Every year, our daycare provider takes one week of vacation in the summer. I don’t know how she survives the other 51 weeks of the year with small children underfoot from 7am – 5:30pm. She is certainly deserving of this time off and it gives us an incentive to plan a family vacation at the same time. In 2015, we went to Hawaii; in 2016, we went to the Bay Area; and this year, we went to Santa Barbara. The last time Dan and I spent any time in Santa Barbara was nearly eight years ago, just a few months after we started dating, so we were due for a return. Many of our friends have recently taken their young kids to Santa Barbara and so they shared with us all of the fun things to do there with kiddos in tow.
We rented a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Carpinteria and spent three nights and four days in the Santa Barbara area doing a lot of kid activities – and a few grown-up ones (wine tasting!). The house that we rented was beautiful and perfect for our family of four. For the first time ever, the girls shared a bedroom – and Lillian even slept through the night! In the evenings, after the girls went to bed, Dan and I sat by the fire or in the hot tub or just took in the sunset views from the front porch.
Day 1: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center & Stearns Wharf
After settling into our rental house, we visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Sea Center on Stearns Wharf. This was a small, interactive museum/science center and the girls had a blast exploring, feeding and petting sharks, touching sea life, reading, and digging for life on the ocean floor.
We walked to the end of the pier and then ate a yummy, but hectic, dinner before returning to our home base.
Day 2: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History & Wine Tasting
After visiting the Sea Center the day before, we now had to visit the main natural history museum. The girls played outside in a dry creek, looked for bugs, built a tepee, viewed the exhibits, colored, and explored the bones and belly of “Chad,” their blue whale.
Lillian napped a little bit at the museum, but Vivian waited until she was in the truck before falling asleep. She was so exhausted that after we arrived at a restaurant for lunch, I was able to get her out of her carseat and into the stroller where she spent our entire lunchtime continuing to sleep!
On our drive back south to Carpinteria, we stopped at Trader Joe’s in Santa Barbara and picked up groceries to make dinner back at our rental house. We were all tired and hungry and anxious to relax “at home.”
Day 3: Amtrak Train Ride, MOXI Science Center, & Chase Palm Park
I came up with the idea to take the girls on the Amtrak train that hugs the Pacific Ocean coastline. We were staying near Carpinteria, so I planned for us to board the train there and ride it one stop north to Santa Barbara (only a 15 minute ride). The traffic along the highway between these two cities is pretty congested, so instead of sitting in it, I theorized that we could enjoy our time on a quick train ride. Except that the train was over 30 minutes late. And the tickets were pretty expensive (way more than gas and parking). And then the train was 30 minutes late on the return trip. And the train was crowded with some annoying/sketchy people. So…um…not the best adventure. But one we’ll remember, for sure!
Once we disembarked in downtown Santa Barbara, we only had to walk across the tracks to get to our first destination of the day: MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. This is a new, interactive museum that our friends hadn’t been to yet, but other travelers and locals had recommended while we were exploring the area during the previous two days. The girls loved playing, jumping, splashing, walking, creating, and, well, exploring and innovating.
This time, after we’d spent the morning in the museum, Lillian fell fast asleep in the stroller and slept through lunch. Dan and I were excited to have two lunches in a row, each with a 50% reduction in fussing/whining/talking/noise.
After lunch, we walked to Chase Palm Park Center. Vivian played on the playground, we watched the ducks and turtles, and we took a family ride on the carousal.
We grabbed ice cream on the pier and then took the train back to Carpinteria for “a night to remember” (leftovers).
Day 4: Santa Barbara Zoo
Before heading back to Orange County, we drove into Santa Barbara for the last time and visited the Santa Barbara Zoo. This was a beautiful, not-too-big zoo and the girls had fun seeing the animals, feeding the giraffes, playing, and riding the train.
As you can see from that last picture, by the time we boarded the train (after it was offline for awhile due to mechanical issues) some of us were done with the zoo. Well, maybe we all were, but everyone over the age of two managed to keep it mostly together until we got to the truck. As soon as we got to the truck, the girls fell fast asleep. We had yet another fun, active, memorable family vacation. I highly recommend Santa Barbara as a family getaway if you have young children!