What’s the first thing you think of when you think of California? Hollywood? Wine country? The weather? For many of us, the Golden State is synonymous with beaches.
California boasts over 840 miles of Pacific coastline. That makes it third nationally, behind only Florida and Alaska. And given California’s abundant sunshine and famous attractions, it’s no wonder that California gets 130 million beach visits per year.
Perched on the coast close to Los Padres National Forest and approximately 95 miles north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is one of California’s legendary beach towns. Close enough to the city to make for an easy day trip, it also draws residents of Bakersfield and other inland towns looking for a day at the beach. That’s to say nothing of the out-of-town visitors.
Santa Barbara attracts plenty of those. Thanks to its location between the mountains and the sea, the city has been a popular destination since it was founded in 1786. with its Mediterranean climate and Mission-style architecture, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve somehow found yourself on the European Riviera. That’s an impression that’s only enhanced by the upscale boutiques and restaurants that call the town home.
If you’re planning a beach vacation in Santa Barbara, you could hardly have picked a better spot. But which are the best beaches to visit? Let’s take a look.
If you want to be where the action is, the best beach in Santa Barbara is East Beach. This sprawling stretch of golden sand attracts locals and visitors alike who are looking to have a good time. As a result, it can be crowded and noisy, especially during the summer months. But really, that’s all part of the fun.
All of the best beaches in Santa Barbara offer an abundance of sun and sand. But East Beach is also a great place to stay more active, thanks to its volleyball courts. It’s also an excellent place to bring the family, with lifeguard stations, abundant cafés, and a playground.
Just behind East Beach, you’ll find Cabrillo Boulevard. On a summer’s afternoon, there’s no better place to go for a cruise and enjoy the weather. If you feel like joining in but aren’t in the mood to get behind the wheel of a car, check out Wheel Fun Rentals, where you can rent a bike, rollerskates, or a four-person Surrey.
Santa Barbara calls itself the American Riviera, and thanks to its proximity to Hollywood, it’s not unusual to see celebrities enjoying this beautiful town. If you want a taste of the luxury life yourself, the best beach in Santa Barbara to explore is Butterfly Beach.
Butterfly sits out in front of the Four Seasons resort, which makes a great place to grab a drink in luxurious surroundings. It’s also overlooked by the Coral Casino where you can try your luck in between swimming sessions. Who knows? Maybe you’ll win enough to enjoy dinner at the resort.
Butterfly doesn’t offer as many things to do as East Beach, but on a summer afternoon, it’s the place to see and to be seen. Additionally, its soft white sand faces Southwest, making it the ideal Santa Barbara beach to witness a glorious Californian sunset.
Santa Claus Beach
This delightfully named beach is something of a local secret. When the beaches in town get too crowded, savvy locals head to this quiet gem and enjoy some peace on one of Santa Barbara’s best beaches.
What makes Santa Claus special – apart from its name – is its scenery. Although you’ll see your share of beachfront homes, Santa Claus is less developed than some other Santa Barbara beaches and offers more of a glimpse of the way the California coast used to look.
It’s also a cool place to bring the kids, since the beach slopes gently into the water, making for easy swimming. And even though it’s outside town, there are plenty of shops and restaurants nearby. If you’re driving, you’ll want to get to the beach early, since parking can get hard-to-find on busy days. Don’t forget to bring an umbrella, because shade is in short supply.
Since this beach is relatively undeveloped, you don’t want to bring more with you than you absolutely need. If you’re looking for a place to store your possessions, luggage storage services in Los Angeles provide a safe place to leave your stuff so that you can be a little lighter when you hit the sand.
The Best of the Rest
The beaches listed offer something for just about everyone. But part of what’s so appealing about Santa Barbara is the sheer amount of different beaches you can go to, each with its own vibe. Here are some other beaches to consider depending on what you’re looking for.
- Leadbetter beach. Santa Barbara’s party beach, with built-in grills available on a first-come first-served basis and sparkling waves filled with surfers and college kids.
- Goleta beach park. Less crowded than downtown beaches, but still with plenty of amenities, like volleyball, kayak rental, horseshoe pits, and free parking.
- Summerland beach. It’s a little out of town, but as a result, this beach is far quieter and less crowded than even the best Santa Barbara beaches.
- Hendry’s/Arroyo Burro beach. If you have dogs, this is the beach to visit. Half of the beach is an off-leash area, and there’s even a coin-operated dog wash.