My Tips on How to Explore this California Beach Town
Santa Barbara is a captivating beach town that to me, feels like nowhere else on along the pacific coast. It has a distinct, down-to-earth yet kinda quirky personality that is nestled in the midst of mountains, shoreline and sunshine. For a Santa Monica resident like myself, I try to escape to SB a few times per year as it is a scenic 2 hour drive and a world away from the touristed, trafficky LA hotspots. Since so many people have asked for my favorite things to do when I go, I decided to post up some highlights.
Surrey the City
When I first arrive in a new town, I usually like to walk, jog or bike the streets to get a feel for the place. But in Santa Barbara there’s an even more unique and hilarious method of getting around– the Surrey! This ‘tuk-tuk meets bike’ is powered by your own two legs, but you can have the help of a partner, or even the whole family! You aren’t in a hurry in a surrey (wow didn’t mean to rhyme) but that is the beauty of it. You sit back, enjoy the scenery and easily stop whenever you want to take a photo or grab a bite.
I suggest taking your surrey along the beach front path and stopping at Shoreline Beach Cafe for delicious bites and drinks, right in the sand. I rented our surrey from Wheels of Fun, conveniently located right near the beach and at the start of the Funk Zone.
Kayaking Along the Coast
Santa Barbara has a spectacular coastline. Cove beaches, gentle waves and palm tree studded stretches of sand. The way the coast curves in and out makes for jaw-dropping views as the sun sets and I always envy the people drifting along the sailboats in the horizon.
I think the best way to appreciate Santa Barbara’s best asset (IMO) is by getting IN it! Swimming is wonderful but I prefer kayaking the deep blue waters to cover more ground, take photos and hang out for a few hours. The on-the-water vantage point lets you appreciate the shoreline to one side, the endless blue to the other and all the marine life all the way to the sea floor, below your paddles.
There are a few good options for kayaking. I’ve paddled the harbor and really liked the “front door” look at the breathtaking boats in the marina as well as the reverse perspective of the town from the water. It is also very family friendly since it relatively calm and can be done in an hour.
It also doesn’t hurt that on our paddle, sea lions were swimming alongside our boat. I’d recommend this harbor tour to set you up with kayaks and a guide
If you are looking for something a little more unique and more adventurous, the four kayak excursion at Refugio State Park might be more your speed. This 3 mile tour covers one of the least developed parts of California’s coast, which means LOTS of wildlife. Your guide informs you about all the plants and wildlife that makes these waters home. I also like that there’s even a stop to have an included lunch on a secluded beach. Learn more about the Refugio State Beach Kayak tour here.
Whether you are a local looking to improve your skills or a visitor wanting to check off “surfing in California” from the Bucket List, it’s a good idea to pick up a board and head out. You are in California after all.
But many of our waves are no joke and I wouldn’t recommend diving into surfing as a novice–without some guidance at least (I always go out with a guide as I am still learning as well).
Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers that guidance, and the gear, so you can get out on the waves confidently and safely. Choose from a 2 or 4 hour lesson, which comes with boards, wetsuits and instruction– no matter what level you are at. You surf at a nearby beach that has gentle waves and is free from rocks which is a perfect place to learn. It’s also only 15 minutes away so you can still make it back to town for a well deserved post-surf lunch or happy hour.
Speaking of happy hour… THE FuNk ZoNe
It’s no secret that the Funk Zone is the fun place to be, especially from 4:30 to sunset. Every time I visit it, it feels different and to be honest, even better! My last time touring the FZ, I was pregnant, so I had a very sober look at all the wineries, breweries, cocktail bars and little shops in between. Let me tell you, if I thought it was awesome sober, imagine how great it is if you can have a drink or two.
After sipping our way through many, here are the stops in the Funk Zone that stick out.
Figueroa Brewing Company: The outdoor patio and frequent live music made me love this place, even though I don’t love beer.
Kunin: The Cape Cod beach vibe of this place made me fall in love immediately and it was lovely to post up a high top and linger over a glass of local pinot noir.
Test Pilot: I can’t help but love a good cocktail and a good cocktail in a perfectly decorated tiki style bar? My love overflows. Definitely stop here if just to admire the ship wheel lamp that adorns the main bar.
The ideal way to experience the wine country near Santa Barbara is to do so worry-free. Booking with Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours takes away the hassles associated with transportation, itinerary, and they even provide lunch and cold drinks. You are spending the day drinking wine, so you aren’t driving so you’ll need a shuttle service anyway (much easier than trying to find ubers at some of these more remote locations).
SB Wine Country Tours offers one tour in particular that I think looks incredible. It is a Cupcake and Wine Tour, where you eat your way through a cupcake & wine pairing, explore Los Olivos and have lunch at a small winery. The town of Los Olivos is so charming and perfect for an afternoon visit. Plus the wineries that they takes you too, like Sunstone and Brander, make each stop intoxicating. 🙂
For more of my favorite things to do, check out my 24 Hours in Santa Barbara video!
What are your favorite things to do in Santa Barbara? I am always looking for new things to try on my next trip!