A Breath of Fresh Air: Outdoor Activities in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is the perfect vacation spot for outdoor enthusiasts. And if you're lucky enough to live here, so much the better! With year-round temperatures averaging between 60 and 75 degrees, weather woes are not a concern and almost any day is a fine day for a picnic.

There are parks, beaches, hiking trails and outdoor activities galore in Santa Barbara. This list will take you on a tour of 10 of the best, but it represents only a very small fraction of the whole.

If you're traveling with kids, you won't want to miss Chase Palm Park and the Santa Barbara Zoo. Both are located in close proximity to the beach, but that's not all that recommends them. In addition to fun trails and play areas, Chase Palm Park has working antique carousel. A ride on this magical amusement of yesteryear costs only $2.

The zoo has over 500 species of animals. A small train carries visitors around the property. You can even feed the giraffes!

Not a landlubber? No worries. Board the Condor Express for a whale watching tour and keep your eyes peeled for Humpbacks and Gray Whales. Or rent a kayak and charter your own little boat around the Santa Barbara Harbor


Set your sights on the high seas and charter the ship that suits your fancy! The Santa Barbara Sailing Center rents water vehicles of all kinds - from kayaks and cruising yachts to stand up paddle boards. If you don't feel like being the captain of your own ship, you can also join group tours on the Double Dolphin. Enjoy an afternoon of whale watching or a romantic sunset cruise. The Santa Barbara Sailing Center offers youth summer camps and after school sailing programs too. Kayak rentals on the beach start at just $10! So what are you waiting for?

Possibly the most wonderous of all natural wonders in Santa Barbara, California. The Coronado Butterfly Preserve is a place where - from late October through early March - monarch butterflies migrate to spend the winter. They hang in clumps and clusters from the branches of the eucalyptus trees, often hundreds at a time. Free to the public (there is a donation box at the entrance), the Coronado Butterfly Preserve open every day from sunrise to sunset. Even in the off season, the preserve is a beautiful place to visit, home to numerous birds and wildlife, Devereux Creek, trails, open area and outdoor gathering areas and classroom.

One of the most popular hiking destinations in the Santa Barbara area, Inspiration Point offers a scenic view of Santa Barbara, the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands beyond. Although there are several place to pick up the trail, the most common route is to start on Tunnel Road just past the Santa Barbara Mission. From there, it is about a three and a half mile hike that will take between 1 to 2 hours. The trail is dog friendly. Bring some water and some sunblock. Free parking in the surrounding neighborhoods, but it can be pretty packed on weekends.


No trip to Santa Barbara is complete without a visit to 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. It also makes for a lovely path for pedestrians to take in the view. Harbor businesses include many shops and restaurants, as well as the yacht club and 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.

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Santa Barbara is a great place to go whale watching, and the Condor Express is one of the best loved tours around. For over 30 years, the Condor Express crew has been setting out to sea in search of Gray Whales, Humpbacks, Orcas and more. During whale watching season, there are as many as three trips daily. This is great activity for both adults and children. There is also a galley on board that serves hot and cold breakfast and lunch so you don't haver to bother with packing a meal. There's even a full bar! Book online or call to schedule your trip. You can also charter the Condor Express for private events like wedding cruises and corporate trips.

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Alameda Park
Photo courtesy of Nico Lette

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.

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This 10-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 nearby, 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. This pleasant plaza also boasts a stately fountain, and a small, beautifully detailed lake invites folks to be mesmerized for a while. The Santa Barbara visitor center is nearby. An outdoor art fair is hosted directly across from the park every Sunday.

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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. Over 500 species are showcased on 30 lush acres overlooking the beach. Special features include giraffe feedings (yes, you get to hand feed giraffes!) and a giant animatronic T.Rex named Duncan, star of the show "How To Train Your Dinosaur." 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.

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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.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Specializing in West Coast flora, this stunning botanic garden features a variety of habitats that focus on showcasing - and conserving - California's native plants. Across 75 acres of terrain are desert, meadow, ridge and redwood forest vistas. Other displays illustrate how to use similar plants, particularly drought tolerant varieties, in domestic environments. Guided tours are available on weekends and themed self-guided tours are accessible at any time. Throughout the year, concerts, lectures and other special programs expand the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden's educational efforts. There is also a retail shop on site, offering books, nature-inspired gifts and locally made wildflower honey.


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