Santa Barbara, CA Travel Guide for Wheelchair Users

Santa Barbara is considered to be a part of California’s Central Coast and is not only a beach town but a college one with a little bit of history. With a kick of new age philosophy and a high-end flare, it is no wonder why some celebrities have homes here. It is also approximately a two-hour drive to Los Angeles, convenient for those celebrities working the Hollywood area. Sidewalks and streets are kept in pristine condition: no trash or graffiti. In fact, I can’t even recall seeing a homeless person. Everything surrounding the downtown area, even the gas stations, looked new. The weather is usually fabulous. I traveled there at the end of October and experienced high 70s °F  (25 °C), which is very common. There are many sunny days in Santa Barbara.


State Street:
State Street in Santa Barbara is a hip strip of shopping, bars, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and movie theaters. Santa Barbara Museum of Art is also located on State Street as well as lots of super good vintage and costumer stores. The sidewalks and courtyard areas are completely flat and didn’t take much effort to cruise up and down; a few elevators were also found. There are a few parking lots parallel with State Street with handicapped parking; otherwise, the Plaza Garage had a couple at the top of the structure and the first 75mins were free.

Stearns Wharf:
Stearns Wharf is one of the most popular attractions in Santa Barbara. It was named after the man who built it and was originally used to freight passengers and shipping goods but today it is full of merchants. It all started with the Harbor Restaurant, which is a fine dining experience serving fish and steaks, prime rib, cocktails, and select fine wines. Nonetheless, there are other places like Char West Fish and Chips, Longboards Grill, Moby Dick Restaurant, and Santa Barbara Shell Fish Company. All restaurants have great ocean views. If looking just for a glass of wine then you may want to check out Conway’s Deep Sea Wine Tasting Room. There’s more to Stearns Wharf than just food and drinks. A few specialty shops line the wharf selling clothes, jewelry and art. One can even find a Palm Reader if you are in the mood. For some educational fun, check out the Sea Center where visitors of all ages can enjoy interactive exhibits. It’s a part of the Natural History Museum. On the Wharf there is about a dozen handicapped parking spots and the first 90mins of parking is free with merchant validation on the back.

Waterfront Boardwalk & Art Walk:
From the start of Stearns Wharf, visitors will notice a paved walkway on either side. This waterfront, paved walkway is about 30 miles overlooking white sand beaches and the ocean blue. Every Sunday on Cabrillo Blvd. is the Santa Barbara Art Walk. From Stearns Wharf the Art Walk runs for nearly 2 miles with the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop. Over 250 local artists display their original works of art. It’s an eclectic selection of jewelry, drawing, paintings, sculpture, photography and unique gift items.

Mission Santa Barbara:

Mission Santa Barbara was the also the 10th California mission established in this state, representing the first arrival of the Spaniards. Old Mission Santa Barbara is not entirely wheelchair accessible however, the vast majority of the Mission is.

An advantage to the Mission is that it was built on a slight incline so it is possible to get up onto the front portico even though at first it doesn’t. The front portico is accessible if you go all the way as if you were going to the front steps of the Church, but just before you get there you will see where it is flush to the sidewalk next to the Parish Parking which is only used on the weekends.

The Gift Shop has a rim on the ground at the main entrance, which means it is not accessible to the majority of wheelchair users. However, if you go a little further down to the Porter’s Office and inquire about access one of the volunteers or employees will be happy to show you the wheelchair accessible route in. Once in the Gift Shop you can also purchase tour tickets there. Please also inquire which ropes you are allowed to unhook and go through. Some ropes are designed to make sure people get to see everything on the tour route; however two different groups of stairs are involved. There is a wheelchair ramp which was installed in the 20th Century that leads into the Church. The Cemetery is the only part of the self-guided tour which is not accessible. A visitor in a wheelchair could go past the Sacred Garden, through the Church and through the Museum. The side door of the Church is always open and provides a view to the Cemetery.

A visitor on a Docent guided tour (either the regular or Art & Architecture tour) could go all the same places and if arrangements are made in advance possibly the Cemetery as well. The issue is that the accessible way to get into the Cemetery involves going through our Retreat Center and requires a volunteer or staff member to guide the person the whole way. It is a long trek, so it is not necessarily worth seeing the Cemetery. Public Docent guided tours are typically at 11:00am on Thursdays and Fridays as well as at 10:30am on Saturdays. Otherwise all other tours including the Art & Architecture tours must be arranged in advance.

La Huerta Historic Gardens are wheelchair accessible (decomposed granite pathways) on the perimeter but not the Central pathways. Arrangements must be made in advance for tours of La Huerta Historic Gardens for all of our visitors as there are no Public Tours of La Huerta at this time.

The majority of the front grounds are accessible with exception to the lawn. The Outdoor Stations of the Cross might be accessible for manual wheelchairs but not for power wheelchairs as it is has a bit of a lip at the front cement ramp that lead from the parking lot down to the decomposed granite pathway.

It is also important to note that the Public Restrooms are accessible for Women but not for Men. Men who wish to use the restroom can inquire in the Porter’s Office and will be directed to one of the staff restrooms.  The Men’s Restroom was harder to meet ADA standards mainly due to its size. This is hoped to change in the future. There are also no restrooms on the tour route. The Public Restrooms are located to the left of the statue of Fr. Serra down a long ramp; vending machines are located next to the restrooms.

Santa Barbara Zoo:
The Santa Barbara Zoo is beautifully set right along the ocean coastline with many world-class exhibits to entertain children and adults. It is not as large as the San Diego Zoo but still has a number of quality attractions to enjoy for a few hours. My favorites were the river otters, elephants and monkeys but there are 160 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects to check out.

In general, the zoo is almost entirely accessible but since it is located on a hillside it may be problematic for some manual wheelchair users. Some pathways are ADA compliment like the one near the Elephant Walk that was remodeled in 2005 while many are obviously not. Luckily, I had someone to push me when needed because some inclines where really steep. Even for strong manual wheelchair users this would be a long couple of hours of endless pushing. Furthermore, don’t expect to find an automatic door opener at the bird sanctuary near the snow leopard exhibit. The door is needed to keep the birds in but is a very small exhbit if you want to skip. It’s no bid deal.

One option for manual wheelchairs is to take a ride on the Zoo Train, which travels around the zoo’s perimeter. Generally, people who are in wheelchairs board first and unload last onto the handicap coach on the red train lines. The train is not equipped to hold electric wheelchairs so a transfer to a manual one is required.

Limited handicapped parking was available at a first come, first serve basis. I came to the zoo in the afternoon when no such spots were open. If a senior needs to rent a wheelchair then there are some available for a small fee at the gift shop. There are a few restrooms throughout the zoo but the one at the main entrance seemed the biggest.

Future ADA renovations plans include the Discovery Pavilion.

Santa Barbara Bowl Venue:
Built in 1936, the Bowl has become a home for the performing arts in Santa Barbara. The Bowl hosts an array of artist from Incubus to Buffalo Springfield to Radiohead to Janet Jackson. There is flexible seating in the 4,569 seated venue and 36 spots designated for wheelchair users. Customers wishing to arrange accessible seating purchase may do so via fax at 805-962-7858 or in person at the Box Office during business hours.

Even with more than the required number of handicapped parking spots at the Bowl, spaces still sell out almost every show. The cost of parking is $7. Contact the box office to have your name put on the list. You could either send in payment ahead of time, or pay upon arrival, with arrangements made ahead of time.

If the on-site spaces are taken then wheelchair users are encouraged to be dropped off at the Box Office to take the shuttle. The free wheelchair accessible shuttle pickup is located in front of the Box Office. Pick up begins 90 minutes prior to each show and continues throughout the evening.

It is recommended that all patrons arrive early- 90 minutes before scheduled start of concert- to ensure ease and comfort of parking and entry to venue.

Natural History Museum:
The Museum of Natural History is very wheelchair friendly despite the fact that the building it’s located in was built in the 1920s. It’s a Spanish-style building with a red roof and big red tiles throughout most of the exhibits. However, one exhibit has wood floors and another has carpet but for the most part it’s all red tiles. Some areas have stairs but look for the blue ADA signs to show you where the accessible pathways and ramps are. At the front desk someone should point out these rotes before exploring the museum. The Planetarium is even wheelchair friendly with designated spots for chairs. Right in front of the main entrance are at least 5 handicapped parking spots. Handicapped restrooms can be found inside. Since the building is historical, no renovations have been made to include automatic door openers. The Museum Backyard, a children’s play area, is not ADA compliant due to the natural dirt. Nonetheless, there are a few areas onsite where a wheelchair user can enjoy the outdoors, like near the Chumash Gardens.

Santa Barbara Botanical Garden:
Sadly, the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens are not very accessible despite the paved walkways. All around the gardens are incredibly steep hills, many too extreme for even power wheelchairs. I was exploring with my two sisters and had to be backed down a slope a few times. My advice: see what you can see and get your money back.


The Neighborhood Bar and Grill: Has a great happy hour everyday from 2-8pm. The specialty is pizza but there’s also sandwiches and a few salads and of course burgers and nachos and things like that.
SOhO Restaurant & Music Club: This place is great! Find live music 7 nights a week with a different tune every night, everything from Jazz to Blues to Reggae to World Music and more. When it’s warm enjoy the patio. The food is unique California cuisine: pastas, pizzas, steaks and seafood. There’s also a full bar and an excellent local wine menu.
The Wine Cask is the place you go for great wine and food. Or perhaps just wine at the wine bar if you are not in the mood to dine. The indoor seating is romantic and rustic and the outdoor patio is fabulous dining al fresco Santa Barbara style. If looking for a casual bit to eat then try the café. Open for lunch and dinner, this place has the total wine experience.
Blenders in the Grass: Healthy and nutritious smoothie blends with fresh ingredients. Basically, this place is the local version of Jamba Juice.
Three Pickles: Looking for a sandwich? Then try this yummy deli. Classic cold or hot subs await you here with yes, a pickle on the side. This place has great reviews.
Brophy Brothers is that is located right on the dock in the Santa Barbara Harbor so there’s great views all around. Come here for the fun, casual atmosphere and great seafood.
The Fish House: Is known for local, fresh seafood. It’s located just a few blocks from Sterns Wharf on Cabrillo Blvd and is a part of Santa Barbara Shellfish Company family. This is one great restaurant for pristine waterfront dining. Open daily for lunch and dinner with Happy Hours on (Monday – Thursday: 4:00 – Close) (Friday: 4:00 – 8:00) (Sunday: 11:30 – 5:00).  Breakfast is served from (9:00 AM – 2:30 PM on Saturday & Sunday).
Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach:  Is also a part of the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company family so the focus again is fresh and local seafood. It is right on Hendry’s Beach, a very popular beach for people and their dogs to hang out. In front of the restaurant is even a cute doggie cabana in case you bring your pooch and want to dine at the Boathouse. This place has an unbeatable patio with an outdoor fire-pit. Inside are great window seats too available
Habitat Burgers: Or want to sink your teeth into a juicy burger? These guys are one of Santa Barbara’s favorite hangover cures, epically for the college drinking folk. It’s a good spot if you are in the mood. There a real cute outside patio that people like to chill on.
The Palace Café and Grill in Santa Barbara, CA provides authentic Cajun Cuisine in a party atmosphere. The décor is fun not too wild. The menu includes items like Creole Crawfish Crabcakes Caribbean, Coconut Shrimp, Louisiana Bread Pudding Soufflé and the Dark Chocolate Soufflé. There are no sad faces after leaving this place.
On State Street:
Arigato is a great place for Japanese, conveniently located on State Street and featuring all kinds of sushi, sashimi and more.
Mac’s Fish n’ Chips Shop for authentic British Bar food, including Fish & Chips and the Toad In The Hole. There’s even clam chowder and good sausages. Great reviews all around because of the quality of food that’s used. Plus, everything is from scratch. Accessible restroom available too.
The Natural Café: Has two locations in Santa Barbara and one is on State Street. The focus is on fresh, local ingredients to create delicious items. On the menu expect to find salads, sandwiches, burgers, pastas, pizzas as well as chicken and fish entrées.


An Amtrak train station is located in Santa Barbara. It’s a great, accessible to way travel and see the coast.

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