Things to Do in Santa Barbara With Kids
Can’t choose between a family vacation at the beach or giving the kids mountain views? In beautiful Santa Barbara, California, your family can have both. Known as “the American Riviera,” Santa Barbara is nestled between the Pacific Coast and Santa Ynez Mountains. What’s more, its incredible, year-round weather means there are tons of outdoor activities the whole family will enjoy. But, when you need a break from all the sun, there are a number of fun indoor kids attractions, too. Here are some of the best things to do in Santa Barbara with kids.
Kids Attractions in Santa Barbara
Don’t worry about brain drain on your family vacation in Santa Barbara. Some of the best kids attractions in Santa Barbara are both fun and educational.
Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara with kids. It’s home to more than 500 animals, has live stage shows and behind-the-scenes tours. Your little beasts can run rampant in the Kallman Family Play Area. Pics of them hiding in the dinosaur egg or sliding down the anthill are sure to break your Instagram. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas. Admission: $18, ages 13-up; $11 ages 2-12; free, children under 2. Parking $11 per car. Read reviews of Santa Barbara Zoo.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has interactive exhibits, the Central Coast’s only planetarium and a big backyard for the kids to explore. Make sure to get photos with Chad, the 74-foot long Blue Whale skeleton made of 98 percent real whale bones. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $15, ages 18-up; $12, ages 13-17; $9, ages 2-12; free, under 2. Read reviews of SBMNH.
This small but mighty aquatic exploration center is on historic Stearns Wharf. The kids will love getting hands-on with sharks, rays and other creatures that live under the sea. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $9, ages 18-up; $8, ages 13-17; $7, ages 2-12; free, under 2. Read reviews of SBMNH Sea Center.
Moxi, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, offers three floors of interactive STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts and math) exhibits. Don’t miss the ones in the rooftop Sky Garden—they come with amazing views. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. except for holidays/special events. Admission: $15, ages 13-up; $10, ages 3-12; free, 2-under. Read reviews of Moxi.
A unique family attraction in Santa Barbara is the Susan Quinlan Doll & Teddy Bear Museum & Library. With 150 display cases, it’s the largest teddy bear museum in the country. It’s one of the largest doll museums, too. Open Friday-Monday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and on major holidays. Admission: $7 adults; $4 pre-teens; free, under 5. Read reviews of the Quinlan Doll & Teddy Bear Museum.
Best Restaurants in Santa Barbara for Kids
There are plenty of contenders for best restaurants in Santa Barbara for kids. Here are a few suggestions.
Your family’s sure to work up appetites exploring historic Stearns Wharf. So, have a seafood feast at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. The kids will be occupied watching the boats so you can actually relax. Open Sunday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Read reviews of Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.
Benchmark Eatery is a casual restaurant in Santa Barbara for families. It has classic fare like burgers, sandwiches, steaks and salads. Plus, there’s a great kids menu, and they’ll get an activity sheet and crayons. Open Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Read reviews of Benchmark Eatery.
Shoreline Café is a great waterfront restaurant in Santa Barbara for kids and adults. Plus, it lets you keep the sand between your family’s toes when hunger strikes at Leadbetter Beach. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has a great happy hour Monday-Friday. Open Monday-Thursday at 9 a.m., Friday-Sunday, 8 a.m. Read reviews of Shoreline Café.
Need some comfort food on your family vacation in Santa Barbara? Head to either Cajun Kitchen location for breakfast or lunch. Options for both are plenty, so even your fussiest eater(s) will be happy. Downtown open Monday-Saturday, 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. De La Vina open Monday-Saturday, 6:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sunday, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Read reviews for Cajun Kitchen.
Best Hotels in Santa Barbara for Kids
There are lots of choices for the best hotels in Santa Barbara for kids. Here are three waterfront resorts suitable for families—and your sanity.
One of the best hotels in Santa Barbara for kids is the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore. Its grounds are lush and gorgeous. But, the kids amenities are tops. They get a welcome gift, kid-sized bathrobes, free toiletries and certified babysitting. Free family fun includes swimming, movies, games and a putting green. In addition, the Kids for All Seasons program keeps them active and occupied. So, that means you can actually relax. Read reviews for the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.
This Hilton resort is in a prime location right on the beach. It has rooms and suites, a pool, spa and breakfast is included. And it’s dog-friendly, so you can bring the whole family. Bonus: there are a bunch of kid-friendly restaurants on site—and a wine-tasting room. Read reviews of Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort.
Harbor View Inn is a more casual family-friendly waterfront resort in Santa Barbara. It has rooms and suites, a beach, pool, poolside dining and an on-site coffee shop. Read reviews of Harbor View Inn.
Outdoor Activities in Santa Barbara for Kids
Because of its mild weather, there are tons of outdoor activities in Santa Barbara for kids. Here are a few to add to your family itinerary, starting with the most obvious for family fun.
Leadbetter Beach is one of the best beaches in Santa Barbara. Plus, since it’s often too calm for seasoned surfers, it’s a great place to learn how to surf in Santa Barbara. The kids will love watching kiteboarders and windsurfers. There’s a restaurant, picnic area, walking and biking paths, bathrooms and beach shower, too. Open daily, sunrise to 10 p.m. Admission: Free. Parking is $2 per hour or $12 for day. Read reviews of Leadbetter Beach.
Take an hour boat trip to Channel Islands National Park. You can kayak through sea caves, hike, camp and more on these five rustic islands. Be sure to pick up a junior ranger booklet for fun activities for kids in the visitor center. Open year-round. Visitor center open daily, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission: Free, but there are fees for boat rides and activities. Read reviews of the Channel Islands.
What’s a beachside family vacation in Santa Barbara without hitting the water? With Paddle Sports Center, you and the kids can kayak, stand-up paddleboard and, since this is Cali, surf. Prices vary by activity and party size. Read reviews of Paddle Sports Center.
There is much to occupy kids at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. They’ll see native plants, an authentic Japanese teahouse and lots of critters. Plus, it hosts frequent events, classes and workshops for kids and families. Open daily rain or shine, closed major holidays, March-October, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; November-February 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $14 adults; $10 student with ID; $8, ages 3-17; free, 2-under. Read reviews of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
Kids World at Alameda Park is a must-see attraction for kids in Santa Barbara. This 8,000-square-foot playground has swings, slides and a castle. Warning: there are a lot of nooks and crannies for kids to hide out of sight, so that might be something to keep in mind. Open daily, 6 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Read reviews of Alameda Park.
3 More Things to Do in Santa Barbara with Kids
For an added bonus, here are a few other things to do in Santa Barbara with kids.
Founded in 1786, beautiful Mission Santa Barbara is one of the top attractions in Santa Barbara. It has a museum, incredible Pacific views, gardens and gorgeous architecture. Docent tours are offered daily at select times. Open daily, 9 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Admission: $12, ages 18-up; $7 ages 5-17; free, ages 4-under. Read reviews of Old Mission Santa Barbara.
Even if you aren’t a flock of birdwatchers, Andree Clark Bird Refuge is a nice family attraction in Santa Barbara. There’s biking and hiking, turtles and more than 200 species of birds. Open 24 hours. Read reviews of Andree Clark Bird Refuge.
Everyone will love Lil Toot. This smiling boat offers narrated sails between Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf. It’s truly one of the most charming things to do in Santa Barbara with kids. Runs daily, every half-hour noon-sunset. Fare: $5 adults; $2 kids. Read reviews of Lil Toot Water Taxi.
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