A Travel Price Comparison for California Joshua Tree National Park vs. Santa Barbara for Hiking, Couples, Backpackers, and Attractions

Should you visit Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

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

Trying to figure out where to travel next? This travel comparison between Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara can help. It includes a travel cost comparison in addition to other factors. For many travelers, the cost of a destination is a primary consideration when choosing where to go.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a unique, fascinating, and adventurous national park. With stunning beauty, it attracts visitors from all around. Other popular activities here include hiking.

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. It's considered by many to be an absolutely beautiful destination, too. 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.

Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • 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 food
  • Less popular for nightlife
  • Less popular for shopping
  • Public transit not as usable
  • Less walkable
Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Popular for food and cuisine
  • 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 Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

Travelers will usually find more to do in Santa Barbara. Although Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara are popular destinations, Santa Barbara has more sights and attractions for tourists. Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its unique vegetation and large boulders. 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 Joshua Tree National Park different from Santa Barbara?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

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

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a very popular place for its museums and history. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for its museums and landmarks.

You'll find a good number of museums and monuments packed into Santa Barbara. 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.

Joshua Tree National Park offers a handful of options for museums and historical sights. There are a couple of museums in the area that display local art or cultural and historical items.


Is the Food Better in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a very popular place for its restaurants. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for its restaurant scene.

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.

While Joshua Tree National Park is not famous for its food, you'll find what you need there. There aren't any restaurants inside the park, so you'll want to pack your own food and eat at one of the picnic areas.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Nightlife?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a coastal town with good options for its evening party scene. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for nightlife.

With a handful of venues, visitors can find a fairly lively vibe in Santa Barbara. 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.

Things get quiet in the evenings in Joshua Tree National Park. Stargazing and gathering around campfires are the most popular activities during the evening.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Resorts?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a very popular place for its luxury resorts. However, Joshua Tree National Park is not a resort destination.

In Santa Barbara, you'll find some of the region's top resorts. 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.

Joshua Tree National Park is not a resort destination.


Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a decent place to visit for snorkeling and scuba diving. However, Joshua Tree National Park is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

It's possible to 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.

Joshua Tree National Park is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Beaches?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is renowned for the beach. However, Joshua Tree National Park is not a beach destination.

Santa Barbara is considered to be a world-class beach 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.

Joshua Tree National Park is not a beach destination.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for its Old Town?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a coastal town with good options for its historic old town charm. However, Joshua Tree National Park 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.

Joshua Tree National Park does not have a historic old town.


Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Hiking?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Both Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara are destinations which offer terrific hiking.

Around Joshua Tree National Park visitors will find world-class hiking trails. There are a wide range of hikes that include easy, moderate, and strenuous options. Some of the best hikes include Discovery Trail, Boy Scout Trail, and Black Rock Canyon Panorama Loop.

Santa Barbara is well-known for its hiking and trekking. 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.

Is the Shopping Better in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is renowned for its shopping areas. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options 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.

Joshua Tree National Park has some shopping areas for those that seek them out. There is a park store where you can pick up gifts or other items.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Families?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Both Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara are excellent to visit with kids.

You'll find plenty of family-friendly things to do in Joshua Tree National Park. With its giant boulders that kids can scramble on and its Dr. Seuss-like Joshua Trees, this really is nature's best playground. There are also kid-friendly hikes and Junior Ranger Programs that will both educate and entertain the kids.

Santa Barbara is a very family-friendly place to visit. 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.


Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Couples?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is renowned for couples. Also, Joshua Tree National Park is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for romance.

Santa Barbara is a great coastal town for couples, as it has plenty to offer. The town is a stunningly beautiful destination with beautiful beaches, excellent shopping, and nice resorts that make for a great honeymoon or romantic trip.

Couples visit Joshua Tree National Park frequently as it offers plenty of romantic activities. Couples who enjoy the outdoors, adventure sports like rock climbing, and hiking through spectacular landscapes will find this to be the ultimate romantic destination.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Joshua Tree National Park is renowned for backpackers. However, Santa Barbara is not a good coastal town for backpackers and budget travelers.

Joshua Tree National Park is a very popular national park to visit for backpackers. There are campgrounds and hiking trails that are popular with backpackers and nature enthusiasts.

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 Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Students?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a very popular place for its student-friendly activities. However, Joshua Tree National Park is not popular with students.

Students come from all over to stay in Santa Barbara. With a major university right in town, there's plenty of student life that international students or locals can enjoy.

Joshua Tree National Park is not popular with students.


Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a coastal town with good options for times when you don't have a car. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for its public transit.

Santa Barbara has some public transit options. Transit options include buses, trolleys and water taxis.

Public transit is limited or non-existant in Joshua Tree National Park. There's no reliable public transportation in the park.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara a more walkable city?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a very popular place for its ease of walking around. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for its walkability.

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

Joshua Tree National Park is not a walkable national park. You need a car to truly explore the park.

For even more information, also check out Is Joshua Tree National Park Worth Visiting? and Is Santa Barbara Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Santa Barbara or Joshua Tree National Park?

How long in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

Visitors can find plenty of fun things to do in both Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara. With generally more activities and things to do, visitors tend to spend more time in Joshua Tree National Park than in Santa Barbara. Usually, 2-4 days is a good amount of time for Joshua Tree National Park, and 2-3 days is enough time in Santa Barbara.

Families should spend more time in Santa Barbara than Joshua Tree National Park. 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 Joshua Tree National Park. 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 Joshua Tree National Park 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 Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara? Ideal Length of Stay
    Joshua Tree National Park 2-4 
    Santa Barbara 2-3

One day in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

Many travelers enjoy the when visiting the unique destination of Joshua Tree National Park. Many visitors also spend a good bit of time hiking. Don't miss the hiking, as that's what most people do. Your budget might influence how long you stay. Since there is so much to do in the area, one day is probably not enough for all of it.

Visitors enjoy the shopping and museums when visiting the pristine coastal town of Santa Barbara. People enjoy relaxing at one of the resorts. Since there is so much to do in the area, one day is probably not enough for all of it. The length of your trip often depends on your style of travel.


A weekend in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

It's hard to know how much time to spend in Joshua Tree National Park. Make sure you spend some time hiking while you're in the area. Don't miss the hiking, as that's what most people do. 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.

Visitors enjoy the museums and nightlife when visiting the destination of Santa Barbara. Many travelers plan to spend time hiking while in the area. Anyone can find something fun to do here. This is a popular place to visit for a weekend. Because of this, a weekend is usually enough time for a trip here.

Five days in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

Travelers enjoy the when visiting the fascinating destination of Joshua Tree National Park. Many travelers plan to spend time hiking while in the area. This national park 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 popular place that is full of things to see and experience. People often spend their time relaxing at one of the resorts. Most people find that five days is more than enough time to see everything. It offers something for everyone.

A week in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

You'll find around the beautiful national park of Joshua Tree National Park. Hiking can easily take up a good amount of your time here, too. 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.

Santa Barbara is a popular choice for travelers. One week is plenty of time to see everything, even with extra days to spare. Your budget might influence how long you stay.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best Cultural Tours in United States of America, The Best Photography Tours in United States of America, The Best Camping Tours in United States of America, and The Best Romantic Tours for Couples in United States of America.


Which place is cheaper, Santa Barbara or Joshua Tree National Park?

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

The average daily cost (per person) in Joshua Tree National Park is $152, 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 Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Joshua Tree National Park $87
    Santa Barbara $88
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Joshua Tree National Park $174
    Santa Barbara $176
Compare Hotels in Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara

Looking for a hotel in Joshua Tree National Park 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 Joshua Tree National Park


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.
    Joshua Tree National Park $47
    Santa Barbara $42

Is it cheaper to fly into Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Barbara?

Prices for flights to both Santa Barbara and Joshua Tree National Park 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
    Joshua Tree National Park $35
    Santa Barbara $46

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Joshua Tree National Park $27
    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
    Joshua Tree National Park $4.93
    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 comparing the travel costs between Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara, we can see that Santa Barbara is more expensive. However, the two cities are actually relatively comparable in price, as the difference is somewhat minimal. Generally, this means that you could travel with generally the same travel style and level of luxury in each place. Since both cities are in North America, it's no surprise that their costs are relatively close, as many destinations here have somewhat similar travel prices overall.

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