Turquoise kayak in the ocean near the Santa Barbara coast
Central Coast

15 Best Santa Barbara Water Tours To Book In 2024

Santa Barbara’s mild climate makes it the perfect destination for those looking to enjoy bright, sunny days and fun in the sun. Whether you want to take in stunning ocean views, get a bit of a workout in, or learn a new water sport, our list of the best Santa Barbara water tours has got you covered!

Our top pick for the best tour: Kayak Tour of Santa Barbara with Experienced Guide (with over 300 five-star reviews!)

If you need a break, there’s nothing as rejuvenating as immersing yourself in the gorgeous waters of Santa Barbara for a water adventure like no other. The glistening ocean waves are so inviting that you’ll want to jump right in!

Let’s take a deep dive into the incredible Santa Barbara water activities you can book on your vacation.

Here are 15 of the best Santa Barbara water tours for a memorable time in this charming coastal town!

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, may I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!

15 Best Santa Barbara Water Tours:

1. Kayak Tour Of Santa Barbara With an Experienced Guide

A kayaking tour is one of the best water activities in Santa Barbara.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 1.5 hours
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: kayaks, life jackets, tour guide

Guided tours are a great way to get to know the history and significance of certain areas. And this Santa Barbara kayak tour takes it one step further! You can customize it to suit your interests, skill level, and overall preferences for the best possible experience.

“We had a great time kayaking! Taylor was a great guide and we would definitely book again! Must do activity if you’re in the area!”

-Christiana R. (read more reviews)

You can pick where you want to begin your tour: Leadbetter Beach or Barbara Harbor. You can also choose from their four route options—each has a different duration and difficulty level, and you are free to paddle at your most comfortable speed. For maximum convenience, your tour will end at the same spot it begins.

Your private instructor will give you a safety briefing and kayaking instructions depending on your skill level, and you can wear the provided lifejacket and your choice of swimming gear.

You may even spot some dolphins and seals on your kayaking adventure!

2. Private Santa Barbara Surf Lesson

Surfing is one of the most popular water sports in Santa Barbara.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 1.5 hours
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: surfboard, wetsuit, instructor

Enjoy an authentic California experience as you learn how to cruise the waves with a private tutor in this 1.5-hour Santa Barbara surf lesson. Each lesson includes just two students, so your instructor can give you their focus and ensure that you can get your surf on the right way.

“Our teen had been surfing only once and wanted to go again. Was a great experience. Recommend them highly.”

(read more reviews)

You will also be provided with all the needed equipment, such as a comfortable wetsuit and a high-quality surfboard. The private instructor will give you the lowdown on surf safety, proper technique, and critical surf etiquette to ensure a pleasant experience.

Whether you’re surfing for the first time or looking to brush up on your skills before you hit the waves, your instructor will cover all the bases!

3. Sunset Kayak Tour Of Santa Barbara

Enjoy scenic sunset views on this kayaking Santa Barbara tour.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 2 hours
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: kayak, wetsuit, paddle, helmet, life jacket, guide

Paddle into the golden waters as the sun sets over the South Californian coast for a spectacular sunset you won’t forget. This is a beginner-friendly kayak tour of Santa Barbara that spans two hours, designed to offer you a fun and unique adventure as the sun sets.

“Great experience! Beautiful views with lots of wildlife. Lots of interesting facts about Santa Barbara and wildlife. We enjoyed it!”

-Kelly C. (read more reviews)

You will start with a comprehensive lesson in kayaking techniques and safety instructions in the early afternoon. You can paddle in a single- or double-person boat, and all necessary equipment (kayak, paddle, helmet, life jacket) will be provided.

The tour is an excellent way to explore the shores around Santa Barbara, including the historic wharf. Your guide will tell you about the area’s marine ecology so you can appreciate the amazing aquatic life.

You will also learn about the visible stars around southern California, a truly out-of-this-world experience!

4. Stand-Up Paddleboard Lesson In Santa Barbara

Paddleboarding is one of the most fun Santa Barbara water activities!

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 1.5 hours
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: paddleboard, paddle, wetsuit, instructor

Born from surfing, stand-up paddleboarding is an enthralling water sport! Stand-up paddle boarding (or SUP) involves using a paddle as you stand on the board and float through the water.

Fantastic paddle boarding experience and guide as we learnt to paddle board safely around SB wharf!!”

-Lena T. (read more reviews)

This stand-up paddleboard lesson will teach you to balance correctly as you kneel and then stand on the board while paddling around the Santa Barbara coastline. With a maximum group of 18 people in each class, you will receive personalized attention from your instructor, who is an expert at paddleboarding.

Regardless of your experience or skill level, this 1.5-hour lesson will help you get comfortable with paddleboarding. It includes all the required equipment, including the wetsuit.

5. Sea Lion Kayak Tour Of Santa Barbara Harbor

Enjoy observing wildlife on this Santa Barbara harbor tour.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 2 hours
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: kayak, paddle, life jacket, guide

California’s Southern coastline is a sight to behold, with its picturesque waterfront and abundant marine life. This sea lion kayak tour of Santa Barbara harbor is designed to immerse you in all it has to offer over two hours.

“Best way to see Santa Barbara and learn some interesting facts while also seeing the sea lions up close. Excellent staff. Awesome Guides.”

-Marilyn B. (read more reviews)

Your expert tour guide will help you with everything you need and share information on the region’s wildlife and history. The view from out at sea will be spectacular, with the rugged coastal mountains and blue water.

While kayaking during the tour, you may encounter dolphins, sea lions, pelicans, and egrets. Depending on the season, you may also see gray whales on their annual migration!

6. Parasail Above Beautiful Santa Barbara

Parasailing in Santa Barbara is a great way to see the stunning coastline from above!

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 1 hour
  • Tour rating: 4.5/5 stars
  • Includes: parasailing

If California makes you feel like you’re on top of the world, this experience will take you there, literally. You can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Santa Barbara coastline and soar high above the sparkling blue ocean for a delightful aerial experience.

“Birds eye view of all of Santa Barbara!! It was so calm and relaxing up there. I would definitely recommend doing this and you MUST buy the picture package!

-Garrett S. (read more reviews)

Whether you’re a first-time flier or a seasoned enthusiast, this hour-long parasail adventure will get your adrenaline pumping as your eyes feast on the gorgeous scenery. Santa Barbara has the perfect weather to enjoy a mesmerizing bird’s eye view of the area.

You will meet your captain at 237 Stearns Wharf and see all the historic sights from above. With all safety precautions in place, you will surely have an unforgettable experience!

7. Santa Barbara Catamaran Sunset Cruise

Santa Barbara coastal cruise is a wonderful way to take in the views of the Santa Barbara Harbor.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 2 hours
  • Tour rating: 4.8/5 stars
  • Includes: sunset cruise

Embark on an enchanting expedition that combines the serenity of being out at sea with the thrill of enjoying spectacular sights on this early evening catamaran cruise.

Fantastic Sunset Cruise. The Catamaran was beautiful, and the staff was excellent. We all enjoyed the music as well!”

(read more reviews)

Over two hours, you can take in the sights of the majestic Santa Ynez Mountains, creating a dramatic backdrop with the Channel Islands in the distance. The photographs you take will definitely be postcard-worthy, but they won’t do justice to the enthralling experience you will have on this cruise.

California sunsets are known for being awe-inspiring, but there’s nothing quite like watching one of them from out at sea. The sun will bathe the ocean and the shores in its golden glow for an unforgettable golden hour experience.

There’s really nothing better than a stunning sunset to end the day!

8. 2-Hour Guided Kayak Tour Of Santa Barbara

Kayaking along the coast is one of the best water tours in Santa Barbara.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 2 hours
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: kayak, wetsuit, paddle, life jacket, helmet, guide

Paddle two miles along the beautiful coast of Santa Barbara and soak in all it has to offer in terms of scenic landscapes and captivating marine life.

“Beautiful kayak tour through Santa Barbara harbor. My family and I had a wonderful time and highly recommend this adventure!”

-Lorrie H. (read more reviews)

This guided kayak tour begins at Santa Barbara Harbor, where a highly experienced guide will teach you all the basics of kayaking. Then, you will set out and go through the harbor, passing various boats.

You will also see the historic wharf and may encounter sea lions, harbor seals, brown pelicans, seagulls, cormorants, and sea stars.

The tour is suitable for beginners and includes all the required kayaking gear, including a wetsuit, helmet, and life jacket. Your guide will also help you appreciate Santa Barbara as you learn and discuss its natural history and marine ecology.

9. 2-Hour E-Foil Adventure Lesson

E-foil lesson in Santa Barbara (photo by @isurfschool)

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 1.5 hours
  • Includes: E-foil, wetsuit, helmet, impact vest

This E-foil lesson near Santa Barbara is a thrilling and unique experience that combines the joy of surfing with cutting-edge technology for those looking to enjoy an adrenaline rush.

“Thomas was an excellent instructor who got me up and flying in no time….6 stars if I could! The gear was top notch, they had everything I needed to get flying above the water.”

(read more reviews)

With the guidance of experienced instructors, you will spend two hours learning the art of riding the e-foil and harnessing its power to glide effortlessly on the water.

The lesson includes the wetsuit, impact vest, and helmet, and the instructor will ensure that you’re well taken care of. You will learn all the basics about riding an e-foil and experience its magic in action!

10. 3.5-Hour Coastline Kayak Tour Near Santa Barbara

If you’re looking for the best Santa Barbara water tours, book this 3.5-hour coastline kayak tour!

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 3.5 hours
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: kayak, wetsuit, paddle, life jacket, helmet, guide

Have a fun day with your loved ones as you embark on this unforgettable kayaking adventure on Refugio State Beach and along the Gaviota Coast. It is one of the last untouched, open sections on the shores of California that has retained its rustic, natural beauty.

“Riley was a great guide. Knowledgeable about the history of the area which made the experience even more memorable.”

-Rachyl C. (read more reviews)

As you kayak along the shores, you will come across some amazing underwater kelp beds and wild dolphins. You can also enjoy a quiet lunch on a secluded beach and dive in for a quick swim in the ocean!

The tour lasts three and a half hours and includes a knowledgeable guide that will tell you about the area’s natural history and marine life. You will be provided with all the required kayaking gear plus a free lunch.

11. Santa Barbara Whale Watching Catamaran Cruise With a Bar

Whale watching is one of the top things to do in Santa Barbara.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 2.5 hours
  • Includes: Catamaran sailing tour

Climb on a catamaran for an unforgettable journey as you head out to sea to watch whales in action off the Santa Barbara coastline.

This delightful catamaran whale-watching adventure will bring you up close and personal with some wonderful marine species around the coast, including dolphins, sea lions, Pacific gray whales, and more.

The cruise is wheelchair accessible, and children will have a wonderful time. Over two hours and 30 minutes, you will set off from the Santa Barbara Sailing Center and out to sea for your adventure before circling back.

The live tour guide will provide additional information and fun facts about Santa Barbara for a fascinating, delightful experience.

12. 4-Hour Surfing Lesson In Santa Barbara

If you’re looking for fun Santa Barbara outdoor activities, book this four-hour surfing lesson!

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 4 hours
  • Includes: wetsuit, surfboard, guide

Let out your inner Californian surfer with this surfing lesson in Santa Barbara. It will cover all the bases, including how to gauge a wave, paddle, pop up, and balance as you ride. You will also learn about critical safety tips and surfing etiquette to ensure you and your fellow surfers have a safe and fun time.

We absolutely loved our guide! The location selected was also perfect for beginners and stunning. Completely worth it!”

(read more reviews)

The surf instructor is highly experienced and will help you understand everything you need to absorb the lessons and enjoy your time on the water. They have worked with hundreds of students, so you are sure to improve your technique and form.

The surf lesson includes the surfboard and wetsuit, so you don’t have to worry about equipment. The best bit? You will also be provided with a delicious picnic served at mid-day for a wonderful, recharging meal at the beach!

13. Santa Barbara Channel Islands Day Trip With Kayaking Tour

Santa Barbara sea kayaking (Photo by @cixpeditions)

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 9 hours
  • Includes: boat ride, kayak, wetsuit, guides, lunch, soft drinks

If you’re looking for Santa Barbara water activities that include actually swimming in the ocean, this one’s for you! The nine-hour tour from Santa Barbara is a thorough expedition where you can explore the water around Channel Islands National Park.

This Santa Barbara boat tour includes a trip to visit the Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world. The boat has ample indoor and outdoor seating, sundeck viewing, hot showers, and a large swim deck to add some luxury to your adventure.

Your guide will share fun facts about the area. The tour also includes a tantalizing buffet lunch. You will see steep cliffs, beautiful coves, and get a peek underwater as you snorkel in the pristine blue waters. If you’re lucky, you may spot dolphins, whales, and orcas!

14. Kayak Or Stand Up Paddle Board Rental

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 1 hour
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: kayak or paddle board, paddles, life vest

This is a flexible adventure option where you can explore the scenic waters of Santa Barbara on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard rental.

At kayak or stand-up paddleboard rental company, you will receive quick yet insightful instructions on how to paddle, after which you can set off on your own or with a partner—along with all the essential safety equipment you need, of course.

You can use the equipment for an hour as you head out to the water to soak up the sights and have an exhilarating time exploring the coast of Santa Barbara. It’s a great option for adventurers who like to immerse themselves in a new area and explore it on their own.

15. Santa Barbara Catamaran Coastal Cruise

Take in beautiful views of the ocean on this Santa Barbara cruise.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 2 hours
  • Tour rating: 4.5/5 stars
  • Includes: catamaran cruise, guide

Sail along the Santa Barbara coast and enjoy the fresh, salty air. You will have the Santa Ynez Mountains standing tall as a backdrop, with the Channel Islands dotting the waters around you.

“We absolutely loved our guide! The location selected was also perfect for beginners and stunning. Completely worth it!”

(read more reviews)

This catamaran coastal cruise is a two-hour adventure. Once you climb on board, you’ll be mesmerized by the open waters off the coast and the beauty of the villas set along the Santa Barbara coastline.

It’s a unique way to spend time with your loved ones, and you might spot some marine life while at sea. It makes for a relaxing time, and you can even kick back with a drink from the bar!

Santa Barbara is a wonderful place to visit if you want to indulge in the perfect combination of exhilarating adventures and relaxing sightseeing.

Slather on some sunscreen and get ready to make a splash! This list of Santa Barbara tours has all the activities you could want to have the time of your life.

Looking for more things to do in the Santa Barbara area? Be sure to check out these posts next:

This post is written by Laura. Hi, I’m a California local and the founder of the California Wanderland travel blog. I currently live in Ventura County and help 30,000 readers a month discover things to do in Central California! Read more about me here.

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