Santa Barbara

Parent Q&A

  • Where to Go for a week with Toddlers in early Apr?

    (9 replies)

    Hello BPNers!  Preschool is out first week of Apr, and we could use advice on where to go with our 4yr old and 2.5yr old.  We have done Hawaii a couple times, though in all honesty I am not sure that the money and efforts are worth it.  We are thinking ideally a place we can drive to, where we have a chance at renting a place with two bedrooms where we'd chill for a week, and ideally with some decent food options, and maybe near some kiddie diversions(beach? park?). We did a trip last Aug to Marina Del Rey and had a townhouse one block from the beach and had a great time.  We could do it again, but are there other places we should consider?  Down the coast - Santa Barbara?  Pismo Beach?  Up wine country?  Could also go into the mountains though not sure about weather or food or two bedrooms.  

    Thank you for your advice!

    OP here - thank you everyone!  We will research!  Would love to also get advice on a couple of thoughts that have not come up so far:

    - Morro Bay?  

    - any snow/sledding possibilities left for the first week of April (we don't ski)?  We had heard about Granlibakken or Donner but have no idea if either might be suitable or has sledding that late in the season. 


    Thank you!

    Check out Twain Heart/gold country.  Columbia and the caves are well worth it.  Highway 88 is beautiful that time of year.  Jackson, Pioneer and the old mining towns along 88 and 49 are worth visiting.  ​Not sure how far you want to drive, but Santa Cruz, or up highway 1 to the Redwood forests is spectacular. 

    ​Death Valley is a must see in a lifetime.  As are many places along 395 between Lee Vining and Ridgecrest. Other places around there are Searles Valley, Joshua Tree, Red Rock Canyon, Fossil Falls, Palm Springs, (but it can be in the 100s.) 

    Hope this helps.

    I think with young kids on a week-long trip it's nice to be near a body of water, but in Northern California it's cold in April!  Santa Barbara is nice, San Diego has LOTS to do, and of course LA has endless entertainment options such Disneyland.  Driving to Southern California is not so bad, depending where you're headed. You could even turn it into a 2-day drive and stay overnight someplace on the Central Coast. The kids might enjoy staying in a cave room at the Madonna Inn near San Luis Obispo!  Monterey Aquarium is really great for little ones too (but only for a day), and there are a ton of elephant seals to look at near San Simeon,though unless you're touring Hearst Castle, not great for little kids, there is not much there. 

    For a getaway a bit closer, I like Sea Ranch, which is 2-3 hours drive north in Sonoma County on Highway 1.  You can rent a nice house with a view of the ocean, or not, if you're on a budget! There is a variety of sizes and costs, and all the houses are very nice, many with hot tubs and fireplaces, and they are spaced far apart with trees around them so you don't feel like you're in suburbs-by-the-sea. There is a large playground for the kiddies, lots of easy flat walking trails through the cedar trees and along the coast where you can see seals, a couple of walk-on beaches with hardly any other people on them, and some swimming pools you can use.  It's very relaxing,  and we go up there at least once a year. Food-wise, you are better off cooking most meals at your house.  There is a restaurant in the Sea Ranch lodge for lunch and dinner, but it's a little pricey and more adult-oriented. Up the road about 10 minutes in Gualala there are various restaurants, take-out pizza and Mexican, and my favorite, Surf Market, which has a great deli as well as produce and meat and seafood that make you want to cook. 

    If a short flight is an option, I second the idea of San Diego/OC. There's so much to see (assuming no rain).

    In San Diego: San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wildlife Park, Sea World, Balboa Park, etc. I would suggest to skip Legoland as the ride options available for a 3-4 year old are VERY limited.

    If you fly to the SNA airport (in OC) you also have multiple options in the area: beach, visiting the Queen Mary (Long Beach), the aquarium (in Long Beach too), Pretend City would be heaven for that age (Irvine) and if you happen to go to Disneyland try Disney California Adventure which is less crowded and offers more options for 3-4 year olds (e.g. Carsland, Bugsland, Disney Jr. show, lots of musical mini-shows on the plazas, Ariel's Grotto, etc).

    good luck!

    I'd recommend Santa Barbara. There's a unique, wooden sprawling playground at Alameda Park. Adjacent is the lovely Alice Keck Garden with winding pathways, turtles and ducks. On the pier is a small aquarium with neat exhibits and across from the beach is a carousel. We enjoyed the gem and mineral exhibit and a hands-on discovery room at the Museum of Natural History. There's a variety of shopping and dining options and an easygoing vibe in general. Since you have a whole week, you could explore beaches and towns up the coast like Pismo Beach or visit quaint Solvang. 

    Avila Beach is great for families -- beach is very kid friendly (no waves). You can rent motorized bicycles and ride up and down Bob Jones trail. There is even a little farm at the end of it. The downtown is small and cute. 

    We spent a recent holiday in Carmel, CA. We rented Medicine Cottage, which was a charming and ideally located two bedroom / 2 Bath home. We walked to the beach and to Ocean Ave. We spent a lot of time reading in front of the gas fireplace. We spent a day at the aquarium with our little ones. We ate out and got and prepared food from Whole Foods in Monterey. There is so much to do there, and it's so close, and I highly recommend this spot.

    Disneyland, LEGOLAND, and Sea World (depending upon your ethics. . .we used it as an opportunity to lecture ala Blackfish) are also doable with a full week off with children you kids' age.

    Have fun wherever you go!

    I second Monterey.  We just went there with a 18 month old and loved it.  (Despite having been many times before, with a toddler it was different and we appreciated it more).  We went for three days and didn't even have time for Dennis the Menace Park - next time!

    Monterey/Pacific Grove (although could be rainy), San Diego (brutal drive) for Legoland, beach, science museums? We go to Santa Barbara frequently since we have family there. We always have a good time, but there's not a lot for toddlers there particularly. There's no "signature" playground a la Dennis the Menace Park in Monterey. I cannot imagine spending a week in Pismo... it is a small town! I think you'd get bored, and it's easily a half hour to SLO for their kids' science center & restaurants. Ashland OR is 5 hours, has cute little downtown, nice playgrounds, and kids science museum. Again, for an entire week though, I think you're best off going to someplace that's big with a good sized tourist infrastructure like LA or San Diego. If you edit down your trip to 4 days, you could have a great time in monterey, SB, or Ashland. My personal pick would be renting a 2-bd in Pacific Grove for 3-4 nights. One day at MY Museum in Monterey, one day exploring the coastline in PG/Monterey (rent a 4-person surrey bike), *maybe* one day at the aquarium (not my favorite place on earth, always too crowded), and definitely a long visit to Dennis the Menace. Then back home to normal schedules!  :)

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Getaway to Santa Barbara for 50th birthday

Jan 2015

My best friend and I are both turning 50 in the spring and are planning a quick getaway to Santa Barbara for a few days. We've been friends since our teens and live in different cities.

I have only been to Santa Barbara once, to go camping 4 years ago so need advice on fun, funky things to do and also a good but affordable place to stay.

Any advice? Road-tripper

We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Goleta over the recent holidays. This is adjacent to SB and close to Univ of CA. The prices in Goleta are much cheaper than in SB, so if you find SB pricey, look at Goleta. Going to the state beach in SB and pedicabbing is fun. A sort of odd little tourist trap is Solvang, a Danish town sort of nearby. Have fun! anon

This webpage has a ton of info about activities in Santa Barbara:

There is so much to do in that area: beaches, walking around the wharf or the pier, restaurants and shops on State Street, wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley, wine tasting in downtown Santa Barbara and the 'funk zone,' visiting the Santa Barbara Mission... etc. Hope you have a great trip! former SB resident

Santa Barbara has a lot to offer depending on what you like.

I don't know what you call affordable hotels. There is a lovely, quaint hotel with great service and a nice restaurant, not too far from downtown, the Upham on De La Vina, that runs about $275/night or so. There are cheaper hotels that are also okay, even have pools, but you need to book early. If you want to stay close to downtown, you may want to look into all the hotels along the ocean front close to State Street.

For activities I have a few things I would like to do, but I don't know your preferences. Sight seeing/exploring: Mission, Butterfly garden, Lotus Park, Boat tour (from SB or Ventura) I have never booked one, only gone with friends. Hiking: Rattlesnake trail (not dangerous, I promise), Channel Islands, San Marcos Pass: Painted caves/Knapp's castle and lots of other options. There are small cheap books on SB hikes if this is interesting to you.

Walking on beaches is also lovely. Beaches: preferably not the one at the head of State street exposed to the street. East beach (near the zoo) is for the young and beautiful (volleyball players). My favorites beaches for walks: Hendry's beach, Shoreline, Butterfly. Padaro is good for swimming and close to a small cute shopping area on Santa Claus lane with quaint cafe or outside Padaro grill. There are rentals for Kayaking, Paddle boards on State street close to wharf.

Going out on State Street is easy, but for local low key flair I would suggest Dargan's Pub, a Friday concert at the SoHo, a mean pool game at a decidedly local joint Elsies. Food: Endless options. Do not go to the stints on the wharf with one exception: Brophy Brothers at the harbor - preferably on Thursday evneing, starting your weekend early.

Try to find restaurants in side streets and a little up on State street. Trattoria Vittoria on Victoria Street is my favorite Italian. Sushi is better in the more expensive places. There are a number of decent Vietnamese restaurants, also in malls. There is a nice Greek restaurant across Arlington theater.

Spas: Again, lots of options. All pretty expensive, but it feels good since you can exhaust yourself sightseeing or hiking, have a small lunch, go to the spa, change for the evening, have dinner and go to a bar all within a square of 2 miles. You can actually walk up or down State street and hop on the bus to get back. No matter what you do, you will have a great time. Happy 50th.

Toddler activities in Santa Barbara

Nov 2012

We will be in Santa Barbara for New Year's Eve (four days) with three boys - ages 2,3 and 4. I know about the SB zoo and that great big park near downtown but are there other, recent recommendation of kid stuff and kid-friendly place to eat a meal out. Also, will the beach be too cold? Thanks. CSH

Los Arroyos is great casual Mexican restaurant in Santa Barbara. Shoreline cafe is a great place for a breakfast or lunch. You can eat at the tables right on the beach and sometimes catch a glimpse of some dolphins. The kids might have a fun time renting the large bikes, I think the kids would be old enough to sit in the back. The water will be pretty cold, but the kids could dip there toes in at anyone of the beach in Santa Barbara or montecito or build sand castles. Browsing the shops and restaurants on state street. Heather

Just wanted to pipe in since you only got one response. I am from the SB area, and the last time we visited my son was three. We took him to the zoo which is lovely. There is a small aquarium on the wharf that is also nice. It is quite small but there are some hands-on activities (e.g., touching starfish). On nice days there is apparently a little boat that will take kids out on the water from the wharf. There is also a nice playground near the wharf on the main street that runs along the water. We didn't make it this time, but I remember going to the Natural History Museum there as a kid. There's quite a bit to do and many casual, tasty restaurants. Enjoy! beach girl

The marine center (Warner Center?) is a nice little place to spend a few hours on a rainy morning. It's on Stearns Wharf. The museum of Natural History is also fun, depending on the exhibits. They do have some nice resident exhibits on central coast , and Chumash (Native American) life. Over the summer they had a butterfly exhibit, and dinosaurs, but I'm guessing they are over. If the weather's nice, take a walk down the outdoor path, for lean-to/shelter building, and they have a little creek area that kids can play, buckets, water pump.

Not sure about restaurants, specific for kids. If the weather's nice, and you don't mind a little drive South, Padaro Grill, in Summerland is great. They usually have some fish dish (you can get it not fried), and other standard burger,etc. They have a great outdoor picnic, enclosed area with sandbox, and kids can run around. The train rumbles by every once in awhile, which is a great event in our family.

Natural cafe is also good food, casual place, salads/soups/sandwiches. There are a few locations. Have fun! Former SBer with tots

Kids world (Alameda park) in the downtown area is also really cool for kids. And across the street from that park is Alice Keck park - perfect place to bring a picnic and watch the koi fish and turtles play. Have fun! SB is the BEST! former SB'er

Inexpensive hotel in Santa Barbara for 2 nights?

April 2008

Anyone have a recommendation for a hotel in Santa Barbara for a couple-night stay on our drive down to L.A.? We want to just play on the beach and go to the zoo with our 2 kids (1 and 4) to break up the road trip, but don't want to spend a fortune on accomodations.... kht

Nothing fancy, but there is a Motel 6 that is one (or two?) blocks from the beach in Santa Barbara that I stayed at once. Clean and decent, no frills. More expensive than the usual Motel 6 room, but it was close to the beach in Santa Barbara and cheaper than other hotels. And you won't have to worry about your little ones destroying the rooms because there is not much to destroy. I think it's this one: Andi

We just stayed at the Best Western Encina Lodge, which was very nice, in a residential neighborhood close to downtown. It's next to the hospital but it wasn't loud. I got a government rate, but I think it was reasonable for Santa Barbara. It's hard to find something inexpensive there. Annie

The Motel 6 in Santa Barbara is right near the beach. I believe this is THE original Motel 6... UCSB grad

You didn't mention what you considered a reasonable rate. I just spent a few days looking at B and hotels for July this year. I didn't look at the 2-star ones like Motel 6. The 3-stars and up ones started at around $150 plus 12% tax. I was not willing to spend more than $200 for a queen.

In any case, I ended up choosing Casa Del Mar because they had either kitchenettes or full kitchen, depending on the size of the room you wanted. Be sure you ask for them. This was great as I have an infant. The rooms also looked big enough to fit a playpen. It's right next to the beach and a few blocks from State street, the main tourist attraction.

I think there were also a few regular hotels like Holiday Inn that were very close to State street.

Try for reviews. You kind of get a sense of what people complain about for particular hotels. anon

Baby friendly Santa Barbara hotel

Sept 2007

My husband and I will be traveling to Santa Barbara in December with our 18 month old. I'm looking for some recommendations of a decent but not over the top place to stay that's baby friendly. I've looked at the older postings, and didn't find too much. Any suggestions appreciated. Thx!

It's not specifically *baby*-friendly, but we found the Franciscan Inn in Santa Barbara to be family-friendly, a good value, and a great location (a block from the beach). It has a pool and hot tub. Enjoy your trip! Santa Barbara vacationer

Re: February vacation resort for baby and toddler? (Jan 2006)
We recently visited Santa Barbara with the toddler and baby and had a fabulous time. We felt that we did not have to go far for beautiful beaches, great weather, lodging, dining, and activity. We stayed at the Fess Parker Double Tree Resort, but they also have a Four Seasons Biltmore and Bacara Resort on the higher end. We had friends that rented a home instead at

If I could recommend one thing, it is to rent baby and toddler equipment. We went to and the service was just what we needed to help us feel pampered. There are other companies that do the same thing around the US at - also use for travel tips.

Most of all, focus on relaxation more than destination! Melissa

Santa Barbara with a toddler - hotel?

Aug 2006

We are heading down to Santa Barbara late in Sept. for a baby shower. We are traveling with our son who is almost two and will be there from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. My husband and I have never been there and so are very unfamiliar with it (although we do know there is a great zoo). I have checked the archives and there are only two hotels recommended. Does anyone have any other kid friendly/ economical recommendations for a place to stay in Santa Barbara? Thanks! Brenda

editor note: is the best place to get reviews of lodgings

I recently stayed in Santa Barbara with my teenage son, and I agree with the editor that is a good resource. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on Haley Street. I recommend it, as long as you aren't on the first floor. With a toddler, The Best Western Pepper Tree Inn may be a good option as it is across the street from the La Cumbre shopping center. I have no first hand experience at the Best Western. I'm reasonably familar with Santa Barbara, but am not aware of any well known zoo as the original poster indicated Santa Barbara Visitor

Santa Barbara romantic weekend

Feb 2006

We are considering a romantic weekend getaway to Santa Barbara and are looking for a recommendation of a place to stay. Does anyone know of a great place to stay while exploring Santa Barbara? Doesn't need to be fancy, but cozy and romantic would be perfect! Lori

For a romantic getaway in SB, you can't do better than to stay at the Hotel Andalucia downtown. It's a boutique hotel, fairly new, but close to everything and absolutely stunning down to the smallest detail. More Spain than Spain. Make sure you check out their roof deck - best view in all of SB. Have a drink and some tapas at Intermezzo near the Lobero Theater and you've got a weekend to remember. Have a lovely time! Julie T.

Try the Hotel Oceana in Santa Barbara. Great beds, right on the beach, pool, hip and fun and romantic. Have fun! sbwinchester

For a romantic getaway in Santa Barbara I recommend the Upham hotel. It is in upper downtown. Check out their website.

May 2005
Re: 10th Anniversary romantic getaway
Before we had kids we used to spend our anniversaries at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara (actually in Montecito, a suburb of Santa Barbara, as I recall). It is a very special place--individual cabins nestled in the beautiful landscaping, each with its own decor. Fireplaces, sitting rooms, beautiful furnishings, many antiques, etc. There is a wonderful restaurant on the premises, and Santa Barbara is nearby for sightseeing, shopping, etc. There are tennis courts, a pool, etc. I've never been there in the winter, but in the summer it is wonderful. It was quite pricey, but since we haven't been there in 20 years, I have no idea what that translates to in today's economy. Judy

Cottage or condo in Santa Barbara

March 2004

We are considering a trip to Santa Barbara with our 20 month old and 5 year old for 5-6 days in early April. Ideally, we'd like to rent a cottage or condo. Does anyone have any recommendations for rental units or rental agencies you've used? I've seen prior posts on activities but no mention of child friendly accommodations.

We stayed at the Eagle Inn for about 1 month when our daughter was a newborn. They have large rooms and full kitchens. Our unit had a wonderful rocking chair which was a big plus with a newborn. We stayed on the first floor for convenience. The Inn is near the beach and State Street shopping. We went for walks everyday and had a lovely stay. - RK

Vacation in Santa Barbara with kids 4 1/2 and 1 1/2

June 2003

We're thinking of vacationing in Santa Barbara this summer with our two kids who are 4 1/2 and 1 1/2. We've never been there, so would like recommendations on everything from where to stay, where to eat and kid-friendly places to go. ellen

Fun things for little kids in Santa Barbara include:

The zoo, called ''Child's Estate'', and riding on the little train that runs through the zoo.

The Natural History Museum. My 4 year old nephew absolutely loves this place, and goes there every time he's in SB visiting his grandparents.

Any of the many beaches in town. Near East or West Beach, which are the main beaches along Cabrillo Blvd in downtown SB, you can rent one of those family bicycle things, that hold about 6 people, including small seats for little kids, and ride along the bike path parallel to the beach. You can also rent bikes or skates. Walking out on the pier is also fun.

Sunday mornings, theres a great arts and crafts show along Cabrillo Blvd. Its free, and very scenic just to walk along.

Visiting the Santa Barbara Courthouse, which has a beautiful fountain in front, neat murals, beautiful tiled stairwells and hallways for running up and down, and a tower where you can look out on all the rooftops in town.

Near Santa Barbara, to the North are a few other options, including Nojouqui Park, which is a small county park, off of highway 101 about 30 miles North of town. It has a walking trail (1/4 mile or so) that leads to a nice little waterfall. Also in that area are Lake Cachuma, and the touristy but kind-of fun little pseudo-Danish village called Solvang. Mara (a Santa Barbara native)

I grew up in Santa Barbara, my mother still lives there and I have a two year old son. Here are a few of the thoughts that come to mind:
- The Santa Barbara Zoo is great, beautiful
- Spend time at the beach. Our favorite is South of Santa Barbara at Santa Claus Lane.
- Also at Santa Claus Lane is the Padaro Grill -- freshly grilled food (sandwiches and salads), beer, wine and outdoor tables with a big sand pit where the kids can play while you enjoy the beautiful SB outdoors. (Really, why aren't there more truly kid friendly restaurants everywhere?) This place is GREAT.
- If either of your children are train fans, check out the South Coast Railroad Museum in Goleta --
- Chase Palm Park on Cabrillo Blvd near Stearns Wharf is a great park with a carousel. On weekend nights they often have live outdoor concerts at the park.
- Walking along the breakwater is a great place to look at boats, pelicans, seals and maybe get splashed by a wave. Stearns Wharf is touristy, but also fun. Also, I have never done it, but renting a pedal car along the Cabrillo Blvd. waterfront looks like fun.
- SB has lots of festivals and parades -- Fiesta is the first weekend in August, food festivals in Oak Park, Big Dog Parade is sometime.....

I Love Santa Barbara

Hi there, Santa Barbara is a beautiful town with lots of child friendly activities. There is a managable sized zoo there, wonderful beaches to walk along.........amazing parks. One in particular is called kids world i think, it is the corner of santa Barbara st and Arrellaga. There is also a park called Alice keck there too with some ponds and turtles!There is chase Palm park, right on Cabrillo st, across from the ocean, there is a carosel and great play area there too.

Paoli's returant is the first resturant i think of for kid friendly and good, its a family run italian place down town, close to the water, its on state st and yanonali, right across from the train station. Have fun cris

Santa Barbara is a great place to visit, with kids or without. There are a lot of places to stay on (or within a block or two of) the beach. Be sure to get a place with a pool. The main street is State St. and it runs from downtown, under the freeway to the beach, ending at a Pier with lots of restaurants and shops. You can rent bikes, skates, and pedi-cabs (that seat 4) to ride along the path that goes along the beach. There is also an electric shuttle that you can ride for 25 cents that takes you up State St. through downtown and another that goes along the beach. There is a very nice, small zoo at the far east end of the beach (it will feel like the south end, but the coastline there actually goes east-west). Downtown there are a lot of nice restaurants with courtyards off the street. I would also recommend going to the Courthouse, a beautiful old Mission-era building with sunken gardens and a tower you can go up and get a great 360 degree view.

For excursions out of the downtown/beach area, you can take a boat to the channel islands. You may also get a chance to see ''dolphin city'', an area between the coast and the islands where there are literally 100's if not 1,000's of dolphins. There is also great hiking and picnic-ing in the hills above the city: Los Padres National Forest and Lake Cachuma area. (If you can, find someone to tell you how to get to Red Rock and/or the Painted Caves too.) Have fun! Frances