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The red-tiled roof of the Santa Barbara courthouse offers a view to the ocean

California

Santa Barbara, California: Activities from Land to Sea in ‘The American Riviera®’

By: Idoia Gkikas

Gabriela Herman
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  • States:
    California

Here, you can immerse yourself in the ultimate California experience.

From the mountains, to the beaches, to the charm of the city, Santa Barbara, California is a scenic marvel. The Santa Ynez Mountains tower behind red Spanish tile roofs and sun-bleached stucco houses, giving way to the picturesque coast and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

Mountain Vistas

Your adventure begins in the mountains with hiking, biking and horseback riding. Walk the trails to Inspiration Point or Lizard’s Mouth for spectacular panoramic views. Or spend a day at Red Rock, a popular spot for hiking, swimming and picnicking.

Whether you seek rugged terrain or a relaxing day on wheels, Santa Barbara offers a variety of paths and trails for cyclists to pedal. For equestrian enthusiasts, the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains offer plentiful trails to explore on horseback.

Overhead, the colorful canopies of paragliders and hang gliders dot the sky from Douglas Family Preserve as they fly over Arroyo Burro Beach. Even a novice can book a tandem ride to experience the feeling of soaring like a bird.

Wildflowers carpet the sloping hills and mountains of Santa Barbara.

Wildflowers carpet the sloping hills and mountains of Santa Barbara.
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Mark Weber/Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Water Adventures

Did you know that the Santa Barbara Channel is an aquatic thoroughfare for more than two dozen species of whales and dolphins? A whale-watching cruise gives you a chance to glimpse humpback whales, blue whales, California gray whales or playful dolphins riding the surf.

Of course, water sports are a major attraction, too. You’ll find rentals for sailing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and surfing. Charter a sailboat to Channel Islands National Park, a rare marine environment some 42 kilometers off the coast. Try kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding at Butterfly Beach and enjoy the scenery from the water.

Take a day to explore the trails and beaches of the Gaviota Coast, the longest stretch of undeveloped California coastline. And how could you visit California without surfing the legendary Pacific waves? Try a surf lesson and learn to ‘hang ten’ – or at least not to fall off the board!

Kayakers take in stunning views of land, sea and sky.

Kayakers take in stunning views of land, sea and sky.
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Jay Sinclair/Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Urban Exploration

To see a different side of Santa Barbara, do as the locals do and rent a beach cruiser for a ride through downtown and the beachside bike trail. A gold-level Walk Friendly Community, Santa Barbara is also a treat to explore on foot and features many parks for relaxing. There are group and self-guided tours of the Spanish-inspired streets and charming paseos (pedestrian walkways).

Don’t miss a scenic stroll through 21 exotic botanical gardens at Lotusland, named one of the 10 best gardens in the world by the UK Telegraph.

For a picture-perfect finale, watch the sunset from the bluff of Douglas Family Preserve. You might even see whales or dolphins swimming along the shoreline.

Cycle along the waterfront for a memorable cruise through beautiful Santa Barbara.

Cycle along the waterfront for a memorable cruise through beautiful Santa Barbara.
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Jay Sinclair/Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Getting There

Fly nonstop into Santa Barbara Airport from international airports across the USA including Dallas, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, Portland and Los Angeles. Amtrak provides rail service to Santa Barbara via the Amtrak Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner, as well as thruway bus services.