What's the Best Beach for You in Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara is filled with amazing beaches offering unique opportunities for visitors.
Santa Barbara is filled with amazing beaches offering unique opportunities for visitors. Damian Gadal
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Santa Barbara has so many beautiful beaches to choose from, how do you decide which one suits you best? Tough problem to have, right? Of course, exploring all your options is half the fun. Whether you’re interested in swimming, surfing, catching the sunset, entertaining, or just chilling, you can find a beach that fits your needs. So grab your sunscreen and you’ll find a wide variety of options when it comes to this scenic stretch of California coastline.

Best for Your Dog: Arroyo Burro Beach (Hendry’s Beach)

Dogs are permitted on the entire stretch of Arroyo Burro Beach, and an off-leash section allows you the space to have some real fun.
Dogs are permitted on the entire stretch of Arroyo Burro Beach, and an off-leash section allows you the space to have some real fun. Damian Gadal

Locals call this beach Hendry’s, and they will also tell you it’s the best dog beach in town. The entire beach allows dogs to frolic in the sands and waves, but the left side of the beach is where they’re allowed off-leash. There’s even a coin-operated pet wash in the far parking lot for rinsing off your four-legged friend before getting into the car.

Best for Sunset Viewing: Butterfly Beach

Sunset at Butterfly Beach.
Sunset at Butterfly Beach. Damian Gadal

Unlike most of Santa Barbara’s south-facing beaches, Butterfly Beach faces the west, making it one of the area’s best spots for watching beautiful sunsets that light up the sky in crimson pink and golden orange hues. The sand is also very walkable at this beach—a promising spot for romantic strolls at twilight.

Best for Camping: Carpinteria State Beach

You can plan an overnight stay at Carpinteria State Beach.
You can plan an overnight stay at Carpinteria State Beach. Scott cutler

Plan an overnight stay at the campgrounds near Carpinteria State Beach, and we promise you won’t get bored. Between exploring the tide pools, swimming, fishing, paddle boarding and even whale watching during the winter and spring months, there’s plenty of activities to fill up a weekend’s worth of adventure. Also, Carpinteria’s main street, Linden Avenue, isn’t far if you’re in need of extra camp supplies.

Best for Hosting Parties: Leadbetter Beach

Leadbetter Beach is closest to downtown Santa Barbara.
Leadbetter Beach is closest to downtown Santa Barbara. Damian Gadal

Due to its proximity to downtown Santa Barbara, Leadbetter Beach can get crowded fast. It’s an especially popular beach for college students (it’s right next to Santa Barbara City College) who enjoy using the built-in grills for summer beach parties. You’re also likely to notice several windsurfers skimming the offshore waters.

Best for Volleyball: East Beach

East Beach is another centrally located beach, off Cabrillo Boulevard and next to the Santa Barbara Zoo. It has several recreational amenities, including a children’s playground, in-line skating trails, picnic facilities, and large grass lawns. However, the most defining attribute of this beach is its several volleyball courts that are famous for hosting tournaments.

Best for Sightseeing: El Capitán Beach

When the waves are right, El Capitán Beach is a popular spot for surfers. But no matter the conditions, it features a beautiful natural setting not far from downtown Santa Barbara.
When the waves are right, El Capitán Beach is a popular spot for surfers. But no matter the conditions, it features a beautiful natural setting not far from downtown Santa Barbara. Andy Walker

Considered one of the more pristine beaches in Santa Barbara, El Capitán Beach is part of a state park, and therefore designed for more low-key beach activities such as surfing, swimming and lounging. You’ll have to pay $5 per car entrance fee, but it’s a great escape from the city without having to travel too far. And under the right conditions, it has some of the best breaks for surfing in Southern California for advanced surfers.

Best for Fishing or Hiking: Gaviota Beach

To really get the most out of the city, visit Gaviota Beach State Park, about 33 miles west of Santa Barbara. The most distinguishing feature of this beach is the train trestle you’ll have to walk under in order to access the beach. A nearby pier provides excellent fishing opportunities. Another great feature in the park: Hike less than a mile from the parking lot and you can go for a soak in the Gaviota Hot Springs.

Best for Family Picnics: Goleta Beach

Goleta Beach offers free parking just off the beach, making it a breeze to tow your kids and supplies.
Goleta Beach offers free parking just off the beach, making it a breeze to tow your kids and supplies. Damian Gadal

Not only is this beach easily accessible (for towing in children and picnic supplies), but it also has free parking. Picnic tables, barbecues, a playground, and horseshoe pits also make this a fun space for entertaining the family. Plus, there’s a restaurant (and bar) nearby, and you’ll find access to a pier that allows fishing, meeting everyone’s beach-day needs.

Best for Diving and Snorkeling: Refugio Beach

The calm waters off the coast of Refugio Beach make it a great destination for snorkeling.
The calm waters off the coast of Refugio Beach make it a great destination for snorkeling. ars5017

About a 10-minute drive further up the coast from El Capitán Beach, a unique beach setup awaits. Refugio Beach can be identified by the random palm trees that dot the thin strip of border grass surrounding the sand, making it look more like an oasis than a beach. Spend a night here in one of the beachside campsites or spend the day exploring the calm water’s depths.

Best for Surfing: Mesa Lane Beach

The only way to access this beach is by descending several sets of stairs tucked in between some private homes at the end of Mesa Lane. Although it appears private, the beach is completely open to the public. The inconspicuous entrance helps limit crowds and has become the best-kept secret among local surfers who come here before or after work/school to catch a few good waves.

Best for Swimming: Summerland Beach

Summerland Beach offers great conditions for swimming.
Summerland Beach offers great conditions for swimming. Sergei Gussev

Just 10 minutes south of Santa Barbara, Summerland Beach sits right below Lookout Park. With wide shores, a shallow ocean entrance, and gentle waves, this beach is ideal for swimming and splashing around in the water. Showers are provided for an after-dip rinse, making it easy to go from sands to street, especially for checking the boutiques and antique shops that line the main avenue of Summerland a few blocks from the beach.

Best for Lounging in Privacy: Hammond’s Beach

Not a fan of beaches packed with people? Hammond’s Beach in Montecito is a hidden gem that requires local knowledge on how to get there. First, you head toward the ocean on San Ysidro Lane, which eventually becomes Eucalyptus Lane, and then ends at a parking lot in front of Miramar Beach. What most people don’t realize, though, is that there’s trail access through Hammond’s Meadow to Hammond’s Beach for a more secluded feel.

Originally written for Visit Santa Barbara.

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