We stopped for two nights outside of Santa Barbara on our road trip down the coast of California with our three kids ages 4 and under. This was part of our 4 day trip from Sonoma to San Diego. We made stops at Stanford University, Carmel-by-the-Sea and finally Santa Barbara.
I didn’t know much about Santa Barbara before stopping there. I underestimated how big the city really was. It was quite the opposite of the teeny-tiny little town of Carmel several hours drive north. The scenery in Santa Barbara was quite beautiful, along with the weather and the architecture. So many of the buildings are bright white which makes it feel very beachy and relaxed.
While we spent two nights outside of Santa Barbara, we really only spent about 24 hours in the city itself due to some logistics constraints and some very worn-out kids and parents (lots of driving time in the car).
Beach Playground and East Beach Tacos
We centered our 24 hours in Santa Barbara around tacos and a bike ride along the beach. Our first stop was a low key place called East Beach Tacos. It is a small taco stand with some outdoor seating next to a batting cage. An awesome spot if you have the flexibility to do both. The surroundings are nothing fancy, but there is such a fun and relaxed vibe here with everyone seemingly friendly with their neighbors. I had a very nice conversation with the people in line next to me with a lot of good tips about which tacos to order.
I grabbed our tacos to go, while Sebastian stayed in the car with the kids. We drove down to a parking lot (Cabrillo Blvd Parking) right on the beach next to a playground. It was the perfect spot for the kids to play. It was desperately needed after being in the car for so many hours. We got to eat our tacos mostly uninterrupted while watching the kids play as the sun was setting around us. We barely convinced them to eat the fried tortilla chips. They were so eager to move their bodies.
Riding Bikes on the Beach
The next day we rented bikes and went for a bike ride on the boardwalk along the beach. Despite the bike rental place being just a block from the boardwalk and bringing the two older boys’ (4 and 2) bikes with us, it turned out to be quite challenging. Parking, renting adult bikes with a baby seat and helmet, getting sunscreen on everyone on a hot and sunny day, and making the one block ride and crossing the big street was exhausting. We hadn’t even started our ride yet.
Both of the older two kids had meltdowns within the first few minutes of the bike ride. They are typically great on their bikes, but they were exhausted, in a new place, and it was hot. We made the best of it with a nice long break in the shade and some one-on-one rides with the oldest who had more energy than the younger two.
Without covering much bike path ground we wrapped up the trip and returned the bikes. I sprung for a huge bowl of fresh fruit being sold at a vendor stand at the beach. We feasted on the juicy fruit on our way to find more tacos.
The Taco Trail
In Santa Barbara there is something call The Taco Trail, which is about two dozen taco places on two streets, Milpas and Haley. Milpas goes directly down to the water and Haley crosses Milpas about 10 blocks up from the beach.
One of the most famous taco places on The Taco Trail is La Super Rica Taqueria on Milpas street. It is a mile up the road from East Beach Tacos which we ate at the first night.
Julia Child who was born in Southern California, moved to Santa Barbara in her early 80’s. She said that Super Rica Taqueria was her favorite spot to eat in Santa Barbara. This got a lot of media attention and is likely why so many flock to the restaurant (us included). When we set out for tacos it was at an off hour so we thought we’d give it a shot and hope for shorter lines.
La Super Rica Taqueria is also a very low-key place but with indoor seating as well as outdoor picnic options. Julia Child, the online reviews, and the enthusiastic customer next to us convinced us that even though we were flat out wiped, it was worth the wait. And it was.
Everyone there was super friendly and upbeat. We ordered a number of tacos, all of which were excellent. My favorite was the Super Rica Especial (also recommended by the person in front of us who was lovely to chat with). Waiting in line for tacos in Santa Barbara seems to make people happy.
Chili peppers, cheese, and marinated pork were all heaped onto warm, freshly made tortillas. The kitchen is small and open to the ordering counter. You can see them scooping small mounds of fluffy white tortilla dough onto a tortilla press to make a tortilla, and tossing them on the griddle.
We ended our trip here on a high note. The tacos were so good, and the experience so fun that we felt satisfied with our time in this city. I would certainly love to go back to Santa Barbara, but I’d likely want to go just with Sebastian or on a girls’ trip, or when the boys are older. I think we’d get more out of the restaurant scene and walking around window shopping, etc. if we had a little more flexibility to do so at a leisurely pace (i.e. without little kids).
Even with some challenges, spending 24 hours in Santa Barbara with little kids was a success and definitely wet our appetite to want to see more on the “central coast” as I learned it is called. I loved the architecture, the food, and the natural beauty and would love a chance to go back.
24 Hours in Santa Barbara with Little Kids
Things to Do:
- Taco Trail
- La Super Rica Taqueria (order the Super Rica Especial)
- East Beach Tacos (take the tacos down to the beach)
- Check out the many other taco options on Milpas/Haley
- Bike Ride on the Boardwalk
- Playground at the Beach (Cabrillo Blvd Parking near Reunion Kitchen & Drink)
- Public restrooms are available