Whenever I arrive somewhere new, I like to go walking and exploring with my family to help us get our bearings. Especially if the getting there took some time in a car or plane. The drive from San Francisco to Santa Barbara is a little less than 6 hours - long but doable for a traveling family. Picturesque and pedestrian-friendly, Santa Barbara is a great place to park the car and get some fresh air while seeing the town.
Santa Barbara is known for its architecture. Some buildings are old, dating back to the Spanish settlers of the late 1700s, but plenty is new. An earthquake in 1925 leveled much of the city. Much of what you see today is what grew in the quake’s aftermath. State Street is where most of the downtown action is. Visitors can shop and eat their way to the water without much effort or thought. But knowing just a few twists and turns can lead to fun discoveries kids and parents will enjoy.
The self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour does all the homework for you. All you have to do is lace up your shoes and get going. If you’ve got little ones along, put them in the stroller and get rolling, the route is flat and family-friendly. The tour introduces you to 22 architectural and historic landmarks in a compact 12 block span of downtown.
The best part is you set the pace. If you’re the only one up and looking to stretch your legs while the rest of the family is still curled up in bed, you can cover the whole shebang in less than an hour. Linger longer at some of the locations that are open to the public and it could easily fill the time between breakfast and lunch.
You can print the one page Red Tile Walking Tour before you leave home. If you forget, just ask at your hotel, there’s a good chance they’ll have copies on hand. If you’ve got 15 minutes to spare, watch the Beyond the Rooftops podcast narrated by John O’Hurley, perhaps best recognized as Seinfeld character J. Peterman. It’s much more descriptive and detailed than its paper counterpart.
The first stop is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Take the stairs or elevator up the 80 foot clock tower to enjoy the views, but don’t miss the buildings hand painted murals and stenciled ceilings.
Some of the other family-friendly stops worth highlighting:
La Arcada Plaza is the only place in town where you can shop and sit a spell with Benjamin Franklin. Kids will love the turtles that call the Plaza’s fountain home and the bright red, British style phone booth makes for a great picture.
Next to City Hall, in the now colorful Plaza De la Guerra was once a bull ring. Presidio Avenue is the oldest street in Santa Barbara. Halfway down the block, the Presidio Gardens is a great place to stop and have a snack or let the kids run off some steam.
Get a quick workout, learn a little history and still have time for a dip in the pool. You can keep enjoying the Red Tile Roofs while wet at the Canary Hotel’s rooftop pool and maybe even sneak in a nap before dinner at a destination you discovered on your tour.
Dana received complimentary accommodations for one night at the Canary Hotel during her stay in Santa Barbara, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.