Santa Barbara with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

Santa Barbara with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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Santa Barbara has long been known as a fun, family-oriented destination for tourists and locals alike. Whether you're visiting Santa Barbara with tweens in tow or not makes no difference. There are always upcoming festivals or celebrations to interest the entire family, from the famed, nearly week-long fiesta during the first week of August to the Christmas street and boat parades in December. With so many events to attend, attractions to see and things to do, Santa Barbara promises excitement.


You'll find countless things to do in Santa Barbara with tweens, many of them free. If you are up early, a good place to start is the first and only remaining Sambo's restaurant, located on 216 West Cabrillo Boulevard across from West Beach. Most tweens love the pancakes and the beachy atmosphere. Specials on kid and adult favorites make it a popular spot for families vacationing in Santa Barbara.

216 West Cabrillo Boulevard
(805) 965-3269
Hours: Daily 6:30AM-3:30PM

Family travel can be hectic, especially if you're confused about directions. Before heading to Sambo's, keep in mind that Cabrillo Boulevard is the main avenue that runs parallel to the ocean in downtown Santa Barbara. It also runs perpendicular to the city's main street of commerce, State Street. The two intersect at the foot of historic Stearns Wharf. This highly visible spot makes a great point of reference and a terrific meeting place. Also, don't forget that Santa Barbara is one of the few Pacific communities that faces directly south. For that reason, people become easily disoriented. When you are looking at the ocean, you are facing south, not west like you would normally expect.

After a delicious Santa Barbara breakfast with your tweens, go for a stroll along Cabrillo Boulevard as you digest. This lengthy street is ideal for walking, biking, skating and even surrey riding. Down the east end of Cabrillo, just across from the public volleyball courts on East Beach, is another great morning destination-the Santa Barbara Zoo.

The Santa Barbara Zoo is not like large metropolitan zoos with their long lines and crowds. This zoo can be likened to a beautiful park, complete with spectacular mountain and ocean views, picnic areas and quiet benches under shady trees. Still, there are plenty of animals to see and things to do at this Santa Barbara attraction. Most of the animals seem to be livelier in the early morning hours, although the 4PM feeding ritual tends to perk them up. Two top activities here include the petting zoo, where you can interact with and feed the animals, and the miniature railroad, which traverses the perimeter of the park. Family tickets are affordable and allow in-and-out privileges for the day. You can even bring in your picnic basket and enjoy an old fashioned picnic in the park.

The Santa Barbara Zoo
500 Niños Drive
(805) 962-6310
Hours: Daily 10AM-5PM
Admission: $12 for adults 13-59, $10 for children 2-12 and seniors 60+, free for children under 2. Parking is $5.


After a picnic lunch at the Santa Barbara Zoo with your tweens, it might be time for a stop at the beach. The area is famous for its miles of white sandy beaches, but one of the most popular spots to hang out is just west of the zoo at Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse. A large sandy expanse stretches out in front of the bathhouse, leading to one of the most sedate sections of ocean in the city. The stretch is far enough away from the harbor so that it is safe for a healthy swim. Inside the bathhouse is a popular bather-friendly cafe where parents can lounge if they don't feel like joining the kids on the beach. The bathhouse also has public bathrooms, showers and a small jungle gym.

Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse
3800 Stephen M. White Drive
(310) 548-7554
Hours: Mon-Fri 9AM-5PM, Sat-Sun 10AM-4PM

Once you've had your fill of sun and sand, head back up Cabrillo to the west where Stearns Wharf juts into the ocean. Here you'll find Ty Warner Sea Center, a must during Santa Barbara family travel. A favorite of local and visiting tweens alike, this educational facility features six interactive exhibits highlighting the local ocean environment. My visiting nephews found this to be one of the most fascinating spots in town. They particularly liked the live tide pool, where visitors can pet strange sea creatures, and the sampling center, where you drop a clawed bucket into the waters below the pier and pull up a sample of the creatures on the bottom. A trained marine biologist then goes through the contents and tells you what you have found.

Ty Warner Sea Center
211 Stearns Wharf
(805) 962-2526
Hours: Daily 10AM-5PM
Admission: $8 for adults, $7 for teens 13-17 and seniors 65+, $5 for children 2-12, free for children under 2

Your tweens will likely enjoy a stroll along the pier, as well as a ride on the Santa Barbara Water Taxi. The "Lil Toot" sails back and forth every half hour from the Wharf to the Santa Barbara Harbor. At $4 for adults and $1 for children, this is the cheapest boat ride in the city.

Santa Barbara Water Taxi
Stearns Wharf
(805) 896-6900
Hours: Trips every half hour from noon-6PM in the summer and noon-sunset in the winter.
Admission: $4 for adults, $1 for children


If your tweens are skate rats, try to squeeze in a trip to Chase Palm Park, the new community skate park, before dinner. Located on Cabrillo Boulevard just off the pier to the east, this popular spot may turn out to be one of their favorite things to do in Santa Barbara. The facilities are well maintained and are monitored by volunteers for security. The best part is that admission is free. Protective gear is required, but a number of places just a short walk down State Street offer rentals for skateboarding and rollerblading. For a listing of other popular parks in the area, visit the city's website.

Chase Palm Park
323 E. Cabrillo Boulevard
(805) 564-5418
Hours: Sunrise-10PM, skateboard park is open 8AM-1/2 hour after sunset

Chase Palm Park is also home to another popular (and free!) place for kids and tweens. Just a short walk east of the pier, on the mountain side of Cabrillo Boulevard, is a strip of land that was donated to the city by the late movie star and hotel developer, Fess Parker. This area has been transformed into a paradise for kids of all ages and features fountains, creeks, sand pits, a snack bar and a shipwreck playground made to look like an old schooner. Grab dinner at the snack bar and then head to the west side of the park. Here, you'll find a historic carousel. Over 100 years old, this well-loved ride was originally built back east by the Allan Herschell Company. There is a small ticket fee to ride this classic piece of American history.

These are just some of the things to do in Santa Barbara that can be found within walking distance of the junction of State Street and Cabrillo Boulevard. There are countless other attractions across the city, ideal for those visiting Santa Barbara with tweens. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, tucked behind the iconic Santa Barbara Mission, is among them. Exhibits include flora and fauna of the region, dioramas of Santa Barbara's first residents, the Chumash people, a giant whale skeleton and the current tween favorite, The Robot Zoo. The latter is an exhibit of larger than life creatures recreated in robotics.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
2559 Puesta del Sol
(805) 682-4711
Hours: Daily 10AM-5PM
Admission: $10 for adults, $7 for teens 13-17 and seniors 65+, $6 for children 3-12, free for children under 3

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