1. Shopping Downtown Santa Barbara on State Street
State Street is the heart of historic Downtown Santa Barbara that attracts most visitors. The crowd is typically young adults but it’s a fun stroll no matter how old you are. State Street is lined with things to do including shops, bars, restaurants and eateries. The atmosphere is friendly and it’s a great place to walk, window shop or buy.
Downtown shopping on State Street is bounded by Gutierrez Street to the south and Sola Street to the north. You can see a list of merchants in Downtown Shop and Stroll
There is also an electric powered shuttle that travels up and down State Street through the downtown shopping district and Stearns Wharf. The trolley is operated by the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District. The cost is only 50 cents and you can get a free shuttle transfer to connect with the Waterfront Shuttle that runs along Cabrillo Bl. and Stearns Wharf that eventually terminates at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
See Downtown Parking and Real Time Availability for latest parking info
Click Downtown Santa Barbara to get Google Map and Direction
2. Stearn Wharf
Stearns Wharf is lined with restaurants and eateries. It’s the “Fishermans Wharf” of Santa Barbara. The most popular restaurants on the wharf are The Harbor Restaurant, Moby Dick, Longboard’s Grill and Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. These restaurants offer fantastic views and a great dining experience.
A simple walk on the wharf is all you need to take in the view of the Pacific Ocean and enjoy the warm California sun. I like Stearns Wharf because it’s linked to State Street that runs from Downtown Santa Barbara to the wharf.
Another fun thing to do on the wharf, especially for kids is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History – Sea Center. It’s a small aquarium-like museum that offer several sea life exhibits. Great for kids. The museum is operated by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History located in Downtown Santa Barbara. The museum features local marine sea animals and many of the exhibits are interactive – meaning you can touch some of the animals. It’s a small aquarium-museum so total tour time is 20 to 30 minutes. Open daily between 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
If you’re downtown, just walk south on State Street to the wharf (about ½ to 1 mile walk depending on your downtown location) or hop on the open air electric downtown shuttle for 50 cents that will take you to Stearns Wharf in minutes. The shuttle is operated by Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District ……… not to be confused with the Santa Barbara Trolley Company.
Stearns Wharf gives you easy access to the Santa Barbara Trolley which is located on 1 Garden Street (E. Cabrillo Bl. and Garden St). Simply walk on E. Cabrillo Street from the Stearns Wharf a few blocks (east) and arrive at the Trolley Visitor Center. The Santa Barbara Trolley will take you to all the main Santa Barbara attractions for $22 per adult, $8 children and FREE for kids 12 and under.
Bike rentals are available a few blocks from the wharf on Cabrillo Street. A popular bike rental service with two close locations is Wheels Fun Rental at 23 E. Cabrillo St. and 633 E, Cabrillo St,
Click Stearns Wharf to get Google Map and Direction
3. Old Mission Santa Barbara
The Old Mission Santa Barbara is a historic landmark that will take you back to the early 1800’s when this mission was originally built. The mission features rooms full of arts and artifacts that includes the church, cemetery and mausoleum. There’s also a beautiful garden outside. Expert guided tours and self guided tours are available.
I suggest the self-guided tour because the exhibits are well organized. Each tour station in the mission is easy to navigate. The displays explain everything you need to know for most people.
For more information on tours, see Mission Tours
Budget one hour to see the mission. This is one of the most popular missions in California and a must see when visiting Santa Barbara for history and beauty.
Click Old Mission Santa Barbara to get Google Map and Directions
4. Santa Barbara Zoo
The Santa Barbara Zoo is a small 30 acre zoo that has all the animals you expect to see at a large zoo like elephants, giraffes and lions. What makes this zoo so unusual is its small size which makes it easy to get around. Also, you’re allowed to get closer to the animals than would be possible at a larger zoo. You can even feed the giraffes for an extra fee. It’s a great way to spend a few hours seeing and learning about the animals without huge crowds of the LA and San Diego Zoo. They even have a Behind-the-Scenes tour where you go on a guided tour to learn more about the animals and the responsibilities of the zoo keepers.
Though small, Santa Barbara Zoo isn’t just any zoo, they offer Zoo Camp, Overnight Safaris and Twilight Safaris on the zoo grounds. Perfect for your inquisitive children and fun for the entire family.
Parking ranges between $7 and $10 dollars. Save money and take the Waterfront Electric Shuttle (operated by Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District) for 50 cents from downtown or Stearns Wharf to the zoo.
The open air electric shuttle runs on Cabrillo St and can be boarded at multiple stops on Cabrillo including the popular Stearns Wharf at Cabrillo and State Street. You can get a free transfer from the downtown shuttle (that runs up and down State Street) to the Waterfront Shuttle that will take you to the zoo. See Santa Barbara Waterfront Shuttle
Click Santa Barbara Zoo to get Google Map and Direction
5. Museum of Natural History
Located a few blocks from Old Mission of Santa Barbara is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. You can visit both places on the same day because of the close proximity.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History includes a planetarium and 72 foot Blue Whale Skeleton. There are exhibits of local birds, mammals, insects and the Chumash Indian Tribe who originally inhabited the land known as Santa Barbara.
The museum is small and not very crowded. It’s not the world-class museums of San Diego and Los Angeles but it’s a great learning experience for kids and adults in a cozy setting.
There is a separate admission charge for the planetarium show.
Click Museum of Natural History for Google Map and Directions
6. Santa Barbara Trolley Tour
One great way to tour Santa Barbara is to see Santa Barbara by open air trolley better known as the Santa Barbara Trolley. Relax while leaving the driving to the local experts. You can stay on board for the entire 90 minute tour or “Hop on / Hop off” to visit popular attractions. Attractions include the Santa Barbara Zoo, Natural History Museum, Old Town, Historic Mission and Downtown Santa Barbara with A MINIMUM OF WALKING and NO PARKING FEES.
The ticket cost $22 for adults and $8 for kids … 12 and under get on FREE. It’s totally worth the cost as it saves you the hassle of fighting for parking on busy weekends and holidays. Plus, the convenience of going where you want and leaving the driving to someone else. Perfect if you arrive by train. Trolley runs about once per hour. Click Online Tickets to buy tickets online.
Click Santa Barbara Trolley for Google Map and Directions
7. Arrive by Train / Amtrak
Santa Barbara is the perfect city to visit by train. Why not leave the driving to someone else and ride Amtrak from Los Angeles Union Station or Burbank Airport to Santa Barbara. It’s roughly a 2 ½ hour ride from Los Angeles Union Station which equals the time it takes to drive in traffic. The drive from Downtown LA to Santa Barbara without traffic is about 1 ½ hours but traffic is an ugly reality in LA so take the train.
The Santa Barbara Amtrak Station is on State Street (the major street for tourist to shop downtown and walk to beach). Walk 3 blocks south on State Street from the train station and you’re at the ocean better known as Stearns Wharf. From the Santa Barbara train station, walk 3 blocks north on State Street and you’re in the downtown shopping district with plenty of restaurants, bars, boutique shops and eateries.
In other words, the Santa Barbara Amtrak Station puts you close to everywhere you want to go in Santa Barbara. Also, next to the station is the downtown shuttle stop. The electric downtown shuttle operated by the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District that will take you up and down State Street to all the major shopping attractions. It also takes you to Stearns Wharf where you can enjoy lunch or dinner on the Santa Barbara pier with good food and a fantastic view.
The train ride is very relaxing. You may not save that much time by driving but you will save your nerves and arrive in Santa Barbara relax and ready to explore this quiet California resort town.
Taking the train to Santa Barbara is idea for visitors who fly in to LA or San Diego and do not wish to rent a car. You can enjoy much of Santa Barbara by arriving on train. Hotels are within blocks of the train station. There is even a Hostel adjacent to the station.
There’s also an Avis Rent a Car a few blocks away on 34 E. Montecito Street which is perfect if you wish to take day trips to Solvang, Santa Ynez Valley Wineries and San Luis Obispo or Morro Bay.
Amtrak offers food service and free Wi Fi on board the train. You can use the 2 ½ hour ride from LA to get caught up on work if you wish or just surf the web while you sit and relax in their extra spacious reclining seats. There are usually power outlets on each seat.
One way fare runs between $30 – $40. There are at least 5 to 6 Los Angeles to Santa Barbara runs per day. You can also take the train from the San Diego Amtrak Station to Santa Barbara but there are fewer trains to Santa Barbara than from San Diego.
Another option is to fly directly into Santa Barbara. It will cost a little more and many flights to Santa Barbara connect out of Los Angeles or San Francisco International via a commuter airline. More info at Santa Barbara Airport.
Click Santa Barbara Train Station – Amtrak for Google Map and Directions