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Family-Friendly Visitor's Guide to Santa Barbara

Top Five Things to do in Santa Barbara with Kids

Review by: Jasmine | Jet Set Travel Mom @jetsettravelmom

What is it about the California sun that we just cannot get enough of?  When it gets a little too cold in Northern California, what do we do?  We head to Southern California!  To celebrate our daughter’s birthday, we decided to check out Santa Barbara (aka The American Riviera), as we’ve heard such great things and couldn’t believe that we hadn’t ever visited before.  We couldn’t go wrong, the weather was perfect, our hotel was on the beach, the ambiance was so chill and relaxed, and the food was amazing (Mexican food in particular!).  

What made for an even better experience was that the kids enjoyed Santa Barbara as much as we did.  They appreciated the natural beauty and definitely noticed that the architecture was just so different from what they are used to.  Total win-win for Mom and Dad when kids appreciate and take notice to all the little things around them.  Whether you’re planning on going as a couple’s retreat or a family get away, or maybe even a girl’s weekend out, there is plenty to do in Santa Barbara.  During our most recent trip we tried to jam pack as many things as possible within the short three-day weekend.  

We’ve nailed down our top five must do attractions while visiting Santa Barbara.  Here they are, in no particular order:

Moxi, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation
This museum was everything and so much more! It was super interactive, educational, and just plain fun.  I think we might have literally spent about half a day at this museum.  We decided to head out to the museum first thing in the morning right after breakfast because it was a Saturday and as with most fun places on the weekends, we knew it would be busy.  We arrived exactly when it opened at 10 am and lucked out because we had an entire hour where the museum wasn’t packed and got to take our time to play, explore, and engage to our hearts desire!  

The museum has three floors that is packed with tons of interactive exhibits and is centered around seven themes which all relate to science, technology, engineering, art, and math.  Our daughter absolutely loves anything to do with science and she actually considers herself a scientist so you can just imagine her excitement when we walked into the museum (her eyes lit up!).  And our son just loved discovering new things that he’d never seen before and for us parents it was fun watching the kiddos challenge themselves and solve different discoveries.  

Explore Downtown Santa Barbara
Downtown Santa Barbara has so much Mediterranean charm with an artsy vibe.  The downtown area of Santa Barbara is nestled between the mountains and the ocean.  The main street in the downtown area is State Street which includes various restaurants, storefront shops, art galleries, etc.  If shopping, dining, and checking out cultural attractions is your thing, then State Street is definitely worth checking out.

We decided to check out Downtown Santa Barbara after the Moxi Museum as it was a great way to relax, enjoy some delicious food, and have a drink after a long day of walking and exploring. We enjoyed an amazing Mexican meal at Santo Mezcal, a modern contemporary Mexican restaurant.  The vibe was just fun and vibrant.  The green enchiladas and Spanish rice were amazing to say the least, and of course the extensive cocktail menu was awesome.  (Try the La Fresca good !!).  

Since we had a pretty long day, we decided to head back and enjoy some pool time at the hotel, but we came back the next day to explore State Street again because we only got to see about half of it.  We decided to check out the Santa Barbara Courthouse and climb the clock tower for an incredible 360 view of the city.  The courthouse has to be one of the nicest courthouses I have ever seen.  The architecture and gardens practically take you to a mediterranean town in Europe!  Our kids loved running around the grounds and enjoying the views.  My daughter’s exact words were “Wow, this is amazing!” 

The energetic vibe of the Downtown area is contagious.  You don’t know how many times my husband and I said ‘why have we not visited this place sooner, or maybe before kids?!’  We had dinner in the downtown area at this cute little Italian restaurant called Pascucci.  The restaurant had some great reviews and the food was amazing.  Try the meatballs! If you love Italian food, it’s a must.

Santa Barbara Zoo
The Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens has to be one of the most beautiful zoos that we have been to.  The 30-acre zoo offers beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean which is something you don’t always experience at a zoo.  I mean come on, ocean views at a zoo?!  

The zoo has over 500 different species including elephants, giraffes, lions, and a ton more.  Definitely worth checking out and will keep the kiddos busy for hours!

Santa Barbara Pier & Beach Walk 
We decided to check out Stearns Wharf (Santa Barbara Pier) and the Beach Walk just before sunset to take in the stunning sunset views.  

Our kids enjoyed strolling along the beach as much as we did.  The sunset views made for some pretty picture perfect moments.  

Santa Barbara’s Chromatic Gate 
Also near the beachwalk is Santa Barbara’s Chromatic Gate artwork which is definitely worth checking out.  It is a beautiful rainbow artwork sculpture that kept our kids so intrigued.  It made for a great photo op as it's such a photogenic spot to snap a few pics.  We had fun walking around the gate, the visual abstract was so fun to see, and making a video with the kids walking around the gate was pretty cool.  Our kids still love watching our home video of the Chromatic Gate.  Here are some fun snaps.

So all in all would we visit Santa Barbara again?  ABSOLUTELY!  It is a city like no other and I love that it practically transports you into a Mediterranean sea-side oasis.  Also, I tried to make this list family friendly, but really I think all of the things I listed would be fun for just couples or even a girls trip!  

Next up, I plan on writing about our stay at the amazing Ritz Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara! (and other great hotels in the area)