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Beachside Bliss in Santa Barbara | Attractions in California

Beachside Bliss in Santa Barbara | Attractions in California

“The American Riviera” just sounds like luxury, doesn’t it? And with stunning Spanish Colonial architecture, upscale coastal vibes, jaw-dropping oceanside scenery and an abundance of fine wine and dining options Santa Barbara is exactly that. The epitome of luxury. 

Founded by Spanish missionaries in 1786 and located just 90 miles north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara has established itself as the ultimate urban escape for the glamorous and elite. Home of the silent-movie and birthplace of over 1,200 classic western films, this predecessor of Hollywood has attracted the glitterati from as early as 1910 — and the city’s star-power hasn’t dimmed even a tiny bit since. For decades this stretch of picture-perfect coastline has played host to some of America’s most notable members of high society – everyone from Charlie Chaplin to the Gilded Age’s Vanderbilts – so what makes this California coast town a standout amongst the many? 

The beaches can’t be beat. It really is that simple.  

This mountain-meets-ocean oasis has something for everyone, even if you don’t really identify as a “beach person.” Looking for an epic hike with breathtaking views that go on and on? Santa Barbara has a beach for that. Feel like setting sail and soaking in the Rivera vibes, Aperol spritz or fishing pole in hand? There’s a beach for that too. Or maybe you’re looking to spot a celebrity in their natural habitat – don’t worry, there’s a beach (or three) for that as well. Check out our favorite spots to sip, swim and be seen on the coast of California and get ready to click “book” on the next flight out west. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.

For those who Wander

Want to take the road (or steps) less traveled? Then local favorite Mesa Lane Beach – aka Thousand Steps Beach – is exactly what you’re looking for. This hideaway has been a neighborhood secret for years, so you might need an actual local to help you get there. First, look for the long set of stairs hidden between local residences at the south end of Mesa Lane then carefully take the 240 (not 1,000!) steps down. Once you arrive you’ll find some of the finest nature Santa Barbara has to offer – turquoise water, golden sand and the city’s infamous Inverted Trees which give the illusion of growing upside down. Make sure to visit during low tide months since the sand is almost non-existent during high tide. And don’t forget – what comes down must go up so get yourself ready for the 200+ trek back to the main beach before the sun sets.

Sandy beach

For those who go fish

The Santa Barbara Channel is one of the most underutilized fisheries in Southern California and offers some of the best ocean fishing in the country – earning the nickname the “fabulous fishery” by captains worldwide. Start at Santa Barbara Harbor and catch a local charter boat that will take you deep into the Channel where you’ll find stunning seascapes and an excess of seabass, rockfish, halibut and more. Land-lovers can still get in on the action at historic Stearns Wharf, the oldest working wharf in California. Fishing is free and supplies are available at Stearns Wharf Bait and Tackle so you can easily prop up on the pier and see what the tide brings in. Anglers have caught everything from rock fish to small sharks, so proceed with caution and keep a close eye on those lines. Take a short drive to Goleta Beach and set yourself up on one of the top fishing piers in California. The pier is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and features more than 30 species of fish, including the elusive mackerel, making it a favorite of entry-level and experienced fishermen alike.

person riding paddle board beside yacht

For those who play

There’s no avoiding beach volleyball in Santa Barbara. The city hosts multiple tournaments every year, is home to a number of elite academies and outfits almost every stretch of sand with a net so chances are you’ll be setting and spiking in no time. If you think you can hang with the best, head straight to East Beach – a local favorite where major tournaments are held every year. Make sure to get there early since nets fill up fast and most players are training for the big leagues. Don’t sleep on the smaller and more “low -key” West Beach, another favorite local haunt. This smaller, more private alternative is just the right amount of chill and it’s easy to jump in on game any given Sunday. For a more family-friendly option, drive about 15 minutes south to Goleta Beach Park where volleyball isn’t the only thing on the menu. Between matches you can take a stroll on the 1,500-foot pier, cast a line, play horseshoe and even barbeque. Fun for the whole family, truly.

silhouette of people playing basketball during sunset

For those who lounge

Sometimes absolutely nothing is the only thing on your beach vacay agenda. Leisure lovers flock to Butterfly Beach for the spotless sands, gentle waves and sunsets that literally make you stop and stare. There’s a good chance of an off-duty celeb sighting too – Oprah’s Montecito manse is just a few minutes away – but don’t expect to see any actual butterflies since the name remains a bit of a mystery for visitors and locals alike. We recommend renting a bike at the Cabrillo Bike Path and taking in the scenery on the easy three-mile ride to Butterfly Beach. It’s an R&R moment unlike any other.

beach wave on white sand

For those with four legs

While many Santa Barbara beaches are pup-friendly, Arroyo Burro Beach County Park is what dog dreams are made of. Also known as Hendry’s Beach, this 14-acre white sand stretch is the home of the Douglas Family Preserve (yes, as in Kirk Douglas) where leashes are optional and palpable pup excitement is at an all-time high. Spend the day frolicking in the sand and surf with your pup in tow and wind down with a glass of wine and killer crab cake at the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach. Don’t worry, the patio is pet-friendly too.

man and two adult golden retrievers playing in beach

FAQ: Santa Barbara Beaches

Does Santa Barbara have a beach? Yes, Santa Barbara Cabos is home to many beaches, suitable for different needs and interests. 

Can you swim in Santa Barbara beaches? Swimming is allowed pending tide conditions. 

Are Santa Barbara beaches open? Most beaches in Santa Barbara are open until 10PM but some smaller beaches close at sunset - please check local guidelines for more information.  

Is it safe to swim in Santa Barbara? It’s safe to swim in the beaches in Santa Barbara, pending the tide conditions for the day. We recommend checking the weather report daily to see if the tide permits swimming. 

Is the water warm enough to swim in Santa Barbara? The warmest water temperature is in August with an average around 61.9°F / 16.6°C. The coldest month is April with an average water temperature of 55.2°F / 12.9°C.


Parking: Mesa Lane Beach is located at the very end of Santa Cruz Boulevard near Shoreline Drive. There are only a few parking spaces the top of the stairs but more can be found along Shoreline Drive and on Santa Cruz Boulevard across the street toward the mountains.

Dog-friendly - off leash permitted in some areas 



Parking: Main parking lot located at 483-689 Shoreline Dr, Each Hour. $2. Each Hour: $2 ; Daily Max. $12. Daily Max: $12. 




Parking: Parking lot on site. First 90-minutes Free for Single vehicle 20-feet and under: $2.50 per additional hour or part of an hour, $20 maximum per day.

Dogs are not allowed down on the sandy areas, they are allowed to check out the sights and smells all along the Wharf



Parking: State beach parking available. 




Parking: There are no in and out privileges at any parking lot.Parking lots are found on either side of the Cabrillo Pavilion Bathhouse $2 per hour and $12 maximum for the day.

Not dog-friendly 



Parking: There are no in and out privileges at any parking lot.Parking lots are found on either side of the Cabrillo Pavilion Bathhouse $2 per hour and $12 maximum for the day.

Not dog-friendly 



Parking: Park on either side of Channel Drive or on Butterfly Lane if Channel Drive is full.




Parking: The parking lot entrance for Hendry's Beach is just west of the intersection of Cliff Drive and Los Positas Road.

Dog-friendly - off leash 


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