A Santa Barbara weekend with the kids: No driving, no whining, no sunburn


It was too cold to take our two grandsons to the beach in Santa Barbara, but my husband, Paul, and I found lots to delight them on a recent visit. From our West Beach hotel we could walk to Stearns Wharf for kite flying; to the bike path for a pedal-a-thon in a surrey; to the harbor for yacht fantasies; to the Funk Zone for great eats; and to MOXI, the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, for mind-blowing interactive experiences. No driving; no whining; no sunburn — the ultimate grandparents and grandkids vacation. The two-night tab for four: $560 for the room; $275 for meals; $100 for museum admissions and surrey rental; plus taxes, tips and gas.

The Mason Beach Inn is one of a cluster of spruced-up vintage hotel/motels in a serene neighborhood blocks from the sand. Our room, with two queen beds, was comfortable; the staff was friendly; and it was hard to keep the boys out of the pool. In the morning, the small lobby was packed with guests taking advantage of the complimentary breakfast of yogurt, cereal and pastries. Our second morning we avoided the crowd and walked to Helena Avenue Bakery, a laid-back local favorite with super-sticky buns and a green-eggs-and-ham sandwich.



Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant has been a dining mainstay on Santa Barbara Harbor for more than 30 years. You can’t beat the view, the friendly vibe and the fresh seafood. I was happy with a crab and shrimp Louie, and the boys inhaled their ahi poke. Dinner the next night was at Lucky Penny in the Funk Zone. Our grandsons gave up counting the 150,000-plus pennies embedded in the facade when the wood-fired pizza came. The 5-year-old took one bite, deemed it “amazing” and devoured four slices. Paul was in pig heaven with a brioche sandwich stuffed with bacon-fat-cooked shredded chicken and bacon marmalade.

MOXI opened in 2017 in a striking building near the beach that playfully evokes a sandcastle. The museum has more than 70 interactive exhibits that engage kids and adults while teaching STEAM concepts — science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Our grandsons had a blast building and racing race cars, playing with water in what looked like a Rube Goldberg contraption, and running in circles to speed up a big drum powered by their heartbeats. After three hours, they finally got hungry. That didn’t stop them from visiting the Innovation Workshop on the way out to make battery-operated souvenir light-up pins.

The boys were over the moon about the cutting-edge, 18,000-square-foot MOXI. When we stopped by the 19-year-old Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, which occupies a mere 8,000 square feet in the harbor’s old Naval Reserve Center, we feared they’d roll their eyes and yawn. Instead they were fascinated by the interactive exhibits that challenged them to pilot a ship and land a fish. A definite catch.

Mason Beach Inn, 324 W. Mason St., Santa Barbara; (805) 962-3203. Wheelchair accessible.


MOXI, Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, 125 State St., Santa Barbara; (805) 770-5000. Wheelchair accessible.

Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, No. 190, Santa Barbara; (805) 962-8404. Wheelchair accessible.

Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant, 119 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara; (805) 966-4418. Wheelchair accessible.

Lucky Penny, 127 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara; (805) 284-0358. Wheelchair accessible.

Helena Avenue Bakery, 131 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, (805) 880-3383. Wheelchair accessible.

Wheel Fun Rentals, 24 E. Mason St., Santa Barbara; (805) 966-2282.