5 FREE Things to Do in Santa Barbara with Kids

Santa Barbara, otherwise known as the American Riviera, is a gorgeous beach town that lies between the steeply rising Santa Ynez mountains and the glistening Pacific Ocean. A wanderlust paradise with boulevards lined with swaying palm trees, Santa Barbara is a mecca for sun-seekers, foodies, wine lovers, artists and adventure seekers. It is a town for honeymooners, babymooners, families, and everything in between.

Many people think a vacation to Santa Barbara will break the bank. After all it is home to many well-known celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and Drew Barrymore! It’s true, you can break the bank as the sky is the limit in this seaside town bustling with multi-million dollar homes, but if you are on a budget like most of us when we travel, I recommend these 5 FREE things to do in Santa Barbara that will keep the family entertained!

Recommendation: If you stay at The Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort, you will be able to walk to many of these activities!

Take a Stroll on Stearns Wharf
On your next visit to Santa Barbara, make sure you take a stroll on Stearns Wharf. At its entrance stands the iconic dolphin statue, sculpted by Bud Bottoms, and it’s a wonderful place for a photo. Built in 1872, it became the longest deep-water wharf between San Pedro and San Francisco and is currently the oldest working wooden wharf in California.

Over the past century natural disasters and fires have occurred causing severe damage. Each time, it has been repaired and strengthened, making it a formidable landmark in Santa Barbara. There are several restaurants, an ice cream and candy shop, winery, and the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum Sea Center, which all make up with lively tapestry of the wharf.

Rent a fishing pole and try your hand at sea fishing! My daughter caught an octopus once! Stearns Wharf is simply a fun place to take a stroll, people watch and take in the beautiful coastline of Santa Barbara.

FREE things to do in Santa Barbara with kids - Stearns Wharf
Stearns Wharf is one of the fun, FREE things to do in Santa Barbara with kids.

Santa Barbara Historical Museum
The Santa Barbara Historical Museum, located at 136 E. De La Guerra Street in an adobe-style building, was founded in 1932. This is a wonderful place to spend a couple hours learning about the history of Santa Barbara through both permanent and rotating exhibitions. The museum interprets over 500 years of history with collections from the Chumash, Mexican, Spanish and American periods.

Their permanent exhibit, The Story of Santa Barbara, explains the history from the days of the Chumash to the twentieth century. Last year, we were lucky to view their temporary exhibit, Project Fiesta!, which was a fantastic experience learning about the origins of the pageantry of Old Spanish Days. The colorful costumes displayed were fascinating to see.

Santa Barbara Arts and Craft Show
Since 1965, the Santa Barbara Arts and Craft Show is held rain or shine (mostly shine!) every Sunday along Cabrillo Blvd. Beginning at the Wharf and extending down to nearly the Bird Refuge, this arts and craft show highlights the creative artistry Santa Barbara is known for. You will find an eclectic mixture of arts and crafts on display and everything is locally crafted. And should you decide to purchase something, you will find many items are reasonably priced. Hours are 10 am to dusk. Check out the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show website for more information!

Santa Barbara Courthouse and Sunken Gardens
Can a courthouse really be a visitors attraction? The answer is a resounding YES! The Santa Barbara Courthouse is a source of civic pride, the seat of the local government, and anything but boring.

Located at 1100 Anacapa Street, the Santa Barbara Courthouse epitomizes the Spanish-Moorish architecture prominently found throughout the city. Completed in 1929 and designed by William Mooser III, this complex impresses visitors with its intricate tile mosaics, colorful gardens and jaw-dropping view of the city and ocean below.

Every year thousands of people from around the world visit this historical building and marvel at its beauty. Entrance is free but donations are gladly accepted. Refer to their website for opening times.

Free things to do in Santa Barbara with kids - Court House
The Santa Barbara Courthouse epitomizes the Spanish-Moorish architecture prominently found throughout the city.

Beaches Galore
Santa Barbara is known for their beautiful beaches, and it would simply be sacrilegious to not visit one of them! Wherever you are in Santa Barbara county you will not be far from one of their famous beaches. With several to choose from how does a first time visitor decide? I will give you my two favorites: Hendry’s and Leadbetter.

Hendry’s (officially known as Arroyo Burro Beach) is a secluded beach framed by gorgeous cliffs and stunning white sand. When the tide is out, you’ll find perfect tide pools! It is also dog-friendly, so your furry friends will have a blast frolicking through the surf. The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach is a great place for Sunday brunch with its mouthwatering menu and premium ocean views. (I just love their mimosas!) Showers are also available to rinse off the sand before getting back in your car.

Leadbetter is a fabulous family beach, and it’s located pretty much within all of the action of downtown Santa Barbara. Not only is there (usually) plenty of parking, but there are clean bathrooms (a big plus!) and showers to rinse the sand off. It is also a great place for learning to surf, and there is also nice green grass for a picnics. At the base of the sand is Shoreline Café, which is one of my favorite places to grab lunch or dinner. Kids can play in the sand while waiting for their meals.

Tip: I recommend stopping at the Visitors Center located across the street from the Wharf. The representatives are super friendly and can really help maximize your visit to Santa Barbara.

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This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Lara D. Are you interested in traveling to Santa Barbara? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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