On California’s central coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Santa Barbara is an excellent starting point for area day trips to some of the most picturesque and naturally stunning coastal and valley towns.
Explore the coast to the North and South for beautiful sandy beaches perfect for surfing, strolling or swimming.
Head inland to explore the Los Padres National Forest and the mountainous regions of San Rafael and Santa Ynez. The valleys at the foothills of these mountains are home to some of California’s most loved wine growing regions.
Ventura is a casual, classic, California beach town where the Santa Clara River meets the Pacific Ocean. Stroll down Main Street for locally owned boutiques and restaurants. Enjoy the exhibits at the Museum of Ventura County, and visit historical buildings such as the San Buenaventura Mission, founded in 1782. At the waterfront, walk to the end of the wooden pier to fish or watch the surfers. A long paved cycling path parallels the waterfront. Hop on a cruise or rent a kayak from the Ventura Harbor, also where the Island Packers begin their day trips to the Channel Islands. Away from the waterfront, you’ll find the best views at Grant Park or the Ventura Botanical Gardens.
Southern California’s Anaheim is home to the Disneyland Resort, the Angel’s baseball team, Anaheim Ducks hockey franchise, and Knott’s Berry Farm. Local gems include the Vans Skate Park, the SwingIt Trapeze School, and the Discovery Cube children’s museum. Anaheim’s Center Street Promenade is the recently revitalized historic district. The area is packed with trendy shops and restaurants, and offers a Farmer’s Market every Thursday. The Anaheim Packing House, once a citrus packinghouse, is now full of eateries serving up artisanal snow cones, soul food, waffles and beer. Anaheim Museums include the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center, which offers rotating history, art and cultural exhibits.
3. Avila Beach
California’s Avila Beach is a coastal community tucked into the San Luis Obispo Bay north of Santa Barbara. Avila has a uniquely warm and sunny microclimate, and miles of white sand beaches surrounded by an oak valley. The area is home to several spas and natural hot springs. Enjoy local wines, shopping and dining at scenic oceanfront restaurants. Visit the historic and picturesque Point San Luis Lighthouse, built in 1890, and now restored as a museum offering docent-led tours. Hike or bike the three mile Bob Jones trail from the tip of the Avila Beach Pier up to Highway 101. Engage with marine life up close at the Central Coast Aquarium. More beaches in Santa Barbara
Avila Beach, CA 93424
is an inland community at the southwest outskirts of the Sequoia National Forest. Bakersfield offers museums, nightlife, restaurants, dining, river rafting, and outdoor adventure as the southern gateway to California’s central valley. Museums include the Bakersfield Museum of Art, the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History, and the California Living Museum, otherwise known as the Bakersfield Zoo. Enjoy river rafting along the Kern River from several put-in spots with outfitters offering whitewater experiences ranging from Class I to Class V rapids. (website link)
Annual events include the classic Kern County Fair, held each September. The 10-day fair offers a carnival, rodeo, live music events and more.
Plan a day trip from Los Angeles, San Diego, from Palm Springs and other cities in Southern California.
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5. Channel Islands
The Channel Islands are a National Park in California just south of Santa Barbara off the coast of Ventura. Made up of five islands, the park offers diving and snorkeling, sea cave exploration, wildlife viewing, hiking and camping. Each of the islands offers its unique small world, reminiscent of a wild California long past. Park visitor centers are located in both Santa Barbara and Ventura, while the islands themselves are accessible only by boat or sea plane. Advance planning is required as there are no services or fresh water on the islands. Third party concessionaires such as Channel Island Packers and the Channel Islands Adventure Company can help you plan your trip.
113 Harbor Way 4th Floor, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, Phone: 805-658-5730
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6. Douglas Family Preserve
Santa Barbara’s Douglas Family Preserve is a city-managed 70-acre reserve in the Mesa neighborhood. The park is the largest undeveloped stretch of coastal land in Santa Barbara. The open space provides outdoor recreational opportunities such as cycling, hiking, dog walking and wildlife viewing. Over three miles of trails within the park include views of the Pacific Ocean, overlooking Arroyo Burro Beach. Habitat includes coastal live oaks and southern oak woodlands, coastal bluff and sage scrub, grasslands and wetlands. Some non-native plants remain, a sign of the preserve’s history as a nursery. Habitat restoration is ongoing, and includes providing milkweed for migrating monarch butterflies.
Medcliff Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, Phone: 805-897-1941)
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7. Gaviota State Park
Gaviota State Park is a California Park located on the coast in Goleta, north of Santa Barbara. Ocean front bluffs at the park have been extensively researched for their unique display of geological history. Several preserved fossils remain in the rocks, including the complete skeleton of an ancient fish, similar to a Halibut. Park features include hiking trails, picnic areas, RV access and campsites. The coastal park is popular for swimming, fishing, diving or snorkeling and surfing. A camp store and restrooms with showers are available. The 3,000 acre park spans the area from the Pacific Coast to the highest ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
1595 US-101, Goleta, CA 93117, Phone: 805-968-1033, (website link)
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8. Hearst Castle
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The Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California is the 1919 estate of William Randolph Hearst, now a museum and California State Park. The estate, designed in partnership with the architect Julia Morgan, was still unfinished by 1947, although it contained 165 rooms, over 100 acres of gardens, pools and terraces. Works of art in the home include ancient Egyptian sculpture, Grecian art dating back to the year 80 AD, Renaissance era reliefs and paintings, gilded ceilings, art deco accents and Tiffany lamps. Over a dozen tours are available for those interested in the grand rooms, upstairs rooms, gardens, or the Hollywood starlets who frequented the castle as guests of Hearst, including Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, and Cary Grant.
750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452, Phone: 800-444-4445, (website link)
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Hollywood is among the neighborhoods of Los Angeles and has long been a tourist attraction since becoming the home of America’s film industry. Visit Universal Studios Hollywood to see not only a working movie studio, but to enjoy the attached theme park. At Paramount Pictures, tour the lot of the city’s oldest movie studio. View the iconic 45-foot tall Hollywood sign from a hike in the Hollywood Hills, on horseback, or via helicopter with an aerial tour. Take a stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame to search for your favorite stars, passing by icons such as the El Capitan Theater, TCL Chinese Theater, the Dolby Theater, home to the Academy Awards, and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Hollywood, CA 90028
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10. Lake Cachuma
Santa Barbara’s Cahuma Lake Recreation Area is a scenic county park surrounded by the San Rafael and Santa Ynez Mountains. The 9,000-acre area includes Lake Cachuma, which was created in 1953 by construction of the Bradbury Dam. Facilities within the park include a charming and fully stocked general store, playgrounds for children, fishing piers, and a marina that sells bait, fishing licenses, and boat rentals. Swimming is not allowed in Lake Cachuma itself, although there are several area pools at the lake for swimming in the summer months. Ranger led programs at the lake include nature walks and a 2-hour lake cruise that departs from the park’s marina. Things to do in San Rafael
1 Lakeview Dr., Santa Barbara, CA 93105, Phone: 805-568-2460
11. Los Padres National Forest
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The Los Padres National Forest spans almost 2 million acres of southern and central California just north of Santa Barbara. Mountain ranges within the forest’s main area include the San Rafael Mountains, Sierra Madre Mountains, and Santa Ynez mountains among others. Nine rivers flow through the protected lands. Protected wilderness areas include the San Rafael Wilderness and the Ventana Wilderness. These areas preserve the habitat of several protected species including the California Condor. Enjoy hiking from sea level to altitudes of almost 9,000 feet. Plated Off Highway Vehicles are allowed on some park roads. The park’s headquarters are located in Goleta. Things to do in Goleta
6750 Navigator Dr, Goleta, CA 93117, Phone: 805-968-6640, (website link)
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Malibu is an iconic coastal neighborhood of Los Angeles, extending for 30 miles along California’s scenic Highway 1. World class waves make Malibu a top destination for surfers who enjoy Surfrider Beach, Zuma Beach and Point Dume. The area has been named the world’s first protected Surfing Reserve. Learn more at Pepperdine University’s Surf Museum. Other museums include the Getty Villa, which focuses on display of the institution’s Greek and Roman art. Stroll the Malibu Pier at sunset where you’ll find the organic restaurant, Malibu Farms. Other popular spots include Malibu Seafood and the upscale shopping at the Malibu Lumber Yard or the Malibu Country Mart. Things to Do in Malibu
13. Morro Bay
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Morro Bay is located on California’s central coast and includes the Morro Bay State Park and State Marine Recreational Area and Reserve. The unique coastal area is set against a backdrop of volcanic rock formations rising from the sea. Known for its beaches, Morro Bay offers the harbor, the bay and the open Pacific Ocean. Enjoy kayaking or paddleboarding through the calm, protected waters of the bay. Spot sea otters basking in the sun in the harbor, or enjoy fresh seafood, caught by local fisherman and served up at a harbor front restaurant. Away from the beach, explore the area’s art galleries and museums, shop along Front Street or the Embarcadero, and stay for the Morro Bay nightlife.
Things to do in Morro Bay, CA
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Ojai is a scenic small town in the hills above Ventura known as a destination for luxurious spa days, farm and food tours, outdoor adventure, shopping and dining. A thriving arts community, Ojai is home to several galleries, the Ojai Art Center, Ojai Valley Museum and annual events such as the Lavender Festival, Music Festival and Art in the Park. Take a Jeep tour through the countryside or stop at the area’s wineries. Hike or bike the trails preserved by the Ojai Land Conservancy, or enjoy boating on Lake Casitas, home of the 1984 Olympics rowing and canoeing events. Visit citrus, olive oil, and lavender farms, or simply do nothing but relax and enjoy at the area’s many spa and wellness centers.
Things to do in Ojai
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15. Old Mission Santa Barbara
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Santa Barbara’s Old Mission is among the area’s most iconic landmarks. Founded in 1786, the mission offers a classic frontage with two double-bell towers backlit by the picturesque Santa Ynez Mountains. Hour long docent-guided tours include the history of the Mission’s architecture and artifacts, which date back to the 18th century and include an altar designed by the Chumash people, historical sculpture and paintings. 30-minute tours of the La Huerta Historical Garden explore the botanical history of the surrounding grounds and gardens. As the church is still an active parish, tours take place outside of services and special events.
2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, Phone:805-682-4713
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16. Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach is a classic California beach town along the shores of San Luis Obispo Bay. Enjoy over 26 miles of pristine, long, white, sandy beaches for walking, swimming or surfing. View the migrating sea life, including whales, dolphins and sea otters. The 900-acre Pismo Preserve offers hiking trails and ocean views. (website link)
The Monarch Butterfly Grove is a Eucalyptus grove that serves as a stop over for thousands of migrating butterflies each winter. Take a tour of the Oceano Sand Dunes in a hummer, or rent an ATV. View the ocean from above in a WWII bi-plane with Banner Tours. Things to do in Pismo Beach
17. Point Mugu
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Point Mugu State Park is located in California’s Ventura County and extends for the Pacific Coast Highway to the Conejo Valley. Hiking in the park includes trails to the top of Mugu Peak and Boney Peak, which is the highest in the park at 2,800 feet. Both offer breathtaking views of southern California and the Pacific Ocean. Valley trails include Sycamore Canyon and La Jolla Canyon. Enjoy the ocean at Point Mugu State Beach. The relatively quiet beach is a haven for wildlife including sea lions and birds. The landmark Mugu Rock sits right on the shoreline and visitors may climb to the top for a view of the ocean and mountains.
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9000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265, Phone 310-457-8143
18. San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is centrally located in California between Los Angeles and San Francisco and is known as one of the “happiest places in America.” The small town is seated between the Pacific Ocean and inland mountains and offers thousands of acres of protected outdoor space, a stellar wine growing region, and a walkable and vibrant downtown. San Luis Obispo is home to California Polytechnic State University, known as Cal Poly, it’s one of the top-ranked universities in America. Visit the 1792 Mission San Luis Obispo Tolosa. The mission was the fifth in California founded by Father Junipero Serra and has been beautifully restored. Downtown’s shopping and dining district is across the mission plaza. Things to Do in San Luis Obispo
19. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is nestled between views of the Channel Islands and the Santa Ynez Mountains. The 78-acre complex celebrated the biodiversity of southern California and displays cultivated gardens alongside natural live oak woodlands. Close to six miles of trails take visitors through eleven sections of gardens. View a water wise home garden that features easy to grow native plants and a rainwater harvesting system. View cactus and succulents in the Desert Section. The Arroyo features native plants growing alongside a seasonal stream. A garden shop and nursery sells plants, locally crafted art and jewelry. The garden’s library dates back to 1927, while the 12,000 square foot LEED certified Conservation Center is a new addition.
1212 Mission Canyon Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, Phone: 805-682-4726, (website link)
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20. Santa Barbara Zoo
The Santa Barbara Zoo is home to over 500 animals representing close to 150 species. Most popular residents include the Brazilian capybara, African lions, Asian otters, Asian elephant, bald eagles, and gorillas. Mammals, birds, reptiles and insects are exhibited in open and naturalistic areas and the zoo is a participant in the worldwide Species Survival Plan, aimed at safeguarding against distinction. The zoo is a participant in the California Condor Recovery Program. Tour the grounds aboard the zoo train, feed the giraffes, observe food preparation at the animal kitchen, and pet or feed domestic animals at the barnyard. Behind the scenes tours are available with advanced notice.
500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103, Phone: 805-962-5339
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21. Santa Maria Valley
California’s Santa Maria Valley occupies the central coast from San Luis Obispo to the north, towards Gaviota to the south. Within this region are over 30 wine tasting rooms, wineries spanning 6 unique viticultural areas, and 13 beaches all within a 30 minute drive of one another. Wineries and breweries take top billing this region and can be reached with a wine tour via the Santa Maria Valley Wine Trolley. (website link)
Santa Maria style BBQ dates back to pioneer days and can be found at six different BBQ joints, including The Hitching Post in Casmalia, which was founded in 1952. For outdoor recreation, enjoy the area beaches, sand dunes and ranches. Visit the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve or the Elmer Ross Beach. Things to Do in Santa Maria
22. Santa Ynez Valley
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California’s Santa Ynez Valley includes the small towns of Solvang, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Buelton, Ballard and Santa Ynez. The region is tucked into the western arm of the Los Padres National Forest, just west of Santa Barbara. One of five distinct American Viticultural Areas, or AVA’s, the wine growing region’s unique microclimate creates warm, sunny days and cool, humid evenings. Over 120 wineries are located in the valley, many of which are small batch, family-run operations. Take a guided winery tour by bike, jeep or limousine. Enjoy the area spas, shopping, and restaurants. Spend time outdoors boating Cachuma Lake, cycling, or hiking throughout the stunning foothills of the San Rafael and Santa Ynez Mountains. Things to Do in Santa Ynez Valley
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Solvang, California is a unique Dutch-themed town in the Santa Ynez Valley. Old-world Danish architecture prevails, as do several Danish bakeries. Visit the area’s Dutch windmills, the giant red clog, and local Dutch-themed museums. Solvang is home to a Hans Christen Andersen Museum, the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, and the Amber Museum and Hall of the Danes. Historic churches in town include the Old Mission Santa Ines and the Bethania Lutheran Church. Enjoy area restaurants and wineries, made famous by the Academy Award winning movie, Sideways. Annual events include Taste of Solvang each March, September’s Danish Days and Julefest in December.
Things to Do in Solvang
24. Sycamore Springs
The Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa is located in San Luis Obispo. Located on over 100 acres in the Avila Valley, the resort has provided relaxation for visitors since the 19th century. Naturally heated mineral waters spring forth from below and are piped into each of the guest rooms, over twenty hillside hot tubs and the Oasis Waterfall Lagoon. Hillside hot tubs can be reserved by the hour. The waterfall lagoon may also be reserved for groups of four to twenty. Onsite dining at the resort includes the Gardens of Avila Restaurant, which offers both indoor and outdoor dining experiences.
1215 Avila Beach Dr, San Luis Obispo, California, 93405, Phone: 805-595-7302, (website link)
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Los Angeles’ Venice Beach neighborhood sits on the Pacific Ocean just south of Santa Monica. Founded in 1905 by an eccentric millionaire, Abbot Kinney, the neighborhood has retained its unique and artsy personality. The town was built over a series of canals, modeled after the Venice of Italy. The canals are now a Historic District and make a charming walk through the quirky neighborhood. Stroll the iconic beachfront boardwalk to see street performers and all types of vendors. View the surfers from the Venice Pier. For an upscale experience, visit Abbot Kinney Boulevard, now one of the trendiest shopping and dining districts in Los Angeles. Things to Do in Venice Beach
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