Weekend Guide to Santa Barbara with Kids

Is Santa Barbara, California really as idyllic as it sounds? Yes, yes it is.

We spent plenty of time in this beautiful coastal city before our days of family-friendly adventures. So when the opportunity arose to return to Southern California with our kids, it was a no-brainer that Santa Barbara had to be on the itinerary!

We knew things would be a little different this time: less leisurely sipping wine and shopping on State Street, more baby wrangling and ice cream. But when you’re in a place as beautiful as Santa Barbara, it’s pretty hard not to find a way to have a good time!

Santa Barbara is a wonderful place to spend a weekend city break with kids. Plenty of family-friendly activities, beautiful weather year-round, and brilliant architecture on every corner are just a few of the reasons to make Santa Barbara your next weekend getaway with kids.

Read on for where to stay, eat, and explore during your perfect kid-friendly Santa Barbara weekend:

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Weekend in Santa Barbara | Getting There

By Car | With one of the most beautiful coastlines in the US, it’s no wonder that most families visiting Santa Barbara will do so on a road trip. And having a car in Santa Barbara, while not 100% necessary, is quite convenient. Just be sure to check parking options with your accommodations, as street parking throughout the city is quite limited and paid parking can be pricey.

By Train | For those living in or exploring California already, taking Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner is a fun and adventurous way to get to the American Riviera. Santa Barbara’s main train station sits right in the action, between the Wharf and State Street, so a weekend getaway with kids couldn’t be easier!

By Air | Those traveling from farther out can utilize Santa Barbara Airport (SBA), located 10 miles west of the city center. The airport is small though, and can be pricey to fly into, so those on a budget may want to explore options for Los Angeles (LAX) or Burbank (BUR), then rent a car and drive the rest of the way up the scenic 101.

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Weekend in Santa Barbara | Where to Stay

Returning to a refereshed Santa Barbara after 8 years, we instantly fell in love with the new Funk Zone neighborhood and highly recommend it as a place to base yourself for a Santa Barbara weekend with kids. It has everything you could possibly want: quick access to the beach, State Street, and loads of exciting dining options.

A few hotels in the area to consider include…

Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara ($$) | Tucked between Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Hyatt Centric offers a beachfront locale at a slightly lower price point that others in the area. It’s a bit of a walk to the Funk Zone and State Street, but a free waterfront shuttle will take you there with ease.

Compare prices at: Booking.com | Hotels.com

Brisas del Mar, Inn at the Beach ($$$) | Nestled behind Leadbetter Beach, Brisas del Mar is a great spot to enjoy quiet evenings by the pool. Free parking on-site is an extra perk not to be overlooked in this pricey city. Parents will appreciate the free wine and cheese reception in the afternoon, while the kids get their turn with free milk and cookies in the evening.

Compare prices at: Booking.com | Hotels.com

Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort ($$$) | Newly remodeled, featuring 4 restaurants, 2 coffee shops, an outdoor pool, fitness center, and tennis courts, it’s safe to say the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort (formerly the Fess Parker) has pretty much everything you could possibly need. When you are ready to venture out, East Beach and Stearns Wharf are just a few steps away.

Compare prices at: Booking.com | Hotels.com

PS. It’s no secret, Santa Barbara hotels are expensive. So if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, Airbnb may have what you need! I’d stick to Upper or Lower State Street, but if you don’t mind a little drive, some very affordable cottages and guest houses can be found in nearby Montecito or Summerland!

Use this referral link to get $40 credit when you book your first stay!

$40 Free Airbnb Credit from Our Next Adventure

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Weekend in Santa Barbara | What to See & Do

Santa Barbara offers just the right mix of things to do with kids without being too overwhelming; just what I love for a weekend family getaway. Some of our favorite things to see and do include:

Stearns Wharf | What would a trip to Santa Barbara be without a walk along Stearns Wharf? Take in the beautiful Santa Barbara coastline and enjoy lunch at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. If you have extra time, peruse the weekly Arts & Crafts Show that takes place every Sunday.

Beach & Water Activities | Relax at Leadbetter Beach, try your hand at a surfing lesson, or embark on a harbor kayaking tour.

Bike Rentals & Tours | This Electric Bike Tour is a fun way to see all of the city with minimal effort, or, if you’re more of a do-it-yourself’er, rent your own bikes for the day!

Santa Barbara Zoo | Just the right size for little kids, the Santa Barbara Zoo can be easily explored in a morning. Be sure to check out any special events going on, like giraffe feedings or Tiny’s Mining Camp.

Shipwreck Playground | A stone’s throw away from the wharf, this awesome playground is tucked away inside Chase Palm Park, the perfect place for a picnic and fun.

Moxi, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation | A discovery museum that’s fun for both kids and adults? It really does exist at Moxi. We didn’t expect to spend more than a couple hours here, but we ended up missing lunch as we were all having too much fun! Entry is timed to avoid overcrowding, so you may want to purchase your tickets in advance during busy months. We recommend visiting right at 10 am when it opens!

Old Mission Santa Barbara | One of my favorite places in Santa Barbara is the Mission and park that surrounds it. On this trip, Evelyn loved running around and taking photos in the rose garden, and if we’d had more time, I’d have brought a picnic with us. A peek inside the mission and it’s spectacular church are well worth the entry. The Mission is open daily from 9 to 4, and offers both self-guided and docent-guided tours. Buy your tickets in advance here!

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden | Nestled in the foothills of the Los Padres National Forest, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden displays the diversity of California’s native wildlife. From meadows to deserts to woodland trails, there’s plenty for families to explore.

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Weekend in Santa Barbara | Where to Eat

Heading back to the Funk Zone, we were thoroughly impressed by how many new and exciting dining options were all tucked conveniently close by. While we weren’t able to take advantage of the mix of urban wineries and breweries in the area, a few restaurants we did find for a kid-friendly dining experience included…

The Lark | One of the hottest restaurants in Santa Barbara right now, The Lark is also surprisingly kid-friendly (I mean…as far as kid-friendly goes in a swanky seaside city). The restaurant offers a “shared plates” kind of menu, which meant we got to try a little of everything. For the kids, Evelyn enjoyed her fancy PB&J and the staff even brought over some WikkiStix for entertainment!

Lucky Penny | Owned by the same folks as the Lark (and sharing the same parking lot), Lucky Penny is set up for take-out or outdoor eating, making it an ideal lunch spot in a city that experiences perpetually beautiful weather. The marguerita pizza was an all-around crowd pleaser.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company | Located at the end of Stearns Wharf, the Santa Barbara Shellfish company is a wonderful place to take in a cool beverage along with some fresh local seafood.

Helena Avenue Bakery | Whether for morning pastries or a picnic lunch, head over to Helena Avenue Bakery. This new addition to the Funk Zone offers both sweet and savory offerings for breakfast and lunch, served from 6 am to 3 pm. And if you’re headed out to the beach, a winery, or even just the park, stop at their “picnic counter”, open til 6 pm, for a gourmet selection of sandwiches, salads, and accoutrements to take along with you.

NOOK | Looking for a unique Santa Barbara dining experience? In this shipping container turned global-inspired kitchen, chef Norbert Schulz serves what he calls “global comfort food” – approachable, traditional dishes loved by cultures all around the world.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream | A trip to the beach wouldn’t be complete without a scoop! Stop into McConnell’s for a tasty treat that’s also local, sustainable and made from only 3 clean, organic ingredients: milk, eggs, and pure cane sugar.

 

What’s on the top of your list for a weekend in Santa Barbara?

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Where to stay, eat, and explore kid-friendly sights during a perfect Santa Barbara weekend with kids! #santabarbara #california #socal #weekendtrip #familytravel #travelwithkids // Family Travel Destinations | Family Vacation Ideas | Southern California Bucket List | Santa Barbara Day Trip | Top Places in SoCal | Best Cities in California for Families | Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara | Where to Eat | Where to Stay | Family-Friendly Itinerary | Family Hotels

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