mcfam's Passport


Member since:
27 May 2010

Icon_superoo_orangeSuperoo '12, '13, '14, '16

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About Me & My Family

My husband and I have 4 kids... 3 boys and then our girl. We homeschool them all and travel when possible. We just started letterboxing and are finding ourselves a little obsessed with it.
Our Family's Travel Personality
adventurous, curious, structured, relaxed, simple, independent, spontaneous, easy_going
We Just Got Back From
Point Magu State Beach
Our Favorite Vacation Spot
Camping in Kings Canyon or Yosemite
A Place We'd Love To Visit
The Redwoods in Northern California
Favorite Vacation Memory
Walking the meadows of Yosemite with my family. The quiet, the sparkling water, the rustling grasses, and a dip in the river made for an amazing day.
Worst Travel Moment With My Kids:
Anytime throw up is involved. Especially when one kid triggers another. And when we are in the car. And when they choose to use the box that is holding all their library books and toys.
Websites I Like:

Santa Barbara Fun & Vacation for Families

The sun kissed mountains and beaches of Santa Barbara are breath taking.  But what does this American Riviera have to offer families?  Activities, hotels and restaurants abound that families have found to offer fun, adventure and relaxation.  Planning your next trip to Santa Barbara?  Here is the list for you of places you should definitely check out!

Photo by: flickr/SantaBarbaraAdventureCo


202 W Cabrillo Blvd
Santa Barbara, California

A beautiful hotel with a family friendly swimming pool and waterfront access to the pedestrian and bike path, Stern's Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor.

reviewed on: April 11 2011

"Beautiful location off the waterfront"
Our trip to Santa Barbara was made complete by our stay at this beautiful hotel.  The property's location made it perfect for our family of 6 to walk to Stern's Wharf, take a family bike ride with Wheel Fun Rentals, and easily access all the activities in the harbor, including our whale watching cruise with Condor Express.

When we walked into our hotel room on the 2nd floor we were immediately pleased with the colorful decor, the laminate wood floors and the ocean view window.  The hotel is housed in an older building with a unique layout and classic tile accents, but recent updating of color and amenities such as a Keurig coffee maker, blow dryers, iPhone/Pod stereo player, and free wifi made us feel confident that our stay was going to be great.  We stayed in a deluxe king room with a sleeper sofa tucked away in a separate room with a door.  That door and separate room is the creme de la creme for families!  Bedtime was a blessing for us as we felt free to watch TV and enjoy adult conversation.  Suites and adjoining rooms are not available but because our kids are rather small (ages 2 to 10) we were able to squeeze them onto one pull out bed and a pack-n-play.  There will quickly come a day when we are no longer able to do that and our family needs will require 2 rooms at a hotel.  

The first afternoon we arrived, we headed straight for 1 of 2 pools for a swim.  It was a bit of a walk from our room to the pool with a jacuzzi.  I was surprised to see the restaurant, Sambos, stuck right amid the hotel buildings.  The yellow umbrellas, bright towels and cabana awaiting us told us we made it to the pool.  Several other families were already splashing around in the water and enjoying the hot tub.  I didn't last long in the cool, although heated water but my kids loved it.  

One of the special things that I enjoyed at Hotel Oceana was the outdoor seating areas.  In several key locations, couches, chairs and fountains are arranged amid trees and beautiful greenery.  Many have views of the ocean.  They were very inviting for sitting and relaxing while enjoying the scenery and the people I was with.  

On the morning of our visit, we saw several couples borrow the blue beach cruiser bikes from the front lobby.  They looked so fun to ride!  Each bike comes equipped with a lock and a blue "license plate" that marks it as belonging to Hotel Oceana.  Many pedestrians and bikers enjoy the palm tree lined path that follows the curve of the ocean.  Santa Barbara is the perfect place to take a bike ride.  I realized quicky, however, that our family would not be able to borrow the bikes with our young kids as only adult bikes are available.  Fortunately, Wheel Fun Rentals is about 2 blocks away and offers double and family surrey bikes that can seat up to 8 people.  We had a lot of fun joining the bikers and pedestrians on a gorgeous sunny day along the ocean.

Our family loves hotels with free breakfasts.  Hotel Oceana did not disappoint.  Muffins, fruit, meats and cheeses, hot coffee and breakfast cereals were available in the quaint patio off the front of the hotel.  Many families and guests were enjoying the food and company in the small room.  The hotel has creatively added outdoor seating on the patio which was very inviting.  A high chair was easily found for my 2 year old and we enjoyed breakfast and a newspaper.  

Bottom line: Hotel Oceana is a beautiful place to stay and is perfect for families visiting Santa Barbara.  We hope to stay here again because of it's beach front location, fun pool, and beautiful rooms and garden.

This review is based on a complimentary stay at Hotel Oceana. I received no other compensation and the business owner did not state any requirements that I express a particular point of view. The opinions I express are entirely my own.


1400 Santa Barbara Street
Santa Barbara, California

A wood structured playground filled with art and creativity. Parents may have as much fun as kids at this park.

reviewed on: June 02 2010

"Santa Barbara details"
Be sure to check out the paintings and other art forms on the wooden play structure.  My kids enjoyed seeing the recycled art section where there was an old phone stuck into the cement.  There is some beautiful art depicting scenes unique to Santa Barbara.

I learned to keep a careful eye on my children as it is easy to loose site of them amongst the tunnels and walls of this wooden play structure.  But it is a very fun place to play!


323 E. Cabrillo Boulevard
Santa Barbara, California

Across from the ocean you will find this gem of a park complete with a Shipwreck Playground, a Carousel, and beautiful walking trails.

reviewed on: June 10 2010

"big slide"
When we think of this park, we think of the shipwreck playground and the big wide slide that attracts kids of all ages.  My kids (2,6,8) played on that slide for a very long time.  There is also a creatively made "cave" which has pinpoint holes in its sides which lets in the sunlight through colored glass.  It was fascinating for our kids to explore, and for us parents too!
The path around this park is beautiful to walk and a carousel ride at the end is rewarding and relatively inexpensive.


301 West Cabrillo Boulevard
at Sea Landing Santa Barbara, California

Some of the best whale watching takes place in the Santa Barbara Channel and Condor Cruises can take your family there smoothly, safely and with docents to aid you in identifying the wildlife.

reviewed on: April 11 2011

"Perfect whale watching"
Not every day in Santa Barbara is sunny. Many days the sun is covered by fog and a cool mist. We were expecting anything as we waited in the harbor for our boat to leave. The wind was bitingly cold as we sped out into the channel and we were very glad we wore layers despite the 70 degree temperature. Next time I'm wearing a wind jacket and a hat!

Several docents introduced the group of 50 or so travelers to the map of the Santa Barbara Channel and explained why whales love to travel its waters as they migrate up and down the Pacific Ocean from their breeding grounds in Baja to Alaska. Most of the travelers were adult, so our 4 kids (ages 2-10) probably stood out to the docents as special guests. For this reason, the guides made sure to bring all their interesting information over to us and I really appreciated it! My kids saw the krill that the whales eat, models of Humpback and Grey Whales, and pieces of baleen to show them how whales eat.

The captain and staff of Condor Cruises were friendly and helpful- a top-notch operation! The boat was clean, safe for kids and beautiful. The docents who volunteered their time to introduce us to the wildlife, we saw were readily on hand and gave great information.

We traveled out into the channel towards the Channel Islands and before long we heard the captain say, "Thar she blows!" It was our first whale spotting! The boat motored quickly to the site of the Humpback Whales and we saw them shoot water out of their blow holes, swim through the water and then show us their beautiful tails as they dove down to eat more food. What an amazing site!

We saw what we thought were 30 or more whales off the coast of Santa Barbara, along with Dall's Porpoises, Common Dolphins and a Man O' War Jellyfish. It turned out to be 4 Humpback Whales that we saw over and over. All on a beautiful sunny day, with no one getting sea sick, on an amazing boat with a great staff and crew. Could it be any better than this?

My 2 year old and 4 year old gazed through the bars at the whales. They loved watching the splash of the water as our boat sped through the waves. Despite having to hold onto them so they didn't fall down the stairs of the top deck, my little ones were perfectly safe and seemed to enjoy the trip. They most enjoyed the chips I brought them to snack on the way home.

My 8 and 10 year old were fascinated with watching the whales. They took pictures, studied the whale models and moved around the boat with ease and an eagerness to see the whales and dolphins that swam by. My Lego-building son most enjoyed sitting in the galley and studying how everything fit so perfectly into a small space.

There was plenty of upper deck seating for most of the passengers although many chose to go down to the lower galley for the windy ride home. The galley was fairly large and clean and had comfortable seating. Hamburgers, snacks and a cocktail bar were available but we didn't sample any of the fare.

The Santa Barbara Channel boasts some of the best whale watching in the world. The waters are fairly calm and whales and dolphins love swimming it's rich waters. Condor Cruises was a top notch company to go whale watching with. They offer many cruise options from sunset cruises to Channel Island whale watching trips. I'm eager to go whale watching with them again!

This review is based on a complimentary whale watching cruise with Condor Express. I received no other compensation and the business owner did not state any requirements that I express a particular point of view. The opinions I express are entirely my own.


Cabrillo and State Street
Santa Barbara, California

A $0.25 bus ride takes passengers up and down State Street and along Cabrillo Blvd with ease and comfort.

reviewed on: April 07 2011

"Easy transportation"
What's not to love about a bus ride for one quarter?  My boys really loved taking this electric shuttle down Cabrillo Blvd.  We hopped on near Stearn's Wharf, dropped in our quarters in the slot (free for kids under 45") and rode down the street.  The sun shone in, the palms were swaying and the beach was eye distance away.  

We pulled the cord to signal the driver that we wanted to get off near East Beach.  He asked if we wanted to go to the zoo because it was just the next stop.  Friendly guy.  After our play on the playground at East Beach, we waited for about 15 minutes before the next bus came to take us back up the street towards our hotel on the other side of Stearn's Wharf (Hotel Oceana).  

Strollers would probably fit on this bus because there are no steps, just a sloping ramp up to the platform.  It can get crowded, however, so there may not be room.  Many locals joined us on our ride, including one who seemed a little drunk or just down on his luck.  We felt safe, however and didn't mind the company.  It was a good ride.


1118 East Cabrillo Blvd
Santa Barbara, California

Playground, showers and a grill right on beautiful East Beach.


622 North Milpas Street
Santa Barbara, California

A very popular taco stand that even Julia Child raved about.

reviewed on: April 07 2011

"Yummy fresh Mexican Food"
This is authentic Mexican food fresh from the grill and the tortilla press.  You can watch them press your tortillas and grill them next to your strip steak and grilled onions that you will be enjoying shortly.  

We were a bit overwhelmed by the menu the first time we visited La Super-Rica.  Everything looked so yummy!  We picked a quesadilla plate (kids love these always), and a number 1 and 2 taco plates.  Prices were great (about $2-3 per plate).  We were a little surprised when we got our food because our steak tacos were simply that: grilled strip steak pieces on tortillas.  Not the American version with lettuce, tomatoes and shredded cheese.  All of it was delicious... but just not enough food.  So I got back in line and ordered a bean plate and a "fajita" plate (closer to $5) so that we could have beans and grilled onions and peppers with our steak tacos.  Pico de gallo and other salsas were available to add to any plate.  A bit spicy, but very good.

We scarfed down our food on the enclosed patio.  We enjoyed seeing many other locals as we sat in plastic chairs.  The environment was simple and  friendly: great for families.  

We highly recommend visiting this quaint "taco stand" where the food is delicious and the locals are friendly.


2201 Laguna Street
Santa Barbara, California

The Queen of the Missions is here in Santa Barbara. Take a tour, stop and smell the roses and enjoy the ocean view from this historic mission.

reviewed on: June 10 2010

"Chalk Festival"
This is such a beautiful mission which is why it is dubbed the "Queen of the Missions".  The rose garden across the grass, the fountains, and the beautiful shape of this mission coupled with a view of the oceans, hemmed in by the nearby mountains makes this camera worthy!  

Our family has really enjoyed the i madonnari chalk festival in May.  The dark asphalt in front of the mission becomes covered with fantastic art works.  Our kids and we have enjoyed viewing all the amazing "paintings" in chalk.

The mission tour was not so great for our young boys (3,5)  We adults were a little bored too.  I'm thinking when they are older we will all enjoy it more.


15 E. Cabrillo Blvd
Santa Barbara, California

Enjoy pizza in this lighthouse across from the ocean.


720 Bond Ave
Santa Barbara, California

Take your family ocean kayaking, horseback riding, take surfing lessons and much more with this top-notch guide-led Adventure Company.

reviewed on: April 07 2011

"Amazing adventure trip"
We really loved our kayaking adventure with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company.  It was the highlight of our recent vacation in the area.  It was a great mix of adventure, nature exploration, and being well taken care of by our tour guide.

We started our day on the palm studded beach at Refugio State Beach, about 20 minutes west of Santa Barbara.  (It does cost $10 to enter this State Park.)   I was honestly a bit nervous that I would be really cold as the clouds covered the sun.  The weather forecast was for a high of 65, pretty typical for Santa Barbara at this time of year.  We had come prepared, though, bringing everything we could think of to make the trip enjoyable.

However, our tour guide came even more prepared than we were.  He offered us full body wetsuits, which were amazingly and instantly warm.  When the wind picked up, we all donned the weather proof rowing jackets he provided.  Topped with a life jacket, we were set.  It turns out that all we needed to bring was a swim suit, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.  Our guided provided absolutely everything else, from water bottles and towels, to a safe place to put our car keys.

My son anxiously watched as our tour guide taught us how to face into the waves with our kayaks and paddle straight ahead.  He was a little bit nervous about getting through the waves, even though they were small and fairly calm.  Paddling out to sea was just the start of our adventure!  Our tour guide helped us get through the waves and we were off.  Because of our instructions on the shore, we all knew how to paddle our kayaks, although actually rowing them took more muscle than I remembered!  

My boys loved the ride up the coast.  We saw cormorants and were given a bit of a nature lesson on this unique bird.  We floated into the kelp beds and learned some of the many uses for this fast growing plant.  We even tasted a little bit... didn't taste like chicken... tasted like spinach!  

Landing on our secluded beach was a bit more tricky because the waves were a bit higher.  Our tour guide safely guided us in and helped us land with no problems.  After a rest and some exploring on the beach, I was ready for lunch. I had imagined a deli style, pre-packaged lunch that was included in our tour.  I was very much surprised and delighted to see the spread of gourmet sandwich toppings and sides that our tour guide had prepared for us.  Delicious!  My kids loved it too and greatly appreciated the soda and cookies.  They played in the sand and surf with another young boy on our trip and had a great afternoon.  

We headed back to Refugio State Beach and made quick time due to some fun races that my son was anxious to play and win.  We landed easily and found that the hardest part of the day was taking the sticky wet suits off!  What an amazing trip!  

Bottom line:  The price of this trip is well worth it, especially because of our expert guide, all of the professional equipment available to us, and the gourmet lunch.  We felt very well taken care of and really enjoyed all that nature had to offer.  The Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers great adventures with expert tour guides and careful planning and preparation.  As we heard about the other trips our tour guide had been on for Santa Barbara Adventure Company, we became eager to join him again on a kayak trip around the Channel Islands, on a bike trip through the green hills near Santa Barbara, or to a horseback riding ranch.  So many fun adventures yet to be had!

This review is based on a complimentary trip with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company.  I received no other compensation and the business owner did not state any requirements that I express a particular point of view. The opinions I express are entirely my own.


500 Ninos Drive
Santa Barbara, California

A beautiful zoo filled with greenery and ocean breezes.


113 Harbor Way, Suite 190
Santa Barbara, California

This museum has much to offer kids and adults alike. Drive a boat, fish for trout, and view the harbor from the working periscope and more.

reviewed on: April 07 2011

"He caught a big one!"
We took our 4 kids, ages 2 through 10 to this educational and fun museum.  It is filled with historical artifacts, ship models, eye catching and interactive displays and tools that educate both adults and children.  

My oldest boy was so excited to "catch" a salmon at the fishing simulator at this museum.  I "helped" him by holding the pole steady while he reeled it in.  It was hard work!  We could really feel the fish pulling on the line!  This was only one of the many hands-on activities that kept my kids busy for several hours.  The other ones that were favorites were the working periscope that let them see all around the harbor, the boat steering simulator, and the surf board they could stand on to take pictures.

My little ones, 2 and 4 enjoyed coloring and playing with the puzzles in the children's center of the museum.  While they played, my older boys studied the knots and tied a few with the loose ropes available.  Us adults enjoyed studying the model boats, reading the exhibits on storms, oil wells and the Chumash Indians.  There was more to read and study than we had time for.  

One of my highlights was watching the film on Shackleton and his crew who spent a year stuck in the ice of Antartica with their ship, The Endeavor.  We had read the book: "Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance" last year and were entranced by the amazing story of survival.  Our kids enjoyed nearly every corner of this museum with the various things to explore and discover and touch.

Purchase tickets in the gift shop next to the museum.  There is room enough for strollers to cruise the aisles, but the elevator is tricky to find for the second floor.  I believe it is outside the main exit by the front desk.  Prices are very reasonable.  Discounts can be found through other tour companies such as the SB Old Town Trolley Tour.

"This review is based on a complimentary visit to the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. I received no other compensation and the business owner did not state any requirements that I express a particular point of view. The opinions I express are entirely my own.”


Cabrillo Blvd and State St.
Santa Barbara, California

Drive or walk onto this massive wharf that starts where State Street ends. Visit the hands-on Sea Center, eat some ice cream, shop for souvenirs, or enjoy a nice meal at one of several restaurants.

reviewed on: June 16 2010

"car friendly"
This is one of the few piers in California that you can actually drive onto.  My kids got a kick out of "driving over the water".  We found a penny press in a souvenir shop which made our day (and saved our wallets), spent time in the Ty Warner Sea Center, and then headed back to the beach to walk on the sand.
This is a very fun wharf to explore, walk on or drive on.


1299 Shoreline Dr
Santa Barbara, California

Located "west" of the Santa Barbara Harbor, this hill top park offers beautiful views.

reviewed on: December 27 2014

"Beautiful views - windy and cold"
The two times we have visited this park have been in the late fall or winter (Christmas Day) and we were freezing cold - as "freezing" as you could be in SoCal. The sun was shining bright but the breeze from the ocean cut right through our "winter" clothes and made all my kids want to leave as soon as possible.

The playground looks fun although it seems on the old side with nothing quite exciting to explore. The bathrooms were a bomb with no doors on the stalls. Boo.

We walked the path and enjoyed the beautiful views in the few minutes we had. Must return on a warm day!


211 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, California

A great kid friendly, science based learning center that focuses on Ocean Science.

reviewed on: June 08 2010

"Fun and educational"
My kids loved the sea tunnel.  They fit under it much better than us adults did!  This is a great sea center full of lots of great information and tons of hands on exhibits.  A highlight was an opening in the floor of the center which allowed for viewing and access to the ocean below.  The staff would drop collection bottles into the water to do experiments on the contents of the water.  The kids got a big laugh as their Papa's hat fell off his head into the water below.  The kindly staff fished it out for him.
This sea center is located on Stern's Wharf which adds to the fun and learning of this place.


22 State St.
(also at) 23 E. Cabrillo Santa Barbara, California

Take a family bike ride on a 5 or 8 passenger surrey. Ride down the palm-lined pedestrian/bike path and enjoy the ocean view.

reviewed on: April 07 2011

"A family bike ride!"
Smiles were on our faces as all 6 of us climbed onto one surrey bike and cruised the coastline of Santa Barbara on a beautiful sunny day.  What fun to have all of us on one bike!

Our 2 and 4 year old sat up front in the basket seats with their helmets perched neatly on their heads and smiled at all the people out enjoying the day.  My 8 year old barely reached the pedals with his extra short legs but he rose to the challenge and had fun.  My 10 year old added some extra horsepower so my husband and I didn't have to work so hard.  And at times, it was hard work!  We almost got out to walk and push as we tried to go up a small hill.  Most of the ride was flat and easy to pedal along.

We started out from the rental place which is very near Stern's Wharf.  Pedaling to the harbor was a short ride, but was as far as we were allowed to go in that direction.  We retraced our path and pedaled along the bike path that follows the beach.  It was wonderful to be able to look out over the beach as we pedaled under the tall palm trees of the grassy park.  Our ride took us all the way to East Beach where the kids got out to play at the playground for a little bit and we enjoyed a cool drink from the East Beach Grill (a bit overpriced though!).

We saw other families stop at Chase Palm Park where a fun "Shipwreck Playground" awaited their excited kids.  A carousel ride is located in this park as well and is another fun option for families.  We pedaled back along the coast and caught up to another couple on a double surrey.  My kids kept saying, "let's catch up to them!"  It was like a race!  My husband's and my legs were tired and a little shakey as we returned our surrey but it was worth it for all the fun and adventure we had.  

This review is based on a complimentary rental with Wheel Fun Rentals.  I received no other compensation and the business owner did not state any requirements that I express a particular point of view. The opinions I express are entirely my own.