Santa Barbara is a coastal town that boasts more than just great beaches; there's a lot of history to be discovered, too. A blend of Native American, Spanish and Mexican cultures helped shape the Santa Barbara you see today. History abounds and much of it is accessible. This itinerary will help you plan a fun, free day for your whole family. . .or any other group of history buffs who happen to be traveling with you!
We've planned this journey to take you from inland to the ocean in less than a day, but remember: a vacation itinerary is not a drill sargeant. Feel free to go backwards and work from beach to street. Or break up your journey into little, toddler-friendly chunks.
The Santa Barbara Mission is a must-see — Photo courtesy of zoonabar
The first stop on this tour is Old Mission Santa Barbara, usually referred to more simply by locals as the Santa Barbara Mission. Originally built in the late 1700s, one of the largest earthquakes in California knocked it down in 1812. It was rebuilt in 1820 in the current adobe and red tile roof style you see today.
You can walk or drive up to the Mission, park, roam the grounds and enjoy a picnic in the rose garden across the lawn for free. If you're in the mood for a more thorough visit, a small fee of $8 gets you a 90-minute, docent-guided tour of the sacred garden, the historic cemetery and the church.
When you're done at the Mission, head downtown for the Red Tile Walking Tour, a self-guided tour that takes you to see 22 historic buildings along 12 of Santa Barbara's most beautiful downtown blocks. This tour is designed to last around an hour (depending on your walking speed), but there are many great shops and restaurants along the way. Don't be surprised if you find yourself making a few unplanned stops.
A bird's eye view of the famous red tile roofs of Santa Barbara — Photo courtesy of Damian Gadal
The Carriage and Western Art Museum is your final stop. Head toward West Beach and you'll find this fun museum waiting for you on the perimeter of Pershing Park. It's home to one of the largest collections of preserved and restored carriages in the country, in addition to housing a fine collection of vintage and celebrity-owned saddles. Weekday tours won't cost you a penny, and kids are sure to enjoy Stagecoach Junction - a mock, historical town set up inside the museum.
After you finish up at the museum, simply cross the street to end your day at one of the prettiest beaches in town. From here you can walk to Stearns Wharf (built in 1872, if you want to continue the history lesson) and grab some dinner on the water. What a perfect day!