I’ve lived in Santa Barbara for many years and never get tired staycationing in this beautiful California coastal community. The Spanish architecture, temperate climate, and fabulous surrounding wineries, make this an ideal location for a fun, relaxing vacation. As a child, I remember swimming in the ocean on my Christmas vacation. I can’t imagine doing that now! Our water is quite cool compared to other more tropical destinations. Santa Barbara has been dubbed the “American Riviera” and our beaches often make the top 10 lists of most renowned in the world. Here are a few of my favorites, along with why I love them.
1. East Beach: This is the number one beach associated with Santa Barbara. East beach serves as training ground for many world-class and Olympic Beach volleyball players including Karch Kirali and Todd Rogers. A long stretch of light golden fluffy sand makes this the ideal spot for building sandcastle’s, basking the sun, and playing in the cool, refreshing sea. There is some available street parking and pay by the hour spots but using the Waterfront Trolley is the best way to get from a downtown hotel to East Beach. The East Beach Grill offers light meals and drinks and the Cabrillo Bathhouse rents beach toys and equipment. If you can only see one beach in Santa Barbara don’t miss this beach.
2. West Beach: Located West of the pier, this beach is a good choice for swimmers since it is protected by the harbor. It has fewer amenities but offer a wide, sandy stretch of beach that is a good choice for families with children. It’s fun to take a break and grab an ice cream on the pier when the afternoon gets hot. The Santa Barbara Outrigger Canoe Club practices here from 5:30 to sunset on weekdays. Watch for the “sandcastle man” who creates works of art near the entry to the wharf and snap a picture in front of the dolphin statue.
3. Arroyo Burro a.k.a. Hendry’s beach: Many locals think of this as their favorite beach. In spite of being renamed Arroyo Burro years ago, we tend to call it by its original name, Hendry’s beach. We’re just stubborn this way. This is the beach for dog lovers! You will see almost every breed you can think of happily playing in the surf, chasing balls and making friends One of the best local restaurants, The Boathouse, serves up delicious meals and cocktails literally steps from the beach. The parking is free but in summer and on holidays it can be challenging to find a spot in the lot. Many choose to park on Alan Road the nearest small residential street and walk to the beach. This is a good spot to hunt sea glass and watch for Dolphins.
4. Butterfly Beach: This beach is located across from the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel and is the place to see the luxury Santa Barbara has become known for. It’s not unusual to see a stream of classic cars heading to dinner at the Bella Vista Restaurant. The beautiful beach is somewhat narrow and accessed by a flight of stairs. Again, parking can be a challenge but is free on the street. There are no concessions so pack a picnic. This is a great place to view the sunset.
5. Leadbetter Beach: This is a great beach for surfing, paddle boarding and kite boarding. Many local surfers got their start at Leadbetter. Even if you don’t surf you will enjoy watching the crazy tricks the kite boarders pull off. There are very limited free parking spots. Again if you’re able to take the trolley from your hotel this is the best means of access. The Shoreline Café is a good choice for a light lunch or a glass of wine at happy hour. It’s located near Santa Barbara City College so many students hang out here between classes. For fun pick up some supplies at the grocery store and arrive early to snag a barbecue and picnic table.
East, West and Leadbetter Beaches are close to lower State Street where you will find rentals for surrey bikes, beach toys and boards. Natural oil seepage occurs in the Santa Barbara Channel so be prepared for tar on your feet. It’s easily removed with baby oil and most hotels and vacation rentals will have a removal kit available for you. Most importantly, be prepared to spend an entire day enjoying these beaches.