Strolling the beach in Santa Barbara feels as exotic as any tropical locale.

Strolling the beach in Santa Barbara feels as exotic as any tropical locale.

Lately, loads of folks have been asking me for recommendations for the perfect spring break getaway. The criteria is simple: Sun. And warmth. (Considering that northern California had 20 days of rain in March and it’s still snowing on the east coast, it’s easy to see why.)

Well, I’ve got the answer: Santa Barbara. And the explanation is simple: Thanks to a “banana belt” climate caused by warm air currents, Santa Barbara gets an average of 300 days of sunshine a year. Yep, that means just 65 days a year when it’s NOT sunny, folks! And of course warm weather + beach = lots and lots of outdoor activities await.

Here’s a sampling of the outdoor fun to be had in Santa Barbara:

1.  Peddle the beachfront boardwalk. Rent a beach cruiser or deuce coupe from Wheel Fun Rentals, with two convenient locations right on the boardwalk. Whether you want a two-person or four-person cruiser, or serious road bikes for an all-day ride, they’ve got what you need, helmets included.

We did both; one day we took a coupe for a leisurely peddle down the beachfront, then the next we took cruisers and ventured south past the spectacular Biltmore Hotel and on to quiet Montecito Beach, where we had the waves almost to ourselves.


2. Stay in a beachfront hotel with palm groves and a fabulous pool.Hotel Oceana (pictured in the collage above and to the left) has everything you — or your kids — could want, from a free breakfast complete with waffles, to a rack full of beach cruisers available free for the taking. The bougainvilla-bedecked garden includes several patio areas for picnicking and a huge kidney-shaped pool with a bubbling hot jacuzzi to soothe your sore muscles after a day of climbing cliffs with no gears.

The daily catch

3. Eat fresh-caught crab or lobster right off the boat. At the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, in a nondescript shack at the very end of the municipal pier, you choose your lunch or dinner from amongst the fat and happy crabs swimming around in a tank and watch them boil it right up for you. Not for the faint of heart, but the freshness can’t be beat.

4. Kayak the harbor. Kayaks are for rent on the wharf just past where you catch the water taxi. Santa Barbara Kayak Company has ocean kayaks, hobies, and paddle boards too. Newbies can paddle around amongst the yachts and stay sheltered, while the more adventurous can venture out to the open water, where sea lion and dolphin sightings are common.

There’s another reason why Santa Barbara’s perfect for active travelers: The city has made a major commitment to going car-free, with bike lanes all over town and a free shuttle between the beach and downtown that lets you bring bikes onboard. A website, Car-Free Santa Barbara, makes it easy to access all transportation options and figure out how to get wherever you need to go. So you can park your car at your hotel and not use it again the entire time you’re here. Given how car-dependent most of California is, this really sets Santa Barbara apart.