The beautiful Mediterranean-style city of Santa Barbara is known for its wealth of activities, whether you are looking to spend your visit wine tasting, indulging in the fresh coastal cuisine, or soaking in the local art scene. You can easily create your own itinerary and even find free things to do in Santa Barbara, but sometimes its nice to leave all the planning to the experts and join a local tour. Here are some of the best Santa Barbara guided tours (plus one self-guided tour), whether you’re looking to spend the day on the waterfront with a local who knows his history or wanting to perfect your food photography in the Funk Zone.
When To Go
To avoid the high summertime prices, go during the shoulder seasons of spring (March-May) and autumn (September-November). Since the weather should not be an issue year-round, winter is also an option, though you might want to check the weather beforehand since it’s the rainy season.
Santa Barbara Attractions
First, you have to decide which sights you want to prioritize for a tour. The following are popular sightseeing destinations around the city.
Funk Zone-a revitalized part of town that boasts numerous art galleries, restaurants and wine bars and is one of the largest parts of the Urban Wine Trail.
East Beach- located next to Stearns Wharf, this beach is a great spot to take a leisurely stroll, especially at sunset (or sunrise if that’s your thing).
State Street-the main street in the city that goes all the way down to the wharf and the beach. Multiple movie theaters, restaurants, cafes, and shops await.
Stearns Wharf-one of the oldest working piers in California, and a great spot to people-watch and walk out to the end of the pier for panoramic views of the city behind you.
Old Mission Santa Barbara-one of the prettiest of all the California missions (the walk is around 12 minutes). Pay the $9 entrance fee and take a self-guided tour of the grounds, including the picturesque gardens.
Santa Barbara Courthouse-this Spanish-Colonial style building and gardens is not only stunning and rich with history, but it offers numerous free activities year-round, including summer movies, and flamenco shows.
Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours-The Original Downtown SB Food Tour
Spend an afternoon in and around State Street, where you’ll stop by 6-7 tasting locations (including two wineries) on this informative tour. Sample treats like handmade dumplings, homemade Mexican food, and California-produced olive oil. For non-drinkers, there’s an option to buy a non-drink ticket for the wineries. This is a great tour for getting oriented in San Barbara’s downtown core and understanding the culinary landscape. Although the tour is food-oriented, there is plenty of historic, architectural, and cultural anecdotes thrown in. The tour lasts approximately 3.5 hours, so make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes. It begins daily at noon. Ticket prices are $99 for adults and $79 for non-drinkers and children.
Cal Coast Adventures-Santa Barbara City Bike Tours
Tour Santa Barbara on two-wheels, whether you prefer to zoom around on a beach cruiser, mountain bike or hybrid. This 2 hour tour is a leisurely ride that will pass on scenic bike routes with beach views and historical sights. All the tours are private, meaning you can customize them to your group’s personal preference and schedule them anytime within working hours (9-5pm). Tickets are $75 per person. There is also an electric bike tour available with the same company, where you can either have a private ($95) or group tour ($85) for a 2-3 hour ride. If you want an easier ride, electric bikes are the way to go, especially on inclines.
Eat This, Shoot That!-Funk Zone Food & Photo Tour
Eat and drink your way through one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods, while stopping to snap local street art along the way, and learning about the history and culture of the neighborhood from a local. Nothing but a smartphone is required for learning to up your food photography skills from your guide. Stops on this 3-3.5 hour tour include a neighborhood bakery known for its freshly baked breads and homemade seasonal jams, a family-owned taqueria with memorable street tacos and salsa bar, and a family-run brewery that specializes in top tier beers. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available. Tours begin at 11:30am. Tickets are $99 for adults and $89 for non-drinking adults/children.
Free Santa Barbara Walking Tour-Waterfront Tour
Give your wallet a break, and join John Ummel, a long-time retired Santa Barbara resident, for a 2-hour walking tour of the city’s picturesque waterfront. This 1.5 hour tour passes by twelve different sights, including places like the Maritime Museum, Santa Barbara Train Station, and Stearns Wharf. The waterfront is brought to life with John’s historical insights and anecdotes along the way. There is a separate Funk Zone tour that is around 1.5 hours long and gives a detailed account of this historically blue collar industrial area and how it came to be one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Santa Barbara. Although the tour is free, donations are encourage (with 15% going to charity) and reservations are recommended.
Urban Wine Trail-Self-Guided Tour
Embark on your own wine adventure by exploring the various wine shops in the neighborhoods located on the Urban Wine Trail. The five different neighborhoods include the Funk Zone, La Arcada, Midtown, Presidio Neighborhood, and Summerland (located five miles from SB). There are 28 stops in total and it’s best to plan your day and/or night around a certain neighborhood, before moving on to the next one. Please note that most wineries do not usually require reservations unless you have a group of eight people or more, but it’s always good to check each individual spot beforehand. Wine tastings cost around $15 per person and usually include 4-5 wines.