Santa Barbara is truly a gem on the California coast. The small beach town has the SoCal lifestyle and feel, along with beautiful mountains and clean beaches that are so familiar with Central California. Blue ocean, beautiful wildlife and secluded beaches make paddle boarding Santa Barbara a must do for any avid adventurer.
We’ve compiled a list of the top 5 places for paddle boarding Santa Barbara to inspire your next getaway.
#1 - Stearns Wharf
Located in the epicenter of downtown Santa Barbara is the famous Stearns Wharf pier. The pier is at the very bottom of Santa Barbara’s busiest street: State St, and stretches a ½ mile out into the ocean. Famous for its world class restaurants, sea aquarium and fisherman, Stearns Wharf is a lively environment both on land and underwater.
The wharf is also a great spot for paddle boarding Santa Barbara. When out in the water at Stearns wharf you will get the best view of downtown Santa Barbara that there is to offer, with Santa Barbara’s mountain coastline perfectly be situated in the background.
Underneath the pier, which is actually high and wide enough for paddleboarders to easily “shoot the pier” and paddle underneath, is a vibrant sea life. Lots of cool barnacles and mussels have made their home on the wooden pier over time, which makes for an awesome crustacean environment. You are almost guaranteed to see both seals and otters by the wharf and if you’re lucky you may even see a pod of dolphins in the summer!
After paddle boarding Stearns Wharf, and once back on land, drive onto the pier and check out the attractions offered right above where you just paddled. The sea aquarium is an awesome little aquarium full of fish native to the Santa Barbara coastline, many of which you probably paddled over! End your day having dinner out on the pier at one of the famous seafood restaurants situated on the waterfront.
#2 - Campus Point Marine Conservation
Just around the corner from UCSB’s campus in Goleta is a world renowned marine conservation that’s open to the public. With close connections to University of California Santa Barbara’s environmental research program, this protected coastline has extremely diverse and abundant sea life. A lot of this area is undeveloped and paddle boarding around this peninsula will offer great views of how California must have looked hundreds of years ago.
The best time to visit this area is during the summer, when school is out of session. This preserve is located on UCSB’s campus and the waters in this area can be full of surfers during the school year. If you visit during the summer it is common you can enjoy the whole coastline to yourself or merely one or two others.
Although not prominent, this area is subject to large levels of algae growth. Be weary of kelp and seagrass that may prohibit your SUP’s movement. There should be ample room to paddle around and observe these kelp environments from afar. Another thing to watch out for is natural oil rising from the sea level in this area. The beaches along this coastline will have some tar accumulating from oil that has been naturally excreted from the earth.
#3 - Butterfly Beach
Montecito is renowned for having the prettiest beaches in Santa Barbara, and butterfly beach might just take the cake. Just south of downtown and located right near the luxurious Rosewood Miramar Hotel is this gorgeous sandy beach perfect for summer beach days and stand up paddle boarding.
Butterfly beach will occasionally get 3-4 ft waves so it’s important to be careful when launching your paddle board at this beach. Try and launch in between sets and once you are fairly far into the water. If difficult, use your paddleboard like a surfboard and paddle on your stomach until out of the breaking waves.
Start at butterfly beach and begin paddling south and you will be able to see the beautiful Hammonds Reef underneath your board if water visibility cooperates. Many of the houses on this paddle will provide great viewing pleasure too, Montecito is known for its luxurious mansion side beach homes.
#4 - Seven Falls (hike)
A bit unorthodox of a paddle boarding location, but that's what makes this spot special! Seven falls is a 2.5 mile looped hike into Santa Barbara’s mountains. The hike is called seven falls/3 pools because during winter and spring months rain and natural river water accumulate in streaks of miniature lakes like a chocolate fountain.
To reach this oasis you will need to have an inflatable paddle board and an inflatable backpack. The hike has a bit of an elevation gain, and tight corners so holding and dragging your paddle board up to the top is near impossible without our iSUP backpack.
Although these miniature lakes aren’t that big, nothing beats paddle boarding in the middle of a national forest and on top of a mountain. Spend the day at the top of this hike, pack some lunch and even bring your dog!
#5 - Goleta Pier
Just south of UCSB’s campus and right next to Santa Barbara Airport is Goleta Pier, a buzzing, endless summer beach location. What makes this paddle boarding spot round up our list is its infectious summer spirit. During the warmer months Goleta Pier will play host to many beach days for local families and watersport enthusiasts alike.
Launching your paddle board here won’t be an issue, as the ocean around the pier remains relatively calm year-round. Although water visibility in this area is not the clearest, the environment and beach stoke at this beach is unbeatable. If you’re looking for a good all around beach environment to paddle board then Goleta Pier is a must. Paddle south to have great views of the vast cliffs that surround Santa Barbara’s northern landscape, or paddle north to have a view of UCSB's campus from the water. After your paddle, make your way onto the pier and watch fisherman, or jump off the pier if you’re brave enough!
Now that you’ve learned all about paddle boarding Santa Barbara, it’s time to make your trip a reality!