Santa Barbara will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s where I spent an amazing four years of my life as a student at UCSB. And it’s also where I met my significant other :’)
Although college and Isla Vista was exciting, Santa Barbara overall was a pretty sleepy town. My boyfriend and I struggled to find new places or things to do for our dates and a quick google search always turned up empty. Hopefully this will spark some new date ideas for you and your significant other. Or it could lead to new memories with you and your friends! Who said you can’t have friend dates?
1. Kayak with the sea lions
Kayaking has been one of my favorite weekend activities when I went to UCSB. I took my boyfriend, Andrew, kayaking for his birthday and it was super nice just paddling around the Santa Barbara Harbor area. You can feel the sun warming up your back and the cool water droplets kissing your skin from the waves splashing against your kayak. There’s plenty to explore too — you can go underneath the wharf and hear all the footsteps and chatter above echoing, make a couple of friends with the sea lions sunbathing on the floats, and drift around the dock where there’s a bunch of boats docked. My boyfriend and I got a kick out of some of the cheeky boat names. We imagined what their owners were like to name them the name they were given. It’s a great way to be one with nature and to people-watch.
Santa Barbara Sailing offers the lowest kayak rental prices (that I know of) at $12 per person for a double kayak — or if you’re a student, it’s $10 a person (you need to show your student ID though!).
2. See the sunrise at Knapp’s Castle
This was something I did with a friend, but I can easily imagine this turning into a romantic date. You’ll need a car to get near the opening of the trail (or you can hike up to that trail but like ….why do that to yourself. Although that would be hella cute to do with your boo too so I digress). From there, the hike itself is pretty short because the trail itself is short haha.
If you’re going before the sun rises, there’s something unearthly seeing the castle ruins come into view against the backdrop of the still sleeping sky. It’s almost eerily silent because even the wildlife animals are still asleep.
You can tell when the time comes for the sunrise. I was sitting on one of the castle ledges, my legs swinging over the bushes below when I heard the first song of the day: a bird chirping. Soon, more and more birds started chirping, joining their fellow buddy. It wasn’t before long when I spotted the leaves in the bushes below me rustling. The movement was so subtle, I almost dismissed it until I saw two fluffy ears poke out — it was a rabbit and her babies! Soon more and more animals poked their heads out and scurried this way and that and all of the vegetation below us began to be bathed by the warm orange glow of the sun as it made its way up. It was such a peaceful and serene moment. It felt like the entire world was waking up.
3. Breakfast at the beach
This is easily one of my favorite go-to date ideas with Andrew, typically on a lazy Sunday. We would swing by Bagel Cafe in Isla Vista and would take our bagels to the beach near DP. There’s this wooden staircase that leads to the sand, but we would sit down on one of the steps in the middle of the stairs, munching on our bagels and just taking in the ocean view and doggos running around everywhere. It was the perfect way to start a Sunday.
PSA: Bagel Cafe has the best bagels hands down yo, you guys NEED to try it if you haven’t. My go to is the Slammin’ Salmon on a galaxy bagel. Smoked salmon nested between juicy slices of tomatoes and fresh, crunchy cucumbers…. Tell me that doesn’t sound like heaven. They’re big enough to share but let’s be real, you won’t be sharing.
4. Stargaze at Campus Point
This was one of my earlier dates with my boyfriend. This happened in freshmen year, so we were still living on campus. The dorm we were in was in the best location. You can say we’re biased but honestly it was in the perfect spot. It was the dorm closest to Campus Point, which is the area with this beach and these cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was less than a 5-minute walk from us.
One late night, we decided to take a stroll through Campus Point. At first, it was scary to me, not because it actually was, but because I was being a big baby (although I still am, not gonna lie). At the time, I had never taken a walk that late at night. And it’s not like this was a stroll by your neighborhood streets either. The area we were walking through was tricky to walk through in the dark. There was sand and there were also prickly bushes you couldn’t quite see lining the sides of the trail.
Once my eyes adjusted to the dark, I started to enjoy the stroll more. It was calming to hear the ocean waves crashing against the rocks. And the stars! You could actually see them outlined clearly against the night sky. We were far away enough from the campus that the lights from the buildings didn’t obscure our stargazing.
At one point in our walk, my boyfriend and I just stopped and looked up at the sky, hugging each other for warmth. He knew a bit about astrology so he started pointing out certain stars to me. To be honest, I couldn’t make out any of the star shapes that he was pointing out but I would just nod and say “oohh” and instead, just took in the moment of being with one of my favorite people on earth.
5. Have a photoshoot at the Santa Barbara Courthouse
This is a popular spot for grad and engagement photoshoots — and for good reason. Once you arrive, you can take an elevator all the way to the rooftop. If you don’t mind walking around, I’d recommend taking the stairs instead. You can take the stairs right at the entrance but there’s another path I like to take that allows you to explore the courthouse a little more. Once you go through the entrance, go straight, then turn right and keep going right until you see another staircase. Between the entrance to this staircase, you should have bumped into some courtrooms. Go ahead and venture into one of them — the walls are beautifully painted with scenes that almost seem to be taken from a story. All the colors from the walls make it feel like an art museum instead of a place for law.
The staircase itself is a great place to take a photo together (or of each other if you don’t bring a friend to take your pictures or if you’re too shy to ask a stranger). With each step, there are colorful mosaic tiles that line the front of each step. Sit yourself down on these cascading steps and you got yourself an Instagram-worthy shot.
The photoshoot opportunities don’t end there though. Once you get to the rooftop, you can see the vibrant rusty red rooftops lined by palm trees, both trademarks of SB, stretching for miles from all sides. It’s a gorgeous sight. And of course — prime time for couple selfies.
6. Step into a fairytale at the Butterfly Grove
The Goleta Butterfly Grove is the place to visit from November through February. During this time period, monarch butterflies migrate to Goleta. According to their website, you can see the most butterflies in the cool early morning but the butterflies are the most active in the afternoon. Better yet, admission is free but the City of Goleta does accept donations.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do this during my time at UCSB but I heard it’s an amazing sight to see. It’s still on my bucket list and definitely will be something I plan to do if I ever visit SB again during this time period.
So there ya have it! Six date ideas for you and your boo in sunny SB. Hopefully, this will spark some new adventures. If you have any other date recs or personal favorites on things you like to do with your SO in Santa Barbara, drop a comment below!