Santa Barbara with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

Santa Barbara with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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A perfect family vacation in Santa Barbara with tweens is as much about finding fun things to do as it is about sitting around and hanging out with your kids. Vacations always include the regular tourist spots (the mission, the Natural History Museum, the majestic courthouse, the harbor and the wharf); but why not spend a day with your tweens like a Santa Barbara local? You can have plenty of time to hang out while seeing the town.


Start with breakfast. My kids refuse to eat breakfast. Your kids probably refuse to eat it, too (What is wrong with these undersized people?). So, breakfast at The Boathouse Restaurant is a perfect way to keep everyone happy. You can hang out with your avocado and cheese omelet while the kids throw driftwood sticks for friendly dogs (Santa Barbara dogs are like S.B. people: mellow, cool and into Frisbee. This isn't pit bull territory.). The nearby rock formation tidepools contain starfish, crabs, anemones and sea urchins and will entertain most tweens for hours.

The Boathouse Restaurant
2981 Cliff Dr.
Santa Barbara, CA 93109
(805) 898-2628

If your kids travel with skateboards, or even if they don't, take them to Skater's Point just east of Sterns Wharf on Cabrillo Boulevard. You'll love hanging out and watching the fearless kids who seem to be made of rubber fly over the rail or carve the bowl. Knee and elbow pads and helmets are required.

Skater's Point
Santa Barbara, CA
(805) 897-2650
Hours: 8AM-one half hour after sunset

When you feel the need to get up and move, rent a bike or a family-sized surrey ($25.95 an hour) at Wheel Fun Rentals on State Street just across from Sterns Wharf. Enjoy the 10 miles of chalky-clean bike path that roll along the ocean in Chase Palm Park. That can keep everyone going until it's time to think about lunch.

Wheel Fun Rentals
22 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA
(805) 966-2282
Hours: Nov-Mar 8AM-6PM daily, Apr-Oct 8AM-8PM daily


You haven't had good Mexican food until you've eaten in Santa Barbara (even if you've been to Mexico). My favorite is La Super Rica Tacqueria on Milpas Street off Cabrillo Blvd. It's a white and Caribbean-green ramshackle place where the line snakes out onto the sidewalk. Go early and have your kids hold down a table in the covered patio while you wait in line to order. The food is inexpensive, even by Santa Barbara standards, so order generously. Be sure to try the rajas, a homemade tortilla heaped with queso and green peppers.

The Santa Barbara Zoo is a family vacation must when visiting Santa Barbara with tweens. So after lunch, head to the zoo. After you pay the entrance fee ($10 for kids under 12, $12 for adults), walk up the hill and plant yourself for the ocean view on the lawn of the original estate where Lillian Child let homeless men settle during the Great Depression. Older tweens can go off on their own to explore, but be sure to give them $4 each so they can buy treats to feed the giraffes. Giraffe tongues are purplish-black, bumpy and sticky. It's something you don't encounter every day. Younger tweens can hang out with you as you contemplate the view and get ready for a sweet treat.

Santa Barbara Zoo
500 Niños Dr.
Santa Barbara, CA 93103
(805) 962-6310
Hours: 10AM-5PM daily except Christmas Day, 10AM-3PM Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve
Admission: Children 2-12 and Seniors 60+ $10, Adults 13-59 $12, Children under 2 free

After hanging out at the zoo, head over to Paseo Nuevo on lower State Street. There are the expected mall shops, but you're outdoors in Santa Barbara and everything is prettier. Those who have a need should use the bathrooms at Nordstrom's in Paseo Nuevo. They're clean and private with floor-to-ceiling doors on each stall. The devoted hanger-outers can park themselves on the circular bench in the center courtyard. Grab a coffee from The Coffee Bean and watch all the lovely people stroll by. If they're more tan and blonde than you are, which is likely, take solace in the fact that your un-sun damaged skin will look better than theirs in 10 years.

Paseo Nuevo
651 Paseo Nuevo
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 963-7147
Hours: Mon-Fri 10AM-9PM, Sat 10AM-8PM, Sun 11AM-6PM, department store and restaurant hours may vary

The Coffee Bean
811 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 966-2442

Kids and vacations are a perfect excuse for an afternoon snack, so walk just south of Paseo Neuvo on State Street to Yogurtland. I pretend that I don't eat this stuff, but really, I'm the one who's dumping all the serve-yourself toppings on my daughter's giant frozen yogurt, then snatching the spoon from her hand and shoveling in mouthfuls of Butterfinger with smears of yogurt every time she pauses to swallow.

621 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 564-8680
Hours: Sun-Thu 11AM-10:30PM, Fri-Sat 11AM-11:30PM

If you're feeling guilty about the calories, take your yogurt back to the car and drive to Lizard's Mouth, a tween-friendly hiking trail. From 101 North, take the 154 up the mountain for eight miles until you see West Camino Cielo. Drive three miles up West Camino Cielo, and park your car when the paved road ends near the rifle club. There's an entrance to the trail on your left. Hike in and keep going until you hit the stark, almost moon-ish terrain. Glacier-like sheets of rock slant toward the ocean. Rock formations, like giant drip sand castles, fill the landscape. There are great climbing spots, and the fissures in the ground look so deep you could imagine falling through the earth. It's fun to jump the cracks as you lope downhill. Of course, I love just sitting on a rock and enjoying at the endless view. Your tweens can find plenty of things to do before heading back to Santa Barbara.

When you've had enough, descend the mountain while the glorious reds and yellows of the sunset are falling like a melted slushee into the ocean. Be sure to pull over at the turnouts to let the driver enjoy the spectacular views, too.


For an inexpensive dinner, treat your tweens to The Habit Burger Grill on State Street, where locals devour the double charburger. If you're up for a splurge you could try Ca Dario on Victoria, east of State Street. I dream about their ravioli in browned butter and sage sauce for days after I've eaten there. My parents adore the French country cuisine at Stella Mare's. My mother swears by the bouillabaisse that is made with only local seafood. Stella Mare's is on the bird refuge and offers a beautiful view, and the twinkling lights in the glass greenhouse room makes it feel magical. If your kids get tired of sitting at the table, they can hang out on the chintz couches in front of the fireplace.

The Habit Burger Grill
628 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 892-5400
Hours: Mon-Sat 10:30AM-9PM, Sun 11AM-8PM

Ca Dario
37 East Victoria St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 884-9419

Stella Mare's
50 Los Paltos Way
Santa Barbara, CA 93108
(805) 969-6705

After dinner, head to Arlington Theater, which looks like a church, on State Street for a midnight showing of the latest Twilight or Harry Potter movie. The inside of the Arlington resembles a Spanish town when the lights go down and stars appear on the ceiling. It's the perfect final hang out spot for a memorable family vacation with your tweens in Santa Barbara.

The Arlington Theatre
1317 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 963-4408
Hours: Mon-Sat 10AM-6PM, Sun 10AM-4PM

It's been a day filled with family time and plenty of things to do that are tween-friendly. What better way to spend a family vacation in Santa Barbara than hanging out with your tweens?

Raised in Southern California, Jessica Anya Blau is the author of the novel The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, named a Top Summer Read by The TODAY Show, the New York Post, and New York Magazine. Read her blog on Red Room.
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