Over 40 Things To Do in Santa Barbara

Incorporated on April 9, 1850, the city of Santa Barbara is a popular destination for Ventura County residents as it can be reached in an hour or less via the 101.  Santa Barbara is referred to as the American Riviera, with the longest south-facing section of coastline on the west coast.

The city was inhabited by the Chumash over 13,000 years ago. But it received its name from Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602 when he entered the channel on the 4th of December, the day of the feast of Santa Barbara.

If I had to move from the Conejo Valley to some other place in the world, Santa Barbara would be on my short list for its temperate weather, laid back feel and so many things to do, which we highlight below.

Butterflies Alive! and Prehistoric Forest Open May 25 at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

On Saturday, May 25, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History will unveil two spectacular summer exhibits: Butterflies Alive! and Prehistoric Forest.

Monarch (Photo by Gary Robinson)

Monarch (Photo by Gary Robinson)

This summer will mark the Museum’s first full run of Butterflies Alive! following $20 million renovations supported by its Centennial Campaign. Visitors will be guided through a beautiful garden while nearly 1,000 live butterflies flutter freely around them. The exhibit features a dazzling variety of butterflies, from local favorites like the Monarch and Queen to exotic tropical varieties like swallowtails, longwings, and White Peacocks. Various butterfly species will cycle through the pavilion throughout the summer, so no two visits will be the same. Visitors are invited to learn about the butterfly life cycle by checking out the emergence chamber in the Museum’s Santa Barbara Gallery. There, visitors will get to see how butterflies emerge from their chrysalides and dry their wings before being moved to the pavilion.



Visitors who cross the Museum’s wooden bridges over Mission Creek will enter Prehistoric Forest and take a stroll back in time to come face-to-face with dinosaurs in the wild. They’ll meet a Tyrannosaurus rex, the formidably armored Stegosaurus, high-crested Parasaurolophus, and Triceratops and Ankylosaurus mothers with their young. These handcrafted moving animatronics from Kokoro Exhibits spark the imaginations of dinosaur-lovers of all ages.

Both exhibits are open from Saturday, May 25 to Monday, September 2, 10:00 AM–5:00 PM, and are included in Museum admission. www.sbnature.org

Wedding Reception Venues In Ventura County and Surrounding Areas


Conejo Valley Guide focuses primarily on events, activities and things to do in the Conejo Valley, Ventura County and surrounding areas.

Since we're out and about so much, we thought it might be helpful to have a comprehensive list of over 170 local wedding, wedding reception and meeting venues.

(Contact us for additions/edits to this list.)

Simi Valley Wedding Reception Venues

Moorpark, Somis Wedding Reception Venues

Ojai, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru Wedding Reception Venues

Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Goleta

Public Beaches In and Around Santa Barbara

We've compiled highlights of public beaches ranging from Malibu to Carpinteria so how about if we stretch the boundaries of that list further west a bit to include some of the popular beaches of Santa Barbara.

The City of Santa Barbara maintains four miles of beaches, including East Beach, West Beach, Leadbetter Beach, Shoreline Park and the Mesa neighborhood. The city offers a number of parking lots along the waterfront. Dogs not allowed on city beaches from East Beach to Leadbetter.

East Beach stretches from Stearns Wharf on the west to roughly across the street from the Santa Barbara Zoo. There are over a dozen volleyball courts, a play area, the full service East Beach Grill and picnic facilities. The Cabrillo Pavilion Bathhouse at 1118 East Cabrillo Boulevard is open M-F from 8am to 5pm and has showers, lockers, a weight room, beach wheelchairs and volleyball rental.

West side of East Beach looking towards Stearns Wharf.

West side of East Beach looking towards Stearns Wharf.

There's a also a fun bike path stretching from here to West Beach and Leadbetter. Bring your bikes or rent them across the street on Cabrillo Boulevard near State Street. And on Sundays year-round is the Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show.

West Beach is located on the west side of Stearns Wharf to the Santa Barbara Harbor. Good for sunbathing, swimming, picnics, kayaking, volleyball and other fun. West Beach is easily accessible and family-friendly, with a wide walkway/bike path. There's also a wading pool, playground and the Los Baños Pool nearby. The beach is adjacent to the Santa Barbara Harbor, where among other things you'll find the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

It definitely doesn't suck to be at the beach next to the Santa Barbara Harbor at sunset!

It definitely doesn't suck to be at the beach next to the Santa Barbara Harbor at sunset!

Leadbetter Beach and park is between the Santa Barbara Harbor and Shoreline Park, across from Santa Barbara City College. The area has reservable picnic and barbecue sites, outdoor showers, restrooms and a grassy lawn. Popular for beginning surfers and sailboats, as well as sunbathers and fitness enthusiasts.


Shoreline Park is a 14.6-acre coastal bluff park west of Leadbetter Beach that has a playground, restrooms, picnic tables, barbeques, a group picnic area, benches and beach access stairs.  The park has sweeping views of the coastline, city, and Santa Ynez Mountains. The Torii Gate at the center of the park takes you to a staircase down the bluff to the beach below, where you'll find a narrow and rocky beach area.

View from Shoreline Park looking east towards Leadbetter Beach.

View from Shoreline Park looking east towards Leadbetter Beach.


The Mesa beach area between Shoreline Park on the west and Arroyo Burro Beach is accessible via the Mesa Lane Steps near the corner of Mesa Lane and Edgewater Way. This is a residential area where primarily locals access the relatively narrow and rocky beach area below. About a mile away on the east is another beach access point at the eastern end of Camino Al Mar.

Arroyo Burro Beach is a beach park managed by the County of Santa Barbara. It is also referred to as Hendry's Beach, as the Boathouse at Hendry's Beach is located here at 2981 Cliff Drive. Decent sized parking lot with restaurant serving up moderately priced meals and drinks indoors/outdoors, seven days a week from 7:30am to 9:30pm. Arroyo Burro Beach is a sandy beach, good for surfing, boogie boarding and fishing, with an adjoining park with grassy areas and picnic tables. Restrooms available. From the 101 take Las Positas Road south to Cliff Drive. Turn right and travel 1/2 mile to the park entrance.

Arroyo Burro Beach

Arroyo Burro Beach

Goleta Beach Park is a 29 acre Santa Barbara County park known for its 1,500 foot fishing pier and sunbathing beaches. Great destination for bicyclists on the area's paved trail system. There are also BBQ picnic areas, volleyball, horseshoes and children's playgrounds as well as the Beachside Bar Cafe. Find your way to Sandspit Road and you're there. Learn more at www.countyofsb.org/parks/parks02.aspx?id=7682.

For beachside parks in Isla Vista, including beach access points at Camino Pescadero Park, El Embarcadero, Camino Corto, Escondido Pass and Camino Majorca, visit www.ivparks.org/parks/descriptions.

El Capitan State Beach is located in Goleta, 17 miles west of Santa Barbara, Exit 117 off of Highway 101. south and you'll see the entrance to the park. A great place for camping, hiking, surfing, picnicking and beach walking. There are rocky tidepools and fun hikes galore here. There's also a 132 site campground open year-round with easy walking access to the beach. Restrooms and showers are nearby. For those into "glamping" (e.g. luxury camping), nearby El Capitan Canyon offers awesome cabins decked out with bedding, kitchenettes and bathrooms as well as deluxe canvas tents and yurts. Visit www.elcapitancanyon.com for more information. Learn more about El Capitan State Beach at www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=601.

El Capitan State Beach at sundown.

El Capitan State Beach at sundown.

Tree lined trails in El Capitan State Beach Park.

Tree lined trails in El Capitan State Beach Park.

Refugio State Beach is located at 10 Refugio Beach Road in Goleta, about 2 1/2 miles west of El Capitan State Beach. Refugio offers great fishing,  trails and picnic sites. Palm trees planted near Refugio Creek give a distinctive look to the beach and camping area. There are 61 campsites available. Visit www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=603 for more information.

Jalama Beach County Park is an hour drive from Santa Barbara and a 45-minute drive from Lompoc at 9999 Jalama Road.  It is maintained by the County of Santa Barbara. Have fun at the beach with surfing, whale watching, fishing, horseshoes, picnic areas and more. There's also a popular camping area with over 100 sites as well as seven cabins available. Visit www.countyofsb.org/parks/parks06.aspx?id=9186 or call 805.736.6316.

Butterfly Beach is on the east side of town in Montecito, accessible off of Channel Drive near, of course, Butterfly Lane, across from the Four Seasons Biltmore. No amenities but nice sand, a few benches and dog access. You'll most likely have to find a parking spot on the street. Mainly geared towards locals. You can catch a beautiful sunset from here.

Butterfly Beach in Montecito

Butterfly Beach in Montecito

Lookout Park is a County of Santa Barbara managed park located on four acres on the cliffs of Summerland. Take the Summerland exit off Highway 101 and turn south into the park. Dogs are allowed on leash at this park. There access to a decent strip of beach, Summerland Beach. Also a small playground, restrooms, picnic areas, BBQ grills and more. Visit www.countyofsb.org/parks/parks02.aspx?id=7946 for more info.

Carpinteria area beaches, including Carpinteria State Beach, Tar Pits Park, Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and Rincon Beach Park, are highlighted at this link.

2019 Butterflies Alive! Exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History May 25 to Sept 2


The popular Butterflies Alive! exhibit in the new Butterfly Pavilion at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History will run from Saturday, May 25 to Monday, September 2, 2019 and will be open daily during normal museum hours of operation of 10am to 5pm daily. The exhibit is free with paid museum admission.

Walk through a beautiful garden while nearly 1,000 live butterflies flutter freely around you. The exhibit features a dazzling variety of butterflies, from local favorites to exotic tropical varieties. Learn about the life cycle and behavior of these spectacular invertebrates while observing them up close.

More information at www.sbnature.org.

Old Mission Santa Barbara is a Cultural and Historic Local Landmark

The Santa Barbara Mission was established on the Feast of Saint Barbara, December 4, 1786 and was the 10th of 21 California Missions to be founded by the Spanish Franciscans. The Mission continues to be the chief cultural and historic landmark in the city of Santa Barbara. Home to a community of Franciscan friars, the Mission also has a retreat center with guest rooms, conference rooms, a fully equipped commercial kitchen and dining room, a beautiful church with a large and active parish, a museum and gift shop, a cemetery and mausoleum and ten acres of beautifully landscaped gardens.

The Santa Barbara Mission in July 2013

The Santa Barbara Mission in July 2013

Old Mission Church, Santa Barbara (1876), by Carleton Watkins, via Wikimedia Commons

Old Mission Church, Santa Barbara (1876), by Carleton Watkins, via Wikimedia Commons

Mission Santa Barbara is California Historical Landmark No. 309. According to the California State Parks Office of Historic Preservation website: Portions of five units of its extensive waterworks, built by Indian labor and preserved in this part, are a filter house, Spanish gristmill, sections of aqueducts, and two reservoirs, the larger of which, built in 1806, is used today as part of the city water system. The fountain and lavadero are nearby, in front of the mission, and a dam built in 1807 is located in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, one and one-half miles up Mission Canyon. Only ruins remain of the mission's pottery kiln, guard house, and tanning vats.

The Mission, located at 2201 Laguna Street, is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Admission for self-guided tours as of January 2019 is $9 for adults (18-64) $7 for seniors (65+) and active military (with ID) and $4 for youth ages 5-17. Parking is free.

Docent-led tours (approximately 60 minutes) on most Mondays through Fridays at 11 am and Saturdays at 10:30 am. Cost for docent-led tours is $13 adults, $11 seniors, active military and $8 for youth ages 5-17. Visit www.santabarbaramission.org or call 805.682.4713 to learn more.


Trolley Services in Ventura County and Surrounding Areas

Trolley seen around town in Westlake Village

Trolley seen around town in Westlake Village

The term "trolley" is derived from a grooved conductive wheel attached to a pole that "trolls," or pulls along, an overhead wire to transfer electricity to a streetcar. The first large-scale trolley line in the world, the Richmond Union Passenger Railway, was a 12 mile system that opened on February 12, 1888 in Richmond, Virginia. This trolley service operated until November 25, 1949. 

You don't see many trolley buses anymore (San Francisco's historic streetcars are a well known exception), but here in Ventura County and adjacent areas we do have some electric trolleys in operation!

Camarillo: The City of Camarillo provides free trolley bus service seven days a week, with 10 stops at various shopping centers in town.

Ojai: The City of Ojai's Ojai Trolley Service has operated since 1989, providing low cost fixed route service with 45 stops over roughly five miles in Ojai, Meiners Oaks and Mira Monte.

Ventura:  The Downtown Ventura-Harbor Trolley provides year-round free service to local shopping, tourist and hotel locations over an hour-long route, Wednesday through Sunday.

Calabasas: Just east of us, City of Calabasas offers free trolley service on Saturdays at 24 stops at various shopping and other venues.

Westlake Village: A free trolley service is offered by the City of Westlake Village from time to time on Friday/Saturday nights, including the winter holiday time frame and summer months.

Santa Barbara: The Santa Barbara Trolley Company is a commercial service that provides trolley tours to some of the area's great tourist venues seven days a week, year-round.