Got the Med on your mind? You don’t have to squeeze yourself into a plane and fly as far away as Europe. Santa Barbara is the American Riviera. And summer in Santa Barbara is a particularly fine time to enjoy the resort city’s sunny weather, outstanding food and wine, and array of family-friendly activities.
If you enjoy active sports, you’ll find that bike riding and stand-up paddling are a way of life here. Known for its generous philanthropy, Santa Barbara also hosts a bevy of glamorous fundraising events each summer to support those in need, welcoming everyone to attend. Traveling with your pooch? The city even has designated beaches where dogs can run free.
Below are some destinations and events you may want to include on your summer itinerary if you’re visiting Santa Barbara – as a single, couple, or with children or grandchildren in tow:
A new waterfront hotel
The highly anticipated opening of the new Hotel Californian in the summer of 2017 will transform the waterfront. Featuring Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, it incorporates the façade of the original 1925 hotel of the same name.
The property has 121-rooms plus a rooftop pool and event deck offering panoramic views of the coastline and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Ideally located only steps from the beach, one block from the Amtrak station and adjacent to Santa Barbara’s vibrant Funk Zone, the Hotel Californian includes a luxurious Moroccan-inspired spa, high-end boutique, distinctive dining venues, best-in-class ballroom and stunning al fresco settings.
A zoo that’s a crowd-pleaser
Parents or grandparents traveling with children will want to check out the Santa Barbara Zoo, a short walk or drive from Cabrillo Boulevard (there’s good parking at the zoo). You’ll find all the animals you expect to see at a much larger zoo – Masai giraffes, lions, gorillas, elephants and more. You can also observe the preparation of food for the 500+ zoo animals from a large window overlooking the Ridley-Tree Animal Kitchen. Cost: free with Zoo admission.
There are two outdoor restaurants for people lunches as well.
Take your camera to get shots while riding the train through the property; shopping for souvenirs in the gift shop is always fun too.
A museum on a pier
Owned and operated by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum Sea Center on Stearns Wharf is another attraction traveling families won’t want to miss. The Sea Center has numerous marine exhibits and aquaria with a window on the Santa Barbara Channel.
Staff help children and adults interact with little sea creatures up close and personal, and there are entertaining hands-on learning displays. The gift shop is filled with unique sea-inspired keepsakes to take home.
Outside the Sea Center, Stearns Wharf is an historic site that offers valet parking, a bevy of seafood restaurants, the Deep Sea Winery, a charming candy store and more.
Explore the harbor from the water
Santa Barbara Harbor has something for everyone including boat rentals; kayaks; stand up paddle boards (SUPs); jet skis; sunbathing on the beach; seafood restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner; deep sea fishing; scuba diving; water taxi rides; and whale watching.
While there, be sure to visit the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum or take a romantic sunset cruise. Savor cocktails at sunset in one of the many fine restaurants, or take a short trip to Santa Cruz Island with a picnic lunch from Chuck’s Waterfront Restaurant.
The Funk Zone: Wineries and more
The Santa Barbara Funk Zone is a hot new tourist area featuring a neighborhood devoted to wineries, breweries and eating spots. A favorite spot of locals is the Brass Bear Brewing (next to the Cabrillo & Garden Streets city parking lot), celebrating its one-year anniversary in the Funk Zone this summer. Located only a half block from the beach, it serves an assortment of handcrafted brews, fine champagne, wine and cider paired with great food. From a burger, chips and a beer to a scrumptious charcuterie board with a glass of fine local wine, it’s all good.
Once-a-year summer in Santa Barbara festivals
The Summer 2017 calendar is ripe with tasteful community and charitable events that attract thousands of visitors to the city. Since these summer festivals are always crowd pleasers, you may want to check into purchasing advance tickets.
1) Celebrating the summer solstice
The 43rd Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration will be held June 23-25. The colorful summer solstice event brings thousands of art lovers to Santa Barbara to see the creative people-pulled floats coming down State Street. Whole families and nonprofit organizations work for months designing and building floats, making costumes, and rehearsing their music and dance routines. On June 24, the Solstice Parade will run along State Street from Cota Street to Alameda Park.
Children can participate in the Alameda Park art area where puppeteers, musicians and storytellers entertain them, and there’s a short parade around the park exclusively for kids.
2) Wine, food and more
The 30th Santa Barbara Wine and Food Festival is the “Gotta Go To” annual wine and food event, held on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum on Saturday, June 24. The fund-raising event for the museum features 50 food vendors accompanied by 50 local wineries, presenting sips from fine wineries and bites from star chefs. The shade-filled gardens behind the museum have chic outdoor seating areas where you can chat with vintners, chefs and friends.
Santa Barbara will host the 14th Annual California Wine Festival, a three-day wine and food celebration, from July 13-15, 2017. It includes two intimate evening tastings in historic Santa Barbara locations. The festivities culminate at Chase Palm Park on Saturday, when the Beachside Wine Fest takes over a peaceful palm-lined park and over 2,500 wine-happy guests will sip and savor nearly 300 wines and dozens of gourmet food samples. Craft brews will also be available for tasting along with artisan cheese, breads, fresh cut fruit, olive oil and much more. The annual event benefits the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
3) For history buffs and horse lovers
If you love history and a grand parade, put this one on your calendar now. The five-day Old Spanish Days Santa Barbara – Fiesta preserves and perpetuates California’s cultural heritage and traditions while fostering civic pride.
Scheduled for August 2-6, 2017, the Fiesta activities traditionally attract thousands of visitors. They include colorful dance troops and docent tours of the Courthouse and Santa Barbara Mission, along with shopping and tasting authentic Spanish and Mexican-American foods at the El Mercado de la Guerra. At the Santa Barbara Zoo, DIGS is the Celebration of the Dignitaries that honors past El Presidentes who show up sporting their Spanish costumes. Guests enjoy cocktails, food, and dancing the night away on the Zoo grounds.
If you’re a horse lover, don’t miss the internationally renowned El Desfile Historico (The Historical Fiesta Parade). The parade includes historic floats, wagons, carriages and 600 horses with riders in authentic costumes. Native Americans and Spanish Pioneers ride in the parade, along with the County Sheriffs on horses and a bevy of event dignitaries. Noche de Ronda (Night of Gaiety) in the Courthouse Sunken Garden is also a wonderful evening under the stars with music and dancing.
What’s appealing to the over-50 traveler?
- The convenience of walking or bicycling to all points of interest on the Santa Barbara waterfront is appealing to visitors over 50, as are the countless options for eating out.
- A trolley car can transport you from the waterfront up State Street for shopping and sightseeing for only 25 cents.
- Because Santa Barbara offers an array of activities for fun-lovers of all ages, many of them centered around the beautiful waterfront, it’s a great destination for multigenerational travel.
- All of the locations on the Santa Barbara waterfront offer handicapped access facilities.
- If you are crowd-aversive, you may want to stay clear of larger festival events.
- While staying in a brand new hotel is always a nice indulgence, there are many attractive hotels with a view along the ocean in Santa Barbara, including the newly renovated Santa Barbara Inn and Fess Parker Hotel. If you prefer being away from the maddening crowd, try the renowned Four Seasons Santa Barbara Biltmore Resort & Hotel in Montecito; only five minutes from the action by car. The Belmond El Encanto near the Santa Barbara Mission is another peaceful luxury property to consider.
IF YOU GO
- For additional information, see Visit Santa Barbara.