Santa Barbara with Kids: A Perfect Family Day
Start your family vacation in Santa Barbara near the beach, with breakfast at the original Sambo's (216 W. Cabrillo Boulevard, 805-965-3269). Adults can make a meal of the huevos rancheros while the kids tuck into strawberry pancakes, and the restaurant's harbor-side location puts you in the middle of all the action.
When you finish breakfast, walk down Cabrillo Boulevard toward Stearns Wharf. Little legs can't walk so far, however, so here's a better idea for all the family: travel on the Santa Barbara Trolley Tour, which stops near the dolphin fountain at the wharf every hour on the hour from 10AM. The trolley offers a hop-on, hop-off service for the entire day, and costs $19 per adult with one child free per paying adult.
Santa Barbara Zoo (500 Ninos Drive; 805-962-5339). The zoo has a dizzying array of animals, from elephants to toucans and capybaras to tamarinds (don't worry if you don't know what they are -- not many people do!) and has some great views of the ocean to boot. Be sure to stop at the "barnyard" for some animal interaction and at the Kallman family play area, where kids (and adults, if you like) can imagine what it's like to be a dinosaur, spider or ant.
Time for a lunch break. Leave the zoo and walk about half a mile to East Beach Grill (1118 E. Cabrillo Boulevard, 805-965-8805). Nestled right on the beach, this family-friendly restaurant has a kids' menu with reasonable prices (from $4.95), and serves everything from burgers and fries to burritos and deli sandwiches. After lunch, the kids can play on the beach or even opt for the slides and swings nearby.
Insider tip: If you plan to play on the beach, be sure to pack some baby oil in your bag in case you get tar on your legs and feet.
When it is time for a nap or just a quiet break, hop back on the trolley and relax while the driver zips you around Santa Barbara with kids, if you're lucky, asleep on your lap. This gives adults a much-needed chance to enjoy the commentary and the view in peace.
Step off the trolley at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol, 805-682-4711), one of the best things to do in Santa Barbara. The hall of birds holds 37 species of marsh birds and a wonderful barn owl display, and that's just one of the highlights: other great exhibitions include the hall of native Americans with displays about the local Chumash tribe, the halls on marine life, mammals and fossils, and an art gallery with a changing program of exhibits.
If your idea of a family vacation is to get outdoors and see these animals and plants in real life, then stride out on the nature paths that weave their way behind the museum along Mission Creek. Here you will spot any number of birds and butterflies. The museum also has a souvenir shop with educational toys and books. Kids, even on vacation, always enjoy learning about the world around them.
The museum costs $10 for adults and $6 for children aged 3-12, but you get a $2 discount if you present your ticket from the trolley tour. The last trolley stops here at around 4:55PM, which will get you back to Stearns Wharf at around 5:30PM.
From Stearns Wharf, head west to have dinner at the Shoreline Beach Café (801 Shoreline Drive, 805-568-0064). This café is one of the best places to eat if you're traveling in Santa Barbara with kids, as it has tables right on the beach with sunset views and beach toys for children to play with. A constant stream of dog-walkers, joggers and families passing by, as well as the occasional dolphin sighting, adds to the ambience.
The menu focuses on fresh fish and Mexican-style dishes. The fish tacos with mahi mahi or salmon and black beans are a popular choice. If children don't want to join in with adult food, they can order chicken tenders, quesadillas, hamburgers and hotdogs from the kid's menu, most of which cost around $5.
Linger at your table as long as you can to admire the sky turning from blue to muted pink and lavender, while the water turns to liquid silver. Take another stroll down the bike path or along the beach as the perfect end to your best family vacation day in Santa Barbara.
- Overview:Santa Barbara Travel Guide