Best Beaches in Santa Barbara

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 might have 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 nearby that you can duck into if you start to overheat. 


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.

Recommended for Beaches because: Leadbetter Beach is the best beach for a BBQ with friends and family. There are great grills, accessible restrooms and nice grassy areas.

Geneva's expert tip: Bring some cash and grab a snack or shake at the walk-up window at the Shoreline Beach Cafe, right there on the sand.

Read more about Leadbetter Beach →

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. If you just can't wait, you can park in front of the uber-posh Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel and hit the (de-seaweeded) sands of Miramar Beach. Or take the trail through Hammond's meadow to Hammond's Beach, a true hidden gem.

Recommended for Beaches because: Looking for a beach that's off the radar? Hammond's is for you.

Geneva's expert tip: Don't park and head straight to the beach, you might get stuck at high tide. Cut through the well-worn meadow path instead.

Read more about Hammond's Beach →

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 are just some of the amenities. Volleyball courts are prominent, given that the beach is home to various tournaments and 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.

Recommended for Beaches because: East Beach is great for families. There is a restaurant onsite, and it's just two blocks away from the zoo.

Geneva's expert tip: Bring your volleyball! A number of nets will make your dreams of a Tuesday (or any day) spent playing beach volleyball a reality.

Read more about East Beach →

Goleta Beach Park
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

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 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.

Recommended for Beaches because: This beach has it all: barbecue pits, horseshoe pits, a playground, a restaurant, a pier you can fish off of, free parking...

Geneva's expert tip: Less touristy than the beach near the Santa Barbara pier, this beach is perfect for a sunset walk.

Read more about Goleta Beach Park →

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 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.

Recommended for Beaches because: We really, really shouldn't have put this super secret beach on the list. The locals will be mad.

Geneva's expert tip: Check the tide schedule before you go. The shore all but disappears at high tide, although brave beach strollers may be able to find their way.

Read more about Mesa Lane Beach →

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.

Recommended for Beaches because: If Santa Barbara beaches are too crowded for you, head down to Summerland for a more peaceful vibe.

Geneva's expert tip: Plan your day around a trip to this beach because the nearby shopping and dining is pretty amazing.

Read more about Summerland Beach →

Carpinteria State Beach
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Applauded by "Dr. Beach" for its beauty and quality, Carpinteria also finds approval with us non-doctor people, who love the calm waters resulting from a protective reef. Here, swimming is safe for adults and little ones. 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.

Recommended for Beaches because: This beach is known as one of the safest in the country. It's also very pretty with convenient access to shops and restaurants.

Geneva's expert tip: Plan a day around your trip to this beach. Enjoy a swim, then pop into some shops and grab a burger at The Spot. It's legendary.

Read more about Carpinteria State Beach →

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 called The Boathouse. 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.

Recommended for Beaches because: Does your dog love the beach? Then this dog-friendly beach is your top choice in Santa Barbara.

Geneva's expert tip: Go for the beach, stay for happy hour. The Boathouse serves up amazing cocktails and great apps Sunday through Thursday from 3 p.m. until closing.

Read more about Arroyo Burro Beach County Park →

Santa Claus Beach
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

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.

Recommended for Beaches because: A beautiful, wide beach with a gradual, sloping entrance. Surf and paddle board rentals are right nearby, as well as a few restaurants.

Geneva's expert tip: Between the natural seashore scenery, mountain backdrop and beachfront homes, you're guaranteed a lot of golden vacation photo opportunities.

Read more about Santa Claus Beach →

Butterfly Beach
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

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 Biltmore hotel in 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 shares a border with 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 served.

Recommended for Beaches because: Butterfly Beach is the stuff of legend. Stroll the even, white sands across from one of the most famous hotels in Santa Barbara.

Geneva's expert tip: If you really want to impress your sweetie, duck into the swanky bar at the Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore hotel across the street for an elegant cocktail.

Read more about Butterfly Beach →


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