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Family Vacation Fun

Known as “The American Riviera,” Santa Barbara offers close proximity to nature at its finest — from spectacular sandy beaches to dolphin and whale watching in the Pacific Ocean to gorgeous gardens. Thanks to the overall laid-back feeling of the city, kids of all ages are welcome pretty much everywhere, including restaurants that are sure to please discerning young palates. Whether they are into watersports, museums or the great outdoors, there are activities and sights to please everyone in the family. Time to start planning your perfect week in Santa Barbara.

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Day

1

MORNING
  • Early Start.

    Head to Blend, the coffee shop at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, for a breakfast that has something to offer for everyone in the family. Fuel up on smoothies, pastries and a selection of breakfast items (along with coffee for the adults) before you leave for your morning excursion.  

MIDDAY
  • Set Sail.

    Take a jaunt down to the Santa Barbara Harbor for a ride aboard what may just be the region’s most adorable water taxi, known affectionately as Lil’ Toot. The 15-minute narrated boat rides between the harbor and Stearns Wharf provide stunning ocean views as well as transportation to a destination worth exploring. Enjoy souvenir shopping, delicious seafood and incredible scenery along the waterfront before your return trip.

AFTERNOON
  • Scream for Ice Cream.

    McConnell’s may be well-loved at all their scoop shops in California (and in grocery stores around the country), but it all started in Santa Barbara. The company began in 1949 and is still in its original dairy. Visit its large location on State Street to get a taste of the iconic ice cream, filled with local ingredients, like strawberries and rhubarb.

EVENING
  • Dinner al Fresco.

    There may be few things more quintessentially Californian than enjoying an oceanside feast outdoors. Cap off your first day in Santa Barbara with dinner at the waterfront, where family friendly options are aplenty. You can’t go wrong at Brophy Brothers Clam Bar & Restaurant, where clams and oysters are served alongside kid favorites like burgers and fries.

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Day

2

MORNING
  • Nordic Delight.

    Vacation is the time to splurge, and what better way to start the day than with a fresh pastry just out of the oven? Andersen’s Restaurant & Bakery has been beloved by Santa Barbara locals for over 40 years for their European and Nordic menu, heavy on the house-made baked goods. Settle in for a charming breakfast on their outdoor patio in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, including a traditional Danish kringle or butter ring.

MIDDAY
  • Zootopia.

    The Santa Barbara Zoo is home to 146 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects with over 500 exhibited in naturalistic habitats. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the fun, from feeding the giraffes to exploring Kallman Family Play Area to climbing the Rock Wall.  

AFTERNOON
  • Wheels Up.

    A great way to explore downtown Santa Barbara and the harbor is by bike. Rent them for the afternoon for the whole family from Wheel Fun Rentals, and use their self-guided tour map to check out the city from a new vantage point.

EVENING
  • Outdoor Dining.

    Did someone say pizza party? The younger members of your family will love the brick-oven flatbreads at The Bistro at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara while the adults can choose from a selection of thoughtfully prepared seafood dishes, salads and traditional bistro favorites. Enjoy the breeze off the ocean while dining on the waterfront terrace (the wood fireplace means you can enjoy it year-round.)

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Day

3

MORNING
  • Whale Watching.

    Head out on a morning cruise to see the magnificent creatures off the coast of Santa Barbara and around the Channel Islands. Depending on the season, you might see dolphins, humpback whales, blue whales or gray whales. The cruise generally takes a few hours, so make sure everyone in your party brings a hat and sunblock along with their cameras and binoculars.

AFTERNOON
  • Late Lunch.

    You may not think of BBQ while on the West Coast, but Wildwood Kitchen wants to change that. The menu puts the spotlight on its smoked meats but also offers a variety of salads and sandwiches. Or just work your way through the delectable side dishes! The restaurant’s location in a local artisan marketplace known as The Mill gives it a close proximity to a fun communal area that offers wine and beer tasting options for Mom and Dad, providing for the perfect midday break.

EVENING
  • Curtain Rising.

    The Lobero is California’s oldest continuously operating theater, having been founded in 1873. It was rebuilt in 1924 and is considered one of the architectural gems of the city. Ask the concierge at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara to help arrange childcare for the evening and enjoy a parent’s night out at the theater.  

Day

4

MORNING
  • Caffeine Fix.

    What happens when two former professional cyclists fall in love and open a coffeehouse? Handlebar Coffee, which has gained an enthusiastic following since opening in 2011. They roast their own beans every week and bring in fresh pastries and bagels daily. Enjoy your breakfast outside in the historic Presidio State Park across the street.

MIDDAY
  • Clang Clang.

    Keep the focus on history with a trolley tour through downtown Santa Barbara. The 90-minute tour leaves from 1 Garden St. every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and you can hop off and on at any point of interest along the way. A particularly scenic stop is at East Beach, which has a panoramic view of the mountains rising up from behind the sand.  

AFTERNOON
  • Wharf Walk.

    Stearns Wharf is a highlight of Santa Barbara, with a mix of shops, restaurants and activities. Not only is Stearns Wharf the oldest working pier in California, but it is also the top attraction in the city. Get treats at Mother Stearns Candy shop or ice cream at the Great Pacific Ice Cream Company, then stroll the pier.

  • Under the Sea.

    Also on Stearns Wharf is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, which takes a deep dive into the region with interactive exhibitions and the chance to interact with sea creatures. Those with an appetite for adventure won’t want to miss the live shark touch pool.  

EVENING
  • Seafood Feast

    As the sun sets, settle in for a seafood dinner at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. The menu focuses on simply prepared, fresh-from-the ocean options like crab cakes, cioppino in a bread bowl and a Santa Barbara shrimp cocktail. Get there early to avoid a potential wait for a bigger group.

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Day

5

MORNING
  • Day Break.

    For those who are serious about breakfast, look no further than Jeannine’s. With options on the menu like a high protein egg white scramble and challah French toast, you can expect something to please every palate. After their bellies are full, pop in to neighboring Peanuts, a boutique toy and kid’s clothing store, or take a peek at the famed turtle fountain that sits in the center of the courtyard.

MIDDAY
  • Beach Time.

    No visit to Santa Barbara is complete without time on the beach (or at the pool for those who prefer their water without sand). Choose from two pools and a two-mile long beach at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara for a fun-filled day of sun, surf and play.  

AFTERNOON
  • The Mission.

    Old Mission Santa Barbara was established in 1786 and continues to be a vital part of the community. Still home to Franciscan friars and an active parish, the Old Mission is a landmark and historic site worth visiting for the architecture, history and 12 acres of landscaped gardens that surround it. Ask the concierge to arrange a picnic to take along with you and enjoy a family lunch on the mission’s lawn, next to the stunning rose garden.

EVENING
  • Big Finish.

    Every great trip has to come to an end, but why not go out with a bang at a top-notch dinner at Angel Oak? The steakhouse at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara pushes the boundaries of the traditional with the highest quality ingredients, from Kobe beef to seasonal produce. Enjoy the spectacular view of the water from the terrace while you enjoy your equally fantastic meal.