Head to the sun-soaked coast of California, where you’ll find a beach lover’s paradise. A trip to vibrant Santa Barbara promises the perfect blend of fun and relaxation. From laid-back stretches of sand to incredible surfing havens, the best beaches in Santa Barbara suit all types of travelers. Relish the sensation of the Pacific Coast breeze with your toes in the sand, while gazing at the sea and the backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Whether you’re in the mood for a game of beach volleyball or prefer to slow down with a sunset cocktail in hand, there’s a stretch of sand for you in the “American Riviera”. Embrace the California lifestyle with this list of the best beaches in Santa Barbara.
Popular East Beach, near the Stearns Wharf Pier, is one of Santa Barbara’s best-loved beaches, lined with palm trees. Bask in the sun with a book or head to the east end, where you’ll find volleyball courts, a pavilion and a grassy park area. On the weekends, you might be treated to some live music from local drummers, or other art-inspired events.
Stretch your legs with a cycle the bike path that stretches along the coast. It’s one of the best family beaches in California, so pack a picnic for an outdoor feast at one of the picnic tables in the grass, where you can people-watch. Cool off in the Pacific with a swim, walk along the sand or get some exercise on a stand-up paddleboard. Or head to the nearby 42-acre Andree Clark Bird Refuge Lagoon to observe a wide array of birdlife in the saltwater marshes.
Arroyo Burro Beach
Enjoy the local favorite Arroyo Burro Beach, located five miles west of the downtown area. Referred to locally as “Hendry’s Beach”, this stretch of sand is part of a county park with picnic tables, walking trails, bathroom facilities, and fishing. It’s a popular spot for breakfast and for sundowners, for surfers, whale-watching, and strolling the trails in the adjacent Douglas Family Preserve.
Sip a cocktail and take in the scenery and atmosphere of the gorgeous Pacific Coast. Cliffs cradle the soft sand as waves beckon surfers and bodyboarders in classic California fashion. Stroll the sands at low tide in search of seashells or, if you’re a fishing enthusiast, cast a line for halibut, mackerel, or sand bass.
Get active at Santa Barbara’s Leadbetter Beach, a beginner surfer’s oasis located near the city’s harbor. This stretch of sand is popular with locals and visitors alike and is a favorite barbeque or picnic spot.
Surfers, windsurfers, stand-up paddleboarders, and sailors take advantage of the breeze and light surf here. If you visit at low tide, you can explore the gleaming spit of sand that appears and look for seashells.
History buffs will enjoy pairing their beach visit with the nearby Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. Learn about this coastal region over time, via exhibits highlighting how oil, whaling, surfing, and much more impacted the area.
Situated in between the harbor and Stearns Wharf, West Beach is an inviting seaside destination near downtown Santa Barbara. Rent a kayak for a paddle, cycle along the bike path, or simply relax and watch the boats bob on the glittering water.
If you’re interested in learning how to sail, lessons are available from local outfitters, too. Although this isn’t the most popular swimming beach, there are plenty of exciting activities to appeal to all types of beachgoers.
After you’ve had your fill of the beach, check out the boutiques in Stearns Wharf, an iconic Santa Barbara landmark. Explore the state’s oldest working wharf where you can stroll the boardwalk, enjoy an ice cream, and pick out the perfect souvenir in one of the many shops.
Santa Claus Beach, Carpinteria
Approximately 20 minutes south of Santa Barbara, Santa Claus Beach is as charming as its name. It’s actually named Padaro Beach, but being at the end of Santa Claus Lane, has long since been better known by its nickname.
Uncover pure fun in the sun, both in the water and on the sand with activities for any interest. Gentle waves beckon for swimming, paddle boarding, and body-boarding, and the stretch of sand is ideal for relaxing or strolling. Keep an eye out for playful dolphins in the water, too, against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands.
After spending time on the sand, hikers will enjoy stretching their legs on the trails at nearby Tar Pits Park. The natural asphalt lakes and layers of stone and tar create a unique environment to observe while walking along the cliffside path.
Mesa Lane Beach
Uncover a secret seaside gem at narrow Mesa Lane Beach, usually only accessible during low tide. You’ll have to work for this beach experience; nearly 250 steps are required to reach this almost hidden stretch of sand, dotted with tide pools. As such, visitors rarely find it and the beach is prized by locals, whether they’re here to surf or enjoy a quiet siesta.
A favorite among those in the know, Mesa Lane Beach is a Pacific beauty, backed by towering cliffs. Marvel at the unique inverted trees, which look as though they are flipped upside down. In fact, they are normal trees, but erosion of the cliffs combined with gravity has caused them to grow downwards.
Meaning “Good Land”, Santa Barbara’s Goleta Beach is a crowd-pleaser. Located just west of the heart of the city, Goleta is famous for its long pier and shaded picnic and grill areas, as well as several horseshoe pits.
Cast a line off the pier or just stroll and take in dazzling views of the Pacific Ocean. The estuary close by also provides a rich habitat for many birds, making bird watching a favorite activity.
If you’re interested in watersports, an on-site sports center offers kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, as well as lessons and tours. Get competitive with a fun game of volleyball or horseshoes, a top activity at this stretch of sand. Make sure to pack a picnic or bring barbeque provisions; this is the perfect place to feast with a view, cooled by the salty sea breeze.
1,000 Steps Beach
Reaching this narrow stretch of sand between West Beach and Arroyo Burro Beach requires navigating a long staircase, although it’s not as daunting as the name implies. Approximately 150 steps down, you’ll discover an uncrowded beach, backed by the beautiful East Mesa Bluffs.
At low tide, you can enjoy a leisurely walk and unspoiled coastal scenery. Explore tide pools as well, inhabited by colorful anemones, crabs, snails, fish, and maybe the occasional lobster or octopus. Bring your camera if you visit early evening; this is one of the best spots from which to watch the sun go down.
Head to Shoreline Park for incredible views and tide pooling. A bike trail weaves through a lawned area, where frisbee and picnicking are popular activities. Venture down the wooden stairs at low tide and you’ll uncover a gem of a beach.
Gaze out at the ocean and you might just see dolphins or even whales in the water. Photographers will enjoy capturing the vista; you can see the nearby Channel Islands from Shoreline Park.
Summerland Beach, Summerland
Just a little east of Santa Barbara, laid-back Summerland Beach is a popular coastline destination both for park and beach lovers, hailed by locals as one of the best beaches near Santa Barbara.
Lookout Park offers great coastal views as well as picnic and barbecue facilities, and a volleyball court. Just below the park, uncover a beach paradise with an expansive stretch of sand.
Mellow waves mean this is an ideal spot for paddle boarding and swimming, with the gently sloping seafloor making it easy to wade slowly into the water. If you feel like venturing away from the beach for a break, quaint boutiques and restaurants await just a few blocks from the shore.
Butterfly Beach, Montecito
West-facing Butterfly Beach on Channel Drive is a local favorite, with a laid-back atmosphere. Gaze out at the ocean from the rock wall, an ideal perch from which to appreciate the scenery.
Butterfly Beach is also an ideal place to enjoy a long walk, particularly at low tide when you can make your way all the way over to neighboring East Beach in one direction or Hammond’s Beach in the other. With this sandy destination only 15 minutes from the heart of Santa Barbara, it’s a worthwhile spot to spend the day.
Rincon Point State Beach, Carpinteria
This surfer’s paradise is located half an hour south of Santa Barbara, with incredible waves giving it the name “Queen of the Coast”. The long pointbreak with right-hand waves means this is considered a bucket-list surfing destination.
Whether you’re interested in hitting the waves yourself or just watching the skilled surfers in action, Rincon Point State Beach is a great choice. Enjoy a picnic, capture photographs of the rocky shore adorned with driftwood, and surfers navigating the swells.
Also referred to as West Campus Beach, Devereux Beach is a tide pool explorer’s haven, located just north of Santa Barbara in Isla Vista. At low tide, search for mussels, sand crabs, octopus, anemones, and barnacles in the shallow rock formations. Devereux is also known to have a great surf break, though surfers should beware of rocks when catching waves.
Popular with photographers, this stretch of sand is known to be a good spot from which to keep watch for gray whales as they migrate through the Santa Barbara Channel. The atmospheric ruin of a cement beach house with a stone chimney is a well-known landmark on the beach, dating back to the 1920s and creating an interesting subject for capturing images today.
Read: One Day in Santa Barbara
A cruise is a fantastic way to experience the best beaches in Santa Barbara and the surrounding area, whether you’re interested in unwinding on the sand or enjoying the world-famous surf scene. Discover our luxury cruises to Santa Barbara on our website.