Best Things to Do with Kids in Santa Barbara

10 fun things to do in Santa Barbara (no babysitter required)

You love Santa Barbara. Maybe you came here to party in Isla Vista when you were a college student. Then later you picked it as your honeymoon destination, spending lazy days on the white sand beaches and evenings dining under the stars at romantic restaurants like Lucky's or Via Maestra 42.

Then you had kids, and all that free leisure time you once had suddenly disappeared.

Chin up, buttercup, we have good news for you: Santa Barbara is just as wonderful (perhaps even more so) as a family vacation destination! In fact, we had a difficult time limiting this list to just 10 kid-friendly activities.

So where to begin? 

We believe that the perfect day with kids starts at the beach. Get your fill of sand, sun and swimming at Carpinteria Beach, billed as one of the world's safest beaches because there is no undertow. Then in the afternoon, head to the MOXI museum for some hands-on exploration. Or hop on the Land Shark for an amphibious cruise that sails you across both land and sea. Finish your day with a trip to Kid's World at Alameda Park. Then, after the kiddos exhaust themselves on the area's best playground, treat yourself to a little room service back at your luxurious hotel.

See? Some things never change. Fun times and sweet dreams are practically guaranteed in paradise, no matter how old you are.


Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

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 kid-friendly terrain are desert, meadow, ridge and redwood forest vistas. Other displays illustrate how to use similar plants, particularly drought tolerant varieties, in domestic environments. Programs for children and families include family classes and workshops, and weekend and evening educational events. A summer camp for kids aged 5-10 invites campers to create, get dirty and ask questions. There is also a retail shop on site, offering books, nature-inspired gifts and locally made wildflower honey.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Need a hiking option suitable for younger family members? Mainly flat trails and gorgeous scenery make the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden a great choice.

Geneva's expert tip: If a plant catches your eye during your visit, just stop by the onsite nursery to take home your very own specimen.

Read more about Santa Barbara Botanic Garden →

Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market
Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market

For a colorful and delicious outing, take your kiddo(s) to one of the weekly Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Markets. Local farmers and other vendors gather here and sell directly to consumers. Fruits, vegetables, dairy products, bread, even fish and meat, everything you crave is waiting for you at one of Santa Barbara's seven weekly farmers markets, rain or shine. Enjoy free samples, smell the flowers and listen to music being played by buskers. Many of the best local restaurants shop the markets, too, so keep your eyes peeled for shoppers in chef's coats with their carts piled high ... and then be sure to ask them where they're cooking that night!

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Enjoy the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of Santa Barbara's local bounty. Kids love the free samples!

Geneva's expert tip: If you go to the Tuesday or Saturday downtown markets, pop across the road for locally roasted coffee and freshly baked treats at Dune.

Read more about Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market →

Santa Barbara Harbor
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

No family 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. Harbor businesses include stores and restaurants, in addition to the local yacht club and Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. Fun boat shuttles take visitors from the harbor to Stearns Wharf and back for a small fee. The breakwater was completed in 1930 and provides a safe harbor for commercial and private boats, as well as a lovely (and easy) walking path to take in the view. Free and paid parking is available. Several beaches within walking distance.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: There's so much to see and do at the harbor - boats, fish, the breakwater and more!

Geneva's expert tip: Head to the harbor early on a Saturday morning to check out the fresh catches at the local fish market.

Read more about Santa Barbara Harbor →

Carpinteria State Beach
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Both rugrats and big kids love this super safe beach. Applauded by "Dr. Beach" as one of the safest in the country, Carpinteria State Beach is a hit with locals and visitors alike. A protective reef ensures calm waters with no undertow. Swimming is safe for adults and little ones, and the beach is great for building sandcastles, exploring tide pools and fishing. Restrooms, picnic areas and camping facilities can be found nearby, 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 Things to Do with Kids because: This beach is considered one of the safest beaches in the world, with a wide sandy shore and no undertow.

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.

Read more about Carpinteria State Beach →

Santa Barbara
Alameda Park
Photo courtesy of Nico Lette

Kids love this downtown park. It's home to Kids World, the best playground in town! Kids World at Alameda Park has swings and slides and towers and turrets (and there's even a large spectator area for parents). The rest of the park is nice, too. Trees dot the landscape, and there's a gazebo where musicians sometimes play. Alameda Park is an ideal destination for a lazy afternoon spent reading or napping in the sun or, alternatively, playing a fun pick-up soccer game with friends. Picnicking areas and restrooms are available, and the park often hosts large city celebrations and events. Santa Barbara's Earth Day and Summer Solstice festivals are held here.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Kids World at Alameda Park boats the largest playground in town, and it's recently been updated for even cleaner, safer fun.

Geneva's expert tip: Multiple tree-shaded picnic areas nearby lend themselves to outdoor birthdays and other celebrations. Bring a pinata!

Read more about Alameda Park →

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center
Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

The Sea Center is a wet and wild offshoot of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. This science museum is focused on marine life. Creatures of the deep and the not-so-deep steal the spotlight, from eels to starfish. Interactive exhibits abound. There is a live shark touch pool and a tide pool tank that children can travel through for a fisheye view, in addition to many other displays. The wet deck allows for a magnified peek at the sea life right under your feet. You can even take samples just like an oceanographer would! Visitors of all ages will enjoy discovering the marvels of the ocean at the Sea Center.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This fun marine science museum is great for little ones who like hands-on exploration. No hushed tones or "Don't Touch" signs here!

Geneva's expert tip: Follow your visit to the museum with a trip to the nearby ice cream shop or candy store on the wharf for a day the kids won't forget.

Read more about Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center →

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

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. For a natural history experience with a seaside twist, visit its associate site on the wharf, the Sea Center.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Taxidermy, glowing minerals, life-sized dioramas, indoor and outdoor play spaces, a planetarium ... what's not to love?

Geneva's expert tip: In the summer, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is home to the much-beloved Butterflies Alive! exhibit. Check the website for exact dates; the exhibit usually wraps up in early September.

Read more about Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History →

Land And Sea Tours
Photo courtesy of Nico Lette

LAND SHARK! This is the most fun tour in Santa Barbara, primarily because it takes place on a huge open truck-type vehicle that, halfway through the 90-minute tour, turns into a boat and launches into the sea! Yes, Land and Sea Tours offers an amphibious tour with an ambitious goal: to show you the best sights Santa Barbara has to offer, both on and off the water. As an added bonus, the guides that narrate the informative tour are both hilarious and entertaining. Kids love it; adults love it; even locals love it. The Land Shark departs daily from the entrance to Stearns Wharf. Visit their website for updated tour schedules.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The Land Shark is a truck that turns into a boat (and then back into a truck), so it's basically pure magic for children.

Geneva's expert tip: Land and Sea Tours allows the amazing Land Shark to be chartered for pirate - ahem - private parties that take to the seas.

Read more about Land And Sea Tours →

Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Zoo
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

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!), the zoo train and a family play area. 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 picnic areas, seasonal educational classes and event rental opportunities. And it's conveniently located within walking distance of the beach.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The compact Santa Barbara Zoo is stunning - with lions and tigers and giraffes, oh my! - and easily enjoyed in an hour or two.

Geneva's expert tip: To get your bearings, start your day by riding one of the zoo trains, miniature locomotives that travel the circumference of the property.

Read more about Santa Barbara Zoo →

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation
Photo courtesy of MOXI

Santa Barbara's most kid-friendly attraction is MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. With three floors of interactive exhibits, this science-driven museum invites curious minds of all ages to explore themes like new tech, music, physical forces, speed and light. Kiddos love the hands-on exhibits that encourage them to interact, make and play. There's a speed track for racing cars you build yourself, sound studios that let you create your own sound effects, playful light walls and much more. Parents (and non-parents) love the after-hours parties on MOXI's gorgeous rooftop with a view of the city. MOXI is conveniently located close to the beach, the train, downtown and the Funk Zone.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Kids of all ages love exploring at MOXI (even big, parent-aged kids)!

Geneva's expert tip: Plan your trip around lunch to take advantage of one of the tasty restaurants in the Funk Zone, like Metropulos, Santo Mezcal or The Nook.

Read more about MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation →


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