Santa Barbara is the quintessential California beach city. With many Hollywood stars calling this area home, Santa Barbara has always been the perfect weekend trip from the Los Angeles area. However, the area around Santa Barbara is gorgeous to explore, especially if you have a few extra days to spend in this gorgeous place. Come along with me as we explore my favorite Santa Barbara day trips that will take you to small villages and beach towns and give you a glimpse of California.
The Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara is a beautiful rural area full of wineries, rolling hills and beautiful villages. South of Santa Barbara you will find smaller beach towns, state parks and beautiful California Coast. In this article we will explore the best Santa Barbara day trips, going North first and working our way south of Santa Barbara all the way to Malibu. All these day trips take under 2 hours of driving, while most of them take under one hour driving from Santa Barbara.
Table of Contents
1. Avila Beach
Avila Beach is one of the best Santa Barbara Day Trips
See my photos from Avila Beach
Situated right next to Pismo Beach, Avila Beach is a small California gem. Driving through the narrow canyon from the nearby freeway, the ocean appears beautifully in front of you. We love driving on the Port San Luis Pier as we always find lots of noisy sealions and the kids love watching them.
2. Pismo Beach
The beautiful beach and pier at Pismo Beach
See my photos from Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach is the quintessential California beach town. Known for its pristine and large beach as well as the annual Monarch butterfly migration, Pismo Beach is a relaxing beach community.
Along with Avila Beach, Pismo Beach make for one of my top 5 Santa Barbara day trips.
What to Do in Pismo Beach
3. La Purisima Mission
La Purisima Mission, Lompoc, California – Various dried animal skins on display at La Purisima Mission
See my photos from La Purisima Mission
Situated in the farming town of Lompoc, La Purisima Mission is a great place to visit, especially if you have children. While the Mission complex has been moved to the current location, it preserves the way of life of Spanish Conquistadores and priests.
The cool thing about La Purisima Mission is that it is an actually working farm with real animals, poultry and horses in addition to all the historical buildings and display.
What to See at La Purisima Mission
Solvang, California – Windmills are everywhere in this little Danish town
See my photos from Solvang
Solvang is my favorite of Santa Barbara day trips. Also known as the small Danish Village, Solvang is a beautiful blend of California vibe and European flair. Situated only about 45 minutes away from Santa Barbara, Solvang is a very restful place and a great escape day trip.
Best Things to Do in Solvang
5. Los Olivos
The tiny village of Los Olivos is situated only 10 minutes north of Solvang. We visited during their Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at the beginning of December. Los Olivos is known mainly for its wineries and cozy wine tasting rooms.
6. Lake Cachuma
Taking the scenic Highway 154 from Santa Barbara to Solvang will take you right by the beautiful Lake Cachuma recreational area. This is a large reservoir with lots of picnic areas and many trees that provide lots of shade during the summer.
7. Coldspring Tavern
Santa Barbara, California – The Cold Spring Tavern is a beautiful restaurant inside a beautiful old wooden building
See my photos from Santa Barbara
The Old Stagecoach Road winds it’s way over the mountains surrounding Santa Barbara. On what it used to be the road of cowboys and outlaws, you can still find the old Coldspring Tavern along with the old jail. Weekends are a great time to stop by for lunch and enjoy some live music.
Cold Spring Tavern is on the Old Stagecoach Road that ran over the mountains from late 1800s to the beginning of 1900s. Highway 154, which runs right by the Old Stage Coach Road is one of the most scenic drives in California.
8. Painted Cave
Santa Barbara, California – The old native Indian cave paintings at the Chumash Painted Cave State Park
See my photos from Santa Barbara surrounding areas
On the way to Coldspring Tavern take the Painted Cave road from the main 154 Highway and go up the steep mountain to the tiny Painted Cave Historical State Park. Make sure you stop on the side of the road for the best panoramic views of Santa Barbara.
Taking the Painted Cave Road from the 154 Highway and enjoying beautiful vistas of Santa Barbara, and then stopping at Cold Spring Tavern on the way to Solvang, makes for one of the perfect Santa Barbara day trips.
Carpinteria State Beach at sunset
Photo by Jack Armstrong on Unsplash
Driving South from Santa Barbara we come to the small beach town of Carpinteria. This is a lazy California small town with a beautiful and very popular beach. Carpinteria State Beach is a great beach for small children as the water is shallow and warmer. Carpinteria is is one of my favorite Santa Barbara day trips.
Also, while at the Carpinteria Beach be on the lookout for dolphin pods hunting fish. Look for lots of birds congregation over the ocean and then look for dolphin fins sticking out of the water. Every time we went to the beach in Carpinteria we have been able to spot dolphins.
Ojai, California – The Matilija Dam looks very lush during the spring
See my photos from Ojai Valley
Ojai is a small village nestled in a beautiful valley located about 40 minutes from Santa Barbara. My favorite way to get to Ojai from Santa Barbara is to pickup highway 150 just south of Carpinteria and drive the beautiful road over the mountains into the Ojai Valley.
We love this area especially for some beautiful Ojai hiking trails along the many canyons that come into the Ojai Valley. The main street in Ojai is lined up with small shops and restaurants in a very relaxing atmosphere. If you have children, they will definitely enjoy playing at the wooded Libbey Park.
Ventura, California – The San Buenaventura Mission was founded in 1782 by Father Junipero Serra
See my photos from Ventura
Coming South from Santa Barbara, we come to the beach city of Ventura which is the capital of Ventura County. The Ventura Pier and it’s beautifully maintained ocean walking and biking path make for a relaxing day at the beach.
A visit to the San Buenaventura Mission can bring lots of historical cues to this areas past as well as take you in the vibrant restaurant scene of the old town Ventura.
Camarillo, California – The Camarillo Ranch House is a Victorian Queen Anne style house built in 1892
See my photos from Camarillo
Camarillo is an old farming town that has been transformed into a thriving city with modern high tech companies and beautiful factory outlet shopping mall. History has also been preserved in Camarillo as you can easily visit its old town with the older Saint Mary’s church built in the early 1900s. If you have extra time you can also take a tour of the Adolfo Camarillo House which has been beautifully preserved and opened to the public.
Coupled with a visit to Ventura, a quick stop in Camarillo can be a great Santa Barbara day trip.
13. Point Mugu State Park
Point Mugu State Park – Beautiful view of La Jolla Valley with Boney Mountain in the background seen from Mugu Peak trail
See my photos from Point Mugu State Park
From Camarillo we can take Las Posas Road straight to the ocean as it meets the Pacific Coast Highway for a beautiful drive to Point Mugu State Park. We love hiking here especially during the spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom and the grass is bright green. With lots of trails and the imposing Boney Mountain dominating the area, Point Mugu is a great place to hike and see beautiful views of the ocean.
Best Places to See at Point Mugu State Park
14. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area
Santa Monica Mountains, California – Winding trail trough green meadows dotted with spring flowers
See my photos from Santa Monica Mountains NRA
Surrounding Point Mugu State Park we find the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area, which has also been protected and it has more trails and beautiful vista points. If you can bring your bikes with you, there is a very long, paved bike trail that can take you all the way to the ocean.
Malibu, California – Amazing view of the Santa Monica Bay at Point Dume
See my photos from Malibu
Malibu is the furthest day trip South from Santa Barbara, but one of my favorite Santa Barbara day trips. Being 27 miles long, Malibu is the Hollywood famous location of Southern California. Boasting famous beaches like Zuma and Point Dume and beautiful bird habitats like the Malibu Creek Lagoon, Malibu is a beautiful day trip from Santa Barbara.
5 Perfect Santa Barbara Day Trips
If I were to pick my absolute 5 best Santa Barbara day trips I would pick them in this order.
- Solvang & Los Olivos – for wine country favorites (taking the 154 highway and stopping by the Cold Spring tavern)
- Avila Beach & Pismo Beach – for perfect beach views (taking Pacific Coast Highway through Lompoc)
- Carpinteria for a beautiful day at the beach
- Ojai for an escape into nature (taking the 150 Highway over the hills)
- Malibu for beautiful beaches and Hollywood fame
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