You won't find much in the way of amenities at this lovely beach, but it's a local favorite nevertheless. Its sweep of sand is ideal for lying in the sun, and the ocean is perfect for swimming, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. Tucked in the charming, celebrity-beloved neighborhood of Montecito, Butterfly Beach is extremely 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 has an east-west orientation, unlike most of Santa Barbara's south-facing beaches. For that reason, it's one of the area's best spots for both sunrise and sunset views. Street parking is first come, first serve.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Tourists and locals alike love Butterfly Beach for its breathtaking views and walkable shores. If you only have time for one beach, this is it.
Geneva's expert tip: Visit this beach just before lunch or dinner, then make the very short drive to Bettina Pizzeria for the best (pizza) pie in town.
Of course you have always wanted to visit a dreamy garden designed by a magnetic but possibly less-than-great Polish opera singer, right? Lotusland is the result of decades of effort and attention at the hands of the eccentric Madame Ganna Walska. Fantastical vignettes feature a wealth of unusual plants, including cycads, which were present in the era of the dinosaur. Other gardens are devoted to lotuses, ferns, succulents, bromeliads, aloes and topiaries. There are also orchards, water gardens and a garden populated exclusively by plants that are blue! Gifts and exclusive souvenirs can be purchased in Lotusland's Garden Shop. Self-guided tours are available Wednesday through Saturday. Advance reservations are required - call as soon as possible to schedule your visit to this once-in-a-lifetime garden.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Ganna Walska's gardens are legendary, due to both their natural beauty and her unusual gardening style. Reservations required and only available by phone.
Geneva's expert tip: If you visit during July or August, you just might be lucky enough to see famed lotuses (for which the garden is named) in bloom.
1st Thursday is a monthly evening celebrating art and culture in downtown Santa Barbara. On the first Thursday of every month, participating galleries, shops and other art-related venues open their doors, offering free access to exhibits and performances. Not limited to artists' receptions, the 1st Thursday art walk also showcases live music, lectures and dance productions. Guests are invited to participate and interact with the performers in a safe, social environment, sparking a creative atmosphere that's great for people watching. Plan your tour using the 1st Thursday Passport - a map detailing upcoming attractions that is available at participating establishments, the Visitor's Center and online. Or simply head out to State St. and wing it... as long as you follow the music, you'll do just fine!
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The 1st Thursday art walk is the perfect way to begin a classic Santa Barbara night out. Enjoy a tour of local galleries.
Geneva's expert tip: Dozens of restaurants dot this gallery hop. When festivities start dying down, follow your nose to a scrumptious dinner.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a great place relax and recharge ... or take some stunning photos! Specializing in native West Coast flora, this "living museum" features a variety of habitats that focus on showcasing - and conserving - California's native plants. Across 78 acres of terrain are desert, meadow, ridge and redwood forest vistas. Other areas show how to use similar plants, particularly drought-tolerant varieties, at your own home. Throughout the year, concerts, lectures and other special programs expand the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden's educational efforts. There is also a nursery and retail shop on site, offering books, nature-inspired gifts and locally made wildflower honey.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: A vibrant setting for an afternoon spent outdoors, the Botanic Gardens offer a number of trails suitable for amblers of all sizes and abilities.
Geneva's expert tip: No advance reservation is necessary, but the garden's maximum capacity is often reached on weekends. The best times to visit are weekdays and late afternoons.
Considered one of the most beautiful government buildings in America, Santa Barbara's historic Spanish-Moorish style courthouse draws thousands of visitors each year and is actually the second courthouse on this site, constructed after an earthquake damaged the original Greek revival building in 1925. Although civic court functions are still part of daily life in this bustling structure, there are two sights you absolutely cannot miss: the Mural Room and the El Mirador clock tower. The Mural Room, a popular site for weddings, is the jewel of the Courthouse, showcasing painter Daniel Sayre Groesbeck's romanticized version of Santa Barbara's history over 6,000 square feet of wall space. Not to be outdone, the clock tower allows for a breathtaking 365-degree view of the city. And don't worry... although one end of the building was originally used as a jail, prisoners are no longer housed here.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Santa Barbara Courthouse has been called the most beautiful government building in America. Don't miss the breathtaking tile work (and photo opportunities) inside.
Geneva's expert tip: Climb the stairs or take the elevator to the top of the clock tower for a 360-degree view of Santa Barbara. It's completely free!
A giant skeleton of a blue whale greets you at the entrance to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, letting you know that you have arrived at a magical place dedicated to the wonders of nature. Occupying 15 acres in historic Mission Canyon, the Museum of Natural History boasts a beautiful campus, complete with Spanish-style grounds and buildings. Exhibits include a mineral and gem gallery, Chumash Life hall and the much admired dioramas in the Mammal Hall (among many others). It is also home to the area's only planetarium. The SBMNH is located within walking distance of the Santa Barbara Mission. For a natural history experience with a seaside twist, visit their associate site on the wharf, the Sea Center.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This museum is fun and educational for all ages. It has a whale skeleton named "Chad" right out front, incredible exhibition halls and a planetarium!
Geneva's expert tip: If you're visiting with kiddos, head straight out back to see animatronic dinosaurs in the "Prehistoric Forest."
Elephants, flamingos, lions and even penguins... some of the most intriguing members of the animal kingdom are waiting for you at the Santa Barbara Zoo. More than 500 animals are showcased on 30 lushly planted acres overlooking the beach. Special features include giraffe feedings (yes, you get to hand-feed giraffes!) and two C.P. Huntington trains that circle the perimeter of the grounds to delight visitors of all ages. Committed to their mission of preservation and conservation, the Santa Barbara Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan, actively guarding species like the California Condor from extinction. Aside from spectacular naturalistic animal exhibits, the zoo also offers several play and picnic areas, seasonal educational classes and event rental opportunities.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Animals! The lush Santa Barbara Zoo is home to 146 different species and actively involved in dozens of animal conservation efforts.
Geneva's expert tip: For now, the Santa Barbara Zoo is open to all but requires reservations. Visit its website to book your trip.
Visit a local museum that enjoys a national reputation. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art offers a rare display of the artistic achievements of a variety of cultures and periods. Home to 27,000+ works of art (not including traveling exhibitions), this museum houses a collection that rivals museums in much larger cities in both quantity and quality. For example, the SBMA owns more Monets than any other museum on the West Coast. Particular emphasis is given to American, Asian and Classical art; European painting and sculpture; and 20th century art and photography. Also onsite is a museum store, cafe and special childrens' gallery. The museum is committed to art education, spending roughly 20% of every dollar on academic, outreach, after-school and lecture programs for all ages.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Santa Barbara Museum of Art just completed a stunning six-year renovation. It showcases an awe-inspiring collection of famous masterpieces year-round.
Geneva's expert tip: Visit their website to view upcoming family days, artist talks, evening celebrations and even time dedicated to sketching in the galleries.
No trip to Santa Barbara is complete without a stop at the Santa Barbara Harbor. This is a great place to stroll, eat, shop and see the sights. The breakwater was completed in 1930 and provides safe harbor for commercial and private boats, as well as a lovely path for pedestrians to take in the view. (Watch out for rogue waves!) Harbor businesses include a few shops and some very tasty restaurants. This is also the headquarters of the local yacht club and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. Waterfront shuttles service the area to take visitors from the harbor to Stearns Wharf for a small fee. Free and paid parking is available. Several beaches within walking distance.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Hundreds of boats, panoramic views of the Pacific and one of the best seafood restaurants in town make the harbor a must-see.
Geneva's expert tip: Head to the harbor early on Saturday morning to pick up the freshest catches at the local Fishermans Market on Navy Pier (yes, even during the pandemic).
If you're looking for an attraction that's moving, historical and photogenic, this is it. A joint effort of Franciscan vision and Chumash Indian labor, this historical structure was founded by Franciscan Friar Fermen de Lasuen on the Feast of St. Barbara, December 4, 1786. Architectural details were reworked until the 1830s. Referred to as "Queen of the Missions" for its graceful beauty, the Old Mission Santa Barbara is the tenth of the 21 missions built in California. It features twin bell towers and has outstanding views of the city. Self-guided tours are available daily, and remnants of early mission structures (mill, reservoir, kiln, etc.) can also be seen, along with sacred artifacts. The onsite gift shop sells jewelry, statues, religious artifacts and more.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Known as the "Queen of the Missions," this historic building offers tours, has an ocean view and is fronted by the prettiest rose garden!
Geneva's expert tip: Grab a blanket and pack a picnic to enjoy on the beautiful and spacious lawns surrounding the mission. There's plenty of street parking on weekdays.