsite. Hendry's Beach and the Boathouse restaurant are nearby. Some summer camp programs take place here. Elings Park is also the location of the annual Santa Barbara Beer Festival. ((805)569 5611)

4 Carpinteria State Beach
Applauded by "Dr. Beach" for its beauty and quality, Carpinteria also finds approval with visitors, who love the calm waters that result from a protective reef. Swimming is safe for adults and little ones, and the beach is great for sand play, exploring tide pools and fishing. Restrooms, picnicking areas and camping facilities can be found in the vicinity, and marine mammals pass through in winter and spring. Just 10 minutes or so south from downtown Santa Barbara, this beach lies at the end of one of Carpinteria's main streets, Linden Avenue. Pick up some food and shop for souvenirs before or after your beach trip. (805-968-1033)

3 Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden
Impeccably manicured, this garden offers gorgeous vistas of cultivated beauty. Spreading across more than four acres, the landscape features many varieties of flora, from stately trees to delicate blossoms. Probably its most notable feature, however, is a created pond, home to koi and turtles and bounded by more plantings. Folks love to visit the park and marvel at the landscaped vignettes, and you'll often find visitors trying to catch a bit of ephemeral beauty on film or on canvas. A small maple grove provides a bright spot of true fall color as summer fades, a real rarity in this year-round tropical paradise. (805-564-5418)

2 Santa Claus Beach
A local favorite, Santa Claus Beach is one of Santa Barbara's best kept secrets. Made up of a wide stretch of soft, white sand beach, Santa Claus is actually located in Carpinteria, a sleepy beach town just a short drive (or long bike ride!) from downtown Santa Barbara. Santa Claus gets great, mild waves for all sorts of ocean fun: paddle boarding, boogie boarding, general frolicking etc... The shore offers a shallow, gradual entrance, making this a good beach for younger visitors, too. There's limited shade, so bring an umbrella. Restaurants and board rentals are nearby. ((805) 966-9222)

1 Chase Palm Park
This ten-acre park's landscaped grounds stretch along Cabrillo Boulevard and incorporate both an older footprint and a new addition. Trails accommodate bikers and rollerbladers, a skateboarding park is available, and beautifully landscaped open spaces take care of other needs. Kids delight in a carousel and playground, and picnic areas pepper the space, along with an entertainment pavilion and restrooms. A pleasant plaza also boasts a stately fountain, and a small, beautifully detailed lake invites folks to be mesmerized for a while. There is also a visitor center nearby. An outdoor art fair is hosted directly across from the park every Sunday.

Geneva Ives moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 on a whim (ok, and to go to college) and never looked back. She loves Santa Barbara because it’s really one of America’s greatest small towns - it just happens to have glorious beaches and celebrity residents, too! Geneva spent a decade managing an adorable, locally owned boutique in downtown Santa Barbara and met her husband when he was working as a waiter at the Cajun restaurant right next door. Together they go on many adventures trying to find the best activities, drinks and dining experiences in the tri-county area. 

Read more about Geneva Ives here.

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Maps and Directions

Andree Clark Bird Refuge 10Best List Arrow
Type: Reserves
Neighborhood: SANTA BARBARA
East Beach 10Best List Arrow
Type: Beaches
Neighborhood: SANTA BARBARA
Alameda Park 10Best List Arrow
Type: Parks
Neighborhood: SANTA BARBARA
Leadbetter Beach 10Best List Arrow
Type: Beaches
Neighborhood: SANTA BARBARA
Butterfly Beach 10Best List Arrow
Type: Beaches
Neighborhood: Montecito
Elings Park 10Best List Arrow
Type: Free Attractions, Parks
Neighborhood: Santa Barbara
Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden 10Best List Arrow
Type: Gardens
Neighborhood: SANTA BARBARA
Santa Claus Beach 10Best List Arrow
Type: Beaches, Free Attractions, Water
Neighborhood: Carpinteria
Chase Palm Park 10Best List Arrow
Type: Parks
Neighborhood: Santa Barbara
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