A pair of blue and yellow macaws at Santa Barbara Zoo, which is known as the “Zoo With a View” // © 2014 Creative Commons user intherough
Feature image (above): Santa Barbara is a friendly beach community, ideal for families with children of various ages. // © 2014 Ron Berg
With a prime location nestled between the spectacular California coastline and the majestic Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara has been called the “American Riviera.” But don’t be fooled by the upscale connotations — this warm and friendly beach community, located two hours north of Los Angeles and easily accessible via Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) or by Amtrak, offers world-class accommodations and dining as well as outdoor recreational activities and great cultural sights.
Add to all of that a Mediterranean climate with 300 days of sunshine each year, and Santa Barbara is the perfect destination for families.
What to Do
A great way to see Santa Barbara is aboard the Santa Barbara Trolley Co. The 90-minute narrated tour gives visitors an overview of the city’s history and geography as well as points out distinctive local sights such as the Moreton Bay Fig Tree, the largest tree of its type in the U.S.
The trolley also offers a “hop-on, hop-off” option, so families can explore any of the locations at their leisure. These include Mission Santa Barbara, named “Queen of the Missions” for its unique twin bell towers, and Santa Barbara Zoo, known as the “Zoo With a View” due to its location overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Families with younger kids will appreciate the layout of this zoo because even the smallest visitors can see the animals close up. Meanwhile, older children may notice the zoo’s dedication to the preservation and protection of California’s threatened and endangered native species.
For the more bold of families, Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers land and sea opportunities. For 15 years, this company has provided memorable outdoor activities that focus on the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape and coastal waters. With excursions that can suit any age or skill level, Santa Barbara Adventure Company’s knowledgeable guides lead visitors on adventures while they share their expertise on marine biology and ecology, Chumash culture and Spanish Colonial heritage.
Where to Stay
Located along Santa Barbara’s waterfront and just a short distance from State Street and Stearns Wharf, The Fess Parker, a DoubleTree by Hilton Resort, is an iconic Santa Barbara landmark. A recent renovation inspired by Santa Barbara’s Spanish Colonial roots has updated the 360-guestroom resort, making it a great choice for families.
“Families are who this resort excels in pleasing,” said Beth Olson, director of sales & business development. “From the extra-large rooms to the central location right by the beach, the park, the zoo and the wharf, parents couldn’t ask for a better home base from which to enjoy Santa Barbara. And when you return from exploring, there’s always the 24 acres of landscaped oceanfront grounds for a game of tag, or the spacious heated pool for an afternoon splash.”
In addition, The Fess Parker welcomes four-legged family members with special pet amenities and pet-friendly dining options.
How to Go
One challenge facing families on vacation is transportation, but in Santa Barbara, families can leave the car behind (or at the very least, in the hotel parking lot). While walking is a fun way to explore the city, public shuttles are available for only 50 cents per person, running daily along the waterfront and up and down State Street. It’s also easy to navigate this bike-friendly town by renting bicycles or two to 12 person surreys on an hourly or daily basis. Travel agents can refer clients to Santa Barbara Car Free for information about additional car-free transportation options in Santa Barbara.
With nearly perfect weather year-round; hundreds of recreational activities; fascinating historic and educational sights; and top-notch dining and accommodations, Santa Barbara provides families with a vacation destination that lives up to its American Riviera reputation.