There’s nothing better than a Santa Barbara staycation!
After seven years of living here and two kids later, my family and I have fallen in love with the rich culture in this area of California. From a butterfly preserve to blueberry picking to walking along the beach, there are so many things to do with kids in Santa Barbara.
While there are seasonal activities like the I Madonnari festival, Santa Barbara does not disappoint with how many activities you can do with kids all year long!
If I could plan the perfect santa barbara staycation, it would include a fun morning activity followed by the perfect place to have a picnic. Then, time at home (or a hotel) for naps…since my kids are 1 & 4 we still have to plan our days around nap time. Afterward, we’d have something low key to enjoy in the afternoon with a delicious dinner and dessert!
We’ve found that there are so many things to do here in Santa Barbara that our weekends are packed with exploring Santa Barbara and other nearby cities <–all with amazing things to do with kids!
Santa Barbara Activities with Kids
- The Sea Center: Oh, how we love the sea center! It’s located on the Santa Barbara pier and it’s perfect for a morning or afternoon trip (you only need an hour or so to tour as the center is small but mighty!). Touch sharks and small sea life, walk through the ocean tunnel to see underwater, pull real specimens from the ocean with a pulley system, and see the incredible jelly fish exhibit upstairs. This is a must see with small kids and you can easily eat lunch on the pier afterwards.
- Ride a Carousel: For only $2 a ride, kids can enjoy an antique carousel ride that is located across the street from the Santa Barbara pier. This is a must see as there is a beautiful walk behind the carousel towards what we call, pirate park, complete with a ship deck slide! There are plenty of restaurants to walk to from the park as well.
- The Natural History Museum: The perfect place to visit in the morning or afternoon, the natural history museum has wonderful exhibits for even the youngest of kids to explore. From bugs to mammals to ocean life, there is always something to learn at the museum! Check for special exhibits, too. The live butterfly exhibit is open duing the summer and is not to be missed on your santa barbara staycation!
- The Santa Barbara Zoo: Enjoy ocean views as you and your kids watch giraffes and have lunch. The zoo is a manageable size, so if you get there when it opens, you can manage to make the whole loop before nap time. Be sure to bring a piece of cardboard so your kids can slide down the (fake) grass hill at the playground!
- Tour Santa Barbara Mission: Not only can your tour our historic mission, but kids can explore the gorgeous gardens and run along the large fields in front of the mission (perfect for a picnic). This is a perfect spot to visit if you plan to visit the natural history museum as the museum is a few blocks north of the mission!
- Rockin’ Kids and Shopping: If it’s raining during your santa barbara staycation, don’t fear! Kids will have a blast playing indoors with the bouncy house, trampolines, and large climbing equipment inside rocking kids. The store is located along La Cumbre’s outdoor mall, so be sure to budget in some shopping time too!
- Kayaking the Painted Sea Caves: Perhaps our favorite staycation was kayaking the painted sea caves (without our kids). BUT, kids over 12 can join you or you can get a babysitter because this is absolutely a MUST do if you live in Santa Barbara. Explore sea caves etched along the cliffs of the channel islands in a two person kayak. This trip leaves from Santa Barbara pier!
- Kids World: Have you ever wanted to climb a castle? This playground designed by kids is the ultimate experience. Climb through a castle like structure and find slides, ladders, and bridges along the way. Be sure to let your kids know that they need to stay close because it’s easy to get lost and separated in the maze like structure. Older kids can use walkie talkies to keep in touch! There’s a smaller area for toddlers and babies on the south east side of the castle. Round off this trip with a walk down state street just minutes from the park.
Goleta Activities with Kids
- Goleta Monarch Butterfly Preserve: This might be my favorite spot with my kids in the area (I’m biased as we live in Goleta just 10 minutes North of Santa Barbara). It’s an easy hike out to the preserve on a well marked path. Click the link to find exactly where you should park as there are many interlocking trails within this area of Goleta. Take binoculars and check out the chandeliers of butterflies during mid-Nov to mid-Feb. Just beyond the preserve is a hiking trail out to the gorgeous bluffs above the beach!
- Take a miniature train ride: Hop on over to the South Coast Railroad Museum (technically in Goleta, CA) and grab a ticket to ride the miniature train! It’s only $1.50 per ride, but there are height restrictions and small windows of time when they are open. So be sure to plan for this trip!
- Walk around the Lake: After your train ride, walk around Lake Los Carneros which is just next to the train depot. Watch birds, cross bridges, and let kids explore the trails that all lead safely around the lake. It’s a perfect evening walk with kids or a place to have a picnic as there are picnic tables in the area!
- Blueberry Picking: Drive up why 101 about 30 minutes and you’ll stumble upon our favorite blueberry farm. While the buckets are expensive at $18 a pop, there is nothing better than picking blueberries with kids! Be sure to bring your lunch to eat under the huge oak tree complete with picnic tables.
- Visit the Tide Pools (<–#3 when you click this link): Walk along the beach when the tide is low and see what you can find! We’ve been lucky enough to see a small octopus along this stretch of beach, but the walk and views alone are worth adding this to your Santa Barbara staycation.
- Goleta Slough and the bluffs: Drive up Storke Road in Goleta and you’ll discover the Goleta slough. Park in a designated dirt area and you can walk around the entire slough by trails and road. You will run into the beach along the way and experience a concentrated area of rich Goleta wildlife!
- Airplane watching at Goleta beach: The secret to visiting this beach is that you can entertain little ones by watching airplanes that take off over the far corner of Goleta Beach. When you enter the parking lot, turn right and drive to the end. There is direct beach access and the perfect view of airplanes as they take off. A play ground and pier make for other great places to explore along the beach as well as access to the University of California, Santa Barbara just north west of the beach.
Seasonal Festivals in Santa Barbara
Be sure to keep an eye out for these amazing festivals that happen once a year!
- Lemon Festival (September) – Goleta celebrates it’s local orchard and roots with the lemon festival each year. Rides for kids and pie eating contests make this a perfect activity for a staycation.
- I Madonnari Festival (May) – Witness amazing chalk drawings by local artists. The festival is held in front of the Santa Barbara mission and this is a must see if you are in the area – it is breathtaking!
- Avacado Festival (October) – Reap the benefits of the end of avocado season with this amazing festival in Carpinteria just a few miles south of Santa Barbara. Eat guacamole until you burst and stroll the streets thick with a temporary market. There is a kids area with rides as well, although they are pricey!
- Summer Solstice (June) – Celebrate the longest day of the year with the amazing summer solstice parade which just happens to be right next to kids world downtown (see #8 under Santa Barbara activities).
- Fiesta (July/Aug): Celebrations happen all year long, but at the end of the summer, there is a week of celebration complete with a kid’s parade and amazing food!!
Santa Barbara is an amazing place to plan a staycation (or a vacation, too!).
Stop by our Facebook page and tell us which activity you’d love to do. And, check out the other amazing posts in this blog posts for staycations to do all throughout California!
Places to Visit with Kids in California:
Sunshine Kids Blog Hop 2014
Summer is a great time to explore with your kids – and you don’t have to travel far to do it! California has so much to offer to families. Take a great staycation this summer by visiting your local treasures! In our second annual Sunshine Kids Blog Hop, we are focusing on our favorite places to visit with kids in California. Enjoy! And be sure to add your own family-friendly California posts in our linky at the bottom. You can also check out even more California posts on our collaborative Kid Friendly California Pinterest board!
And now it’s time to see what everyone has been up to: