A Travel Price Comparison for California Big Sur vs. Santa Barbara for Beaches, Hiking, Couples, and Food

Should you visit Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

Which city is more affordable and which is best for your travel style? If you're trying to figure out where to go next, comparing the travel costs between Big Sur and Santa Barbara can help you decide which place is right for you.

Big Sur

Big Sur is a remote, breathtaking, and scenic natural area. You'll find world class beauty here as well. Other popular activities here include hiking, food, and beaches.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a stunning, wealthy, and opulent coastal town. Because this is such a big city, visitors will find many sights and attractions around town. Many visitors also come because of it's amazing beauty. As this is a very quaint destination, you'll find it has a special atmosphere. It's also popular because of the museums, nightlife, and food.

Big Sur and Santa Barbara: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Impressive beauty
Things to Consider
  • Less museums and historical sights
  • Less popular for nightlife
  • Less popular for shopping
  • Public transit not as usable
  • Less walkable
Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Nice resorts
  • Good scuba and snorkeling destination
  • Popular beach
  • Scenic old town
  • Good for hiking
  • Fun shopping
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for students
  • Good public transit
  • Very walkable
  • Impressive beauty
Things to Consider
  • Less popular with backpackers


Is there more to do in Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

Travelers will usually find more to do in Santa Barbara. Although Big Sur and Santa Barbara are popular destinations, Santa Barbara has more sights and attractions for tourists. Big Sur is famous for its beautiful state parks, dramatic coastal cliffs, and world class views. Santa Barbara is famous for its historic missions, pristine beaches, world-class surfing, and scenic hikes that are full of coastal views. It is also well known for The Old Mission Santa Barbara.

How is Big Sur different from Santa Barbara?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Santa Barbara and Big Sur. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is great for its historical sights. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for its sights and museums.

Many visitors head to Santa Barbara specifically to visit some of its top-rated museums and other sights. The city is famous for its missions, with Mission Santa Barbara being the most iconic. Also visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center.

Big Sur offers a few options for museum-goers. Nature is what brings visitors to the area, so most people don't prioritize museums or manmade landmarks.


Is the Food Better in Big Sur or Santa Barbara? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is great for its local flavors and cuisine. Also, Big Sur is not as popular, but is still a nice natural area for its local cuisine and restaurants.

Santa Barbara has a number of nationally recognized food spots and restaurants. The city is best known for its fine dining, particularly if you enjoy seafood. The scallops, oysters, clam chowder, and sea urchin (when available) are all world class. Head for a waterfront setting for the best views and some of the freshest seafood.

Big Sur offers number of good local restaurants to choose from. Most of the restaurants offer a breathtaking view. Many use locally-sourced ingredients and they range in style from fine dining to casual eateries.

Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Nightlife?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is very good for its evening party scene. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for nightlife.

If you're looking for night time activities Santa Barbara has a few options to choose from. For the best nightlife in the city, head downtown to State Street. This is where you'll find the most active bars and biggest crowds. There's a large student population in town, so you'll find much of the nightlife scene is focused on the younger population.

People don't go to Big Sur for the nightlife. There's a taphouse and lounge, but the area is mostly undeveloped with no real nightlife.

Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Resorts?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is great for its luxury resorts. However, Big Sur is not a resort destination.

Vacationers can choose from a number of terrific resorts in Santa Barbara. Many people enjoy the luxurious vacation rentals around Santa Barbara, but there are also a number of high end resorts including the Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort, The Ritz-Carlton, and Hotel Californian.

Big Sur is not a resort destination.


Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is adequate for snorkeling and scuba diving. However, Big Sur is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

There are few places where you can go snorkeling in Santa Barbara. Snorkeling areas not far from town include Refugio State Beach and Tajiguas. You'll see a few fish, beautiful rocks, and anemones that are unique and impressive.

Big Sur is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Beaches?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is an unbeatable place for the beach. Also, Big Sur is not as popular, but is still a nice natural area for its beaches.

With world-famous beaches, Santa Barbara is a very popular vacation destination. The city is famous for its pristine, sandy beaches. Whether you want to enjoy world class surfing or enjoy a gentle ocean setting, Santa Barbara has many options.

You'll have a great beach vacation in Big Sur. The coastline and beaches are dramatic and beautiful, particularly Pfeiffer Beach, which has a dramatic waterfall. The water is filled with rip tides and strong currents, so swimming isn't advisable in most places.

Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for its Old Town?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is very good for its historic old town charm. However, Big Sur does not have a historic old town.

Santa Barbara has an old town worth visiting. The city's downtown "Old Town" is a high end, pedestrian-friendly area with plenty of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.

Big Sur does not have a historic old town.


Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Hiking?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is an unbeatable place for hiking. Also, Big Sur is not as popular, but is still a nice natural area for the nearby hiking options.

Many people visit Santa Barbara specifically for its hiking. Just outside of town are countless hiking opportunities that offer spectacular ocean views. Popular hikes include Inspiration Point, San Ysidro Trail, and Cold Spring East Fork.

Big Sur is a popular spot for hiking. The dramatic hikes take you along the coastline, to beautiful beaches and through Redwood forests. There are a number of state parks along the route and some of the best hikes include Salmon Creek Trail, Pacific Valley Bluff Trail, and Ragged Point Cliffside Trail.

Is the Shopping Better in Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is an unbeatable place for its shopping areas. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for shopping.

Many people travel to Santa Barbara specifically to go shopping. The city is famous as a high end shopping destination. Head to State Street for a palm tree lined street with local boutiques.

Big Sur has some shopping areas for those that seek them out. There are some galleries and gift shops, but most visitors aren't in the area to go shopping.

Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Families?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is great for its kid-friendly activities. Also, Big Sur is not as popular, but is still a nice natural area for its family-friendly activities.

You'll find plenty of family-friendly things to do in Santa Barbara. The city has some nice family-friendly activities including a zoo, some cool museums, and even whale watching. There are also many beautiful beaches where everyone can run around and play, as well as parks and other outdoor settings. For animal-lovers, there are wildlife centers and sea life opportunities.

Big Sur is a family-friendly place to visit. Kids will enjoy the hiking and beaches, particularly the Carmel Lagoon at Carmel River State Beach. There are a number of state parks where kids can run around and stretch their legs.


Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Couples?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Both Big Sur and Santa Barbara are world-class destinations to visit as a couple.

For those traveling as a couple, Big Sur has plenty to offer. Stunning viewpoints and breathtaking coastline make this a wonderful destination for couples. There are romantic inns and impressive hikes along the water's edge or through the dramatic Redwoods.

Santa Barbara has so much to offer for a romantic couple's vacation. The town is a stunningly beautiful destination with beautiful beaches, excellent shopping, and nice resorts that make for a great honeymoon or romantic trip.

Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Big Sur is a popular place for backpackers. However, Santa Barbara is not a good coastal town for backpackers and budget travelers.

Plenty of budget travelers visit Big Sur. There are a couple of hostels in the area, but budget travelers often prefer vacation rentals, which are more common.

Santa Barbara is a challenging destination for budget travelers and backpackers due to the higher prices. The city isn't really known as a budget friendly destination, but there are a couple of hostels in the area. There's also a large student population with a fun nightlife scene.

Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Students?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is great for its student-friendly activities. However, Big Sur is not popular with students.

Santa Barbara is very popular with students. With a major university right in town, there's plenty of student life that international students or locals can enjoy.

Big Sur is not popular with students.


Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is very good for times when you don't have a car. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for its public transit.

While Santa Barbara offers some public transit options, it might not be your first choice. Transit options include buses, trolleys and water taxis.

Public transit is limited or non-existant in Big Sur. There is no real public transportation in the area.

Is Big Sur or Santa Barbara a more walkable city?

Big Sur
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is great for its ease of walking around. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for its walkability.

Santa Barbara is a very walkable destination. The downtown area is very pedestrian-friendly and best explored on foot.

Big Sur is not a walkable natural area. While there are hiking trails, Big Sur is a stretch of road that runs along the coast and requires a car to fully access.

For even more information, also check out Is Big Sur Worth Visiting? and Is Santa Barbara Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Santa Barbara or Big Sur?

How long in Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

Visitors can find plenty of fun things to do in both Big Sur and Santa Barbara. In our opinion, Santa Barbara has more to see and do, so we recommend spending more time in Santa Barbara than Big Sur. In general, 1-3 days is a good amount of time for Big Sur, and 2-3 days is enough time in Santa Barbara.

Families should spend more time in Santa Barbara than Big Sur. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in Santa Barbara, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Couples should spend more time in Santa Barbara than Big Sur. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in Santa Barbara that are perfect for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Santa Barbara than Big Sur if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in Santa Barbara.


  • How many days in Big Sur or Santa Barbara? Ideal Length of Stay
    Big Sur 1-3 
    Santa Barbara 2-3

One day in Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

Many travelers enjoy the food when visiting the breathtaking destination of Big Sur. You'll find plenty of activities on the beach. Your budget might influence how long you stay. If you enjoy all that's offered here, then one day is just the right amount of time to spend here.

In Santa Barbara, you'll find nightlife and food. Travelers enjoy the resorts in the area as well. This coastal town offers something for everyone. One day is usually not enough time for a trip here as there is plenty to do.


A weekend in Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

It's hard to know how much time to spend in Big Sur. Make sure you spend some time hiking while you're in the area. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do. For many, it makes a great getaway for a weekend. A weekend is usually enough time to experience most activities.

In Santa Barbara, you'll find food and shopping. The length of your trip often depends on your style of travel. A weekend here is typical. Hiking can easily take up a good amount of your time here, too. A weekend is a great amount of time to relax and see the many things that Santa Barbara has to offer.

Five days in Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

Travelers enjoy the food when visiting the scenic destination of Big Sur. Many visitors spend time at the beach while visiting the area. This natural area offers a variety of activities to choose from. Five days is usually plenty of time to spend here with extra days to spare. With this much time, visitors often visit nearby destinations or take day trips.

Santa Barbara is a great place to explore. You can also relax and pamper yourself at one of the resorts. Five days is more than enough time to enjoy everything. Take some day trips to nearby places to fill the extra days. Anyone can find something fun to do here.

A week in Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

You'll find food around the beautiful natural area of Big Sur. People usually spend lots of time at the beach. One week is more than enough time to enjoy everything. Take some day trips to nearby places to fill the extra days. The length of your ideal trip is an individual decision.

It's hard to know how much time to spend in Santa Barbara. Many people enjoy the museums and nightlife when visiting Santa Barbara. It's also a relaxing resort destination. One week may feel like too much time unless you plan to do a lot of relaxing.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best Tours Under $1000 in United States of America, The Best Luxury Tours to United States of America, The Best Tours for Seniors to United States of America, and The Best Contiki Tours to United States of America.


Which place is cheaper, Santa Barbara or Big Sur?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Big Sur is $0.00, while the average daily cost in Santa Barbara is $162. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Big Sur and Santa Barbara in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Big Sur $165
    Santa Barbara $88
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Big Sur $330
    Santa Barbara $176
Compare Hotels in Big Sur and Santa Barbara

Looking for a hotel in Big Sur or Santa Barbara? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Big Sur


Hotels in Santa Barbara


Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.


Our Analysis
We've analyzed the average and typical hotel prices based on guest reviews, star ratings, and hotel amenities here: Santa Barbara Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Big Sur -
    Santa Barbara $42

Is it cheaper to fly into Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

Prices for flights to both Santa Barbara and Big Sur change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Big Sur -
    Santa Barbara $46

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Big Sur -
    Santa Barbara $27

Tours and Activities in Santa Barbara

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Santa Barbara are as follows:

  • 2- Hour Pottery Workshop and Studio Tour in Ojai: $65
  • City & Sand Electric Bike Tour: $105
  • Crime Solving Detective Experience Goleta / Isla Vista, CA: $15
  • Downtown SB Walking Food & Drink Tour: $175
  • Electric Bike Adventure in Santa Barbara Wine Country: $83
  • Epic Zipline Tour Over The Santa Ynez Valley: $139
  • Guided Kayak Wildlife Tour in the Santa Barbara Harbor: $55
  • Historic Santa Barbara Family Walking Adventure: $241
  • Kayak Tour of Santa Barbara with Experienced Guide: $55
  • Make your own Chocolate Bark & Factory Tour: $45
  • Montecito Coastline Electric Bike Guided Tour: $125
  • Private Guided Tour in Santa Barbara on Electric Bikes: $80

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Big Sur -
    Santa Barbara $12

Typical Alcohol Prices in Santa Barbara

Below are a few samples from actual travelers for alcohol and nightlife costs in Santa Barbara:


  • Camping
    $20

Sample the Local Flavors in Santa Barbara

Here are a few nightlife and alcohol tours and activities from local tour providers in Santa Barbara:

  • Paranormal Pairing: Wine Tasting Walk with Ghost Storytelling: $105
  • Solvang Valley Small Group All-Inclusive Wine Tour : $185
  • Santa Ynez Valley Biking and Wine Tasting Tour: $194
  • All-Inclusive Full-Day Wine Tasting Tour from Santa Ynez Valley: $199
  • Wine Tasting Tour in Santa Ynez Valley (All-Inclusive & Full-Day): $215
  • ‚ÄčAll-Inclusive Full-Day Wine Tasting Tour from Santa Barbara: $219
  • Small-Group Wine Tasting Tour of Santa Barbara Wine Country: $235
  • Santa Barbara Small-Group Wine Tour to Private Estates & Wineries: $235
  • Small-Group Wine Tour to Private Locations in Santa Barbara : $235
  • Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez Wine Tour (We Drive Your Vehicle): $300


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Big Sur and Santa Barbara, we can see that Santa Barbara is more expensive. And not only is Big Sur much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Big Sur would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Big Sur and be able to afford a more luxurious travel style by staying in nicer hotels, eating at more expensive restaurants, taking tours, and experiencing more activities. The same level of travel in Santa Barbara would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Santa Barbara than you might in Big Sur.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Big Sur Expensive? and Is Santa Barbara Expensive?.



When is the best time to visit Big Sur or Santa Barbara?

Both places have a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. As both cities are in the northern hemisphere, summer is in July and winter is in January.

Should I visit Big Sur or Santa Barbara in the Summer?

Both Santa Barbara and Big Sur during the summer are popular places to visit. Most visitors come to Big Sur for the beaches, the hiking, and the family-friendly experiences during these months. Furthermore, the summer months attract visitors to Santa Barbara because of the beaches, snorkeling, the hiking, the city activities, and the family-friendly experiences.

Big Sur is around the same temperature as Santa Barbara in the summer. The daily temperature in Big Sur averages around 63°F (17°C) in July, and Santa Barbara fluctuates around 65°F (19°C).

Big Sur usually gets more rain in July than Santa Barbara. Big Sur gets 0 inches (1 mm) of rain, while Santa Barbara receives 0 inches (1 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Summer Average Temperatures July
    Big Sur 63°F (17°C) 
    Santa Barbara 65°F (19°C)

Should I visit Big Sur or Santa Barbara in the Autumn?

The autumn attracts plenty of travelers to both Big Sur and Santa Barbara. The autumn months attract visitors to Big Sur because of the hiking trails and the natural beauty of the area. Furthermore, the hiking trails, the city's sights and attractions, the shopping scene, and the natural beauty of the area are the main draw to Santa Barbara this time of year.

In the autumn, Big Sur is around the same temperature as Santa Barbara. Typically, the autumn temperatures in Big Sur in October average around 62°F (17°C), and Santa Barbara averages at about 62°F (17°C).

In October, Big Sur usually receives more rain than Santa Barbara. Big Sur gets 0.6 inches (14 mm) of rain, while Santa Barbara receives 0.5 inches (13 mm) of rain each month for the autumn.


  • Autumn Average Temperatures October
    Big Sur 62°F (17°C) 
    Santa Barbara 62°F (17°C)

Should I visit Big Sur or Santa Barbara in the Winter?

The winter brings many poeple to Big Sur as well as Santa Barbara. The cuisine are the main draw to Big Sur this time of year. Additionally, many travelers come to Santa Barbara for the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine.

In January, Big Sur is generally around the same temperature as Santa Barbara. Daily temperatures in Big Sur average around 51°F (11°C), and Santa Barbara fluctuates around 52°F (11°C).

Big Sur usually gets less rain in January than Santa Barbara. Big Sur gets 2.3 inches (58 mm) of rain, while Santa Barbara receives 3.2 inches (82 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Winter Average Temperatures January
    Big Sur 51°F (11°C) 
    Santa Barbara 52°F (11°C)

Should I visit Big Sur or Santa Barbara in the Spring?

Both Santa Barbara and Big Sur are popular destinations to visit in the spring with plenty of activities. Many travelers come to Big Sur for the beaches and the natural beauty. Also, many visitors come to Santa Barbara in the spring for the beaches, the activities around the city, and the natural beauty.

Big Sur is around the same temperature as Santa Barbara in the spring. The daily temperature in Big Sur averages around 56°F (13°C) in April, and Santa Barbara fluctuates around 57°F (14°C).

In April, Big Sur usually receives around the same amount of rain as Santa Barbara. Big Sur gets 1.1 inches (29 mm) of rain, while Santa Barbara receives 1.1 inches (27 mm) of rain each month for the spring.


  • Spring Average Temperatures April
    Big Sur 56°F (13°C) 
    Santa Barbara 57°F (14°C)

Typical Weather for Santa Barbara and Big Sur

Big Sur Santa Barbara
Temp (°C) Rain (mm) Temp (°C) Rain (mm)
Jan 51°F (11°C) 2.3 inches (58 mm) 52°F (11°C) 3.2 inches (82 mm)
Feb 53°F (12°C) 1.8 inches (47 mm) 54°F (12°C) 3.6 inches (92 mm)
Mar 54°F (12°C) 2.1 inches (55 mm) 55°F (13°C) 2.8 inches (72 mm)
Apr 56°F (13°C) 1.1 inches (29 mm) 57°F (14°C) 1.1 inches (27 mm)
May 59°F (15°C) 0.2 inches (4 mm) 59°F (15°C) 0.2 inches (4 mm)
Jun 62°F (16°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm) 62°F (17°C) 0 inches (1 mm)
Jul 63°F (17°C) 0 inches (1 mm) 65°F (19°C) 0 inches (1 mm)
Aug 64°F (18°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm) 67°F (19°C) 0.1 inches (3 mm)
Sep 64°F (18°C) 0.2 inches (6 mm) 66°F (19°C) 0.5 inches (12 mm)
Oct 62°F (17°C) 0.6 inches (14 mm) 62°F (17°C) 0.5 inches (13 mm)
Nov 56°F (13°C) 1.8 inches (45 mm) 57°F (14°C) 2.1 inches (53 mm)
Dec 51°F (10°C) 2 inches (51 mm) 52°F (11°C) 2.2 inches (56 mm)