10 Things You Must Do Before Your Leave Santa Barbara

After you’ve found your way around the Stearns Wharf, it’s time to explore other Santa Barbara points of interest.

Some may have the impression that this Spanish-influenced city is going to be boring because of its laid-back atmosphere. The reality? It’s far from it.

You’ll be greeted with so many amazing sights the moment you step foot in the city. And if you’re on a budget, don’t worry. There’s plenty to do here even for free.

If you’re running out of ideas when it comes to filling out your itinerary, here’s a list of the top 10 things to do in Santa Barbara for you to check out before packing your suitcases. 

  1.  Visit Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park

The Chumash Indians painted this unique archaeological phenomenon that’s located just three miles south of the San Marcos Pass. You can get there by taking Highway 154 North and making a turn on the Painted Cave Road. 

This historical park is part of the state park system of California, and it features shallow sandstone caves with numerous drawings. It is believed that they depict Chumash cosmology that could be more than 1,000 years old. 

This is one of the very few parks where you get to explore Chumash rock art in person.

  1. See the Santa Barbara County Courthouse

See first-hand the area’s Spanish-Colonial architecture by paying a visit to one of the most stunning public buildings in the United States. 

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is fully operational and garnished with a distinctive four-facing clock tower, roofs of red tiles, and the most elegant arches. 

Feel free to stroll down the verdant gardens, take a self-guided tour for a short site history lesson, or climb the clock tower for a panoramic view of the town and beyond. 

  1. Go to El Presidio de Santa Barbara

Want to step back into the time of the Conquistadors?

Visit one of the city’s few preserved sites – this one features four military outposts constructed by the Spanish. Two original presidio buildings were restored, while others are currently under excavation and reconstruction. 

These presidios were key defense settlements, of which the Santa Barbara Presidio was the region’s military and governmental center. 

  1. Admire the Local Art Scene

The Chromatic Gate has to be the one Instagram picture-perfect spot in Santa Barbara. Located at the Calle Puerto Vallarta and Cabrillo Boulevard intersection, this iconic structure of vivid-colored arches also comes with an amazing ocean view. 

Next down the road on Canon Perdido Street is King Carlos’s statue. This art piece pays homage to the town’s Spanish heritage and is located in a park dating from 1782. 

To finish the tour, stroll past the dolphin fountain near the Stearns Wharf and the Sacagawea heroine statue at the corner of Victoria and State streets.

  1. Visit the Old Mission

Ever since its foundation in 1786, Old Mission Santa Barbara has been a gathering place for many. Today, it includes a museum, cemetery, mausoleum, and gardens. It’s one of California’s most beautiful 18th-century sites and the only one with twin bell towers. 

The building was designed by Fr. Antonio Ripoll who copied it from a Roman architecture book dating back to 27 BC. Surprisingly enough, that book can still be found in the Mission Museum!

  1. Explore the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Looking for fun family things to do in Santa Barbara?

Founded by local divers, fishermen, and sailors, the Maritime Museum documents Santa Barbara’s rich and diverse maritime history. 

Become lost in 8,000 square feet of exhibits, stroll down the docking space with three historic vessels, and plunge into the 5,000 square foot artifact collection. 

After exploring the interactive exhibits, enjoy the stunning land and sea view. 

  1. Explore the East Beach

As you enter the beach area from Los Angeles, you’ll be greeted by one of Santa Barbara’s most beautiful beaches. Situated on Cabrillo Boulevard, this wideset beach is the best place to get carried away by the sights and sounds of the waves and the heat of the sun. 

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Santa Barbara, why not go for a round or two of beach volleyball? There are a few courts available for everyone who’s feeling sporty. This is in addition to a vast park filled with picnic tables, the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center, and a handful of restaurants. 

You can get away from the crowded touristy beach and enjoy the less populated East Beach area in Chase Palm Park. 

  1. Ascend the Knapp’s Castle Remains 

Explore the region’s mountain ring by ascending the Knapp’s Castle, a palatial estate that burned down 70 years ago. What keeps the place busy are the majestic views that far exceed the hassle of a 0.8-mile trip with a 50-feet elevation change. 

You’ll have the Santa Ynez River Canyon and Lake Cachuma at palm’s reach. More interestingly, all of these can be seen through the castle’s remaining archways. 

Hike to Knapp’s Castle while you can, as the construction work that was supposed to have taken place may soon resume.

  1. Have Lunch at the Cold Spring Tavern 

Perfect for a Saturday afternoon lunch, Cold Spring Tavern serves delicious local food in an idyllic historical setting. 

Choose between indoor fireplace seating and the outdoor areas shaded by blossoming trees and get cheered by ever-lasting bird songs. It’s also worth mentioning that the folks over at the tavern still use gas lanterns for their warm glow. Some of the in-house specialties include the tri-tip sandwich, onion rings, and buffalo burgers. 

This ultimate country dining place has hosted many renowned Americans, such as Roy Rogers, Merle Haggard, Robin Fillmore, and Susan B. Anthony. 

  1. Go On a Trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo

The town zoo is home to 146 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. And there are over 500 animals in the naturalistic open habitats. 

With million-dollar views of the ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, the zoo is a wonderland of entertainment, animals, and conservation. Your kids will even have the unique opportunity to meet the Masai giraffes, the largest ones in the world. 

Note that the zoo requires reservations, though you can book your tickets online. 

 Have a Blast in Santa Barbara 

There are plenty of things to do in Santa Barbara and beyond. Ascend the nearby hills, enjoy the amazing views, dine in authentic restaurants, and admire the art scene.

To make the most of your stay, make sure to get away from the crowded areas and explore the natural beauty before you leave. 

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10 Things You Must Do Before Your Leave Santa Barbara