The 9 Most Scenic Spots to Catch a Sunset in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara features stunning sunsets, whether you’re in the mountains or by the sea.
Santa Barbara features stunning sunsets, whether you’re in the mountains or by the sea. Damian Gadal
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Santa Barbara, which dubs itself The American Riviera®, offers terrific views of the setting sun from its vantage point on the California coast. And the city makes the most of its situation, offering many ways, from sedentary to challenging, to see those fabulous sunsets. Here are some of the most scenic:

1. Cabrillo Bike Path

The Cabrillo Bike Path will take you from Butterfly Beach (above) to Shoreline Park. Damian Gadal

You can ride a bicycle about five miles along the coast on the paved Cabrillo Bike Path from Butterfly Beach to Shoreline Park. It’s a great way to get a good overview of the city and to pick out places you’d like to explore more. Or stop and have a picnic, walk along one of the many beaches or check out some of the shops. Along the way, you’ll pass the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, a wetland that’s home to many bird species, and you’ll likely see the sunset reflected in its waters.

2. Channel Islands National Park

Sunset from the Channel Islands National Park. Andrew Hart

If what you want is nature in the raw, head out to the Channel Islands National Park, just off the coast of Santa Barbara. You’ll need to set up camp on one of the five islands that make up the archipelago to enjoy the sunset from the island, but it’s an experience you won’t regret. Make reservations well ahead—and there are no amenities on the island, so you’ll have to bring your own food and gear to your campsite. In exchange you’ll get a chance to see spectacular sunsets, spot of dolphins, sea lions, and perhaps whales, and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean. Bliss.

3. Stearns Wharf

Stearns Wharf at sunset. Damian Gadal

Built in 1872 and repaired many times since, Stearns Wharf is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular tourist attractions, and for good reason. It stretches way out into the Pacific Ocean from sandy East Beach, with its gentle waves and volleyball courts. When you see the dolphin fountain, you’ll know you’re there. Hit the wooden wharf and stroll past restaurants, gift shops, and a replica of a cannon to the end, where you can watch the flaming sun sink into the sea.

4. Oceanfront Restaurants

Next to Leadbetter Beach (above), you’ll find restaurants where you can view the sunset as you dine. Damian Gadal

If you want to get even more relaxed, you can watch the sun sink from the deck of one of Santa Barbara’s many oceanfront restaurants. On the deck of The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach, you’ll be enclosed in sheets of glass as you sip wine and enjoy a bowl of cioppino. At Shoreline Café, you can eat your fish and chips at a table on Leadbetter Beach. And at Brophy Brothers, you’ll see the sun cast spectacular colors over the harbor as you spoon your clam chowder.

5. Ellwood Mesa

Ellwood Beach offers a front-row seat for the sunset. Glenn Beltz

Thousands of butterflies flock to the Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove on the Ellwood Mesa from about mid-November to mid-February. Dozens of people, meanwhile, flock to it daily. You can hike, walk your dog or jog along the bluff, where hummingbirds flit among eucalyptus trees, or you can go down to Ellwood Beach, where egrets forage for dinner among the tide pools. Either way, you’ll be in the front row when the sun goes down.

6. On the Water

The best place to see a sunset may be from your kayak. Damian Gadal

Some Santa Barbara residents say one of the best ways to see the sunset is from a boat on the water, and here, once again, you can take your pick. You can launch your kayak from one of Santa Barbara’s beaches or your sailboat from Santa Barbara Harbor, or you can simply let someone else do the driving and take a sunset cruise.

7. Inspiration Point

Leave plenty of time to get to Inspiration Point before the sun goes down. It’s one of Santa Barbara’s most popular trails, and your parking place might be quite a ways down from the trailhead. Once you reach the trailhead, you’ll go up a paved road that turns into a dirt road. About 800 feet up from your starting point, you’ll reach a small point that offers amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. It’s about 3.5 miles round-trip.

8. TV Hill

This local favorite is known at TV Hill because it’s the home to the local ABC affiliate, KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara. The studio is located at 730 Miramonte Drive, and the surrounding area offers some incredible views of downtown Santa Barbara, the ocean, and the surrounding mountains.

9. From a Surfboard

You won’t want to miss your chance to ride the waves at Rincon Point, a top surfing spot south of Santa Barbara off Highway 101. And because it’s a top spot, you likely won’t be alone. You can take a dirt path down to the beach where you can join the ranks of wetsuited surfers waiting for the perfect wave. Not a surfer? You can also enjoy the sunset from a standup paddleboard.

Written by Clare Wood for RootsRated in partnership with Visit Santa Barbara.

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