With the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop it’s kind of hard to imagine Santa Barbara nature lover’s wanting to explore anywhere else. But the lure of the great outdoors, pulling people into the mountains and surrounding areas, cannot be ignored. Santa Barbara is, quite simply, its own piece of paradise on earth for people who love the outdoors.
Of course, exploring the beaches is a requirement. Special areas to visit include Shoreline Park with its ocean and mountain views as well as the Cabrillo Path which winds along the coast. The Santa Ynez mountains that border the city are steep, so trails can be rugged, yet the peacefulness found in nature is always restorative. There are many places to choose from, but here are some great options where nature lovers can enjoy Santa Barbara:
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden offers meandering sections that feature the strata of the area’s unique eco-systems all in one stop. While no major hikes are within the garden, the trails around the garden are enjoyable, educational and offer an opportunity to connect to the different environments.
The dichotomy is evident as the sandstone boulders and prickly plants of the Desert section reflect California’s dry interior region while the cool, moist towering redwood grove, which needs ocean moisture and trapped fog to thrive, are both part of the gardens. This area is a respite of quiet beauty year-round, but springtime is especially beautiful with blooming flowers throughout.
Bonus: The second Saturday of the month the ShinKanAn Teahouse and Garden is open
Rattlesnake Trail is not only one of the best-named trails ever, it also a great 3.5 mile roundtrip hike just 15 minutes from downtown. Actually a fire-trail, it weaves across a few creeks and, in comparison to most Santa Barbara hikes, is relatively gently sloping and often shady. The flora is diverse, depending on the season, but springtime flowers are always beautiful and there’s even a meadow area. Energetic hikers can continue along to a connecting trail and loop over to the Tunnel Trail but if you’re doing this be sure and bring water and wear sturdy hiking boots.
3 Pools Beyond 7 Falls is considered a primitive trail, requiring bouldering over rocks. But the hearty hikers in good shape will enjoy the opportunity to cool off in the pools and dare-devils can cliff jump – feet first!
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has both a bird and mammal hall with dioramas featuring the area’s wildlife as well as a hands-on exploratory gallery exploring Santa Barbara’s ecology. This museum is a fun, active and informative stop for nature lovers and has exhibits elsewhere, including The Sea Center on Stearns Wharf. This location offers intertidal touch pools including sharks and rays. There is also a mesmerizing jelly fish display.
Santa Barbara takes its nature seriously and the city has created a wonderful outdoor interactive map you can access to plan your own adventures. But remember, enjoying nature can be both exhilarating and tiring. Be sure and relax after a fun-filled day with a stay at The Eagle Inn, Santa Barbara’s favorite beachside hotel.