I love poking around Santa Barbara. Whether it’s a quick day trip, pit stop, or overnight, the city is often called “the American Riviera.” After a visit or two, it’s easy to see why. I grew up in nearby Solvang but have only developed a strong love for the area in recent years. Flower-lined boulevards like State Street are always full of vibrancy and palm trees surround you.

I was lucky to visit Santa Barbara twice this spring. First, for a quick getaway with dear girlfriends visiting from England. My second venture found me in town for Mother’s Day with my husband and our daughter, Mabel. There’s always something to see or discover. Read on for a few of my favorite things to do when I head to Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

I just discovered this gem on my last trek. Mabel loves dinosaurs and their Prehistoric Forest was a huge hit. Getting up close and personal with life-size animatronic dinosaurs is just one small part of a visit to this awesome center. There’s also a planetarium, mammal and bird hall, a blue whale skeleton, trails with learning activities for kids, and much more.

I didn’t expect to stay as long as we did. Definitely plan on a few hours for little ones to enjoy everything and explore. It’s very stroller and kid-friendly.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Just a stone’s throw from the Natural History Museum is the stunning Botanic Garden. As someone who adores botanical gardens, I love how close to nature this one feels. There’s an opportunity to find some solace in their Redwood Forest while their Backcountry is ideal for letting the kids play and get dirty. There’s a creek so pack extra clothes and towels.

As long as you know your way or grab a map, this is also a very stroller-friendly destination. We had food packed on us and their small gift shop also sold some snacks.

Lotusland. (c) Mary Farah
View from the Botanical Garden. (c) Mary Farah


Lotusland has been repeatedly listed as one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. It’s clear to see why after a visit. It boasts over 35 acres and houses some of the rarest plants in the world. It’s a beautiful place to walk and wander. Advanced reservations are required and guests have the option of a docent-led or self-guided tour. Each offers a very unique experience.

If little ones in tow enjoy learning, the docent-led tour may be the way to go. If you’re in my boat and have a non-stop toddler, let them run and enjoy the grounds more freely with a self-guided day.

Live Theatres

Santa Barbara has some wonderful performing arts venues downtown. The Santa Barbara County Bowl, Arlington, Lobero, and Granada Theatres are all within miles of each other. The Bowl is a great spot for a date night and many theatres often have family-friendly shows tour through.

View from Stearn’s Wharf. (c) Mary Farah
Breakfast tacos at Crush Cakes Cafe. (c) Mary Farah

Favorite Eats

What’s a trip without finding delicious food? For daytime grub, my favorites are Savoy and Crush Cakes. There’s also Lilac Patisserie which is a gluten-free cafe and bakery. Brasil Arts Cafe hits the spot for a refreshing treat like an acai bowl. Gelato fan? My most favorite is at Tondi.

For dinner, I love Mesa Verde, Rusty’s Pizza, and the Cruisery. These are all good places with or without the kiddos along.

Plan Your “SB” Adventure

So, tell me, will you visit Santa Barbara with the kids or make it a grown-up only adventure?! Learn more here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here