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Wellness and adventure seekers alike are welcome in Santa Barbara, Calif., whether they’re driven by New Year’s resolutions to stay active or seeking a blissful outdoor escape to unwind and rejuvenate. With palm-lined beaches set against a sweeping mountain range, the Santa Barbara South Coast provides an idyllic landscape for boundless exploration, from the mountains to the sea.
Here are 21 ways to move throughout Santa Barbara in 2021 to inspire your trip planning.
All-Fitness Level Fun:
Just minutes from downtown, nearly a hundred hiking trails await exploration. Families will enjoy leisurely walks along spacious bluffs overlooking the ocean, such as the Ellwood Bluffs or More Mesa, or meandering paths through exquisite parks and gardens, like Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden. Hiking and rock climbing enthusiasts can head to the Santa Ynez Mountains, to chase waterfalls on the Seven Falls trail, hike 800 feet to enjoy Inspiration Point’s expansive views or clamber around the rock playground at Lizard’s Mouth.
Santa Barbara’s winding cobblestone paseos and uncrowded sidewalks were made for wandering. The self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour provides a well-curated overview of the city’s distinctive Spanish-style architecture. With more than a dozen stops showcasing adobe structures from the 18th and 19th centuries, visitors will experience the best of the city’s architecture, including the stunning Santa Barbara County Courthouse, where U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris got married in 2014.
Santa Barbara’s scenic bikeways are a dream come true for casual bikers and road warriors alike. PeopleforBikes agrees: The nonprofit organization ranked Santa Barbara as the fourth best biking city in the U.S. An easy route is the palm tree-lined Cabrillo Bike Path, which passes over three downtown beaches with plenty of highlights along the way, including Santa Barbara Harbor and Andrée Clark Bird Refuge, a prime spot for bird watching. Beach cruisers are available at many hotels and rental shops.
For the ultimate in social distancing, the Sunset Kidd offers private cruises aboard its 41-foot, double-masted sailing yacht, providing the serenity of sailing in its purest form. The sounds of the ocean and the fresh sea air waft over visitors as they enjoy a ride complete with a full bar. Pets are welcome on board.
Along Santa Barbara’s calm coastal waters, protected by the Channel Islands, kayakers paddle in an area teeming with seals, dolphins and shorebirds that thrive among the kelp forests. Santa Barbara Adventure Company leads tours of the Santa Barbara Harbor, Refugio State Beach, and in some of the largest sea caves in the world at Channel Islands National Park, aka the “Galápagos of North America.”
From the Sea Landing near the harbor, hop aboard The Condor Express, a high-speed catamaran, for a chance to glimpse some of the 27 different species of whales and dolphins that visit the Santa Barbara Channel throughout the year. It’s not unusual to see a megapod of thousands of dolphins coursing through the waters. The channel is home to about a third of the world’s cetacean species, making it one of the most diverse arrays of marine mammals found anywhere.
More than 30 beaches, from wide and sandy shores to hidden alcoves, can be found in the South Coast. Santa Barbara’s peaceful waters consistently delight beachgoers, whether for swimming laps or simply splashing and body surfing in the waves. The ocean is at its warmest in the early fall. Want an undersea adventure? Head to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, where snorkelers can explore endless kelp forests and sea caves filled with a vibrant array of sea flora, the bright orange garibaldi (California’s state fish), seals and sea lions.
Santa Barbara’s mountains-to-ocean terrain makes a spectacular setting not only for outdoor activities but growing wine grapes—and savoring the results. The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail showcases the wide-ranging winemaking styles and varietals of this acclaimed wine region. With nearly three dozen tasting rooms, the trail spans walkable downtown areas, such as the popular Funk Zone and historic Presidio Neighborhood. So, visitors can stretch their legs, dine and shop between stops, experiencing a world-class wine scene just steps from the beach.
With its temperate Mediterranean climate and a long history of Italian immigration (its most famous resident was late shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo!), the South Coast has a love affair with bocce ball that is roots deep. A few choice places to play include the classic court at Arnoldi’s Café, a neighborhood eatery dating back to 1937; the well-groomed grounds at Rosewood Miramar Beach and San Ysidro Ranch; and the new court at Lookout Park in Summerland, on cliffs over the ocean. At the latter, it’s BYOB (bring your own balls).
Having a pedal assist option can help when cyclists need an extra boost. Courtesy of Santa Barbara BCycle, more than 250 electric bikes are available at docks throughout downtown Santa Barbara, as part of the city’s first bike share program, which launched in January 2021. Visitors unlock and pay for bikes using a smartphone app. Electric bikes with added features are also available for rent at the newly opened Electric Bikes by Wheel Fun Rentals and Mad Dogs & Englishmen in Montecito.
With Santa Barbara’s relaxed atmosphere and lush landscape, it’s no wonder that yoga is among the most popular activities in the city. Santa Barbara Beach Yoga offers its “silent disco yoga” classes on expansive East Beach, looking out to the Channel Islands. Participants remain safely apart at wider distances since they tune in to their instructors and music on wireless headphones.
At the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, all 78 acres of the living museum are designed to show off the diverse array of beautiful plants native to “The Golden State.” Guests can explore 5 miles of walking trails and experience everything from coastal redwoods to inland desert cacti in one afternoon, with the Santa Ynez Mountains in the backdrop.
Downtown, the temporary State Street Promenade has enhanced the European feel of the city with a mile-long stretch of restaurants and bars offering innovative al fresco dining spaces that have expanded onto the sidewalks and into the street. Take a 10-block stroll to soak up the festive atmosphere, which has revitalized the area and allowed patrons to safely enjoy local businesses outdoors.
For more than 50 years, this weekly outdoor market along seaside Cabrillo Boulevard has highlighted the creative talents of local artisans. Walk among displays that span as far as the eye can see while admiring pottery, handmade jewelry, paintings, sculptures, photography and more, each Sunday from 10 a.m. until dusk. You might even take a bit of Santa Barbara home.
Summerland Beach Rides offers private, customizable tours for riders of every experience level. Whether a trot on the sequestered beach or a trail ride in the chaparral-covered mountains, horseback riding offers beautiful views of the South Coast from a unique vantage point.
Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is a relaxing, strength-training activity, as well as one of the best ways to take in quintessential views of “The American Riviera” from the water. Paddle alongside Stearns Wharf, the oldest working wooden wharf in California (c. 1872), as you keep your eye out for pelicans, seals and sea lions. Rent equipment or book a guided tour from Paddle Sports Center.
Santa Barbara’s picturesque coast produces consistent waves, sandy beaches and glassy conditions. Point breaks like Leadbetter Beach make an ideal learning environment for first timers. (For those on the sidelines, a stroll to Shoreline Park provides a scenic vantage point.) Experienced surfers opt for breaks like Sands Beach, off the harbor, or Hammonds Beach, where local pro surfing champions and playful dolphins may frequent the lineup. Check out Surf Happens Premier Surf School for lessons.
Flying has never felt so thrilling—or safely distant. Passengers can hover up to 1,000 feet in the air over the Pacific Ocean while parasailing along the Santa Barbara coast. Departing from Stearns Wharf, one-hour flights are either alone or with up to two other loved ones, courtesy of Santa Barbara Parasail.
By ATV, riders can take in the fresh mountain air, panoramic vistas extending out to the coast and inland into valleys that seemingly stretch on forever, while exploring lesser-known trails and back roads of the Santa Ynez Mountains and Los Padres National Forest. Enjoy the Mountain provides single-rider quad ATV rentals for the experience of a lifetime.
Los Padres National Forest is also a haven for mountain biking. Bikers of different skill levels will find suitable trails, from challenging, adrenaline-pumping single tracks to well-traveled dirt roads surrounded by wildflowers. Closer to shore, Elings Park has more than 9 miles of multi-use trails featuring breathtaking views of the mountains and ocean, as well as a BMX racing track.
Santa Barbara offers some of the best year-round paragliding conditions in the U.S. Its mild climate and south-facing mountains provide pilots with extraordinary flying opportunities. Learn how to soar like a bird from Eagle Paragliding during a one-day training or fly tandem with a seasoned pro on flights ranging from a minute to half an hour.
Find the latest information on Santa Barbara’s travel conditions and ways to travel more safely on Visit Santa Barbara’s travel advisory page.
Learn more about Visit Santa Barbara’s Third Night Free hotel deals running through June 30, 2021, and other new developments at SantaBarbaraCA.com.
ABOUT SANTA BARBARA
Santa Barbara has been called “The American Riviera” by travelers for nearly a century. Nestled between mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and surrounded by undeveloped coastline, Santa Barbara is a self-contained paradise. The city’s distinctive Spanish-influenced architecture and lush landscape evoke the topography and aesthetic of the European Riviera with a carefree California spirit. Simultaneously sophisticated and bohemian, easy-going and energetic, Santa Barbara welcomes visitors with relaxing resorts and hideaways, outdoor escapes, world-class wineries, arts and cultural attractions, and a hyper-local food scene.
Santa Barbara is located just 92 miles north of Los Angeles along California’s Central Coast. Visitors can arrive via scenic Highway 101, train, bus or by flying into Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA) or Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). For travel information and to request a free visitor magazine, visit SantaBarbaraCA.com.
April 27, 2021