5 Best Photo Opportunities in Santa Barbara

Photo Opportunities Santa Barbara

Lee Van Grack

Ah! Santa Barbara. The city and surrounding area are rich in art, culture, nature and celebrities. Oprah Winfrey and John Travolta call the area home. There are million-dollar mansions, lovely beaches, wacky festivals, great shops on State Street and plenty of perfect photo opportunities in Santa Barbara.

1. Romantic Photo Ops: Santa Barbara's Beaches

There are miles of opportunities for romance on Santa Barbara's beaches. Most of the beaches face south instead of west, so you get the sun all day and some beautiful landscapes. Here are just a few of the many best photo ops on Santa Barbara's beautiful beaches: East Beach, which is in the center of it all, near the Stearns Wharf pier; West Beach, between the wharf and the breakwater; and Leadbetter Beach, also centrally located, near Santa Barbara City College and the marina.

Tip: Take a stroll on the beach at sunset for the best photo ops as well as the highest romance factor.

2. Quirky Photo Ops: The Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Parade

You'll have to plan for this fantastic Santa Barbara photo opportunity in advance, because the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration is only held once a year. The festival and parade are always held in June to mark the beginning of summer but dates vary from year to year.

The free parade, which is Santa Barbara County's largest single-day arts event, attracts more than 100,000 spectators from around the world. The best way to describe this parade is that you never know what you're going to see. It's colorful, it's wild, it's wacky, it's silly, it's sexy and it's so much fun, both for the participants and the onlookers. There are floats, giant puppets, dancers and costumes created with feathers, sequins, masks and face paint.

Each year has a different theme. Previous themes have been "Carnival" (2010), "Splash" (2009) and "Stars" (2007). The parade starts at noon PT and runs down State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.

Tip: Arrive at about 11:30AM and park in one of downtown's public parking lots or garages. It will be free for the first 75 minutes, and $1.50 for each hour thereafter. Then head for the parade route on State Street. There are usually "front-row" curbside spots available the farther down State Street you go. Santa Barbara police are generally lenient about allowing you to jump into the parade route to photograph, so don't be afraid to do so if you see others doing it. However, be polite and don't get in the spectators' way.

3. Fun Family Photo Ops: Santa Barbara Zoo

Santa Barbara Zoo provides 30 acres of fun for the whole family as well as the best animal photo opportunities in Santa Barbara. The location, at 500 Ni–os Drive, is picture perfect, with some areas offering scenic views of the Pacific Ocean.

With 500 animals in residence, the zoo estimates you'll spend 2.5 hours on your visit. However, many guests can spend half a day walking through the grounds, enjoying the gardens, shopping for a souvenir and eating a meal. There are several areas of the zoo that can be reserved for birthday parties, weddings, family reunions and other celebrations.

Admission prices are $12 for adults aged 13-59, and $10 for children aged 2-12 and seniors 60 and older. Parking costs $5, but is free with the Santa Barbara Zoo membership. The zoo is open every day from 10AM-5PM except Christmas Day, and 10AM-3PM on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.

Tip: The zoo is across the street from the beach, so you can stop and take a walk on the sand afterwards for some fine scenic photos.

4. Scenic Photo Ops: Santa Barbara Harbor

Santa Barbara Harbor is in the Stearns Wharf area. Stearns Wharf is the main pier and reportedly the most-visited landmark in the city, probably because it is one of Santa Barbara's most scenic spots. It's named for its builder, John P. Stearns. At the wharf, you can visit the Ty Warner Sea Center, which has interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages.

Adjacent to the wharf is a skateboard park (great for action photos), and on the pier are a couple of decent restaurants.

Lil Toot is the Santa Barbara water taxi, known as the "happiest boat in the harbor." It offers a daily water taxi service, but is also available for sunset cruises and private charter. A cruise gives a range of different perspectives for photography of Santa Barbara's fine landscape.

Tip: On Sunday afternoons, you can take in the arts and crafts fair in the wharf area.

5. Classic Photo Ops: Old Mission Santa Barbara

The Old Mission Santa Barbara, located at 2201 Laguna Street, is the 10th of California's 21 missions to be founded. It opened way back on December 4, 1786, a day that is now the Feast of St. Barbara.

Some great photo ops can be had during its Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival, held each year over the Memorial Day weekend. On the pavement in front of the steps of the mission, artists create masterpieces in chalk. There's food, music and, of course, art. All make for memorable family photos, as do shots of the mission itself.

The mission is open daily 9AM-5PM, but is closed Good Friday afternoon, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is a museum and a gift shop and you can take a self-guided tour. Rates are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $1 for children aged 5-15. There is also a special docent-guided tour on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for $8.

Tip: After visiting the mission, cross the street (at Los Olivos and Laguna Street) and take a stroll in the lovely rose garden. Rows of roses of all colors and varieties are grown and make for a beautiful photography landscape. There are benches, water fountains and a grassy area to sit, have a picnic and perhaps throw a Frisbee around - for yet more action photo opportunities in Santa Barbara.

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