Santa Barbara is a wonderful destination in itself, being a quaint and lively Mediterranean-style town. But if you’re able to tear yourself away from the city’s irresistible charm, you’ll find many other towns, landmarks, and parks worth day-tripping to!
Now for this post, “day trip” is defined as a destination that is no further than 3 hours away from Santa Barbara, CA. Any more than that and it might as well be considered an overnight stay.
On these day trips, be sure to factor in plenty of time to not only explore the destination you choose but also to stop for last-minute points of interest and intentional detours!
Without further ado, here are the best day trips from Santa Barbara, CA!
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21 Awesome Day Trips From Santa Barbara, California
Distance from Santa Barbara: 45 minutes
Solvang is literally something out of a fairytale, or at least out of the United States anyway. Who knew you could find a Danish town smack dab in the middle of California?
For a refreshing taste of Europe, take the quick drive from Santa Barbara over to Solvang, CA where you’ll find Danish eateries, shops, and a refreshing, unique atmosphere.
I know, you’re probably wondering how this charming city came to be. Solvang was actually founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants who wanted a feeling of familiarity after immigrating to the USA.
Since this town is fairly small with the main attractions condensed across a few cross streets, allocating 3 to 4 hours to explore should be enough. If you plan on enjoying a few meals and going wine tasting, you’ll likely need to allocate a few more hours to this day trip. Or maybe even turn it into an overnight stay. (Not the worst idea, as there are lots of cute hotels in town!)
On the way into town, you’ll pass an ostrich farm called Ostrichland USA, where you can pay to go in and feed these guys! Nearby is also Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch, literally the cutest things you’ll ever see on a road trip ever!
While you’re in the area, mosey on over to the tiny town of Los Olivos, CA. It’s tiny, but it’s a cute place to explore nonetheless.
2. LOS OLIVOS
Distance from Santa Barbara: 50 minutes
Los Olivos is the definition of small-town charm. Though it is less than 3 square miles in size with just about 1,100 residents, this town should not be skipped over. If you’re looking for a laidback afternoon of wine tasting, gift shopping, and enjoying artisanal eats, Los Olivos is your destination!
Spend the day strolling around the quaint city center or book a tour for a jam-packed day of wine and beer tasting. If you’d rather explore and go tasting on your own, that’s easy too! Throughout the few blocks that make up downtown Los Olivos, you’ll find a wide array of tasting rooms and craft breweries.
For food, enjoy a rustic barbecue lunch at R-Country Market (the Santa Maria tri-tip sandwiches are a not-to-be-missed weekend special) or head to Los Olivos Café & Wine Merchant for more of a fine dining experience.
Don’t leave without visiting The Los Olivos General Store, a great place to find souvenirs, trinkets, local goods and handmade crafts.
Pro Tip: Los Olivos pairs really well with a day trip to Solvang as they are right next to each other.
Distance from Santa Barbara: 55 minutes
Lompoc is truly an underrated destination. Located less than an hour north of Santa Barbara, Lompoc is a must-visit if you enjoy wine tasting and twirling around in flower fields!
For wine enthusiasts, there is no shortage of wine tasting opportunities in the area. Start at the convenient Lompoc Wine Ghetto, where you can wine taste to your heart’s desire without even needing to leave town. For more tastings on the outskirts of town, take a quick drive over to Babcock Winery and Vineyards or Sanford Winery and Vineyards.
If you’re traveling between the months April and September, you definitely can’t miss when the gorgeous flower fields are in bloom. During wildflower season, all throughout Lompoc Valley, you’ll find explosions of color as the wildflowers come into full bloom!
For a healthy dose of history, stop by La Purisma Mission to learn all about everyday life in the 1800s. If you visit during one of the mission’s Living History events, you will get to see costumed docents demonstrating old-timey skills like candle making, soap making, spinning, weaving and leatherwork.
From there, wander around Old Town Lompoc and enjoy the restaurants, stores and galleries. For outdoor enthusiasts, don’t miss the ample hiking, biking, and even skydiving opportunities!
Traveling with kids? They’ll enjoy Return To Freedom, a wild horse sanctuary in the area. Private Tours are arranged on an individual basis.
Distance from Santa Barbara: 50 minutes
There is something truly magical about Ojai, California. This laidback California community, just a 50-minute drive from Santa Barbara, boasts a strong Spanish and Western feel. For decades, it’s served as a haven for artists, writers, bohemians, health enthusiasts, and celebrities looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Upon arrival, you’ll begin to notice its mystical charm, almost like Sedona in Arizona. If hiking/biking, Spanish-style buildings wrapped in bougainvillea, wine tasting and health-conscious eateries are your thing, Ojai will be the perfect weekend retreat for you.
I’ve been to Ojai twice, once for camping and once to enjoy the urban magic this town has to offer. And you know what? I’m already itching to go back!
The surrounding mountains offer fantastic views and even more fantastic outdoor recreation opportunities. If you’re looking for adventure, don’t miss a bike ride on the 9-mile Ojai Valley Bike Trail or a quick hike on the Piedra Blanca Formations Trail.
Downtown Ojai is worth spending an hour or two alone. You’ll know you’re here when you see the Spanish-style bell tower inviting you to the town’s center. It’s a great place to grab a meal or drink and spend some time after a day of hiking or biking.
Be sure to carve out at least two hours to browse for home goods and artisan gifts. Ojai is jam-packed with cute specialty shops such as Fig, Summer Camp, In The Field, and deKor & Co.
Distance from Santa Barbara: 30 minutes
Ojai is located in a valley about 15 miles inland from Ventura, which makes the city of Ventura a short and convenient trip away! Visiting both Ojai and Ventura is perfect if you’re looking for a longer day trip from Santa Barbara (or even an overnight stay/weekend trip).
There are a plethora of things you can do in Ventura. This town is where you want to go if you love surfing–the surf is great here.
Aside from catching waves, check out the Ventura Pier and Promenade. There are great fishing opportunities at the end of the pier, and if you come here in the evening you can bear witness to the city’s famous sunsets!
Then head over to historic Downtown Ventura and make the most of your time here treasure hunting at vintage boutiques and secondhand stores. There are various breweries and wineries here as well. You’ll definitely want to grab lunch or dinner at one of the many restaurants here.
For a little bit of nature or history, head over to the Ventura Botanical Gardens or the Mission San Buenaventura.
6. CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Distance from Santa Barbara: 22 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara
While the Channel Islands are a bit more off-the-beaten-path compared to other national parks like Yosemite and Joshua Tree, the trip here is equally as unforgettable. Not to mention, getting there is a lot easier than you might think!
The islands are filled to the brim with epic backpacking, hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, camping, and whale-watching opportunities. In fact, the islands are home to 145 plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world, earning them the nickname “California’s Galapagos.”
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you have to visit Channel Islands National Park at least once in your life!
How to get to Channel Islands National Park from Santa Barbara: Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands, the park’s most popular islands, are just an hour by boat from Ventura, CA. The easiest way to reach Santa Cruz Island from Santa Barbara is to take the Island Packer’s ferry.
Pro Tip: There is no food for purchase on the island, so you’ll need to be prepared to bring your own. If you happen to have forgotten food, you can pick up some delicious seafood at Brophy Bro’s near the port.
Thinking of spending the night? You will either have to camp on the island or make your home base in Ventura. For a unique and hip stay, book a night at Waypoint Ventura, where modernized Airstream trailers are the star of the show!
7. SANTA YNEZ VALLEY WINERIES
Distance from Santa Barbara: 40 minutes
If you didn’t already know, California’s wine scene extends so much further than Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Santa Ynez Valley is Central California’s own pot of gold, featuring more than 100 local wineries.
To get started on the wine tasting adventures, you’ll want to visit Santa Ynez Valley’s five small towns – Los Olivos, Solvang, Buellton, Santa Ynez, and Ballard. We’ve covered a few of them in more detail above, but really they’re all worth a visit.
These towns are all clustered within 10 miles of one another, so it’s easy to hop out, drink, shop, and eat before heading over to the next one. While driving through the valley from town to town, don’t forget to stop and admire the spectacular scenery, stopping at the wineries that intrigue you along the way.
For a full-day trip from Santa Barbara, plan to have an early lunch, stop at a few wineries throughout the day, and stay for dinner before returning to SB.
Pro Tip: Don’t want to find a designated driver for this wine tasting trip? There are many wine tasting tours that will provide full transportation throughout the area.
8. MORRO BAY
Distance from Santa Barbara: 1 hour 50 minutes
Morro Bay is a small town oozing with coastal, beachy vibes. What this town is best known for? That famously monstrous rock jutting out of the ocean called Morro Rock! On the drive from Santa Barbara, you definitely won’t be able to miss this California State Historic Landmark.
Aside from ogling and admiring Morro Rock, you can go beaching, kayaking, canoeing, or stand-up paddleboarding, along with looking for wildlife and birds at Morro Bay State Park.
For more indoor activities, stroll along the Embarcadero to find a few dining and wine drinking opportunities that interest you. Before leaving, pick up a few souvenirs from a few of the many cute gift shops in town!
9. GAVIOTA STATE PARK (AND HOT SPRINGS)
Distance from Santa Barbara: 30 minutes
Just a short drive from Santa Barbara sits Gaviota State Park, a wonderful outdoor haven for day-trippers looking to spend some time in the great outdoors. Gaviota State Park features camping and beach activities (beachcombing, swimming, surfing, kayaking, and exploring tide pools) among epic coastal views!
Perhaps the most iconic thing to do here is to bathe in the blue mineral hot springs! Gaviota Hot Springs is unique in that it features warm water (rather than hot water).
The soaking pool can be reached via a 0.7-mile long trail that climbs 400 feet from the trailhead. Swimsuits are required and it is recommended to wear long pants as there could be poison oak along this trail.
For a real epic adventure, you absolutely can’t miss the Gaviota Hot Springs and Trespass Trail, a 6.6-mile loop trail that will take you to the Gaviota Hot Springs. This one is steep, but a lot of fun!
The other trails of the park are also a lot of fun. One of the best short hikes in the area is the 2-mile round-trip Gaviota Wind Caves Trail.
10. HEARST CASTLE
Distance from Santa Barbara: 2 hours 20 minutes
Hearst Castle is a very grand estate perched high up on a hill that was once owned by art collector and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. It’s pretty random to think that there are castles in California, but Hearst Castle is just that! Today, Hearst Castle is an accredited museum and a California State Park, featuring Hearst’s extensive art collection.
Don’t know where to start? They can help. The Hearst Castle offers a variety of tours to choose from during your visit to San Simeon, CA.
First-timers will thoroughly enjoy the Grand Rooms Tour. If you’re looking to go deeper, you can take a tour through the cottages, kitchen and upstairs suites. There are other special tours that highlight the art and architecture of the property as well.
If live reenactments are your thing, don’t miss The Evening Tour, available only in fall and spring, where costumed docents recall the days when Howard Hughes, Buster Keaton and Greta Garbo wandered the castle.
11. SAN LUIS OBISPO
Distance from Santa Barbara: 1.5 hours
San Luis Obispo, located in Central California, is a pleasant university town with a historic Spanish mission in the middle of downtown. It’s only 1.5 hours away, making it a super doable day trip from Santa Barbara.
If you’re interested in learning more about California’s mission history, visit Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
Centered around the old mission lies the historic downtown area of SLO. What you’ll find here (on Higuera Street) is traditional Spanish-style buildings housing various restaurants, shops, and cafes.
If you’re looking for entertainment for the kids, check out San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum or San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum.
Looking to visit more than one town? SLO is a great place to discover before continuing to nearby towns like Pismo Beach.
12. PISMO BEACH
Distance from Santa Barbara: 1.5 hours
Steps away from SLO, you will find Pismo Beach, a classic Central Coast beach town famous for its sand dunes, boutique shopping, award-winning boardwalk, and beautiful coastline. You can easily spend a whole day here eating at the restaurants, wine tasting, fishing, surfing (or learning how to surf), beaching and enjoying the mineral springs here.
Be sure to also check out the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove from November to February, where thousands of butterflies migrate to spend the winter.
Lastly, the main attraction that draws many Californians to Pismo Beach: ATVing on the sand dunes next to the beach!
If you want to prolong that old-school California flair on your road trip, consider spending a night in Pismo Beach. You can spend your day on the golf course, horseback riding, or picnicking on the beach, then fill your nights with some good wining and dining options at one of the many waterfront restaurants.
Local Tip: Do not miss the clam chowder at Splash Cafe. So thick, so creamy and dreamy. They even sell boxes of it for you to take home!
13. PASO ROBLES
Distance from Santa Barbara: 2 hours
Situated 30 miles east of the Pacific Coast Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean in Central California, you will find the quaint, hidden gem of a town known as Paso Robles.
Paso Robles is one of California’s fastest-growing and up-and-coming wine regions. This place almost reminds me of Napa and Sonoma in Northern California, with how its downtown area is structured, brimming with things to do!
Spanning across several blocks in the downtown area, there are many wine tasting rooms, artisan gift shops, and gourmet shops selling quality items such as olive oil and soaps. If you have the time, make a pit stop in the center of town and allocate ~2 hours to peruse the shops, grab some wine (Justin Winery is great), and hang out by the tree-lined town square.
If you have more time to wander outside of town, head to the surrounding areas to explore the many other picturesque wineries and estates. Paso Robles has great weather, so it’s almost always ideal for sipping and eating al fresco style!
If you happen to still be here during the night, be sure to check out Bruce Munro’s Field of Light at Sensorio. This immersive art installation is comprised of an array of over 58,800 stemmed fiber-optic lightbulbs, gently illuminating the landscape in morphing colors.
14. POINT MUGU STATE PARK
Distance from Santa Barbara: 1 hour
Point Mugu State Park is a small yet magical area of protected land just 1 hour from Santa Barbara.
Though this state park consists of just five miles of coastline, in my opinion, this is one of the prettiest and lushest areas in Southern California.
There are more than 70 miles of hiking trails at this wonderful park. For a quick and extra-scenic hike, opt for the 2.7 mile Point Mugu Scenic and Overlook Trails Loop. For something a bit longer, try the 5.1 mile Ray Miller Backbone Trail–this one is great for wildflowers!
The beach here is also great for swimming, body surfing and surf fishing. The park also offers numerous camping opportunities.
After exploring Point Mugu State Park and doing a quick hike (or a beach picnic), head further south to Malibu. Refuel with acai bowls or fresh seafood!
Distance from Santa Barbara: 1 hour 15 minutes
The drive from Santa Barbara to Malibu is stunning, so if you choose this day trip, keep your eyes open on this road trip!
When road tripping to Malibu, you can’t miss Point Dume, where you’ll find a beach as well as picturesque coastal cliffs and rocky coves. Not too far from Point Dume, you’ll find Paradise Cove, a super fun touristy pit stop. There’s a restaurant here that exudes beachy California vibes, as well as a private beach where you can hang out at. There is a fee to park here, but if you dine in, that fee is reduced.
Continuing on your way down, you’ll pass Zuma Beach, known for its family-friendly waves. This is a good place to hop out of the car, get a stretch, and enjoy the sand/sun. There’s a fee to park in this lot, but you can always just park beside the road and walk over to the beach.
From there, you can head over to Malibu Village for a few boutique shops, Malibu Country Mart (good for picking up picnic supplies), and Starbucks for a little pick-me-up. Those looking for a bougie meal can book a table at Nobu Malibu.
For locals and LA transplants alike, the rite of passage activities located in Malibu include dining at Malibu Farm Restaurant by the pier and going on a wine safari at Malibu Wine Safaris. Definitely check these out if you’re looking for that quintessential Malibu experience.
Local Tip: Stop by Malibu Seafood located along Highway 1 and order the fish and chips; you will have no regrets.
16. LOS ANGELES
Distance from Santa Barbara: 1.5 to 2.5 hours (depending on LA traffic conditions)
Los Angeles, CA needs no introduction. In LA you can do the typical touristy things like visit the LACMA, walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, hike the Hollywood Sign, visit Griffith Observatory, or stroll down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. But if you did just that, then you’d be missing out on what the real LA has to offer.
My recommendations are to travel east and visit neighborhoods such as Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Koreatown (you’ll find such great coffee and food options in all three neighborhoods) or stroll along grungy Venice Beach and the refined Abbott Kinney neighborhood, both of which are LA hotspots.
From there, head to the Arts District near Downtown LA to check out a few of the many up-and-coming breweries, coffee shops, and art galleries.
And for those of you looking for cleaner, more swimmable beaches, head even further south to my personal favorite beaches: Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Redondo Beach. Each has its own personality and charm, ranging from bro-y to family-oriented.
17. MONTANA DE ORO STATE PARK
Distance from Santa Barbara: 2 hours
Outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers will definitely want to consider a day trip from Santa Barbara to Montaña de Oro State Park. This wonderful gem of a park is quite possibly one of California’s best state parks.
If you’re up for an adventure and a drive up the coast, head to this “Mountain of Gold” (what its name translates to)! The park is best known for its yellow/gold wildflowers that cover its hills in the springtime. All in all, you’ll get a jam-packed day of rugged cliffs, secluded sandy beaches, tide pools, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills galore.
Looking to get a hike in? There are so many awesome options that suit every skill level, from the easy 4.1-mile roundtrip Montaña de Oro Bluff Trail to the longer Coon Creek Trail (7.1-miles roundtrip). Both will bless your day with ultra-scenic views!
Don’t forget to pack a cooler to store your picnic lunch and post-hike drinks!
18. ANTELOPE VALLEY CALIFORNIA POPPY RESERVE
Distance from Santa Barbara: 2 hours 5 minutes
If it happens to be a super bloom type of year, you absolutely can’t miss this epic day trip from Santa Barbara to Antelope Valley.
So, what can you expect if the conditions are right? Hillsides drowning in bursts of orange everywhere you look!
Historically, California has seen some amazing super bloom years. Ample rain is needed each winter, especially in January and February, in order for the plants to create a super bloom. And typically, the intense blooming season occurs in late winter to early spring, from mid-February through mid-May.
Aside from the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, some of the best flower sightings can be found in Coachella Valley, specifically Cathedral City.
19. DISNEYLAND (ANAHEIM, CA)
Distance from Santa Barbara: 2 hours 20 minutes
Driving to Disneyland is a quintessential California road trip, especially if you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a fun family outing. Seriously, anyone that pays a visit to Disneyland and California Adventures is guaranteed a good time!
You can visit Cars Land, Avengers Headquarters, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and many many more “worlds” that will transport you right into your favorite movies.
Not only are the rides and shows nostalgic and entertaining at the same time, but the food at the park is an experience in itself! You’ll definitely need to try the turkey legs, corndogs, and churros. They taste absolutely magical!
If you’d rather spend more time here than what is typically allotted on a day trip, there are Disney resorts within the park to make your vacation that much more convenient.
In addition to the two Disney parks, you can also visit Knott’s Berry Farm, take a day trip to Los Angeles, and visit the nearby Orange County beaches for an activity-filled in SoCal.
Also, Rodeo 39 Public Market is not to be missed if you’re a foodie! Come hungry because this place offers a wide variety of foods and unique flavors to choose from!
20. CATALINA ISLAND
Distance from Santa Barbara: 2 hours to Long Beach + 1-hour ferry ride
Live out your island dreams for a few days on Catalina Island, located just 22 miles west of the Southern California coast. From ports in San Pedro, Long Beach, or Dana Point, simply hop on a one-hour ferry ride from the mainland to get to the quaint seaside town of Avalon on the island.
What you’ll find is a magical land with lots of nature and activity, as well as great shops and restaurants to explore.
If you’re looking to spend more time on the water, you can see marine life on a glass-bottom boat tour. These fun boat tours will allow you to experience the many species of fish and marine life that dwell in the kelp forests along the island. Want to get underwater instead? Consider the Catalina Island Undersea Expedition.
Did you know that Catalina Island is also home to bison? These amazing animals were brought to the island during the 1920s for filming and they never left! Take a bison expedition eco-tour to view them and more of the wildlife on the island.
Distance from Santa Barbara: 10-15 minutes
For something closer to home, immerse yourself in the laid-back charm of Goleta, California!
Goleta is conveniently located just a short 10-minute drive from Santa Barbara, making it a super accessible and feasible day trip option. Visitors can easily explore the best of both areas without spending too much time sitting in a car.
While Santa Barbara has a pulsating and lively energy, Goleta offers a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. The slower pace allows visitors to unwind, making it an ideal destination for a leisurely day trip.
Begin your day with a tranquil stroll through the enchanting Ellwood Butterfly Grove, where thousands of monarch butterflies create a mesmerizing spectacle during their migration.
After soaking in the natural beauty, head over to the bustling Hollister Avenue to explore local boutiques like Macher, Paperback Alley, and Lazy Eye Shop and hunt for unique finds.
When hunger strikes, indulge in the flavors of the region at the Camino Real Marketplace. Other great spots to dine at include Kyle’s Kitchen, Caya Restaurant, Freebirds, and Elubia’s Kitchen.
Cap off your day with a visit to the historic Stow House, a cultural landmark surrounded by picturesque gardens, showcasing the region’s rich history.
Whether you’re exploring the outdoors, shopping for unique treasures, or savoring local flavors, Goleta offers a perfect blend of relaxation and discovery!
And there you have it–some of our favorite California day trips from Santa Barbara, CA! Do you have a favorite day trip that isn’t listed here? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear about it.