Most Common Photo Opps in Santa Barbara for Tourists (Hello Selfies!)

Santa Barbara Mission

Santa Barbara is such a beautiful paradise all year around, that you could take a photo just about anywhere and it would be beautiful.  We’re talking picture perfect every day of the year, even without those lovely Instagram filters.  Whether you’re at the beach, downtown or in the mountains of Santa Barbara, you won’t be disappointed by the images you capture.

Still, if you’re a visitor to Santa Barbara, you want to capture some of those iconic shots that Santa Barbara is famous for so keep reading for your must-have shots and then go rogue in Santa Barbara and take sunset and beach photos to your heart’s content.  So take photos and while you’re at it, grub along the way; I recommended restaurants at each photo stop. 

Stearns Wharf | Dolphin Family Statue

Stearn's Wharf Dolphin Statue

Stearn's Wharf Dolphin Statue

One of the most visited spots in Santa Barbara is the dolphin statue at the entrance of Stearns Warf.  It’s officially called, “Dolphin Family” and was created by Bud Bottoms, a local artist in Santa Barbara.  Due to the drought, visitors can no longer see the water flowing from the statue, however, it still stands beautiful at the beginning of Stearns Warf. 

Recently I vacationed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and while tourist-ing in their downtown area, I noticed a familiar statue – similar to Santa Barbara’s “Dolphin Family” statue, Puerto Vallarta has one called “Dancing Dolphins”.  Bud Bottoms is also responsible for creating that beauty.  And it turns out that Puerto Vallarta is the sister city to Santa Barbara!  Aside from the “Dancing Dolphins” in Puerto Vallarta, Bud Bottom’s work is featured throughout California.

Grub Spot:  Moby Dick Restaurant.  A long-time favorite among locals and tourists.  A great view, great seafood and friendly staff!

The Harbor

Santa Barbara Beachfront

Just up Cabrillo Street (the street that runs along the beach), about ½ mile, you see the Santa Barbara Harbor.  The boats that are docked are fun to see, take pictures of and you can follow the dock all the way around the harbor for better ocean and boat viewing. 

Grub Spot:  Brophy Bros.  Also a long-time favorite among locals and tourists.  A great view of the harbor and great clam chowder!

*Side note:  and while you’re near the pier and harbor, you may as well go down Cabrillo Street, to the Carousel and get a picture too!  

Downtown Santa Barbara

The streets are always lined with flags, there’s bougainvillea throughout and amazing restaurants and shopping.  So take lots of selfies just about anywhere and it will be beautiful, but here are a few must-see spots Downtown.

Arlington Theater

This is such an amazing historical place.  The ceiling is painted like a sky.  Take a picture outside of the Arlington, but if you get a chance to go inside for a show or a movie, I highly recommend it. 

El Paseo

There’s a little pocket of shops and restaurants called “El Paseo” and there are really memorable statues there as well as a fountain with turtles.  The kids love both

Grub Spot:  It’s downtown; there’s something delicious on every corner! 
*Side note:  Check the 1st Thursday calendar for downtown activities!


Not far from Downtown Santa Barbara (walking distance) is our beautiful, historic and famous Courthouse.  The grounds as well as the building itself are remarkable; so much so that weddings happen on a daily basis here.  There are tours of the Courthouse and probably the most impressive part is the view at the top of the clock tower – a must-see!  It’s great for view shots of Santa Barbara as well.  You can see the islands, the city and the ocean!

Mission and Rose Garden

The Rose Garden at Santa Barbara Mission

The Rose Garden at Santa Barbara Mission

If you know anything about the history of California, you know that there are Catholic Missions scattered throughout our beautiful state.  However, everyone knows that the Santa Barbara is by far the most beautiful mission!  Tours are offered to see the interior of the Mission, but most people just want to take photos of the outside of the Mission.  During the Christmas season, they have a LIVE manger set up – it is so breathtaking!

Just in front of the Mission is the Rose Garden.  It is beautifully landscaped, all by volunteers.  The best pictures are those with the roses and the mission in the foreground.  With a large lawn area next to the rows of varied colored roses, visitors like to picnic and play Frisbee. 

Perhaps while staying in Santa Barbara, you found a picture perfect spot!  I hope these suggestions help you navigate to the most popular places visitors like to take pictures to remember their trip to beautiful and unforgettable Santa Barbara!

written by Melissa Broughton