Santa Barbara is a great base for a variety of daily road trip destinations within central and southern California, from sampling local wines at valley wineries to exploring towns along the California coast. Stop at one or a few neighboring destinations for a memorable day trip that will allow you to see all the beauty the Golden State has to offer. Here are the best day trips from Santa Barbara that should be on your list.
Top Santa Barbara Day Trips
Officially known as Arroyo Burro Beach Park, this beach has a dramatic landscape with coastal cliffs towering over the sand. Grab a bite to eat at the trendy Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach, which serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a view of the Pacific Ocean. The beach is dog friendly, as long as pups are on a leash. Douglas Family Preserve above the beach is a public park where you can walk around 3 miles of pathways.
Gaviota State Park and Beach
Located half an hour away from downtown Santa Barbara, this coastal state park provides access to a secluded beach where you can explore seaside caves and watch pelicans dive for their dinner. Nearby there are plenty of trails of all levels, whether you want to hike, ride, or bike. The Gaviota Wind Caves Trail is 2-miles round trip and starts on Hollister Ranch Road, where there is free parking.
There is day-use parking, public restrooms, and picnic areas with tables and BBQ grills. Be prepared for windy conditions. The entrance fee is $10.
January 24, 2023: please note that the park is closed to visitors due to the recent flooding in California. Check here for updates.
Situated in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley off Highway 154, this manmade lake is part of the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. It was built in 1953 as part of the construction of the Bradbury Dam by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The lake is considered a domestic water supply, so all water activities that involve human contact with the water are prohibited including swimming, windsurfing, and water skiing. All boats must pass a mandatory inspection to prevent the spread of invasive species. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout in the winter and fishing is allowed either by boat or on shore. Within the park, there are five miles of hiking trails to explore.
The Cachuma Lake Pools nearby are open during the summer and are $3 on Friday – Sunday, as well as on holidays.
Santa Ynez Valley
Located 30 minutes from Santa Barbara, this wine region is quickly becoming a destination that rivals its larger neighbor. Entering the valley, you are treated to spectacular views of sprawling ranches and vineyards. Santa Ynez Valley is made up of six small towns: Solvang, Buellton, Ballard, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, and Santa Ynez.
Explore tasting rooms chock full of local wines in downtown areas and further afield. Stop by Solvang for charming Danish architecture and delicious baked goods. Los Olivos hosts a Jazz & Olive Festival every June that features olive-centric dishes created by local chefs. The best time to visit is during the springtime when the region is lush from the winter rains but boasts a mild climate.
Neighboring San Luis Obispo, this city is known for its Santa Maria-style BBQ and Santa Maria Valley wineries. Jocko’s Steakhouse in nearby Nipomo, is where the locals go for steaks cooked to perfection over Red Oak Fire. For wine, enjoy the Pinots and Chardonnays that thrive in this coastal region. The Riverbench Vineyard and Winery is a laidback spot that boasts a wide selection of sparkling wines and a beautiful garden to enjoy them in.
At night, stop by the Pacific Conservatory Theater for a first-rate show. Check out the schedule here.
Located on California’s central coast, this popular beach town has plenty to do, from exploring the many white-sand beaches to sampling clam chowder at the yearly Clam Festival in October. Wander around the lively boardwalk adjacent to the pier during sunset. Visit the Oceano Dunes, where you can rent ATVs, ride horses, hike, and paragliding to name a few activities.
During the colder months, stop by the Monarch Butterfly Grove, which is filled with over 10,000 butterflies that migrate to Pismo State Beach annually.
Sycamore Mineral Springs
For some serious R&R, this Avlia Beach hot springs resort is situated on over 100 acres of land that include private hillside hot tubs, a waterfall lagoon, meditation gardens, a yoga dome that offers mind-body classes, a spa, and an on-site restaurant. Best of all, each room has a private hot tub on the balcony. Rent bikes from the gift shop and ride them down to the beach for an afternoon adventure.
Nearby neighbor to San Simeon, this small fishing town is fun to walk around, browse the shops and pick up some treats at Carousel Taffy. The town is known for the massive Morro Rock that juts out of the bay. Come at sunset and walk along the boardwalk and witness a gorgeous finale to the day with the rock outlined against a sky on fire. For some fresh seafood, Giovanni’s Fish Market has been serving the community for 30 years.
For those who want to view the marine life around the area, Target Rock is a great scuba diving spot where you can view fish, crabs, and octopuses among the nooks and crannies of the large boulders and kelp forests. Coleman Beach is another great place for diving and is considered an easy dive as it is often used for certification classes. Smaller fishes are usually viewed in these shallower waters. Diving flags are required in the bay.
Hearst Castle is worth a drive to get up close and personal with the insane wealth of William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper tycoon. The historic landmark boasts stunning Southern Spanish Renaissance, Revival, and Mediterranean architecture, including the impressive Casa Grande centerpiece that was inspired by a Spanish church. Make sure to reserve tickets ahead of time, especially during the summer when it can get quite crowded.
Los Padres National Forest
This national forest is composed of a wide range of ecosystems, spanning from coastal habitats to mountainous terrains. It offers many hiking trails of all levels including the easy Rose Valley Falls hike that starts at the Rose Valley Campground and ends at a waterfall. The Santa Ynez Mountains which are mostly situated in Los Padres, rise above the Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County and provide extensive wildlife viewing amid the mountain ranges.
January 24, 2023: please note that the forest is closed to visitors due to the recent flooding in California. Check here for updates.
For a complete change of pace, head to this close-knit community nestled in between the Topatopa Mountains. With a strong art scene and plenty of New Age-centric shops, the stress of daily life will quickly melt away. Take a free tour and tastings at Ojai Olive Oil Co. and sample some of the purest olive oil in the region. To get a historical view of the area and to experience local artists’ work, make your way over to the Ojai Valley Museum of History and Art.
Within the city, there is plenty to do from exploring all the shops and restaurants in Downtown Ventura (make sure to also stop at the Ventura City Hall and San Buenaventura Mission) to walking along the Ventura Pier and San Buenaventura State Beach where you can spend the afternoon people-watching and soaking in that warm California sun.
This coastal city is also a great jumping-off point for exploring the Channel Islands. To get to islands like Santa Cruz and Anacapa, it’s around an hour’s boat ride from Ventura Harbor.
Malibu with its winding Pacific Coast Highway, multi-million dollar beach homes, and pristine beaches, feels like miles away from the bustle of Los Angeles but is only half an hour north. As far as beaches go, Point Dume is a personal favorite, but El Matador is a close second with its distinct bluffs. For the beaches, you can usually find paid day-use parking lots. Vintage Grocers is a local grocery store that’s a great option to pick up some snacks and drinks before the beach.
Nearby Point Mugu State Park is 14,000 acres of land featuring rocky bluffs, sand dunes, and five miles of shoreline. There are over seventy hiking trails that you can choose from.
From the sunny beaches of Santa Monica to the historical downtown area, there is never a dull moment in Los Angeles. Take in a museum like the impressive Los Angeles County Museum of Art or hike up to the top of Griffith Park for a view of the expansive city below. Head to Venice Beach to experience the funky atmosphere, before heading to the Venice Canals for a bit of quiet reflection and picturesque views.