Lovely weather, scenic roadways and pedestrian friendly pathways make Santa Barbara a great place to get outside and explore. Some of our normal routines have changed, and this provides new opportunities to enjoy the fresh air and explore with some Santa Barbara self-guided tours.
Santa Barbara has a diverse mix of self-guided tours, including walking tours, driving tours, and nature hikes. Grab a bite to eat while you are out touring. We’ve added recommendations of places for take-out and phone numbers so you can call ahead and order.
Gather up the members of your household and get out for a tour!
Santa Barbara Self-Guided Tours
Red Tile Walking Tour
The Red Tile Walking Tour guides you through 12 blocks of historic landmarks in downtown Santa Barbara starting at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse* and is available for PDF download or via an interactive tour on Google Maps.
Some of the most notable sights include the SB County Courthouse, La Arcada Plaza, Casa De la Guerra, El Presidio de Santa Barbara, and the Lobero Theatre. You will also see some of Santa Barbara’s oldest adobes, the former homes of wealthy families and soldiers.
Once you arrive at El Presidio de Santa Barbara, order takeout from PANINO (805-963-3700) or Rudy’s Fresh Mexican Food (805-845-5446) before making your way back to the Courthouse. Both restaurants are located on the corners of Santa Barbara Street and Canon Perdido. Enjoy your sandwich or burrito in the Santa Barbara Sunken Gardens, the grassy lawn at the Courthouse which is located on the Santa Barbara Street side of the Courthouse.
*Please note that currently the SB County Courthouse is closed to the public, so you will not be allowed to tour the inside of the property, but the outside is worth a visit.
Jeff Shelton Architecture Walking Tour
Jeff Shelton is a local architect known for his whimsical designs that channel the famous designs of Spanish architect Gaudi. Shelton has reinterpreted Santa Barbara’s Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style and made it his own. (Fun fact: His wife’s art is featured in our guestrooms).
Shelton’s architectural style is easy to identify as his buildings have a very distinct design. Features include whitewashed stucco walls (typical of Santa Barbara), colorful painted tile in kitschy patterns, dramatic archways, asymmetrical windows, whimsical wrought iron balconies and light fixtures with blown glass shades.
The Jeff Shelton self-guided walking tour takes you to 10 of his famous buildings located within 10 blocks of downtown Santa Barbara. Fun fact: these 10 buildings surround Hotel Santa Barbara and make it a great starting point.
Stop for a lunch break after visiting the Architect’s Shop (stop #6). Turn right onto State Street after you pass by Hotel Santa Barbara. Try The Natural Café (805-962-9494) for a salad or sandwich to-go. Head back up State Street and turn right onto Cota Street to continue the tour.
Santa Barbara Harbor and Shoreline Park Walking Tour
The Santa Barbara Waterfront provides a dynamic experience to visitors with plenty of things to see. Along the waterfront you will find Stearns Wharf, the Bicentennial Friendship Fountain (more commonly known as the Dolphin Fountain), the Santa Barbara Harbor, and the breakwater featuring flags from Santa Barbara non-profit organizations as well as national, state, and city flags.
The Santa Barbara Harbor and Shoreline Park walking tour begins at the Dolphin Fountain at the base of Stearns Wharf and ends at 1,000 Steps beach, approximately a 2 mile walk one direction.
Featured spots along this walk include West Beach, the Santa Barbara Harbor, Santa Barbara City College, Leadbetter Beach, and Shoreline Park. For a longer walk, you can continue to the Douglas Family Preserve which overlooks Hendry’s Beach (Arroyo Burro County Beach Park).
Need a lunch break? Order takeout sushi from Sushi Go Go (805-962-6568) and grab a seat overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The Scenic Drive Tour
This scenic drive through Santa Barbara will take you past the Santa Barbara Harbor, Arroyo Burro County Beach Park (locally known as Hendry’s Beach), through Hope Ranch neighborhood, to the Old Mission Santa Barbara. From there it takes drivers through the Riviera (the hillside neighborhood which overlooks all of Santa Barbara and the ocean) to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Montecito. Choose to take a detour to Butterfly Beach or continue past Coast Village Road, the Andrèe Clark Bird Refuge, and East Beach.
The Harbor is a great place to stop and walk around. From the breakwater, there is a panoramic view of the ocean, Stearns Wharf, and the mountains. On a clear day, you will be able to see the Channel Islands as well. All waterfront parking lots are currently free.
Stop at Hendry’s Beach for a long walk along this gorgeous stretch of beach. At low tide, tide pools become visible so look for star fish and sea urchins. Parking is free and the lot closes at sunset.
There are several great places to stop along the route for easy and tasty local takeout. La Cumbre Shopping Center has several takeout lunch options including Backyard Bowls (805-569-0011) and locally-founded The Habit Burger Grill (805-687-5200). Coast Village Road also has a great selection of to-go dining options including Bettina Pizzeria (805-770-2383) and Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant (805-969-9059).
Chase Palm Park and East Beach
Santa Barbara’s East Beach is a favorite for locals and visitors alike, with 1.5 miles of uninterrupted beach. Walk, run or ride a bike back and forth along the paved Cabrillo Boulevard bike path, or take a barefoot stroll along the shoreline.
Adjacent to East Beach and located on both sides of Cabrillo Blvd. is Chase Palm Park, which features Skater’s Point skateboard park, Shipwreck Playground, paved bike and pedestrian paths, and palm tree-lined grass lawns.
While you’re cruising, check out the rainbow hued Chromatic Gate sculpture, which is located at the corner of Calle Puerto Vallarta and Cabrillo Blvd. Designed by Herbert Bayer, the Chromatic Gate was installed in 1991.
Elings Park, located on the Mesa off Las Positas Road and Cliff Drive, is a 230-acre recreational area featuring sports fields, 9 miles of trails, playgrounds and more.
Tour the property on foot or via mountain bike. Try the dirt trails at the south end of the property as they lead you up to beautiful views of Santa Barbara’s ocean and mountains.
Keep an eye out for these wild animals: a jaguar, a tiger, and an eagle. But don’t worry, they’re not real. They are statues that were donated to the park.
When you finish exploring at Elings Park, order takeout from celebrity chef Cat Cora’s Mesa Burger (805-963-7492) located just up the road on the corner of Cliff Drive and Meigs Road.
Get out of the house and explore with these Santa Barbara self-guided tours. For more inspiration and fun activities, read our blog “Experience Santa Barbara While Practicing Social Distancing”. Stay tuned for more!