Must See Beaches in Santa Barbara: A Dive into Coastal Paradise

Santa Barbara is one of those amazing costal cities with so much history to give to their locals, and the tourists. While there is a lot to do here, the beaches are the most popular parts of the city.

Students from UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara) spend countless hours of their time at the beach, since it’s close by and it’s something that you just do when you live here.

Aside from that, people from across the globe come to Santa Barbara not only to enjoy the city and the local environment, but also the surfing, and everything else the city has to offer.

Can’t forget to mention a restaurant in Santa Barbara county (which is a little further away) that’s worth traveling to when in this city. It’s called Pea Soup Anderson’s, and it’s a charming restaurant famous for their pea soup. Whenever my family and I come to Santa Barbara we typically continue on North and one place we always stop is at Anderson’s. Check them out!

What is Santa Barbara, and What is it About?

Often referred to as “The American Riviera,” this city that seamlessly blends its rich history with a modern and sophisticated charm.

Established by Spanish missionaries in the late 18th century, Santa Barbara grew to prominence as a strategic coastal outpost and a hub for trade and culture. Its pristine beaches, blessed with golden sands and an ideal Mediterranean climate, have played a significant role in defining the city’s identity.

They have borne witness to centuries of history, from the Chumash people’s sacred ceremonies to today’s sun worshippers and surf enthusiasts.

Beyond their sheer beauty, these beaches are integral to Santa Barbara’s economy, drawing millions of visitors each year, and have become iconic symbols of California’s coveted coastal lifestyle.

But without further ado, here is our list of the best beaches in Santa Barbara.

The 10 Best Beaches in the Santa Barbara Area

1. East Beach

A staple of Santa Barbara’s coastline, East Beach is famous for its soft sand and serene ambience. With the historic Cabrillo Pavilion as its backdrop and the Santa Barbara Zoo nearby, this beach offers a delightful blend of nature and history.

  • Nearby Landmarks: The historic Cabrillo Pavilion, the Santa Barbara Zoo.
  • Great for Kids: Children’s Playground, flat sandy areas perfect for sandcastles, and gentle waves for safe wading.
  • Distance from Downtown: Approximately 2 miles.
  • Insider Tip: Early morning is the best time to visit if you’re looking to avoid crowds. Also, look out for art shows during weekends!

2. West Beach

West Beach is an emblem of Santa Barbara’s vibrant culture. Positioned near Stearns Wharf, it is a hub of activity, offering everything from beach games to delectable seafood dining options.

  • Nearby Landmarks: Stearns Wharf, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
  • Great for Kids: Ample space for beach games, nearby ice-cream parlors, and the occasional summer concert.
  • Distance from Downtown: 1.5 miles.
  • Insider Tip: The sunset views from Stearns Wharf are magnificent. Grab an early dinner nearby and enjoy!

3. Butterfly Beach

Butterfly Beach provides an intimate seaside experience. With its golden sands and the luxe Four Seasons Biltmore Resort nearby, it’s a favorite for both locals and tourists looking for a touch of elegance.

  • Website: N/A
  • Nearby Landmarks: The Four Seasons Biltmore Resort, Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club.
  • Great for Kids: Shallow tide pools that are home to various marine life.
  • Distance from Downtown: 4 miles.
  • Insider Tip: This is one of the few west-facing beaches in the area, making it a prime sunset watching spot.

4. Arroyo Burro Beach (or Hendry’s Beach)

Known for its picturesque views and dog-friendly sections, Arroyo Burro Beach (commonly known as Hendry’s Beach) is a perfect destination for family outings. Its proximity to the Boathouse Restaurant makes it a great spot for brunch or a romantic dinner by the shore.

  • Nearby Landmarks: Douglas Family Preserve, the Boathouse Restaurant.
  • Great for Kids: Dedicated picnic areas and a dog-friendly section for families with pets.
  • Distance from Downtown: 5 miles.
  • Insider Tip: Visit the Boathouse for a delightful brunch or seafood dinner.

5. Leadbetter Beach

Leadbetter Beach is a haven for water sports enthusiasts. Positioned near Santa Barbara City College and the harbor, it offers a lively atmosphere, making it ideal for surfing, paddle boarding, or simply lounging by the coast.

  • Nearby Landmarks: Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara Harbor.
  • Great for Kids: Perfect for beginner surfers, paddleboarding, and kitesurfing.
  • Distance from Downtown: 1.7 miles.
  • Insider Tip: It’s a popular spot for local events and BBQs, so plan to come early on weekends.

6. Carpinteria State Beach

Carpinteria State Beach is a serene haven that boasts gentle waves and an array of tide pools filled with marine life. With the majestic Santa Ynez mountains as a backdrop, this beach provides an atmosphere of tranquility.

  • Nearby Landmarks: Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve, Tomol Interpretative Play Area.
  • Great for Kids: Gentle waves, tide pools teeming with marine life, and nearby playgrounds.
  • Distance from Downtown: 12 miles.
  • Insider Tip: Visit during low tide for the best tidepool exploration experience.

7. Goleta Beach

A favorite among locals, Goleta Beach provides a myriad of recreational activities. From fishing off the pier to enjoying a family picnic, this spot caters to both adventure seekers and those in search of relaxation.

  • Nearby Landmarks: UCSB campus, Goleta Pier.
  • Great for Kids: Spacious playground, calm waters for swimming, and BBQ areas.
  • Distance from Downtown: 9.5 miles.
  • Insider Tip: The Beachside Bar-Cafe offers delicious seafood with stunning ocean views.

8. Refugio State Beach

Refugio State Beach, with its palm-fringed coastline and crystalline waters, is perfect for a secluded escape. Its adjacent campgrounds offer the perfect setting for a night under the stars.

  • Nearby Landmarks: Refugio Creek, El Capitán State Beach.
  • Great for Kids: Safe swimming areas and explorative tide pools.
  • Distance from Downtown: 23 miles.
  • Insider Tip: Consider booking a campsite for a full beachside experience.

9. Summerland Beach

Located just to the east of Santa Barbara, Summerland Beach is a tranquil gem that promises stunning views and a laid-back atmosphere, making it a perfect spot for sunbathing or contemplative walks.

  • Website: N/A
  • Nearby Landmarks: Lookout Park, Summerland Winery.
  • Great for Kids: Spacious sand areas and gentle waves.
  • Distance from Downtown: 7 miles.
  • Insider Tip: A short hike up Lookout Park provides panoramic views of the coast.

10. Miramar Beach

Miramar Beach exudes luxury and tranquility. Adorned with coastal mansions and resorts, it offers a unique blend of natural beauty and sophistication.

  • Website: N/A
  • Nearby Landmarks: Montecito Country Club, The Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort.
  • Great for Kids: Gentle slopes suitable for wading and swimming.
  • Distance from Downtown: 6 miles.
  • Insider Tip: Early morning visits offer a peaceful beach experience before the crowds set in.

What Have We Learned?

We have learned that while Santa Barbara has some of the best beaches in the West, we can’t forgot to mention everything else the city has. From their eclectic downtown, the ‘Funk Zone‘, their bustling sidewalks and quaint stores, there’s something here to explore for all, either before or after going to the beach.

Terrain Trends is your go-to source for information on all things destinations. Planning to go to Disneyland with the young ones? How about Carlsbad for their beaches? Universal Studios? Whatever it is, be sure to check out our list of other top destinations in California for when you plan your journey here!