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Home Guides & AdviceBudget Travel 5 Free Things to do in Santa Barbara | California

5 Free Things to do in Santa Barbara | California

by Daisy Li

Santa Barbara is a beautiful beachside haven that rests along the Pacific Ocean. Its irresistible beauty is amplified by evergreen palm trees and bright blue skies.

I arrive in Santa Barbara in August after a conference in LA. Following my week-long visit across Los Angeles, I decided to backpack the rest of the Golden State. Santa Barbara was a last-minute stop I added between LA and San Francisco. Unlike LA’s movie stardom hustles and San Francisco’s tech craze bustles, Santa Barbara has a laid-back vibe perfect for a relaxing getaway.

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I spent three days walking along the beach, slurping oysters, and hunting down hidden gems and hiking spot. Without a doubt, there are lots of things to do in Santa Barbara.

Below are five of my favorite things to do in Santa Barbara. Of course, the city is so much more than just beaches and wine, but believe me when I say I’d have no problem at all if it was only just that!

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How to get to Santa Barbara from LA

 

LA and Santa Barbara are only hours apart. It was easy to find a bus/train online or go to one of the many stations in LA for a quick ride to Santa Barbara. Amtrak train rides are approximately 2 hours and cost US 30-40 one way. Buses, such as Greyhound, are around 2.50 hours and are around US 15. (This wasn’t the case during tourist season, as I paid a hefty US 80 for a last minute bus ride between the two cities.)

 

When to go to Santa Barbara

 

California is known for beautiful weather. Although the sun is out year-round, the weather is best between Spring and Fall. Santa Barbara. It is best to Visit Santa Barbara between May and June, as well as from September to November since it won’t be too hot or touristy.


 

Things to do in Santa Barbara:

Hike Lizard’s Mouth Trail Santa Barbara

 
Lizard’s Mouth is a beautiful hike half an hour drive from Santa Barbara’s city center. It sits in the middle of some mountain hills and has a view of the entire city. A hike around this side of town will offer something vastly different from the town center of Santa Barbara. This nature escape is definitely a must if you’ve a approximately two hours or so to spare!

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How to get to Lizard’s Mouth Trail

 
For those driving (and honestly, that’s probably the only method of transportation), drive straight along the San Marcos Pass Road until W Camino Cielo/Forest Rte 5N12. There is a slight opening between the meter-high grass, where you’d park your car along the main road. Then, embark on a short hike into the rocky mountain roads. The trail is not difficult but is a bit frightening once you reach an open platform that tilts toward a cliff meters away.

 

When to go to Lizard’s Mouth Trail

 
We reached Lizard’s Mouth right around sunset. The view was absolutely magnificent as the reddish-orange sunrays were in strike contrast to the blue skies and darkening sea. Nonetheless, the wind around that time of the day was horrendous. I found myself on all fours, praying to the almighty that I wouldn’t get blown right across the rock formations into the wild. 

Once we reached the viewpoint, it was all worth it. The area was secluded, peaceful, and definitely one of my favorite sightings in California.


 

Things to do in Santa Barbara:

Have a Few Sips at Santa Barbara Wineries

 

In addition to the beautiful beaches and gorgeous views, Santa Barbara is also known for its delicious wine. There are many wineries in and around the city,  which makes Santa Barbara a region of diverse produce.

Whether it be Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, or Sauvignon, “American’s Riviera” offers a glimpse into the world of wine that attracts many a visitor. A self-guided tour or a dedicated wine tour like that offered by Golden Rooster Limousines & Wine Tour will help you better understand both the official wine regions and unofficial wine regions of Santa Barbara.

Of course, The secret to a great wine tour is not visiting too many at once, but just enough to have a sense of what the region offers.

Official Wine Regions

Santa Maria Valley

Santa Ynez Valley

Sta Rita Hills

Ballard Canyon

Happy Canyon

Unofficial Wine Regions

Lompoc

Los Alamos Valley

 

Things to do in Santa Barbara:

Go Beach-hopping

 
Aside from the beautiful weather and blue oceanfront view, the beaches along the West Coast are some of the most beautiful in the world. This is exactly why beach-hopping is one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara.

From Leadbetter Beach to Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Barbara has a number of beautiful spots for a relaxing afternoon. The beach waters are always crystal-clear and the sand is just clean enough for anyone to want to dip their bare feet in. For those visiting, a walk along the beach can also lead to hidden spots untouched by many else.

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Things to do in Santa Barbara:

Slurping Oysters by the Harbor

 
I was hosted by a couple in Santa Barbara. Thomas led wine tours and Chantelle was a cook at a nearby resort. So of course, when she offered to take me shopping for Ingredients by some of the local markets, I readily agreed.

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Chantelle tells me that Santa Barbara has some of the best seafood in the Golden State. It isn’t a surprise seeing that the shops lay right beside the harbor. She brought me to the Santa Barbara Fish Market downtown, a place that became my go-to during my ventures around town.

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santa-barbara-fish-market

For a dollar or two apiece I was able to purchase a few freshly harvested the oysters. I took these delicacies to the harbour just steps away. Alongside the dozens of boats that are docked along the harbor and the serene view, I sat down and took a bite of the ocean.

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Things to do in Santa Barbara:

Visit the Superior Court Of California County Of Santa Barbara

 
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is located in downtown Santa Barbara. This near century-old Spanish Colonial architecture-influenced building fits right into the whole of the city, which is an array of small structures with white walls and red clay rooftops.

The courthouse is big, composing of 4 buildings that are all within 14,000m2. It takes about an hour or so to visit, depending on how much you’d like to tour around the infrastructure.
Stepping into a Cour House brings one to the attention of high ceilings and decorated walls. I didn’t see many visitors around, in fact, there weren’t too many people at all.  I found myself wandering in the halls and completely fascinated by this simple beauty of it all.

y favorite part of the courthouse is the “El Mirador” clock tower, which showcases the working mechanism of the clock that sits on top of the entire building. When the clock strikes an hour on the dot, the machines will begin to work. The many wheels and gears would start moving, making way for the final pieces to sound the bell for the entire city to hear.

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A few more steps up a doorway will lead to the rooftop of the courthouse.
From this balcony in Santa Barbara, you have an entire view of the city below. You can see the many houses and dwellings resting peacefully along the streets, the white walls, and the red tilted rooftops create a great contrast to the ocean and hills afar. This charming layout makes for a great scenic view unlike any other within the city!

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I’d readily say it’s probably one of the best spots to catch the best view of Santa Barbara from above!

 

Final Thoughts

 
There were many things to do in Santa Barbara, and I thought it was a great city for a weekday layover. For those embarking on a trip across California, Santa Barbara seems like a great example of the laid-back atmosphere embodied by the entire state. a few days by the beach definitely won’t disappoint!

Santa Barbara is known for its hefty prices and chic hangouts. Fortunately for those of us on a budget, there are many things to do in Santa Barbara that won’t break the bank! From hiking to beach-hopping, the city has many budget-friendly options suitable for backpackers like myself.

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