Known for its wineries, tourism attractions, and unique culture it may be hard to think of a reason to ever leave this cute coastal town.
But there is so much more to explore in the surrounding area!
Conveniently located in central California, Santa Barbara is a great starting point to venture out to a variety of beachfront areas.
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1. Channel Islands National Park
Located off the mainland of California, the Channel Islands National Park is made up of 5 islands.
This park can only be accessed via boat or plane which only adds to the adventure! This also means it is important to plan transportation ahead of time.
Enjoy a picnic on the beach before joining Channel Islands Adventure Company on a kayak tour around Santa Cruz Island.
Channel your inner daredevil and take the windy trip to San Miguel Island where you can admire the thriving, untouched wildlife.
Scubadive at Santa Barbara for the clearest waters and the greatest opportunity to see the flourishing marine life in action.
With five islands to choose from, it can be a hard decision to pick which one you want to explore.
Make sure you eat before you go or pack lunch with you because there are no stores on the islands.
2. Hearst Castle
Named after William Hearst, this castle was a product of his vision, wealth, and assistance from architect Julia Morgan.
This over-the-top, insanely beautiful palace has 165 rooms and is surrounded by 127 acres of gardens, walkways, and pools.
There are two pools, one inside and one out, that are so stunning you can almost picture the high-end gatherings that once occurred there.
A wine cellar that gives a glimpse of what it was like to have to hide your alcohol in vaults during the prohibition.
Every room is an architect’s dream. Immense consideration and detail were put into all aspects of the building, big or small.
There are a large variety of tours to choose from providing access to different parts of the castle.
Each tour is about an hour-long and completely one of a kind. I wouldn’t blame you if you tried to hit all the tours in one day!
3. Point Dume State Beach
Enjoy the very short hike through Point Dume Nature Preserve as you take in the stunning views of cliffs, coves, and beaches that go on for miles.
The initial trek is a steady incline but it levels out quickly to a boardwalk where you can look out over the water for a chance to see Catalina Island in the distance.
Wildlife is an abundance here and if you’re lucky you will see sea lions bathing in the sun!
Walk 4.5 miles down the sandy beach to get to Paradise Cove for a more secluded beach and beachfront restaurant!
Get a frozen cocktail and devour the deliciously huge serving of guacamole without ever leaving the beach.
Free parking is very limited so get here early to avoid having to pay at the secondary lot.
Don’t let the cooler weather stop you from making a visit. December to March is considered the best time to whale watch.
Fun fact: Scenes from the original Planet of the Apes were filmed here!
4. Venice Beach (Venice Canals)
If you want to be immersed in the unique art culture of Western California, Venice Beach is the place to be.
Local artists express themselves through the many murals you will see at every turn. There is even a section of palm trees here that are covered in artwork!
Relax on the white, sandy beach and listen to the street performers play to their heart’s content.
When you are ready to stretch your legs, hit the boardwalk lined with a plentiful amount of local shops to buy a t-shirt or keepsake to bring home with you.
Hippie vibes not your thing? Head over to the Venice Canals instead for stunning views of the canal-lined neighborhood.
There are no boat rentals at the canals but you can easily take it all in from the many small, pedestrian bridges.
What would a trip to California be like if you didn’t stop at the iconic and original Disney Park?
Originally opened in 1955, the park was the first of its kind and was the inspiration for the larger, better-known Disney World.
Keep in mind that Disneyland is a lot smaller than its sister park, but still provides the same magical feeling.
If you are a Disney fan a visit to this park is a must, not only for its historical value but also because you will get to see and ride unique attractions that can’t be found anywhere else.
And like any Disney Park, there is something to enjoy for all ages.
The secondary park, Disney California Adventure Park, opened in 2001 providing even more new rides to enjoy and an abundance of places to sit down for a drink.
Both parks are conveniently located just steps away from each other so spend the day hopping between parks with ease.
Visiting the Hollywood sign is like a rite of passage for California travel.
There are multiple different trails, varying in mileage, that will get you to the top.
The most popular trail is Brush Canyon Trail. It is a 6.5 roundtrip hike that steadily inclines up to Mt. Hollywood.
Please be sure to stay on the path and avoid climbing for a closer look at the sign, as tempting as it may be.
Aside from the hefty fine that would be given to anyone trespassing, there is dangerous wildlife like rattlesnakes and mountain lions.
Did you know that the sign once read as “HOLLYWOODLAND” but vandalism and neglect brought it down to just “HOLLYWOOD”? Then in 1992, the Hollywood Sign Trust was created to protect the sign from any further damage.
7. Carrizo Plain National Monument
Established in 2001, this national monument provides over 200,000 acres of tranquil bliss.
Walk amongst the vast grasslands as you imagine what life was like before the growth of civilization.
The land is home to a diverse community of wildlife, many of which are in danger of extinction.
This is one of the many reasons it’s important to leave no trace and enjoy wildlife from a distance.
Hike the Soda Lake Boardwalk trail for a short half-mile trip around the unique alkaline lake.
Visit Traver Ranch to see the bones of a 1940s farm and learn a bit of its history.
In spring the valley becomes a sea of yellow as wildflowers bloom in bountiful amounts. This is the most popular time to visit, especially for a picture-perfect moment.
8. Avila Beach
Grab a farm-to-table breakfast at Avila Valley Barn before heading out to explore all Avila Beach has to offer.
There are a bunch of shops here selling a variety of fresh goods and you can spend time with the many farm animals.
Pirates Cove is a popular clothing-optional beach and can be accessed via a short 5-minute walk. There is also a secondary trail that will lead you to the sea caves.
There are 2 piers in Avila Beach to walk out on for stunning views of San Luis Obispo Bay.
Hammocks line the underside of the Avila Beach Pier so you can hang out on the beach and relax.
Hartford Pier draws in a crowd because of its highly acclaimed seafood restaurant, The Olde Port Inn.
End your day at Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards. Pair wine tasting with enjoying garden views, listening to live music, and hanging with the peacocks.
9. California Living Museum (CALM Zoo)
Opened in 1983, the CALM Zoo helps protect species native to California and educates guests about the wellbeing and importance of the state’s wildlife presence.
There are 14 acres to explore and over 400 species of animals and plants to learn about.
The animals kept here are unable to live in their natural environment. CALM Zoo ensures their safety and breeding opportunities help to avoid extinction.
Some interesting exhibits here include an open bear pit exhibit and a bird exhibit that houses hawks, owls, eagles, and more.
A new addition to this museum is the California Coast room which takes a dive into native marine life.
10. The Embarcadero
The Embarcadero at Morro Bay is the perfect place to take a stroll along the waterfront.
With so many different restaurants and mom-and-pop shops to explore, you can spend your entire day here.
There is a restaurant along this strip for any mood and/or budget. Considering its location, it is no surprise that many of the restaurants are known for their seafood.
Rest your feet at Centennial Plaza where you can watch locals play on a giant chessboard.
Take in the stunning views of the harbor and famous Morro Rock as you hop from store to store.
Enjoy freshly made saltwater taffy and stop at the Shell Shop for a memento.
There is also a really good chance you will see some adorable otters hanging around! They are known to be spotted by the pier at the Great American Fish Company.
11. Solvang Village
Founded in 1911, this Danish-inspired town provides the history and beauty of Denmark without ever leaving the state of California.
Originated by Denmark immigrants, many descendants still live in town and work at the many shops.
A stop at one of the famous bakeries is an absolute must to get a taste of authentic Danish pastries.
Walkthrough the village to appreciate the historic European architecture and stop at one of the local shops for a unique souvenir.
Check their main site for upcoming cultural festivities to add to the fun!
12. Gardens of the World
Originated by Ed and Lynn Hogan, this monument was created to admire and appreciate the diverse cultures of our world.
There are five unique gardens to explore with stunning views at every turn and admission into these gardens is completely free!
The French Garden welcomes you with a huge waterfall. The Mission Courtyard tells the history of the Spanish Missions throughout California. The Japense Garden is the perfect place to relax as you sit under the pagoda and admire the Koi pond.
Keep in mind that the garden is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
13. Griffith Park
Known as the largest municipal park in the country, there are over 4,000 acres to explore and a large variety of activities to partake in.
With over 50 miles of hiking trails within the park, there are trails suitable for all experience levels.
Stop at the iconic Griffith Observatory for awe-inspiring views of Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign. Even better, look into one of the telescopes for an up-close view of the night sky.
Book a trail ride or rent a horse to go on your own adventure at Los Angeles Equestrian Center.
14. Santa Paula Punchbowls
This hike is about 8 miles long and is rated as moderate because of its lack of clear trail markers and rocky incline.
Don’t let this discourage you because the views of the waterfall and punchbowls are worth the trek!
Although there are no trail markers, there are distinct features on this route to guide you. Follow the creek upstream until you pass graffiti-covered rocks.
This will lead you to Big Cone Camp. Once you have walked through the camp, take the trail to the left to get to the punchbowls.
In warmer months make sure to wear a bathing suit to reward yourself at the swimming hole.
15. Santa Monica Pier
Built in 1909, the Santa Monica Pier was the first of its kind on the West Coast.
The pier originally gained praise for its fishing opportunities and is still a popular activity to this day.
However, the pier is now better known for its amusement park. Especially the massive Ferris wheel that can be seen from miles away.
Hit the arcade, browse around the local shops, admire the street performers, munch on some fried foods. There is something to do here for everyone!
Aside from its many forms of entertainment, there are also historical walking tours to learn more about how the pier came to be.