Skip to main content

Walnut Creek Magazine

Family Fun in Santa Barbara

Sep 26, 2018 12:53PM ● By Fran Miller

The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort


Known as 'The American Riviera,’ Santa Barbara’s elegant aura conjures images of glamour and romance. And while this seaside enclave indeed offers the perfect environment for a romantic couples’ getaway, Santa Barbara is also ideally suited for family fun. From expansive beachfront resorts with amenities galore, to beloved ice cream shops, to parks and zoos, Santa Barbara – with its year round temperate climate - has everything a family could want in a seaside getaway. And that glamour? It can't be helped; it simply comes with the territory: 


Fronting a full beachfront block, the AAA Four Diamond Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort (pictured above, right, and below) encompasses 24 palm-lined acres that beg for child-like exploration. Formerly The Fess Parker Hotel by Doubletree, Hilton has rebranded the iconic Mission-inspired retreat with fresh coastal design elements in hues that echo sand and sea. Guest rooms and suites feature views of either the ocean, mountains, or lush gardens and nearly all have furnished patios or balconies. The large swimming pool, small putting green, shuffleboard court, corn hole game, and tennis courts keep the young’uns busy as parents relax with a complimentary glass of wine (included in the resort fee) or fit-in a workout at the state-of-the-art fitness center. The expansive emerald green lawn is the perfect spot for a game of tag or hide-n-seek. (Stow away behind one of dozens of swaying palms.) Head to the rooftop of the resort’s striking Plaza del Sol (site of many a wedding) for exquisite ocean views, and stage a family photo by the sand-adjacent, succulent-filled fountain.

Refuel at one of the many family-friendly on-site restaurants: The Roundhouse serves a bountiful breakfast buffet, Java Del Mar provides grab and go coffee and snacks, The Set (the resort’s lobby bar) serves American bistro fare - with a side of spectacular sunsets – and Rodney’s Grill provides destination-worthy, locally sourced cuisine.  


While the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort offers more than enough activity to keep the fam entertained, a few family oriented spots and activities not to be missed include:

The Santa Barbara Zoo: Home to more than 500 animals, this zoo-with-a-view covers 30 acres near the waterfront. The California Trails Exhibit features threatened and endangered California natives such as the spectacular California condor. Accent the visit by listening to the Santa Barbara Zoo’s podcast, Zoological Radio, for wild and wacky animal stories. 

Stearns Wharf: Walk towards the end of the West Coast’s oldest operating wharf for dazzling views of the coastline and Santa Ynez Mountains, and to find a beachside staple – salt water taffy. Search for the perfect souvenir at one of several eclectic boutiques.  

Spark curious young minds at Moxi, the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. (above) This 17,000 square foot, highly interactive museum is dedicated to sound, tech, speed, light, and color. Step inside a giant guitar to experience how sound waves work; take a digital portrait and pixelate it with wildlife images, and perform your own Foley artistry in a sound-proof recording booth. Head to theLEED Gold-Certified building’s spectacular rooftop Sky Garden for panoramic views of the city, surrounding mountains, and ocean.

For those California visitors travelling with fourth graders, or for anyone who has ever read Island of the Blue Dolphins, don’t miss a visit to Old Mission Santa Barbara. (above) The gaggle of nine and ten years olds who’ve selected this mission for their fourth grade California Mission Project need to see first-hand the distinctive bell towers and beauty of the “Queen of the Missions.” And fans of the touching Scott O’Dell novel will be moved by the gravesite of the young Native American woman who inspired the story.

Hit the picturesque 4.5-mile Cabrillo Bike Path on wheels. Rent a bike for each family member, or pile into a canopied surrey where the pedal power is supplied by all. Wheel Fun Rentals operates out of three locations, including your Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort home base, and offers a multitude of two and four-wheeled choices. 

One of Santa Barbara’s most beloved exports is McConnell’s ice cream. Three Santa Barbara locations serve-up the good stuff, including a new outpost on lower State St. in the bohemian Funk Zone, walking distance from the Hilton. For something a little lighter, head to ParadICE at The Paseo Nuevo Mall at mid State St. to try authentic Hawaiian powder soft shaved ice drenched in homemade syrups of purified water, organic sugar, fruit purees, and concentrates. (Include a scoop of ice cream on the bottom for added decadence.) 

And worry not if you can’t fit it all of this into one visit. Santa Barbara, though seemingly a world away, is a mere five-hour drive from the East Bay, making repeat visits “a cinch,” as the kids would say.

Photos provided by Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort and Visit Santa Barbara.

For more Santa Barbara information and activity ideas, visit
Sign Up for our newsletter. Get the latest news, events & adventures delivered to your inbox every week.
Social Media
Best spots for food, booze, and fun.
WCM Weekly Brief 2023 Newsletter Archive