Just about two hours north of Los Angeles, along the golden coast of California, Santa Barbara is the ideal location to rejuvenate your body, refresh your spirit, and relax your mind. From the moment you arrive, the natural sense of calm and ease of the city will make you feel at home.
Many locals embrace the laid back lifestyle, and soon you too will find all your stress and worries melting away as you embrace the beauty of the natural surroundings and delicious food and relaxation experiences available here.
Here are some ideas from a local about the best places to relax in Santa Barbara.
Douglas Family Preserve
The Douglas Family Preserve is a public park located above Arroyo Burro Beach along the coastal mesa. The sweeping vantage point of the mesa offers spectacular views of the ocean below. From the bluffs, you can look out to see the rich, untouched land of the Channel Islands.
In addition to the beautiful ocean scenery, this is also plenty of native greenery. The trees include Monterey pine, Monterey cypress, and coastal oaks. Additionally, there are coastal scrubs that line the trails and plenty of grass for picnicking, meditating, or taking a rest.
Within the 70-acre park, there are many relaxing activities you can do such as wildlife watching, strolling the luscious greenery, or bike riding. The park is an easy walk with little no incline, making it an accessible venture into nature for all. This area is very dog-friendly and off-leash is permitted in select areas, prompting the dogs to run happily about, adding to the sense of freedom in the fresh air.
Shoreline Park is a popular outdoor location for recreational activities. For those actively inclined, this is a great spot to walk, jog, rollerblade, and bike ride. Many local yoga studios (Yoga Soup, Yoga Dance Magic, Divini Tree) have classes here throughout the week, and you’re bound to find at least one happening every day. There’s also a playground in one area for children.
This is another great spot on our list to overlook the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. Here, unlike some other overlooks, you have the opportunity to take the stairs down to the beach. Studies have shown that being on the beach naturally lowers stress levels, and ambling alongside the ocean here is absolutely one of the best ways to unplug and relax.
If it is low tide, this area is filled with tide pools that harbor sea anemone, barnacles, muscles, sponges, and sea urchins. You may also find seashells or sand dollars. The black rocks, which you can see when the tide is low, are the perfect contrasts to the tan cliffsides, prompting aesthetics that are sure to enhance your sense of joy, as your feet sink into the cool, moist sand.
Salt Cave Santa Barbara
Salt Cave Santa Barbara is located on State Street, the heart of downtown. As you descend the stairs, you enter a majestically serene environment and feel refreshed breathing in the charged energy of the salt cave air. It actually is the largest underground crystal salt cave in North America.
Here you can experience halotherapy, an alternative therapy where salt air is breathed in order to cleanse the lungs, support the immune system, and greatly reduce stress. The microclimate of the salt cave is kept at 72 degrees with 40% humidity, infusing the air perfectly with the healing benefits of the Himalayan salt.
There are a variety of ways to enjoy the Salt Cave. One option is to book a session to simply relax on a mat on the floor or a zero-gravity reclining chair for 45 minutes with the lights dimmed and soft music playing in the background. For those seeking a bit more, there are also a variety of classes and workshops held in the cave throughout the week that also incorporate other forms of restorative healing, such as yoga, sound healing, reiki, and meditation.
You can also enjoy the benefits of an ionized spa here, which offers mineral facials and many types of massage (salt, hot stone, Swedish, deep tissues, maternity, and couples). Following the treatment, you get to spend 45 minutes relaxing in the salt caves, which bolsters your revitalization. Upon leaving, there’s plenty of in-store crafted products that will let you recreate your spa experience at home, including bath soaks, face masks, body scrubs, lip balms, and hair products.
Mission Park and Rose Garden
The Mission Park and Rose Garden is absolutely delightful to visit, especially when the 1,500 rose plants here are in full bloom from April through November. Here you can see over forty varieties of roses, which are all immaculately maintained by The Santa Barbara Rose Society. This group is dedicated to growing roses organically and holds monthly meetings for members to learn from rosarians, who are knowledgeable growers selected by The American Rose society.
And truly, this spot is absolutely breathtaking. Up on top of the hill above the roses is the Santa Barbara Mission, an iconic pink church. The ample open space in this park is perfect for outdoor get togethers with friends and family, quiet reading in the sunshine, tossing a football or kicking around a soccer ball, or simply indulging in the beauty through meditation. It’s not uncommon to see weddings happening here. It is also quite a popular spot for a picnic.
Visitors can sit in the grass, surrounded by the roses, for a sensational experience of connection to the natural world, or leisurely stroll around looking at the multitude of roses planted here. The bright colors and refreshing fragrance of the roses are stimulating to one’s senses, promoting a deep sense of relaxation.
Santa Barbara Harbor
The Santa Barbara Harbor can be quite busting at times, but if you make it past the restaurants, you will be able to take a restorative walk along the breakwater. A word to the wise, stay left because the waves often come over the walls, splashing the pavement and visitors. This invigorating walk keeps you in the present moment, as you become absorbed in the rhythmic motion of the sea. At the end of the breakwater, Sandspit beach is a wonderful place to lay out in the run, go for a swim, and watch the boats go by.
Another relaxing activity at Santa Barbara Harbor is the daily sunset cruises. The average time is about two hours, during which you’ll sail along the coast with Santa Ynez Mountains in the background. Light music playing sets the tone for an indulgent sunset over the horizon. You may even get the chance to see sea lions, dolphins, and pelicans.
For those who are seeking a more subversive ocean experience, the best way to find a deep sense of calm is to paddleboard, kayak, or canoe through the marina and into the harbor. Most days the waves are gentle, and even beginners will have little trouble navigating the waters. Out in the ocean, you’ll feel restored and revitalized. This also offers the opportunity for a more up-close look at the sea lions along the coast, who often lay out in the sun nearby.
Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden
Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden takes up an entire block in central Santa Barbara. Year round, this garden is wonderfully maintained and there’s also something in bloom. As soon as you step foot into this sanctuary, a sense of relaxation will wash over you, filling you with the sights, sounds, and smells of the bustling garden. There’s enough paths to engage in a sense of wandering as you stoll, bringing enjoyment to your walk as you decide whether to cross a small bridge or continue walking through the flora
Over 75 different types of trees and plants are resident here, and their placement makes the park feel as though it has separate “sections.” You may want to meditate on grass turf, amble through the butterfly garden, or feed the ducks at the pond where the koi fish and turtles live. You can find a self-guided tour online if you are interested in learning the different types of plants that grow here, all suited for the low-water climate of Santa Barbara.
This botanical gem is considered an inclusive sensory garden, intended for it to be accessible for visitors who are visually or physically impaired. Therefore, there is a heightened focus put on the sensual experience of these gardens: a variety of flower scents, many animal sounds, and different foliage textures of the plants cultivated here. The embodied sensation of connecting to your sense through nature is sure to bring you into the present moment and usher in feelings of ease, wellbeing, and restoration.
Downtown Community Acupuncture
Downtown Community Acupuncture (DCA) is located near Santa Barbara’s main State Street and in the vicinity of many local bed and breakfasts. While it is normally open for walk-in appointments, currently you must book online before visiting. Most of the time, you will be able to get in that day or the next without delay.
Acupuncture is a wonderful way to restore the flow of energy through your body. Even just a session or two while you are in town is enough to revitalize you. It is especially good for combating traveling fatigue, reducing physical discomfort, and boosting one’s mood. DCA’s mission is to make this healing modality affordable to all, and the very professional and caring practitioners will do a full evaluation with you before your first session where you can share exactly what result you are seeking.
During your time in acupuncture, you will be able to close your eyes and sink into a deep relaxation, or possibly even nap. The soft music playing the background will put you into a state of calmness, washing away any worries, stresses, or concerns that are on your mind. This is one of the best ways to nurture yourself through self-care and check in with your mind, body and spirit. You’ll absolutely feel lighter, happier, and refreshed after your session.
Alanna is a self-care enthusiast, who believes in the restorative power of nature. She studies eco-pscyhology to bridge the human and natural world to promote regenerative healing of the mind, body, and soul. Alanna is currently working as a content writer and enjoys spending her time hiking, meditating with nature, and discovering holistic wisdom.