Travels often involve a bit of Urban Exploration. While I am a huge fan of visiting new cities so I can admire amazing architecture and eat delicious local food, I can get pretty drained if this is all I do for more than a couple of days. This past summer I had the good fortune of flitting around Europe for almost three weeks. While it was an amazing experience, I discovered that I am a much better travel companion if I can sneak in some nature time. Some favorite ways to recharge my batteries include climbing a mountain or jumping in a lake, but these aren’t always reasonable options. Finding some grass to lay in or a place to watch the sunset will do in a pinch. We all get refreshed by different things—I’m guessing nature is something we have in common.
Santa Barbara is home for me, and is an amazing place to enjoy both “city” life (it is a small city) and see nature at its best. Here are five tips to help you recharge in nature while visiting Santa Barbara.
Rent a paddleboard or kayak at Channel Islands Outfitters
Head on down the the harbor and rent a kayak or test your balancing skills and grab a stand up paddleboard. The harbor is an easy walk from just about any accommodations downtown and the crew at Channel Islands Outfitters will have everything you need to get out on the ocean. (Well, you might need to bring your swimsuit, some good sunscreen, and a towel! If you’re a newbie, I’ll bet you get a little wet.) You can either play around in the harbor and dream about sailing one of those beauties out on the open ocean, head past Stern’s Wharf (the pier) in search of dolphins to paddle with, or cruise west towards the mesa and check out the surfers at Ledbetter. For the less experienced: if there is much wind or there is a decent swell, make sure to head west first, so you don’t get too tired to paddle back. When you return to the harbor, head on up to Brophy Brothers for some steamed clams, an Anchor Steam, and great views of the harbor.
Find a hiking trail
If you’re really motivated to get some fresh air, start your morning off with a quick hike to catch amazing views of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands. While there are countless trails to explore, I’ll assume you want to make it back in time for an epic brunch at one of the local favorite spots. Tunnel Trail is about a five minute drive from the Mission and makes for a good introduction to our trails. (Check out that link for more details on how to find it.) While it is one of the most popular trails (eh hem, busy), it will quickly take you up the side of the mountain and to fabulous views in no time. At a decent clip, in about 45 minutes to an hour you’ll be able to sit on a rock and look out on the Channel Islands. You’ll see Anacapa on the left (east), then Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and on an exceptionally clear day, you might see San Miguel all the way to the right (west). This trail connects to many others, so you can make it a day hike if you want. Or, you can make that sitting rock your ultimate destination and turn right around to get back into town and enjoy a nice brunch. Dust yourself off and head to Cajun Kitchen if you’re looking for a big, savory meal, or sit on the patio at Scarlett Begonia if you’re into a slightly more sophisticated and creative menu. Want more hiking options? Check out Santa Barbara Hikes.
Climb the Observation tower at the Courthouse
After a few hours exploring the shops downtown on State Street you might find yourself needing to get a quick outdoor refresh. Head to the Santa Barbara Courthouse and climb to the Observation Tower to take in views of downtown, the mountains, and the ocean. Take a few fresh breaths, maybe wait for the bells to chime, and then head down to soak up some Vitamin D in the Sunken Gardens. If you happen to be in town on a Friday in the summer, look to see if a movie is playing later that night and do as the locals do—throw a blanket down, get a picnic together, and come back at sunset to enjoy an old flick in the great outdoors.
What is a trip to Santa Barbara without a little time at the beach? Just head down State Street until you hit Stern’s Wharf and head any direction your heart desires. If you aren’t the leisure type, head to East Beach for some beach volleyball. Ledbetter had a decent break for surfing, if there is swell (good luck in the summer!). If you’re up for a long walk, bike ride, or a quick drive, head to Hendry’s/Arroyo Burro Beach at low tide and look for anemones in the tide pools. If you see an octopus you better take a photo and send it to me! You can also grab a drink at the Boathouse and catch the sunset from the outdoor bar.
Play in a park
One of the best things about Santa Barbara, aside from the fact that it is nestled between the mountains and the ocean, is that the city maintains a lot of open space. If you want to kick off your shoes and enjoy the sun, you have many options. Have kids that want to run around? Head on over to Rocky Nook and they’ll have plenty of rocks to climb and trails to explore. If you just want to throw a blanket down and open a good book, Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens is the place for you. This botanical garden has over 75 species of trees and other plants that you can learn about on a self guided tour, or you can just sit by the pond and hang out with the koi, ducks, and turtles. Hoping to grab a frisbee and play a bit? The Mission Rose Garden is a beautiful place to stop and smell the roses before you take advantage of the giant lawn area across from the Mission. Stick around for sunset and soak in the end of the day on your blanket or head up to the Mesa to the Douglas Family Preserve. Here, you’re sure to see some beautiful colors as the sun sinks below the Pacific Ocean.
Have a great time in this beautiful city I call home! Maybe I’ll see you out on the water. Enjoy!