Best Family-Friendly Restaurants in Santa Barbara: Enjoy Hassle-Free Family Dining

Who wants to go out to eat tonight? You, your kids and aunt Glenda, that's who! Yep, you'll be dining with the whole family in Santa Barbara this evening, and you know what that means: plenty of potential for hijinks and foibles and tearful tantrums.

What you need is a place with plenty of seating, great atmosphere, a varied menu and, quite possibly, a little background noise (to drown out any arguments).

Relax, we are here to save the day. This list of the ten best family-friendly restaurants in Santa Barbara has something for everyone, without being full of the usual chain restaurants and pizza parlors.

If you're looking for a fun dinner stop, try Harry's Plaza Cafe on upper State St. There is free parking, plenty of seating and a wide menu of classics - from spaghetti to enchiladas to tuna melts. They have killer desserts too, like a nine-scoop banana split that's sure to impress the younger set.

Over 21? The bar at Harry's is also something of a legend. Hope you like stiff drinks!

For breakfast, stop into the Cajun Kitchen for pancakes, scrambles, muffins and more. There are two locations close to downtown. Prices are fair, and portions are generous. 

Remember, you're on vacation to have a good time. So take the family out to eat, and let someone else do the dishes!

Beachside Bar-Cafe


Can you beat a seafood restaurant and bar that's right on the beach? Of course not! The Beachside Bar-Cafe is the place to go in Goleta if you want to enjoy a meal and perhaps an adult beverage with your family while watching the waves. Many of their signature drinks include nice tropical garnishes, like umbrellas. Just the kind of thing to sip before a stroll along the sand. Stop by for happy hour during the week. If you happen to work up an appetite after a cocktail or two, try the fish tacos. They're scrumptious! Free parking in the lot right out front.



If you want ice cream in Santa Barbara, you've got to know where to go. Skip the national chains and drugstore ice cream counters. Head straight to Mission Street Ice Cream and Yogurt where they serve McConnell's Fine Ice Creams. McConnell's has been crafting up the creamiest, most mind-meltingly delicious flavors since 1949. Flavors include all of the beloved classics and many new creations, like sea salt caramel and lemon and marionberry. They also make some of the finest shakes and malts around. Free parking right out front (but it gets crowded).

The Natural Cafe
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives


With 10 locations in the surrounding areas, The Natural Cafe is a Santa Barbara small business success story. A local favorite for vegetarian and vegan options, this popular lunch and dinner restaurant also serves up delicious chicken and fish entrees. In all of their semi-casual establishments, you place your order at the counter and then wait for your food to be delivered to your table. Popular dishes include their fresh fish tacos, savory meatless burgers, and signature caesar salad generously topped with avocado. To drink The Natural Cafe offers beer, regional wine, natural sodas, and delicious custom blended smoothies and shakes. The dining room is large and casual, perfect for relaxed family meals.



The Habit Burger Grill is a Santa Barbara-based hamburger chain that is truly a local favorite. From their signature smoky charburger and the albacore sandwich made from line-caught tuna to freshly tossed salads, the Habit serves up fresh food fast. They also have a delicious veggie burger, crisp fries, heavenly onion rings and rich, frosty malts. Established here in 1969 and still family-owned, there are now over 70 locations - mostly in California. This location is right in the heart of downtown, so it's the perfect stop if you're out shopping or headed to the movies. They also have a truck that you can rent to cater weddings, parties and corporate events.

Santa Barbara
On The Alley
Photo courtesy of On The Alley


On The Alley is a more casual sister venue brought to you by the owners of Brophy Bros., Santa Barbara's wildly popular seafood restaurant. Serving fresh fish tacos, tasty sandwiches (try the pulled pork) and burgers, On The Alley dishes up great lunch fare in view of the harbor. Included on the menu are a handful of Brophy Bros. classics, like garlic baked clams. Breakfast is also served. Communal seating is available in front of the restaurant for dining al fresco, or you can take your food to go. And, as if the sea air, generous portions and wallet-friendly prices aren't already enough to ensure a feel good experience, everything in the restaurant - from the floor tiles to the refrigeration units - is a result of the owners' commitment to using only products that are made in the USA.



Cajun Kitchen is a Santa Barbara tradition, a local breakfast and lunch joint with something like a million different locations in Santa Barbara county. And every location is packed, too! Hearty food, good prices and quick service keeps us coming back. Standard fare at Cajun Kitchen includes big, three-egg omelets, syrupy french toast and classic sandwiches. Breakfast is served all day. In addition to your usual toast options, they also offer cornbread and blueberry muffins. This a great place to take kids even if they're notoriously picky eaters. It's also a fun, informal place to dine with a group. Prepare for a wait on weekend mornings.

Padaro Beach Grill


Is there a prettier beachfront restaurant in Santa Barbara county? We don't think so. Overlooking Santa Claus beach, a local favorite, the Padaro Beach Grill boasts a park-like outdoor dining room that's ideal for family meals, day dates and impromptu gatherings. Enjoy fresh salads, savory burgers and sinfully rich milkshakes that are blended by hand - only after you place your order. A large sandbox encourages the kiddos to play while grownups indulge in refreshing beers and local wines. Try the shrimp salad or one of the 100% prime chuck burgers. Live bands are common on the weekends. Free (but often crowded) parking right out front.

Santa Barbara
Palace Grill
Photo courtesy of The Palace Grill


"Laissez les bons temps rouler," is the motto at The Palace Grill, a phrase that translates to: Let the good times roll! A night at The Palace isn't complete without a sing-a-long (just one song) and rousing group toast. With a menu that reads like a roster of Southern and Creole favorites, you're guaranteed to leave with a full belly. Start with their hearty gumbo, then dig into a batch of crawfish etouffee before concluding your meal with their famous bread pudding with whiskey cream sauce. Reservations are accepted at 5:30 or not at all, so come early or be prepared to wait in line. But don't worry, even their line is fun, with musicians on many nights and passed appetizers to whet your appetite.



Harry's Plaza Cafe is a Santa Barbara institution. Opened in 1968, this cosy restaurant has been serving homestyle meals and stiff drinks to loyal locals for decades. Unassuming from the front, just pass through the door to time travel into a comfortable family eatery, complete with deep red booths, velvet damask wallpaper and photos of celebrities past and present. A two-sided, mirrored bar serves some of the strongest drinks in town - try their signature Mean Tai - and private rooms allows for invitation-only parties. In the mood for a challenge? Try their banana split with 9 scoops of ice cream. Eat the whole thing by yourself, and it's on the house!


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