Outdoor Family Fun in Santa Barbara

Kid-approved screen breaks that are all about opting outside

Make spring break all about screen breaks courtesy of lots of fresh air and family fun under the sun in Santa Barbara. Whether you’re traveling with tots or teens, the whole family can unplug together and revel in the awe-inspiring beauty of The American Riviera®. We took inspiration from the 1000 Hours Outside campaign to curate these family travel tips to help you make the most of our great outdoors on your next visit. In addition to creating lasting memories together, kids especially will reap important health and developmental benefits from spending time in nature. And that’s something we have in abundance here in Santa Barbara. Happy trails!

Hit the Trails

Santa Barbara is home to a hiking trail network that spans 50 miles from the Santa Ynez Mountains and foothills to the coast. As this fascinating article in the Santa Barbara Independent reveals, some date back as far as 1860! The Sage Trail Alliance, whose important work helps to preserve trails, hosts a comprehensive map of the local trail networks. Family-friendly hikes and nature walks include Ellwood Mesa, the Douglas Family Preserve, Hot Springs and San Antonio Creek Trail.

Ride Bikes

Santa Barbara is one of the country’s most bike-friendly destinations given our dedicated bike paths and bike lanes, as well as the relatively flat downtown and waterfront districts. Our beach hotels offer complimentary bikes for guest use and vendors like Wheel Fun Rentals offer a range of bike rentals—from surreys and city bikes outfitted with child seats to cruisers and electric bikes. Speaking of electric bikes, the whole community is excited about the recent addition of Bcyle Santa Barbara, a bike share program with 80 stations around the city (note the size of these bikes are more appropriate for teens or taller children).

See Cetaceans

November through April is peak grey whale watching season in the nutrient-rich waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. Spring through fall is when the majestic, massive humpback and blue whales take their turn migrating by. And dolphins can be seen frolicking in the waves all year round. Sometimes you can spot whales and dolphins right from the beach or elevated perches like Shoreline Park. But the most incredible way to see these creatures up close is a whale watching excursion, be it by high-speed catamaran or sailboat. PLANNING TIP:  Book our Whales & Tails package for whale watching tickets on the Condor Express.

Garden Hop

Learn about the natural world meandering around the always educational Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, which showcases the vast diversity of native California landscapes, from redwood forests and deserts to our fragrant Central Coast chaparral. Alice Keck Park is home to a tranquil butterfly garden as well as a sensory garden especially created for the visually and physically impaired. There’s also a self-guided tree and plant tour that you can turn into a scavenger-style hunt to identify the 75 different species throughout the city park. The Sunken Gardens at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse are prime picnic grounds, as is the Mission Rose Garden lawn. Older children will appreciate the extraordinary gardens of Lotusland in Montecito.

Play in Parks

When it comes to parks with playgrounds and other fun features, Kids World is one of the most popular among local families. Waterfront Chase Palm Park has a shipwreck themed playground. The 230-acre Elings Park has two playgrounds—one for kids ages two to five and the other for ages two to 12. There’s also a BMX track and a paragliding and hang gliding launch for the more adventurous—or something cool to watch as a spectator!

Be Beachy

You can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned beach day. Our beach properties are walking distance to West Beach, and East Beach is just a short drive or bike away. Arroyo Burro Beach is perfect for a long beach walk followed by meal at Boathouse Restaurant. Explore more remote-feeling beaches like Mesa Lane (also known as Thousand Steps Beach), Miramar Beach in Montecito, Summerland Beach and Refugio State Beach up the coast.

Get on the Water

One of the best ways to bond is to share an active adventure like kayaking, stand up paddle boarding or surf lessons. Santa Barbara Adventure Company is a go-to outfitter for kayaking trips (ages 5+) and two-hour surf lessons (ages 7+). Santa Barbara Sailing Center rents kayaks and paddle boards. For a big thrill, kids as young as two years old can go up with parents on a flight with Santa Barbara Parasail.

Giddy Up

Why not spend a couple of hours connecting with animals on a guided horseback ride? Los Padres Outfitters (ages 10+) leads rides on Summerland Beach. Just 25 miles north of Santa Barbara, Circle Bar B Guest Ranch & Stables offers an authentic ranch experience and trail rides (ages 7+) in the Refugio Canyon.

Santa Barbara, California , Zoo

Take a Zoo Safari

Last but not least, Santa Barbara Zoo is one of our city’s top attractions for good reason. Parents love the hassle-free experience and manageable size of the zoo, which is home to 146 species of animals. The kids will go wild for the new Australian Walkabout exhibit, feeding the giraffes, riding the train and so much more animal-centric fun. PLANNING TIP: Our Explore & Adore at the Santa Barbara Zoo Package includes Zoo passes plus McConnell’s Ice Cream vouchers!