Outdoor Family Fun in Santa Barbara

January 17, 2021 Updated: January 20, 2021

Now more than ever getting unplugged and spending time outdoors with family is so important for mental and physical health. Our family was in need of some travel therapy, and our recent trip to Santa Barbara delivered that not only by reconnecting us with nature, but also by fulfilling our goal to learn a few new things along the way.

To facilitate a safer visit, we read the Santa Barbara Healthy Traveler Guide and stuck to these guidelines during our trip. As a COVID precaution, we kept our windows wide open, wiped down all spaces with sanitizer wipes and declined any housekeeping throughout our stay.

We wanted our trip to be full of time in the great outdoors, so all of our activities were both family-friendly and naturally socially distanced. Santa Barbara Adventure Company’s seaside bike tour was a brilliant way to carefully introduce us to the coastal splendor of this city. Riding along coastal bluffs among eucalyptus groves, I felt immersed in breathtaking natural wonder. We pulled over several times to watch the surf and admire the majestic views of the coastline.

After working up an appetite, we headed over to the Santa Barbara Fish House to indulge in some local cuisine. Getting your seafood fix does feel like an essential activity while visiting Santa Barbara, and this spot provided a bounty of the Central Coast’s premier tastes of the sea along with an impressive selection of creative cocktails.

Our next day was dedicated to making sure we had some fun learning activities on our vacation since school has been digital and isolated. The Santa Barbara Sailing Center’s two-hour private lesson was just the ticket for us to explore unfamiliar educational territory. Out on the water, we dove right into our enriching lessons on proper sail trim, knots, wind, and navigation while fully immersing ourselves in the serenity of the Santa Barbara coastline. It’s hard to find experiences that are educational exercises disguised as fun, but this one really delivered.

sailing boats in santa barbara
Sailing lessons at the Santa Barbara Sailing Center provide fun and learning at the same time. (Courtesy of Jay Sinclair/Visit Santa Barbara)

The only indoor activity we had during our trip was a one-hour private Cat Therapy session. We fell in love many times over during our visit with the abundant adoptable cats and kittens here. There was such a heartwarming vibe at this cat cafe that I remember thinking to myself that they should clone this establishment so people everywhere can discover the bliss of cat therapy. Just be aware that if you visit with kids there is a high likelihood that you will return home with a cat.

The culinary highlight of our trip was dinner at Opal Restaurant, which was so off-the-charts delicious that my only regret was that I couldn’t eat more of their cuisine. The Lemongrass Crusted Fresh Salmon in Thai Curry Sauce was undoubtedly the best piece of salmon I’ve ever had. I paired it with a standout glass of Foley Chardonnay from a local vineyard. We also enjoyed the amazing shredded phyllo-wrapped tiger prawns. I would highly recommend this exquisite restaurant—the apex of what eclectic California cuisine should be.

The hearty breakfast we enjoyed at D’Angelo Bakery the next day really hit the spot before we embarked on our horseback ride on the beach with Los Padres Outfitters. We felt safe throughout this entire adventure on horseback because it provided a natural six-foot distance from other riders and because our horses just seemed instinctively to know how to take care of us and where to go. This was one of the best parts of our visit because it felt like such a welcome respite to be able to relax and enjoy the scenery this way. We hugged the coast most of the time, so it was an easy outdoor activity for even the most novice riders.

Our final family-friendly activity was a private charcuterie and cheeseboard-making workshop with Slate Catering Co. Our instructor, Allie Chandler, broke the lesson down into digestible bits on prepping the cheeses and meats, techniques such as how to make a salami flower and how to add the final touches. Within one hour we all learned how to make our cheese plates go from drab to fab. We will take home these tips and tricks and carry these lessons in our culinary repertoire for years to come.

santa barbara cheese board
Visitors to Santa Barbara, Calif., learn how to create a cheeseboard at Slate Catering Co. (Courtesy of Margot Black)

Some good ideas for solo free time in Santa Barbara include their range of skate- and surf-inspired activities. Our skateboard-enthusiast son had a blast at Skater’s Point, the local skate park on Cabrillo Boulevard that is surrounded by towering palm trees and overlooks the coastline. You could also visit Stearns Wharf for some not-to-miss photo ops since it boasts mesmerizing views of the ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Santa Barbara is such a manageable city to walk in and explore, and there are abundant socially distanced and family-friendly activities to enjoy. With its small-city, costal vibe, it’s no wonder it is often referred to as the American Riviera.

When You Go

For general information: SantaBarbaraCA.com

Healthy traveler guide: SantaBarbaraCA.com/itinerary/how-to-be-a-healthy-traveler

Mason Beach Inn: MasonBeachInn.com

Bike Tour: SBAdventurEco.com

Fish House Santa Barbara: FishouseSB.com

Santa Barbara Sailing Center: SBSail.com

Cat Therapy: CatTherapySB.com

Opal Restaurant: OpalRestaurantAndBar.com

D’Angelo Bakery: DAngeloBakery.com

Los Padres Outfitters: LosPadresOutfitters.com

Slate Catering Co.: SlateCatering.com

Margot Black is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2021 Creators.com