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Sun, Surf & Sand: 10 Best Beaches in Santa Barbara



If you live in Santa Barbara, we're 100% sure that you have a favorite beach. And we're also pretty sure that you're going to be mad at us, because we've probably put your beach on this list. And now everyone will know. So for that, we apologize. 

BUT we can give you two good reasons why we did it:

  1. We want our readers to experience the very BEST that Santa Barbara has to offer. 
  2. You live where people vacation. We think people should be seriously jealous of you. 

So this list of the 10 best beaches is a pretty good start. Whether you're looking for a quiet place to sunbathe or a fun spot to BBQ, we've got you covered. Stop by Butterfly for the best views (we mean bikinis and celebs, not necessarily natural wonders) or pack a picnic and hit spacious Santa Claus Beach with the whole family. 

No matter where you go, don't forget the sunscreen! Beaches here aren't known to be shady, but many have great restaurants you can duck into if you start to overheat. 


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10
Santa Barbara


Constantly busy, Leadbetter Beach 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. Built-in grills are available on a first-come, first-served basis, making this beach ideal for celebrations with friends and family. A restaurant, restrooms and showers make life easier during leisure time, and impressive private boats cruise in and out of the nearby harbor. You're also likely to catch windsurfers and sailboats plying the offshore waters. Paid parking is available in a convenient lot right out front.




Of course everyone knows (and goes to) Butterfly Beach in Montecito. It's great for celebrity sightings and showing off your best bikini. But for a more exclusive Montecito beach experience, head to Hammond's. This stretch of shore is pretty much locals only and is tricky to get to unless you know where to go. First you need to get to Montecito. Then drive toward the ocean on San Ysidro Lane, which becomes Eucalyptus Lane after passing under Highway 101. There's a parking lot at the end there. You can either get out of your car and hit the sands of Miramar beach or take the trail through Hammond's meadow to Hammond's Beach, a true hidden gem.


8
Santa Barbara


A Santa Barbara leisure-time favorite, this busy beach offers recreational opportunities in spades. A children's playground, rollerblading trails, food vendors, picnic facilities, a bathhouse, showers and open lawns hint at the amenities. 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. Near 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.


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Goleta Beach Park


No matter what you like to do when you get to the beach, you'll find it here. Less busy than the downtown beaches, Goleta beach has every amenity, including free parking. There are horseshoe pits, picnic tables, barbecues, volleyball courts and kayak rentals. There is also a playground, a restaurant (and bar) and a pier that allows fishing. You can easily stroll along the beach path up to the UCSB campus from here. Goleta beach is just a few minutes from the Santa Barbara airport, making it a great pit stop before or after a flight. Grab a bite and take a few stunning ocean photos all in one quick trip.




The fact that we're writing about this beach at all might make a lot of Santa Barbara locals kind of mad. You see, this particular stretch of sand is a best kept secret. To access it, you have to walk down about one million stairs tucked in between some private homes at the end of Mesa Lane. (Remember: once you're down there, you'll have to walk back up them again.) It's perfectly public, and picturesque, once you get down there though. This beach is a popular spot for local surfers and sunbathers. Just be wary of high tide, when the beach almost completely disappears. Plenty of free parking in the neighborhood near the top of the stairs.




A lovely beach just 10 minutes or so south of Santa Barbara with wide shores and an easy, shallow ocean entrance. Usually not too crowded, Summerland Beach is located just below Lookout Park. There's a great picnic spot, playground and showers right up top by the free parking, but you should bring your beach umbrella because there's not a lot of shade on the shore. When you've rinsed all the sand off, head into Summerland town proper (it's so cute) for a bite and some shopping. Antique stores and boutiques line the main avenue just a few blocks from the 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.




Arroyo Burro Beach might be what the guidebooks and websites say, but locals know this beach by another name: Hendry's. This is THE place to go if you have a dog. The whole beach welcomes our four-legged friends, but the left side of the beach allows pups to chill out off leash. There is plenty of space to bring your whole crew. There is also a picnic area, restroom and amazing seafood restaurant onsite. Two small lots offer 100% free parking, but they do fill up fast - especially on weekends. A coin-operated pet wash in the far lot allows you to rinse the sand of Fido before he gets back into your car.


Santa Claus Beach
Photo courtesy of Leah Schmidt


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, 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, shops and board rentals are nearby. Free street parking is first come, first serve.


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 Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara. 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-sunny 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.


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Meet Geneva Ives

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...  More About Geneva

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