As if Santa Barbara’s culture and architecture aren’t enough to make you swoon, its beaches equally span the picturesque and timeless spectrums.

Known as The American Riviera, Santa Barbara is one of those multifaceted landscapes that sunny dreams are made of. Its mountain-meets-beach vibe with an upscale State Street spine satisfies any outdoor-loving appetite.

When it comes to beaches, there is truly something for everyone and – in so many pet-friendly spots – every dog, too. From secluded escapes to central, flat white sands to a quirky destination named after Santa Claus, there is a beach for you in this Coastal California gem. Here are the best ones (in alphabetical order). 

Children and their dogs enjoy the surf at Hendry's Beach, Santa Barbara, CA
Every member of the family is welcome at Hendry's Beach © csfotoimages / Getty Images

Arroyo Burro Beach County Park / Hendry’s Beach is the top destination for dog lovers

Humans aren’t the only ones who love to play around in the sand. Situated five miles west of downtown Santa Barbara, this white sand, 14-acre beach is accented with towering palms and ridges. It is most renowned for being a local haven for dog lovers and their four-legged friends. Within Arroyo Burro Beach County Park – and all Santa Barbara County Parks – dogs must be leashed. However, just east and across the creek in the Douglas Family Reserve (walkable on the beach!), pups may be off-leash and you can see just how euphoric they get, rolling in the sand and frolicking in the waves. 

Pre- or post-beach, hit the adjacent Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach seafood restaurant for vast ocean views and a killer homemade crab cake with a chipotle hollandaise sauce. And, yes, its patio is pet friendly.

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

Laidback and lovely Butterfly Beach is a local favorite

Ask any native what their favorite beach is, and Butterfly Beach will be right up there. Tucked minutes east of Santa Barbara and within the super-posh confines of Montecito, this laid-back, simple, facility-free spot is primed for sunbathing, calmer ocean swims and taking in spectacular sunsets. Pro-tip: on weekends especially, parking can be tricky to find. There is a bike path from Stearns Wharf east along the water to Butterfly Park, so if you’re looking to rent a bike and hit Butterfly Beach during your trip, pair them together for a tranquil and seamless journey.

Rocky beach near Goleta at Gaviota Beach state park on the central coast of California United States
Head to Goleta Beach County Park for a number of great fishing opportunities © htrnr / Getty Images

Fishing fans should head straight to Goleta Beach County Park

For fishing in Santa Barbara, booking a fishing excursion or renting/chartering a boat are always solid options. For a less formal affair – that’s free, open to the public and doesn’t require a fishing license - you can grab gear and head to the 1,450-foot pier jutting into the Santa Barbara Channel at Goleta Beach County Park. Multiple types of rockfish, halibut, calico bass, crab, lobster, and octopus have been spotted in and around the pier in recent years. Back on shore, the 29-acre park is primed for family outings with volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and barbecue grills. 

Lifeguard hut on a beach against a  blue sky in Santa Barbara
Many of Santa Barbara's beaches have restroom facilities and convenient parking lots for cars © Craig Sheppard / Getty Images

Pack a picnic and spend the entire day at Leadbetter Beach

How nice it must be to go to Santa Barbara City College, stroll across Shoreline Drive and plop down on the beach whenever your heart desires. College kids aside, for generations, locals and visitors alike have flocked to this central beach for picnics on its white sands and the expansive lush lawn within Leadbetter Beach Park. With outdoor showers, a restroom facility, and a massive adjacent parking lot, this sandy haven is optimized for a day-long adventure. With cliffs just feet offshore in select areas, the winds are kept light and steady here. For newbie surfers, kite surfers or if you just want to fly a kite with the kids, this is a stellar option. 

Take a scenic road trip to Refugio State Beach

Is any trip along the California Central Coast complete without cruising up the 101 and parking it on a cliff? The answer is no. For that, head approximately 24 miles north on US-101 to Refugio State Beach and take in the turquoise waters from its confines. Within the park, there is an extensive trail network, lifeguard-led kayak tours during the summer months and reservable campsites overlooking the water. As you can likely imagine, the campsites are a hot ticket and are booked out up to six months in advance. 

A surfer in the eye of a wave off the coast of Santa Barbara
Take advantage of the nearby surf school at Padaro Beach © David Pu'u / Getty Images

Santa Claus and Padaro Beach is a hidden haven

Okay, so there is not a giant sign with a cartoon character of Ole Saint Nick here. Talk about a missed opportunity! But what you will find here is a quiet stretch of soft sand beach that’s situated minutes west of the cozy beachside community of Carpinteria. Compared to larger, acres-upon-acres beaches in the area, this one is quaint and tucked just south of the iconic US-101. Parking is limited to street options along the awesomely named Santa Claus Lane. For beach goodies or a reprieve, the Surf Happens Surf School, Garden Market grocery store and Padaro Beach Grill are all there. Cozy and relaxed are the keywords here. 

Dive into the heart of the action on West Beach

In the battle of West versus East in Santa Barbara beaches, West Beach takes home the gold. Adjacent to the Stearns Wharf Pier, this is the beach that will have you falling in love with The American Riviera. Boutique hotels and classic condos line the parallel Cabrillo Boulevard, as joggers and bikers zoom by on the nearby paths. From your spot on the beach – which may be under a rented umbrella or cabana – you can watch boats dock at Santa Barbara Harbor, volleyball players duke it out or kids play in the calm water. When your day at the beach is done, the refined State Street and the edgy-meets-refined Funk Zone are right there and within a few blocks.

You might also like:

Sights and sweets along the California coast
Adventures in California’s San Luis Obispo County
Why this 60-year-old California motel is having a new lease of life

Explore related stories

NOTO, ITALY - AUGUST 31: Chiara Ferragni and Fedez attend the pre wedding party on August 31, 2018 in Noto, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Lavenia/GC Images)


From Italian lakes to Irish castles: 11 top celebrity wedding destinations

Jan 15, 2024 • 7 min read