Don't Miss

Urban Wine Trail: You don't have to make a day trip to Santa Ynez to indulge in the fine wines harvested in Santa Barbara County, Southern California's finest. Twenty-eight local wineries have banded together to connect their tasting rooms, most within walking distance of each other; a few are a short drive. Most easily accessed is the Funk Zone, a 10-block warehouse district on either side of the train tracks, next to State Street, that has been converted into shops, galleries, restaurants, breweries and wineries -- you'll find 14 tasting rooms and plenty of diversions between pours. Seven tasting rooms surround the nearby Presidio area. (Hours vary; tasting fees vary but average $15 for four or five pours.)

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden: This 78-acre facility has displays that reveal the diversity of California's flora and vegetation. Plenty of signage leads the way along 5.5 miles of trails or jump onto a docent-led tour. (Mission Canyon Road, 4.5 miles inland from the harbor; 805-682-4726; open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is about $12 with discounts for seniors and children)

Old Mission Santa Barbara: Father Junipero Serra founded this hilltop site, one of 21 California missions, in 1786 and it is still home to a community of Franciscan friars. Known as "Queen of the Missions" for its commanding position overlooking town and the Channel Islands, the graceful Mission has twin bell towers, subtly blending Indian and Spanish themes in its design, and is wrapped by lovingly tended gardens. (2201 Laguna Street; 805-682-4713; open daily 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., with 1-hour docent tours Tuesday through Friday at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m.; admission runs $9 with discounts for seniors and children)

Santa Barbara County Courthouse: Built in 1929, this working courthouse is a fine example of grand Spanish-Colonial style, and one of the most photographed public buildings in America (it helps that a lot of weddings are performed in the sunken garden!). The actual courtrooms are often open (and still in use today), while the beautiful Mural Room has beamed ceilings and lush murals in period style. Make the climb to the top of the four-story clock tower -- 360-degree views extending to your cruise ship are the main reward, but the 90-year-old clock mechanism is visible halfway up. (1100 Anacapa Street; 805-568-3070; free tours daily at 2 p.m. and also at 10:30 a.m. on weekdays)

Lotusland: The Montecito estate of the late Ganna Walska is an eccentric, beautifully landscaped oasis that represents one of the world's finest botanical collections. Home to 25 individual gardens, the two-hour, 2-mile walking tours are offered twice daily, Wednesday through Saturday, mid-February through mid-November. Reservations are essential. (695 Ashley Road; 805-969-9990; guided tour about $48 per person)

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation: This new, kid-friendly science museum sits close to the port and is organized around seven themes. Inside the Giant Guitar, engage with a Sound Machine, play with a futuristic musical instrument and step into a Foley studio to learn how movie soundtracks are created. At the rooftop Sky Garden, find interactive water features such as a wind-, sun- and human-powered "weather orchestra." (125 State Street; 805-770-5000; open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is $15 for adults, $10 for children age 3 to12)


Cruise ships call on Santa Barbara between September and May, so although the sandy shoreline fronting town looks inviting, the water is usually too cold for swimming in winter and spring. But September and October can offer good swimming conditions, and family-friendly East Beach -- located just past Stearns Wharf -- is a great spot for beach-lovers, with volleyball courts, bike rentals for the recreational pathway, lifeguard stations, cafes and a playground.