California is synonymous with sunshine, towering palms, scenic highways and stunning coastline – all 840 miles of it. While we love every inch of sand and sea, some of our favorite beaches are clustered in Santa Barbara (aka the ‘American Riviera’) and nearby communities of Montecito and Carpinteria. Enjoy this sun-soaked guide to the best Santa Barbara beaches worth traveling for:
Butterfly Beach, Montecito
Possibly our favorite, Butterfly Beach, named after the monarch butterflies that once inhabited the native grasses here, sits just across the street from the super chic Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. Watch for celebrities going incognito strolling along the bougainvillea-lined promenade, with their furry friends. Dogs are not only welcome but allowed to run leash free. The calm waters make this a perfect beach for swimming.
Insider’s Tip: Butterfly Beach faces west, making for a truly spectacular sunset.
Miramar Beach, Montecito
Although it moonlights as private property (it’s not), this intimate, tucked-away beach overlooks the gorgeous Rosewood Miramar Beach and borders an upscale residential neighborhood. Ideal for swimming, Miramar Beach is also a walker’s dream. Walk to the west and find Hammonds Beach, popular among surfers, and Hammonds Meadow Trail, fringed with bougainvillea; or head east to check out the million-dollar beachfront homes at Fernald Point. Dogs are welcome – but must be leashed.
Insider’s Tip: Oprah, Ellen, Harry and Meghan are just a few of the celebs who call Montecito home.
One of Santa Barbara’s best-known beaches, this 1.6-mile stretch of sand runs east from Stearns Wharf and is a favorite spot for volleyball – major tournaments are held throughout the year. The calm waters also make this a popular beach for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking (rental equipment is available), as well as cycling along the scenic bike-to-sea path.
Insider’s Tip: Watch for tarballs, the result of the oil released from natural offshore seeps. Baby wipes do wonders to get them off the feet.
Also part of the ‘downtown’ waterfront area, Leadbetter is a curving slice of soft white sand that’s perfect for sunbathing and hanging out. Dramatic cliffs shelter the western end of the beach, where you can watch beginner surfers practice the art of catching waves. It’s also fun to watch the joggers, cyclists, and students; the beach is located close to Santa Barbara City College.
Insider’s Tip: Walk up to Shoreline Park and follow the paved path for a birds-eye view of the Channel Islands.
Carpinteria City Beach
Gently sloped and with its laid-back vibe, the beach is perfect for long strolls and fun gatherings. There are restrooms, showers, and picnic tables, and the quirky beach town of Carpinteria has cute snack shacks and cafes. Stroll to the neighboring Carpinteria State Beach for picturesque views from bluffs overlooking the ocean.
Insider’s Tip: For the ultimate hike, keep going to the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary, home to 100 adult seals who give birth to their cubs here every spring.
Arroyo Burro Beach County Park (Hendry’s Beach)
Arroyo Burro Beach, aka “Hendry’s Beach,” is a local’s favorite – especially with dog owners. Head left to let furry friends run free; go right and keep leashed. Other frequent mammal sightings include dolphins, seals, and whales. So keep an eye out.
Insider’s Tip: Bathe Fido at the self-serve dog-washing station in the parking lot.
Mesa Lane Beach
Locals – and especially surfers – love the wild feel of Mesa Lane. Set in a quiet residential area (tourists have no idea it is here) the entrance to this narrow beach is via a steep flight of steps, then a pathway lined with bougainvillea. Although never crowded, surfers carrying their boards, flock here when the swell picks up. Rugged cliffs provide protection from the wind, adding to the feeling of privacy and seclusion.
Insider’s Tip: For walking or sunbathing, be sure to visit during low tide as the shoreline (and staircase) practically disappear at high tide.
Meet the Author
Longtime luxury travel, spa, and wellness writer, Shari Mycek has circumnavigated the globe, traveling to 65 countries in her search to unveil – and indulge in – the latest massage, steam-and-sauna circuit, facial and energy treatment (it’s a tough job but someone has to do it. A regular Travel Curator contributor, Shari’s byline has also appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, The Robb Report, Travel Curator, Travel & Leisure, Spa Magazine, MSNBC, Elite Traveler, and Town & Country. When not on a flight/the massage table/pounding the keyboard, you’ll find Shari enjoying time by the sea, practicing yoga, and making smoothies. Check out her Instagram and Linkedin more of her adventures in wanderlust.