Three Days in Santa Barbara with Kids

This is a guest post from Shannon Venable, the founder of She spends summers in Italy running the Art al Sole summer camp program. The rest of year she lives in Santa Barbara, California with her family.

Day 1 (Friday)

The animals at the zoo inhabit prime beachfront property on the site of the former Child Estate. In addition to the many engaging and interactive exhibits, the Santa Barbara Zoo has just completed full renovations and additions to its play areas. Check the event calendar to see if your trip coincides with one of the many educational events offered on the weekend.

After lunch or a picnic at the zoo, continue along the waterfront Cabrillo Boulevard to Chase Palm Park, where you’ll find the Shipwreck Park playground and an operational antique carousel.

If the kids aren’t too tuckered out, dinner on the pier upstairs at Longboard’s Grill or at the Harbor’s Brophy Brothers Restaurant are both kid-friendly destinations with breathtaking views of the harbor. Try to time it with sunset. (Hint: Longboarder’s has a treasure chest, barrels of peanuts to shuck, and a kids’ menu, but Brophy Brothers has better seafood…)

Day 2 (Saturday)

Every Saturday, Art from Scrap, an innovative environmental education and arts center at 302 East Cota St. downtown, offers a morning workshop from 10:00-12:00 on a variety of themes featuring local artists as instructors who select the project materials from the recycled items available in the Art from Scrap retail store (all donated items for reuse, proceeds benefit the center). While the kids are busy creating, pop over to the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market just 2 blocks away on the corner of Santa Barbara St. and Cota to pick up locally-produced produce and other organic foods for a picnic. The Farmer’s Market is also a great place for unique souvenirs: lavender scrub, jams, olive oil, and much more. (Note: children 5 and under must be accompanied by an adult at the Art from Scrap workshops—but then the parents can participate, too!)

Just a few blocks up Santa Barbara St. on the corner surrounding Canon Perdido St. you will find the restored portions of the Santa Barbara Presidio and the Historical Society Musuem. Peek in the Presidio Chapel, the city’s first church and the adjacent tiny museum. Excellent photo opportunities here!

Lunch on State Street itself can sometimes be a bit touristy. As is so often the case, some of the better spots for lunch can be found just one block off State. Try Paradise Café at 702 Anacapa St., a popular spot with locals for decades.

After lunch, continue up to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art at 1130 State St. The museum’s collection of ancient Roman artifacts and sculpture, Asian collection, and impressionist works in an accessible setting will impress the whole family. The museum recently added a children’s wing with interactive activities that integrate features of the collection.

Day 3 (Sunday)

After all this sightseeing, Sunday morning might be a time to linger over a leisurely breakfast. Then pack up your Farmer’s Market picnic and head over to the Rose Garden across from the Santa Barbara Mission. This expansive lawn boasts a beautiful view of the mission across the street and fragrant collection of roses tended by local volunteers. Visiting the Mission itself on a Sunday offers a sense of the tradition of the Church and grounds as they have existed from the beginning. Don’t forget to throw a coin in the fountain, a remnant of the original wash complex, and the bookstore is interesting, too.

For your last night, enjoy a sunset walk on Butterfly Beach on Channel Drive, an historic strip of upscale beachfront with picturesque views of the Channel Islands and the Harbor. For dinner, try Los Arroyos at 1280 Coast Village Rd., a popular choice for local families. Polish off your visit with a stop at the Whodidily Cupcakes at 1140 Coast Village Rd. Yum!

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Ciao Bambino recommended family hotels Santa Barbara

Start a Discussion

  • Wow, you sure offered a great list of things to do and see while in Santa Barbara! I also suggest checking out the boat tours down at the pier on the end of State Street. They are surprisingly affordable, and there are both dinner cruises and jazz cruises that take you up and down the Santa Barbara coast. A really romantic way to spend a summer night with your husband away from the kids. Also, the free summer movie series in the park by the courthouse on State Street is a great attraction for the whole family. Where do you suggest as far as hotels? In my experience I have found the Sandman Inn ( on State Street to be the best for families traveling on a budget. With two pools there is plenty to do for the parents and kids alike! What do you think?

  • Just off State Street (on Victoria at Anacapa) is Ca Dario–fabulous Ravioli and other wonderful Italian dishes

  • These are such great things you listed for entertainment in Santa Barbara! It’s such a beautiful town! I recommend the Chase Restaurant or Rose Cafe. Great local joints for food. Try hiking Inspiration Point/Seven Falls as well. The view from the top is well worth the struggle to get to the top! I just got back from SB actually, had a great time! Stayed at a wonderful place my friends recommended, The Sandman Inn ( Really affordable and in such a great location! Just a tip

  • Looks like you had an excellent time in Santa Barbara! Beautiful pictures as well! You really got a nice experience from what it looks like. The Santa Barbara Mission is an old favorite and so is Art From Scrap! So much fun, especially for the little ones. I was planning a trip to go to Santa Barbara soon to get that last bit of sunshine on me! I’m staying at the South Coast Inn ( So elegant and the perfect place to escape the city noise!

  • Santa Barbara is a great place to visit with your family and by the looks of your blog you have honestly been all over the world. It would be such a dream to do all this and more with my family! I’m pretty limited though but I came across your blog and I have to say Santa Barbara is great! Really family orriented and not in the typical way. No amusement parks but lots of parks and hiking and excellent beaches as well. Art and food are great as well. The zoo is a great place to bring them as well and a day with the animals is fun for both parent and child. I can’t wait to go back in a few months and enjoy Fiestas with all my kids! Grown and not! Planning on staying at the South Coast Inn ( Close to UCSB the university in town and where my daughter goes! Can’t wait, it is so nice!

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