Travel Planning

Take Me Away: Planning a Family Weekend in Santa Barbara

*Last updated on April 30th, 2017 at 01:02 pm

I have a serious case of wanderlust, but we’ve already budgeted our vacation days for the year so I have to be creative within the confines of weekends and holidays.

Memorial Day then becomes the next opportunity to take a 3 day weekend without dipping into precious vacation days and just happens to be the week of my birthday! Happy Birthday to me 🙂

My trip planning philosophy is to start by booking the biggest expense (either airfare, lodging, or cruise) and then fill in the details. Following this philosophy, I’ve booked an airbnb condo for 3 nights in Goleta just blocks away from UCSB.

(ps. if you haven’t tried airbnb I absolutely recommend them. We’ve used airbnb 12 times, including a month long stay while our home was being renovated, and have never had a bad experience. Use my referral link for $40 off your first stay.)

Here are some things I want to do during our visit to Santa Barbara:

Channel Islands National Park

Called the “Galapagos of North America” these 5 islands can be accessed by boat or air and are supposed to be stunning and incredibly remote considering their location in bustling Southern California. Choosing an island to visit is no easy decision, and depends a lot on how much time you have, season, and what your goals are.

San Miguel immediately caught my fancy as it is the most remote island and is full of wildlife, but Island Packers is only offering one day trip this year and it’s in October. There are several camping trips offered per year and I’m kicking around the idea of booking one, but that would require carrying all our gear and water, something we haven’t attempted with the kids yet.

San Miguel
Photo by flickr user Pacific Southwest Region USFWS, CC 2.0

After that I moved on to wanting to kayak through the Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island, but ultimately abandoned this since they recommend everyone be an experienced sea kayaker and strong swimmer. I should probably not forget that this is supposed to be a kid friendly weekend!

Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island
Picture by flickr user daveynin. CC 2.0

After this I kept looking at Santa Cruz Island and ultimately booked a boat ride there that docks at Scorpion Anchorage. Here’s why:

  1. Scorpion Anchorage has potable water which is pretty rare on the Channel Islands and makes for a much easier trip with the kids.
  2. There are several hiking options ranging from easy to difficult and there’s even a free guided tour of the Cavern Point Trail.
  3. There are spots to swim and snorkel as well as beaches for the kids to play.
  4. Santa Cruz is the biggest island in California, I’m hoping that will provide the guests an opportunity to spread out and it won’t feel crowded.
  5. The boat ride is only an hour each way, minimizing the chances one of the kids will get sick.

The boat ride which I booked through Island Packers was $59 round trip for adults and $41 for kids 3-12 years old. Babies 2 and under are free, so we are getting one free ride, the best part of traveling with little tiny people!

Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island
Picture by flickr user John Loo. CC 2.0 I can’t wait to get here and start exploring!


Old Mission Santa Barbara

I’ve set myself the goal of visiting every one of the 21 California Missions so of course the Old Mission Santa Barbara is on my itinerary! Every Saturday at 10:30 am they have a 1 hour guided tour ($13/adults, $8/youth 5-17, kids 4 and under free) or you can take a self-guided tour any time during visiting hours.

We are going to aim for the guided tour, and I need to decide what is the best quiet toy is for the kids. Maybe PlayDoh in the stroller?

Old Santa Barbara Mission
Picture by flickr user Chris Brown. CC 2.0

I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival

This festival is specific to the weekend we will be visiting, street painters will turn the Mission plaza into a vibrant canvas. The festival is free, but raises money through sponsorships for the Children’s Creative Project. Considering it is happening right outside the Old Mission, we’re sure to check it out!

Street Painter at Work in Santa Barbara
Picture by flickr user Ricardo Diaz. CC 2.0

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

With 5.5 miles of walking trails featuring Redwoods, a historic aqueduct, a Japanese Tea House, views of the Santa Ynez mountains, views of the Channel islands, and over 1000 different types of plants, the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens just seem like a nice spot to spend a relaxing afternoon. I wish the Japanese Tea House were going to be open, but that’s only the second Saturday of each month. Entrance fee will be $12/adults, $8/children 13-17, and $6/children 2-12.

Picture by flickr user dailymatador. CC 2.0 No derivatives allowed.


Goleta Beach Park

We can’t make the drive down without visiting the beach! While Santa Barbara has a lot of beach to offer, this one is catching my eye because it is close to our rental and has a playground.

Goleta Beach Park
Picture by flickr user Damian Gadal. CC 2.0


Shoreline Park

This looks like a nice walk along the beach to take in some of the Santa Barbara sights. I’m thinking this might be a good place to pick up dinner and eat after our day on Santa Cruz Island. I’m assuming that we’ll be so tired plopping down in the sand to watch the sunset will hit the spot!

Shoreline Park Santa Barbara
Picture by flickr user Doc Searls. CC 2.0


We’ll be there for 2.5 days (Saturday, Sunday, Monday morning) and I think this is enough to keep us busy but still allow for some R&R. Is there anything we must experience that I left off the list? Anywhere we just have to eat? I’ve got my eye on Los Agaves and Tupelo Junction Cafe.

What do you think?