Santa Barbara’s beauty and appeal are well documented, with the Pacific’s sparkling blue expanse dominating most images. With more than a dozen beaches spanning the proclaimed American Riviera, how do you choose which are the best Santa Barbara beaches? In part, that will depend on your planned beach activity. There are surfers, runners, volleyball players, families building sandcastles, and sun worshippers.
Each beach has its own special appeal, and it is true that where the coast and the land embrace is a magical arena that must be experienced. Here are our favorites; several are just steps from The Eagle Inn, and others are an easy spin on one of our complimentary bikes.
Located just outside of posh Montecito across the street from the Four Seasons, Butterfly Beach is a local favorite. Plan your visit during low tide, as this petite beach practically disappears in the surf and waves of high tide. The beach has soft white sand and is lined with palm trees and a stone barrier. It is a great spot for swimming with limited surf, sunbathing, and spectacular sunrises and sunsets. You may even spot a famous celebrity! Because of the busy neighborhood, parking can be a challenge, and there are no facilities. It is a fun destination by bike, as the path along Stearn’s Wharf leads here.
Another favorite of the locals, this wide sandy beach along Shoreline Drive is the perfect destination for a day filled with swimming, sunscreen, and sandcastle-building. Offering lifeguards, restrooms, showers, and a large parking area, Leadbetter makes a day at the beach even more enjoyable.
Located right across the street from Santa Barbara Community College, you’ll find a younger vibe when school is in session, but there’s plenty of room for people of all ages to enjoy this shoreline destination. It’s a good place for swimming due to the mild shore break, but you can also practice beginning surfing, windsurfing, or paddleboarding.
Haskell’s Beach is just below the Ritz Carlton Baccara, but you don’t have to stay there to enjoy the beach. There is a public parking area on the left next to the tennis courts before the main entrance to the resort. Walk down the well-marked trail to the first area, with picnic tables and restrooms, then continue on to the beach. At low tide, it is a great area for exploring tidepools, where you may catch a glimpse of a starfish or octopus. It is also a great area for kayaking; we can make recommendations if you need the gear.
Which is better, East Beach or West Beach? The two are separated by Stearns Wharf, which means there are plenty of entertainment choices for your day at the beach. East Beach is the longest of the city beaches, stretching out 1.6 miles. It is a great spot for volleyball and is the home of many volleyball tournaments. You can swim in the calm water, and there are rentals of boogie boards, SUPs, and kayaks right on the beach.
East Beach is along Cabrillo Bike Path, and every Sunday, there is an art fair to browse.
West Beach, which is just a few steps from The Eagle Inn, continually amazes us. The people-watching is as wonderful as the water. Sunbathers, volleyball players, windsurfers, kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and bicyclists adorn this sandy swath. With the harbor, Stearns Wharf, as a focal point, West Beach is a beach with action. It’s not the best place for swimming, but the best place to see the California lifestyle in full swing.
Thousand Steps Beach
Not really 1,000 – more like 150 concrete steps – but it’s worth every step to descend into this nook of a beautiful beach in the East Mesa area of Santa Barbara. With its steep sandstone cliffs that capture the golden glimmers of the sun throughout the day, this beach is a picture-perfect rendition of a California beach.
There’s not much traditional swimming here, but it’s perfect for surfing, walking, and tide-pool exploring during low tide. Sea anemones, mussels, small fish, and a crab or two can be seen in the rock’s crooks and crannies. Wear sneakers that can get wet as waves have a mind of their own. Another stairway climbs out from Mesa Lane Beach if you continue walking west. Check the tide table, as high tide often engulfs these area beaches.
Located east of Santa Barbara, this broad expanse of beach is located just below the lovely Lookout Park in the tiny town of Summerland. This county-owned beach faces south and is long and walkable. However, at certain times of the year, it can be filled with driftwood and seaweed, which makes it the best place to hunt for that special piece. It’s a perfect place to see the Channel Islands, a picturesque National Park of five islands.
Summerland Beach is also one of the only beaches that allows horseback rides.
Arroyo Burro Beach is known to the locals as “Hendry’s Beach.” This beach has it all – even for people who think they don’t want to spend a day at the beach. The trails at the top of the beach bluffs sport a variety of protected flora and fauna and are popular with runners, hikers, and walkers. It’s also a great place to look for the whales, seals, and dolphins that frequent the area.
The Douglas Family Preserve is a 70-acre wooded area that was preserved by Santa Barbara residents after the long-established Wilcox Nursery closed in 1972. Actor Michael Douglas named it in honor of his father, Kirk Douglas. The paths are numerous and offer sweeping views of the ocean as well as educational programs in the center. The beach itself is wide and also nice for walking. It’s always a thrill to watch hang gliders who’ve taken off from nearby Elings Park.
Santa Claus Beach
Who can resist a beach with this name? It’s actually the nickname for Padaro Beach. It’s called this because it is located at the end of Santa Claus Lane. It is a lovely soft sand beach backed by manicured beach homes. You will see (or can participate in) all kinds of water sports, including beginning surfing, boogie boarding, and body surfing.
Parking is a little tricky, as you will need to street park on said Santa Claus Lane and hop across the railroad tracks to the beach.
The Best Post-Beach Respite
After a day in the summer or in the water, you will need a quiet place to return and relax. Our spacious casitas offer both privacy and comfort. Don’t forget the made-to-order breakfast in the morning and warm cookies in the afternoon! Plan your beach getaway now.
Remember, for any information about a beach visit, just ask at the front desk of The Eagle Inn. As residents of the area, we not only know the ins and outs of visiting the beaches, we love sharing that information with you.