Things to do in Santa Barbara with Kids
Whether you’re a local parent or grandparent or planning a Santa Barbara family vacation, here is the ultimate guide on fun things to do in Santa Barbara with kids.
I’ve both grown up and raised kids in beautiful Santa Barbara, California. As a food and travel blogger for the past 10+ years, I’m often asked for Santa Barbara vacation recommendations.
From the beaches to the mountains, there are plenty of things to do in Santa Barbara with kids of all ages. Here are our top picks.
Top Things to Do in Santa Barbara with Kids
Though not a big city like Los Angeles, San Diego, or San Francisco, there are many fun things to do in Santa Barbara with kids. We’ll go over the top family-friendly museums, beaches, parks, outdoor activities, and more.
1. SANTA BARBARA ZOO
The Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the top things to do with kids in Santa Barbara. This beautiful zoo overlooking East Beach has plenty of animal exhibits.
Kids also love riding the train, feeding the giraffes, and rolling down the hill at the family play area. Reservations are required.
The Santa Barbara Zoo is not only a great family activity, it’s a popular location for weddings and birthday parties.
Best Museums in Santa Barbara for Kids
You might think of the beach or mountains when considering fun things to do with the family in Santa Barbara. However, there are a few fun and educational museums that can’t be missed.
2. SANTA BARBARA MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
It’s easy to spend hours exploring the indoor exhibits and outdoor areas at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
Some favorite exhibits include the Mammal Hall, Marine Sciences, and Chumash Life. Butterflies Alive is a popular summer exhibit.
3. SEA CENTER
Located on Stearn’s Wharf, the Sea Center is a marine museum featuring much of our local Santa Barbara marine life. The hands-on exhibits make the sea center one of our top picks for fun things to do in Santa Barbara with kids.
MOXI – The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation is an interactive science museum for all ages. Plan on spending a couple of hours exploring the various exhibits.
5. SANTA BARBARA MUSEUM OF ART
The art museum in downtown Santa Barbara is small but home to many interesting pieces of art, from ancient to modern. They also host special temporary exhibits.
The museum hosts family activities throughout the year including hands-on creative classes. I recommend checking out the 1st Thursday activities. They also offer wonderful art camps for kids during Spring Break and summer at another location. My kids loved the ceramics camps.
6. SOUTH COAST RAILROAD MUSEUM
If you have kids who are interested in trains, head out to the historic depot in Goleta. This preserved 1901 train station is open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. There is a miniature train that kids (and adults) love to ride around the property. The holiday events are especially fun.
Best Santa Barbara Beaches for Kids
Great beaches are easy to find all up and down the Central Coast. Parking is usually free and not too difficult to come by if you’re ok with a walk. Downtown beaches off Cabrillo Blvd. do have paid parking lots that make the beach more accessible.
Here are some favorite family beaches in Santa Barbara, from Montecito to Goleta. Don’t forget your towels, drinks and snacks, sunscreen, boogie boards, and an umbrella.
7. BUTTERFLY BEACH
This pristine beach is located in Montecito in front of the Coral Casino and (currently closed) Four Seasons Biltmore. Parking can be challenging on busy days so be prepared for a short walk.
Located next to Shoreline Park, Ledbetter is a popular beach for surfing and sunbathing. There is a large parking lot beachside restaurant with a restroom as well.
Hendry’s beach is conveniently located and is family and dog-friendly. There are bathrooms, showers for sandy feet, and even a nice restaurant and snack bar. The parking lot tends to fill up so arrive early on nice weekend days – and take your valuables with you.
Located next to the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Haskell’s is more of a local’s beach. Park near the tennis courts at the Bacara hotel (free) and walk down the beautiful path to the beach. There are clean bathrooms that are maintained by the hotel.
Best Santa Barbara Parks for Kids
Parks are wonderful places for kids to play and families to enjoy a picnic or stroll. Here are some of the top parks around town that kids love.
11. GWENDOLYN’S PLAYGROUND (COMING SOON)
Gwendndoly’s Playground will be the first fully inclusive playground in the area. Conveniently located across the street from the Santa Barbara Zoo and near the waterfront, the playground will be an incredible experience for all ages.
If you’d like to be involved, learn about fundraising opportunities such as purchasing a commemorative paver.
12. SHORELINE PARK
Located on the Mesa, Shoreline Park is a wonderful place for kids and families to play. The park features a safe and clean play area, lots of grass, and a bike path set away from the road – all with a spectacular ocean view.
Shoreline Park is a great place for young kids to learn to ride a bike and roller skate. Parents with babies and toddlers often walk and jog along this path with strollers too.
Bring bikes, scooters, roller skates, and a picnic from Lazy Acres Market.
13. KIDS WORLD PARK
Located in downtown Santa Barbara, Kids World offers more interesting play equipment than many others. However, it is still not accessible to those with some disabilities.
14. MISSION ROSE GARDEN
The rose garden across from the Santa Barbara mission doesn’t have a playground, but it is a very popular family spot. Bring a picnic and soccer ball or frisbee for your kids.
Best Outdoor Activities for Kids and Families in Santa Barbara
With year-round temperate weather, ocean, and mountains, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities available. So it’s no surprise outdoor activities are some of the best things to do with kids in Santa Barbara. Here are some family-friendly ways to enjoy the outdoors.
15. STEARN’S WHARF
If you don’t mind playing tourist, take a walk around Stearn’s Wharf. There are a few restaurants as well as an (overpriced) ice cream shop, a candy shop, the Sea Center, and a lovely wine tasting room.
Teenagers jump off the pier, though I believe this is prohibited and I don’t encourage it.
Young children love looking at the marine life during low tide. You might find mussels, sea anemones, starfish, crabs, and even octopus if you’re lucky! Tide pooling is a great cold-day beach activity.
Check the tide calendar and plan your adventure. Coal Oil Point and Hendry’s Beach are good places to begin tide-pooling.
If your family likes to hike, you’re in luck. There is a hike for every age and level. Young hiking novices will enjoy the trail at the very end of the parking lot at Tucker’s Grove Park. More experienced hikers should check out my favorite, Inspiration Point. Jesusita trail is another favorite hiking trail in Santa Barbara.
18. HORSEBACK RIDING
Book a beach or trail ride with Los Padres Outfitters. They welcome guests over 10 years old, but if your child is between 7 and 9 and an experienced rider, give them a call.
For a luxury dude ranch experience, I recommend staying the night at Alisal Ranch in Solvang. My family loved the Breakfast Ride (pictured above).
19. WHALE WATCHING
There are several options for whale watching in Santa Barbara. There’s a good chance you’ll spot some dolphins and sea lions too!
- Double Dolphin at the SB Sailing Center offers seasonal whale watching trips on their 50-foot Sailing Catamaran.
- Condor Express offers year-round whale and dolphin watching. This is the largest of the whale watching boats and can fit over 100 passengers.
- Sunset Kidd is a 41-ft. sailing yacht that offers whale watching seasonally from mid-February through mid-May.
- Celebration Cruises watches gray whales as they migrate through the Santa Barbara Channel on their way to Alaska! Cruises are available seasonally from mid-February through mid-May.
20. LIL’ TOOT WATER TAXI BOAT RIDE
Kids love riding around the Santa Barbara harbor in the adorable yellow Lil’ Toot. This water taxi provides 25 minutes of narrated rides between Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor every hour.
Once you’re done on the Lil’ Toot, get lunch in the harbor at Brophy Bros. or Sushi.
21. BIKE OR SURREY RIDING
Rent bikes or a surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals and cruise along the waterfront. I recommend taking younger kids on bikes to Shoreline Park to ride around the paths.
Take a private or group surfing lesson. In the summer there are week-long surfing camps for kids too.
23. PADDLEBOARDING & KAYAKING
There are a few different places you can rent paddleboards and kayaks. We use Santa Barbara Sailing Center, as they make the process very easy for beginners. They will put the board in the water in the harbor and all you have to do is step on.
I took a group of girls for my daughter’s 14th birthday party. When the kids were younger they would sit on my board while I paddled them around. The Sailing Center also offers kids’ sailing, kayak, and SUP camps in the summer.
24. ELLWOOD PRESERVE
The Ellwood Bluffs in Goleta is a wonderful place to walk anytime, but especially when the monarch butterflies migrate here each November through February.
25. SANTA BARBARA BOTANIC GARDEN
Explore the native Santa Barbara plants at the Botanic Garden. There is plenty of room to play and roam on this beautiful property.
Ganna Walska Lotusland is a historic estate with many magnificent gardens. There are special events throughout the year, and we especially love their Halloween party.
Reservations are required and it’s best to book as early as possible and at least three weeks out.
27. RIDE A TROLLY
If you’re on a Santa Barbara family vacation and would like to see the sights on a tour, hop on one of the historic trollies.
28. FARMERS MARKET
Taste some of the local produce at the farmer’s market. Santa Barbara is blessed to have a farmers market almost every day of the week. The most lively are on Tuesdays and Saturdays when there is usually live music.
29. WANDER AROUND STATE STREET
State Street is home to many of the local shops and restaurants. Do some shopping and grab a bite to eat.
30. SKATER’S POINT SKATE PARK
Kids who love to skateboard can get some energy out at the beachfront skate park located near West Beach.
31. GO ICE SKATING
Ice in Paradise is located in Goleta and offers public skating sessions as well as group and private lessons and ice hockey.
The Mission Rose Garden, beach, or a winery. While wine tasting might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of family-friendly activities, many wineries have large grassy areas and are great for picnicking.
33. HOTEL POOL DAY PASS
You can enjoy a luxury hotel pool or spa for the day, even if you’re staying in a vacation rental or with family. The Ritz-Carlton Bacara offers cabana rentals online. Several other resorts including the Rosewood Miramar and Hotel Californian offer day passes through ResortPass.
34. FAMILY PHOTOSHOOT
Take advantage of Santa Barbara’s picturesque landscape and book a photoshoot for your kids or family. We’ve used Kacie Jean Photography many times.
35. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO SOLVANG OR SANTA YNEZ VALLEY
One of my family’s favorite things to do is drive about half an hour north to the Santa Ynez Valley. The Folded Hills Farmstead is a must if you’re in the area. Full Moon Farms is the next beautiful farmstead I can’t wait to check out.
36. SPEND A NIGHT CAMPING (OR GLAMPING)
Head 20 minutes north of Santa Barbara for a camping or “glamping” adventure at El Capitan Canyon.
37. FIND A NEW BOOK
Visiting the Santa Barbara or Goleta library is a popular activity for families with young children. Perusing the children’s books is a peaceful, free, and educational way to spend a couple of hours.
Alternatively, visit our charming local bookstore, Chaucer’s Books. I love to sit in a chair there looking through their great selection of cookbooks. Kids love books, puzzles, games, and stuffed animals.
Seasonal Things to do in Santa Barbara with Kids
SUMMER CONCERTS. Young children love to dance and enjoy a picnic outdoors at Chase Palm Park during the summer. Concerts in the Park run from 6:00-8:30 PM on Thursday evenings. It’s free!
I MODANNARI (Memorial Day Weekend) is a fun Italian street painting festival that takes place every year at the Santa Barbara Mission. Kids can create their own chalk drawings and enjoy a snow cone.
GO BERRY-PICKING at Santa Barbara Blueberries, located about 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara.
4TH OF JULY FIREWORKS happen at 9 PM from West Beach.
LANE FARMS PUMPKIN PATCH is a fun place to pick out a pumpkin and say hello to a few farm animals.
TROLLY LIGHT TOUR is a 90-minute narrated tour sure to get you and your family into the holiday spirit. The trolley goes by the most spectacularly decorated homes in Santa Barbara and there is often a Santa Sighting too.
Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Santa Barbara
Most restaurants in Santa Barbara are very kid-friendly. Even my favorite Vegan Restaurants and those in very upscale hotels. Generally, any restaurant by the beach, Italian, or Mexican should make kids happy.
- Shoreline Beach Cafe
- Padaro Beach Grill
- Lucky Penny
- Mesa Burger
- Los Arroyos
- Via Maestra
FAQs About Santa Barbara for Kids
IS SANTA BARBARA FAMILY-FRIENDLY?
Santa Barbara is very family-friendly and kid-friendly. It’s a great place to raise kids and a wonderful place for a family vacation.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO IN SANTA BARBARA WITH BABIES AND TODDLERS?
Toddlers love running around the beaches and parks listed above. The Santa Barbara Zoo and Museum of Natural History are some favorite places for toddlers.
For parent-child classes, check out MyGym and Yellow Bird Music.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO IN SANTA BARBARA WITH TEENAGERS?
My teen daughters like to hang out around State Street for shopping. Riding bikes to the beach is another popular activity for teens.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO IN SANTA BARBARA WITH KIDS ON RAINY DAYS?
While outdoor activities probably come to mind first when thinking of fun things to do with kids in Santa Barbara, there are fun rainy day options.
There isn’t an indoor mall, but there are other indoor spaces. Bring books (or iPads) to one of the local coffee shops like Handlebar. Then go play at one of the indoor museums like the Moxi, Sea Center, or Natural History Museum.
Check out the Public Library or our local bookstore, Chaucer’s. For arts and crafts, choose some supplies at Michael’s or spend the day at The Crafter’s Library.
Let them feed hay to horses.
Fresh Hay Bales for Sale USA, Europe and Asia https://wilshayfarms.com/