15 Things to Do Outdoors in Santa Barbara
There are endless things to do in Santa Barbara including dozens of hikes, beaches, and activities. While there are many more that I haven’t included, these are my favorite and most highly recommended by others!
1. Knapp’s Castle
One of my favorite spots is up in the hills with a beautiful (almost) 360º landscape view. There are old ruins of Knapp’s Castle there that make for AMAZING photos. I often see people getting their engagement photos done there.
Not only are there incredible ruins, but off to the side there is a rope swing that is a bit more hidden from the main area. The drive up has great views of Santa Barbara and a few places to pull over and get out of the car. I always drive all the way to the top and then walk the short trail to the castle.
At the time of posting, the owner of Knapp’s Castle is currently living and building on the property. According to Santa Barbara Hikes, the ruins are not accessible but the trail is.
2. Painted Caves
On the way up to Knapp’s Castle, on Painted Cave Road, are (you guessed it!) painted caves. There aren’t great spots to pull over near them, but most people do anyway. The cave is protected by iron bars but you can still peek through and get a good view of them. A bit of Native American history.
3. Red Rocks Hike
Red Rocks is a hike I’ve only done partially. We parked in the lot (make sure you have cash to pay for parking) and walked the trail until we got to the creek. We stopped at the water and just hung out here for a while. The area is peaceful and it was fun jumping from rock to rock in the creek.
4. Rattlesnake Canyon Hike
I’ve never done this hike but have heard great things. Not only is there a creek along the way, but there are also waterfalls and pools you can swim in. This is definitely on my list for future visits!
5. Lizard’s Mouth Hike
Another hike I have yet to do, but it comes highly recommended. It is an extremely short distance from the parking lot to the rock which gives the hike its name – just 0.32 miles. If rock climbing is your thing, you can climb inside Lizard’s Mouth.
6. Butterfly Beach
A bit south of Santa Barbara is a city you might know as Montecito. Butterfly Beach is lined with hotels and dream houses at the top and has a long strip of beach with multiple sets of stairs to enter from. It’s a gorgeous, clean beach with plenty of space for people to spread out.
7. State Street
Maybe not the most outdoorsy thing, but still outdoors, is shopping on State Street. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything, State Street is a great place to stroll up and down on nice evenings. They have a great farmers’ market on Tuesdays.
If you’re looking for a cool spot to grab a drink, Glass House Cocktails is it! They have unique drinks and the coolest outdoor ambiance.
8. East Beach Volleyball Nets
East Beach has multiple beach volleyball courts set up for anyone to use! Just make sure you’re not planning to go when there’s a tournament or you can join the CBVA and sign up for the tournament!
9. Double Dolphin Sunset Cruise
When I was in college we planned multiple sunset cruises with the Double Dolphin since they have a student discount. You can’t bring your own alcohol, but they serve beer and champagne on board (not included in ticket price).
It’s a nice cruise around the harbor and if you get a big enough group to buy up all 49 tickets, then you’ll get the whole boat to yourself! We usually dressed to a theme for fun. They provide blankets and plenty of seating on board.
10. Botanical Garden
I have yet to visit the Botanical Garden and did not even know about it when I lived in Santa Barbara. They occasionally have classes and events there – including yoga!
Their website states “The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden conserves California native plants and habitats for the health and well-being of people and the planet.” It is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.
11. Ganna Walska LotusLand
I recently visited Lotusland for the first time. My great-grandfather and great-uncle were a gardeners here when it was still the private residence of Madame Ganna Walksa. My grandfather also occasionally worked here.
My sister interned here in Spring 2019 cataloging items or the archives so we were able to get a private tour on a day they were closed. It is a magical fairyland place that is perfectly maintained by the team of groundskeepers that tend to it now.
12. Campus (Goleta) Point
Goleta Point, known to students as Campus Point, is a peninsula near UCSB campus. It’s a great spot for a walk or to watch sunset!
13. Funk Zone
The Funk Zone is one of my favorite areas in all of Santa Barbara. It’s loaded with cool restaurants, art galleries, murals, shops, and wine tasting. If you’re spending a weekend here, I HIGHLY recommend heading to the Funk Zone for a night out. It’s artsy, lively, and there are some amazing restaurants.
14. Goleta Butterfly Grove
If you visit this trail at the right time of year (November through February), you’ll get to see the Monarchs migrating to this grove in Goleta. If you have binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens you’ll want to bring it along. The path leads through the butterfly-covered trees and all the way to the bluffs with an ocean overlook. It’s an easy, flat path and a really beautiful area.
15. Gaviota Hot Springs
If you’re willing to drive about an hour North of Santa Barbara, the Gaviota Hot Springs are worth the trip. Parking costs a few dollars so bring cash. There are multiple trails here, but the Gaviota Hot Springs are about 0.5 miles in (follow the signs) and the trail to them can be a bit hard to find if it’s overgrown.
I haven’t done the other trails, but the full loop is about 11 miles. The hot springs are pretty cool, but the sulfur will turn your silver black and leave your skin and hair smelling like sulfur.
If you have a favorite that isn’t included, leave it in the comments! I’d love to hear about new places you love or if you’ve done one of these things after reading this list.