Explore the best Santa Barbara kid activities

Santa Barbara has much to offer those looking for a thrilling California adventure that the whole family can enjoy. You'll find comfortable and inviting beaches, as you'd expect from a coastal city in California, but that's just the beginning. This city is also home to museums, parks, and shopping centers that have offerings for kids and adults alike. To make the most out of your vacation, you'll need to create an itinerary with the best attractions for your family. Discover the best kid activities in Santa Barbara, and explore everything you need to create the ultimate Santa Barbara family vacation itinerary.

1. MOXI

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, is a popular science museum located downtown that's geared toward children. The vast majority of the exhibits here are interactive and designed to encourage innovation and curiosity among children who visit. All the while, these exhibits keep children entertained as well, so they won't even realize how educational the experience is. The exhibits vary quite a bit, with some covering sound and physics and others showcasing new technology and how the visible light spectrum works. You'll even find a sky garden area that has its own exhibits with stunning views of the mountains and sea surrounding Santa Barbara.

2. Cabrillo Boulevard Bike Path

If your family is looking for something a bit more active, the Cabrillo Boulevard Bike Path offers an easy, satisfying ride with scenic views along the way. It's 4.5 miles long, and the vast majority of it is off the street, making it safe for kids. The trail will take you past the beach and the iconic Santa Barbara Harbor. Not only will you find stunning views here, but you can also enjoy plenty of shops and restaurants along the way if you need a pit stop. You don't even need to bring your own bikes because bike rentals are available right by the trail.

3. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Inside the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, you and your family can enjoy numerous exhibits showcasing the local natural history of the area including fossils, minerals, and animals. That's just the beginning, though, as this museum also features a massive planetarium and observatory that lets you look into the stars. Outside of the museum but still on its grounds, you'll find the Museum Backyard area that features an outdoor walking trail along with several playground features that your kids are sure to love.

4. Channel Islands

If your family is looking for an unforgettable adventure, you're sure to enjoy a kayaking tour of the Channel Islands. Keep in mind that this kind of activity is better suited for families with older kids. The kayaking tours aren't difficult, but they do require a bit of strength and skill to navigate. These islands are also perfect for a Santa Barbara day trip where you'll find plants and animals that are unique to these islands. Be sure to keep an eye out for whales as well, as this is one of the best spots along the coast to see them. Kayaks are available for rent after taking the ferry to the islands, so you don't need your own.

5. Old Mission Santa Barbara

The Old Mission Santa Barbara is an old stone church that your family can enjoy for its historical value and serene atmosphere. The church dates back to 1820, and it has been remarkably well-maintained in the centuries since. You're free to tour the interior if you like, but keep in mind that it's still open for Catholic services. While you're visiting, you'll also want to stop by the A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden located right next door that's home to more than 1,500 individual rose plants for an array of vibrancy.

6. Moreton Bay Fig Tree

The Moreton Bay Fig Tree is one of the more unusual landmarks in town, and your family will definitely want to see this massive attraction. The tree is one of the largest of its kind in the entire country. Its seedling was brought to Santa Barbara from Australia by a sailor in the late 19th century, and it has grown substantially in the decades since. It boasts an impressive height of 80 feet with a crown spread of 176 feet on average. It's located in a protective park, so it's a nice destination to relax in the cool shade.

7. Hendry's Beach

Hendry's Beach, also known as Arroyo Burro Beach, is a popular local beach perfect for families. You'll find lifeguards stationed here along with convenient facilities like restrooms and showers, all of which are immaculately maintained. The water is fairly inviting, with plenty of spots that are safe for swimming, so don't hesitate to let your kids play here. In some areas you'll find gentle waves as well, so beginner surfers can try to get their footing here, too. Keep in mind that if you want to avoid the crowds, head to the beach on a weekday.

8. Santa Barbara Zoo

If your little ones are interested in animals, you'll find a diverse array of creatures from 146 different species at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Over 500 animals call this museum home, and they include animals like leopards, flamingos, gorillas, and the iconic bald eagle. Your kids will especially enjoy interacting with the barnyard animals like sheep and goats. Don't forget to check out the gibbons as well, as their freakishly long arms are as fascinating as they are adorable. Plus, this zoo features its own train for transportation, live shows, and a play area specially designed for kids to enjoy.

9. Santa Barbara County Courthouse

At the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, you'll find a decades-old Spanish colonial building that has been pristinely preserved inside and around the exterior. While the architecture alone may be enough to delight some members of your family, everyone can enjoy the stunning panoramic views available from the courthouse's clock tower. Be sure to head in around 2 pm when you'll find a free tour of the building. Plus, the interior of this building shows off how a massive Seth Thomas tower clock works with its inner gears visible.

10. Santa Barbara Public Market

When you're looking for something to eat, the Santa Barbara Public Market is among the best destinations in town. This food hall is packed full of delicious offerings from a variety of different cuisines allowing everyone in your family to find something they'll love. Some of the best chefs in the city operate out of this food hall, so don't think you're getting subpar quality stuff. You can enjoy one of the most popular taco joints in the city along with vendors offering cupcakes, pizza, ice cream, and noodles.

11. State Street

If you're interested in shopping during your family vacation in Santa Barbara, you'll need to stop by State Street. Here, you'll find a wide variety of different shops covering a variety of interests, so everyone in your family can find something they'll find fun with. You'll find a specialty board game store with thousands of different games on offer alongside a hat store that features essentially every style imaginable. Antique stores have a presence here in addition to the oldest bookstore in California. In fact, this bookstore offers more than 20,000 new and used books you can peruse.

12. Stearns Wharf

At Stearns Wharf, you'll find one of the most iconic spots in all of Santa Barbara. It was built in the late 19th century, and it's the oldest wooden wharf still in operation in the state. When your family visits, you'll find a wide variety of activities to enjoy including fishing, shopping, and eating at stunning seafood restaurants. Don't forget to check out the shellfish market as well for fresh catches. If you're interested in fishing, you don't need to bring your own equipment. A bait and tackle shop is located right on the wharf with everything you need to cast out.

13. Santa Barbara Harbor

When you're looking for Santa Barbara kids activities, you won't want to miss out on the Santa Barbara Harbor. This is one of the most legendary attractions in town with much to offer all sorts of families. While the harbor itself is home to numerous open-air cafés with stunning views of the water, that's just the beginning. From the harbor, you can venture out into the water and partake in activities like boating, paddleboarding, kayaking, and water skiing. Boat rentals are available in excess here along with watercraft if you're looking for something a bit more high speed.

14. Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Santa Barbara has a rich maritime history, and nothing showcases it quite like the appropriately named Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. Here, you and your family can enjoy a plethora of hands-on imaginative exhibits. They not only offer information about the history of Santa Barbara's shores, but you and your kids can learn actual skills like raising a sail. Even a simulated scuba dive is available here. Your kids will especially enjoy being able to get a virtual tattoo. Don't forget to visit the 4th floor while you're here, as the observation deck offers breathtaking views of the city and the harbor.

15. Ellwood Bluffs

If you're looking for a kid-friendly hiking trail, Ellwood Bluffs has got you covered. This loop trail is about 1.2 miles long and will take you and your family along 80-foot cliffs offering impressive views of the Pacific. This trail is also known for its selection of vibrant wildflowers that grow here. While the trail is open all year long, it does have an additional feature during the winter months. From November to February, you can visit the Goleta Butterfly Grove and see the thousands of monarch butterflies that have migrated to these warm shores for the winter. It's perfect for a budget family vacation in Santa Barbara because admission to the trail and the grove is free.

16. Alameda Park

Alameda Park is a well-maintained park in Santa Barbara that offers something unusual that makes it stand out among all the other parks in town. Alameda Park is home to Kids World, a massive playground structure that all kids can enjoy. If your family includes kids ages 2 to 12, you'll want to fit this park on your itinerary somewhere. The playground is 8,000 square feet in total with slides, tunnels, short climbing walls, and so much more. As you approach this park, you'll see its spires standing up from the playground structure as much of it is designed to look like a castle.

17. Santa Barbara Trolley

If your itinerary has some of the top spots in town included, one of the best ways to get around is the Santa Barbara Trolley. This classic trolley tour is entirely narrated, and it's useful if you're trying to get your bearings in this city. When on this tour, you can learn about the iconic courthouse, zoo, and museum, along with their significance and locations, so you can plan your trip to hit all the top spots in the most efficient way possible. The daily tours run about 90 minutes, and they start at 10 am, noon, and 2 pm Thursday through Sunday.

18. Quinlan Museum

If your kids are interested in dolls and teddy bears, you won't want to miss out on the Quinlan Museum. It has one of the largest collections of both in the entire world among 150 display cases. Additionally, you'll find a comprehensive library full of books related to dolls and teddy bears. Among the collection, you'll find exhibits that are notably historical and others that are impressive due to their intricate details. When you visit this museum, you'll also have the option to get a guided tour personally conducted by Susan Quinlan herself.

19. Neal Taylor Nature Center

At the Neal Taylor Nature Center, you can explore a variety of flora and fauna native to the Santa Barbara area. This nature center is dedicated to encouraging public support and protection of the San Rafael Mountain Range Watershed, the Upper Santa Ynez River, and Cachuma Lake. When you're here, you can learn all about the local wildlife and even see some of it in person including several bird species. You'll also find several innovative programs here including fishing workshops, creepy creature exhibits, and a lecture series. Everything here is designed to encourage curiosity and a desire to explore nature further.

20. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is packed full of vibrant greenery and a variety of plants native to California showing off the best the state has to offer. You'll find more than 1,000 different types of plants among 5.5 miles of walking paths. The garden is 78 acres in total, and the cultivated displays are breathtaking. You'll find numerous featured areas in the garden with each offering something different for your family to enjoy. The Mission Dam aqueduct is particularly impressive as it offers insight into early-19th-century architecture in the area. Additionally, you'll find a redwood grove and a Japanese garden.

21. Lil’ Toot

If you're looking for a guided tour of the Santa Barbara waterfront, look no further than Lil’ Toot. This little water taxi is a great way to travel across the harbor with a 15-minute narrated ride that offers valuable insight into the local attractions near the waterfront. It runs every half hour between Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor. Keep in mind that this taxi operates on a first-come, first-served basis, so plan on arriving a fair time before the taxi is expected to depart.

22. Carriage and Western Art Museum

Families interested in the history of the American West can find everything they need at the Carriage and Western Art Museum. You'll find a wide variety of Western memorabilia alongside historic horse-drawn vehicles and carriages along with intricately crafted saddles. The saddle collection has more than 50 saddles on display including some that belonged to Western legends like the Cisco Kid and Will Rogers. Additionally, you'll find an accompanying bridle collection, so this destination is a favored attraction for kids who are interested in horses.

23. Tomol Interpretive Play Area

If you have small kids in your family, you won't want to miss out on the Tomol Interpretive Play Area. Here, you'll find plenty of opportunities for fun that your kids can enjoy along with opportunities to learn local history. Not only will they find slides and room to run and jump around, but they'll also be able to see what it's like to live in a Chumash Indian village along the coast. Plus, there are plenty of relaxing benches where you and any other adults can relax as your kids play around.