Here's where outdoorsy travelers should explore in Santa Barbara, beyond the beach.
Your standard Santa Barbara getaway might involve hopping in your car, spending the weekend bouncing between wineries, and relaxing on the beach. While those are seriously great reasons to visit this cool coastal city, there are a ton of other experiences you might be missing out on if you stick strictly to the “wine trail, beach, repeat” game plan. Looking beyond the beach, you’ll discover some of Santa Barbara’s hidden gems and local finds, from galleries and museums to hiking trails and a leafy urban oasis. Of course, there will still be plenty of time for epic morning surf sessions and jaunts to wine country.
For starters, consider switching up your road trip plan and taking the train instead. Let your weekend begin by traveling on the Pacific Surfliner without the stress of sitting in standstill traffic among other well-meaning urbanites heading out of town. With daily service from San Diego, Orange County, or L.A., the popular Amtrak service offers spacious seats and complimentary Wi-Fi, which means you can stay comfortable and connected while you traveling up the coast. There’s also a Café Car where you can satisfy your cravings with sandwiches, salads, and snacks, as well as craft beers, wine, and cocktails.
Part of what makes this train trip so special is the jaw-dropping scenery. The tracks run parallel to the Pacific Coast and in the final stretches, you’ll have views of the sea on one side and Santa Ynez Mountains on the other. Depending on how you want to spend the weekend, you could book a rental car, or go completely car-free and enjoy the bliss of not having to drive anywhere for an entire weekend. You can also show your train ticket for free rides on the electric shuttles serving State Street and the waterfront. Adding to that, Santa Barbara is one of the most walkable cities in southern California—and many wine country tours and other excursions pick up and drop off around town.
If you’re looking to be inspired by larger-than-life marine mammals, Santa Barbara’s whale-watching season runs from January to mid-May. During this window, hundreds of gray whales pass through the Santa Barbara Channel on the way to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic. They have the longest known migration of any mammal on the planet and commute somewhere between 10,000 to 12,000 miles starting in Mexico. To see these massive creatures, the Condor Express runs whale-watching tours on its eco-friendly, high-speed catamaran.
Departing from the Sea Landing in Santa Barbara Harbor, the Condor Express will get you to prime whale-watching spots in about 45 minutes, with stops along the way for geological wonders like the Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island. Onboard, there’s a comfy main cabin with a galley menu and full bar, as well as a spacious upper sundeck. During a typical cruise, you might spot dolphins, seals, sea lions, orcas, and even humpbacks, which are similar in size to gray whales. Voted the best whale watching vessel in Santa Barbara every year since 1979, Condor Express also hosts charter tours, dinner cruises, and private parties.
For nature lovers and adventure seekers, the award-winning Ramada by Wyndham Santa Barbara is an urban oasis with its own manmade lagoon filled with ducks, turtles, and koi fish. Situated about 10 minutes from downtown, it strikes the perfect balance of being close to everything, yet feeling away from it all. To get ready for the day, charge up with the hotel’s generous continental breakfast, including made-to-order waffles every morning, and take advantage of special discounts like BOGO tickets to the Santa Barbara Zoo through the Ramada Santa Barbara Value Pass.
For a taste of the hiking scene, head to Lizard’s Mouth, an easy, one-mile trail featuring a reptile-shaped sandstone formation, or try local favorites like Seven Falls and Gaviota Peak. Within Santa Barbara’s small radius, there are a number of challenging trails for more experienced hikers such as the seven-mile Jesusita Trail in Los Padres National Forest. After hitting the trails or touring wine country, the hotel’s year-round solar-heated pool and whirlpool is the perfect place to unwind—or alternatively, you could just kick back on your room’s private patio or balcony with a bottle of wine.
For more information about Santa Barbara, visit SantaBarbaraCA.com.