If you’re wondering what to do in Santa Barbara with kids, you’re about to hit the jackpot! Check out our best recommendations for food, activities, shopping, places to stay, and more.
I love a road trip — I mean, looooove a road trip. And living in California, I feel like we have a smorgasboard of road trip destinations to choose from.
It had been years since we’d visited Santa Barbara, so we packed up and headed down. It’s such a beautiful town, and it’s not hard to figure out what to do in Santa Barbara with kids!
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Road Trip Car Must-Haves
Before we get into Santa Barbara with kids – a big shout out to our car for the trip, the Buick Envision! The team at Buick was kind enough to loan us a 2021 Envision for the drive and it was fantastic.
When we travel, we have two adults and two kids, which can mean we travel with lots of stuff. Especially on a road trip, we like to take some extras (we had two skateboards, two scooters, helmets, a big suitcase, bags of snacks, beach toys, and lots more.
The Envision handled it all like a champ. We all had plenty of space, even with all of our luggage. (And I love the push-button open and close liftgate on the back for when you’re managing all of your junk.)
Inside, the ride is super quiet and smooth. Highly recommend taking one for a drive if you’re looking for an SUV! It got us to Santa Barbara and back in comfort & safety (and it’s cute too!).
What to Do in Santa Barbara With Kids
Santa Barbara has so many great, family-friendly activities!
It’s a great town if you love to be outdoors and active, and if your kids love to run around.
We visited a baseball field to play some ball (we brought our own equipment), the East Beach Batting cages to watch the big kids bat, and spent lots of time watching at the skate park. If your kids are into sports there is lots to do!
Here are more of my best recommendations for a family with younger kids (ours are ages 6 and 4).
Bike Trails. My favorite bike trail to do with the kids is the one that runs along the water from East Beach to West Beach. It’s nice and flat, safe and easy for kids, and a beautiful ride. It’s populated with runners, bikers, and more.
Shipwreck Park. Our kids love this playground and we come multiple times on every trip. There are lots of different areas in the same playground, some for older kids and some for younger. The climbing structures are really fun for kids but also feel very safe and clean.
Beaches. Obviously, some beach time should be on the to-do list! I love going to beaches that are a bit off the beaten path to avoid big crowds. Butterfly Beach in Montecito is a favorite.
Red Tile Roof Walking Tour. You can search this online and find a map that will guide you around all of the original red tile roof buildings in Santa Barbara! It’s a great way to learn the history of the town, as the original buildings were all part of a military presidio (some are still there).
To keep kids entertained on this tour, hand them a camera and let them take photos of anything they like!
SB Natural History Museum. Definitely add this to your list of what to do in Santa Barbara with kids. The Natural History Museum has a really kid-friendly outdoor component that is engaging, beautiful, and so interesting! There are docents who will teach kids, lots of room to run and explore, animals to meet, and currently a really great dinosaur exhibit.
Best Places to Eat with Kids In Santa Barbara
East Beach Tacos. These unexpectedly amazing tacos are at the batting cages, and I would have eaten here every night if we could!
Backyard Bowls. An awesome option for breakfast or lunch. The kiddos were really into this menu too.
Santa Barbara Roasting Company. A cute little spot for breakfast sandwiches, coffee, or tea. We loved the hot chai latte.
Santa Barbara Public Market. This is a fun spot to grab something and take on a picnic!
Panino. Maybe my favorite sandwich I’ve had in recent memory? This place is actually in Montecito and a little pricey, but all four of us loved our sandwiches. Bonus: you can wander through the shops in this little center after you eat. There’s a very charming toy store and some fun grownup shopping too!
Fun Shopping in SB
Chicken Little. A toy store that the kids would have stayed in for hours! There is also a pretty great selection of kids’ clothing.
The Blue Door. This might have been my favorite shop! It’s a multi-level vintage heaven! So many amazing vintage home decor finds. I found a couple of small brass swans to add to my collection.
The Shopkeepers. A very cool shop in the Funk Zone! If you hit this spot, wander around near by to the other shops as well.
Seaside Makers Collective. I love finding makers’ collective shops when I visit a town; it’s a great peek into the local maker scene. I love this place because there was a good smattering of SB-specific goods. Things for kids as well!
What to pack for Santa Barbara with Kids
Obviously, bring the usual! Aside from clothes and toiletries, there are a few things that I think are crucial for a great trip to a beach town.
Bring some sort of wheels! Scooters, skateboards, bikes, whatever your family loves. In the downtown area, State Street is currently closed to vehicle traffic and open for wheels and pedestrians so it’s awesome to be able to get around that way.
Where to Stay for a Family trip to Santa Barbara
We stayed at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort and really loved it! We were able to walk to the beach, the batting cages, food, the baseball fields, the Chromatic Gate, Shipwreck Park, and lots more.
And for staying on property, there’s so much to do! We ended up falling in love with shuffleboard as a family and logged some time there. There’s also a great pool, life-sized checkers and chess, a good restaurant and bar, and lots of space to roam around.
More Family Travel Ideas
We have so many other family travel city guides and ideas! Check these out for more California travel tips with kids: