A Travel Price Comparison for California San Diego vs. Santa Barbara for Beaches, Hiking, Families, and Couples

Should you visit San Diego or Santa Barbara?

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

Which city should you visit? Read on to compare the activities as well as the prices of travel for San Diego and Santa Barbara. We'll break down costs for accommodation, food, transportation and more to help you learn more about these two destinations. Then, you can figure out if either of these two places are accessible based on your travel budget, schedule, and interests. So, let's dig into it.

San Diego

San Diego is a fun-filled, hip, and dynamic coastal city. Because this is such a big city, visitors will find many sights and attractions around town. It offers plenty of beauty for visitors. As this is a very quaint destination, you'll find it has a special atmosphere. Other popular activities here include nightlife, live music, and food.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a opulent, pristine, and affluent coastal town. It's a large city, so you'll find plenty of things to do around town. Many visitors also come here because of it's amazing beauty. This destination also has one of those special and quaint feelings. Visitors also love the food, beaches, and hiking.

How is San Diego different from Santa Barbara?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Museums and Historical Sights?

Visiting museums and landmarks is a fun activity in both San Diego and Santa Barbara.

Visitors can fill many days exploring the museums and attractions around San Diego. While the city is famous for it's beaches, zoos, and aquariums, don't overlook the museums and other landmarks. Popular options include the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, the Old Town State Historic Park, and Point Loma and Cabrillo Monument.

Santa Barbara offers many unique museums, sights, and landmarks that will make for a memorable trip. 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.


Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Food?

There are opportunities to sample the local cuisine in both San Diego and Santa Barbara.

San Diego has a delicious food scene that relies on local flavors. The city has great seafood and a diversity of cuisines. Popular local dishes include fish tacos and California burritos.

There are many up and coming restaurants in the Santa Barbara area. 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.

Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Nightlife?

The vibe at night is comparable in San Diego and Santa Barbara.

Many people head to San Diego for the nightlife scene. The heart of the city's nightlife scene is in the Gaslamp District, which is filled with bars, clubs, and music venues.

There's a variety of activities in the evening 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.

Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Resorts?

There are resorts to choose from in both San Diego and Santa Barbara.

With a selection of resorts, San Diego makes a nice vacation spot. Most people prefer to stay in hotels or VRBOs, but several popular resorts include Fairmont Grand Del Mar, Paradise Point, and the famous Hotel del Coronado.

Santa Barbara is known as a popular and fun resort destination. 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.

Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

You'll find places where you can go scuba diving or snorkeling in San Diego and Santa Barbara.

Grab a mask and fins and explore the underwater scenery in San Diego. Popular snorkeling and diving spots include La Jolla Cove, Mission Bay, and Turtle Town.

Snorkeling is an option 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.


Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Beaches?

San Diego and Santa Barbara both offer beautiful beaches.

San Diego offers stunning beaches that attract visitors from around the world. The city has great beaches with tidal pools and interesting sea life at low tide. Popular beaches include La Jolla Cove Beach, Coronado Beach, and Pacific Beach.

Travelers come from around the world to visit the beaches in Santa Barbara. 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 options.

Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Hiking?

Hiking trails can be found around both San Diego and Santa Barbara.

Many visitors go to San Diego for the hiking trails. The city is field with parks and has tons of natural beauty. Head to Torrey Pines State Park or Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail for some nice hikes.

People visit Santa Barbara specifically for its hiking, as the natural beauty is well-known. 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 San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Shopping?

Santa Barbara is generally considered to be a more popular shopping destination.

Known for shopping, Santa Barbara draws large crowds to its stores. The city is famous as a high end shopping destination. Head to State Street for a palm tree lined street with local boutiques.

Many visitors go to San Diego to go shopping. Head to Fashion Valley or Westfield UTC for some fun shopping.

Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Families?

Families may find more to do in San Diego than Santa Barbara.

With a huge array of activities for kids, San Diego is very family-friendly. It has a number of kid-friendly activities that everyone can enjoy. There's the world class zoo, several amusement parks, the beaches, aquariums, and more.

Santa Barbara is a family-friendly place to visit. The city has some nice family-friendly activities including a zoo, some cool museums, and even whale watching.


Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Couples?

Couples will find a longer list of romantic activities in Santa Barbara than San Diego.

Santa Barbara is fantastic couple's destination with fun and romantic activities. The town is a stunningly beautiful destination with beautiful beaches, excellent shopping, and nice resorts that make for a great honeymoon or romantic trip.

San Diego is a good coastal city for couples to visit. For adventurous couples, there are many outdoor activities that you can enjoy together. There are also restaurants and a great nightlife in San Diego.

Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Students?

For students, both San Diego and Santa Barbara are fairly comparable places to visit.

San Diego is a very popular place to visit for students. With its young population and many universities, international students will feel right at home in San Diego.

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

Is San Diego or Santa Barbara better for Public Transit?

San Diego and Santa Barbara both offer public transit to get you around.

Public transit is mostly limited in San Diego. The city has a trolley (light rail system) as well as a bus system. Most people depend on cars to get around.

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

Is San Diego or Santa Barbara a more walkable city?

San Diego and Santa Barbara are similar when it comes to walkability.

San Diego is a somewhat walkable place. The downtown area is walkable, but if you want to travel further, you'll need to find a different form of transportation.

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


San Diego and Santa Barbara: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Good scuba and snorkeling destination
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
Cons
  • Less popular for shopping
  • Less popular with couples
Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Good for shopping
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Impressive beauty
Cons
  • Not as popular for scuba diving and snorkeling
  • Less family-friendly
  • Less popular with backpackers


Should I spend more time in Santa Barbara or San Diego?

How long in San Diego or Santa Barbara?

Visitors can find plenty of fun things to do in both San Diego and Santa Barbara. With generally more activities and things to do, visitors tend to spend more time in San Diego than Santa Barbara.

The ideal length of time for a trip to San Diego is 3-5 days, and the ideal length of time for a trip to Santa Barbara is 2-3 days.


  • How many days in San Diego or Santa Barbara? Ideal Length of Stay
    San Diego 3-5 
    Santa Barbara 2-3

One day in San Diego or Santa Barbara?

Many travelers enjoy the food and scuba diving and snorkeling when visiting the energetic destination of San Diego. You'll find plenty of activities on the beach. Don't miss the beaches, 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.

You'll find shopping and museums around the coastal town of Santa Barbara. People often spend their time 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. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do.

A weekend in San Diego or Santa Barbara?

It's hard to know how much time to spend in San Diego. Make sure you spend some time hiking while you're in the area. Don't miss the beaches, as that's what most people do. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do. A weekend is usually not enough time for a trip here as there is plenty to do.

You'll find museums and nightlife around the scenic destination of Santa Barbara. Hikers are also drawn to this area. This is a popular place to visit for a weekend.A weekend should give you a good understanding of everything this coastal town has to offer. This coastal town offers a variety of activities to choose from.

Five days in San Diego or Santa Barbara?

Many travelers enjoy the shopping and museums when visiting the dynamic destination of San Diego. Many visitors spend time at the beach while visiting the area. This coastal city offers a variety of activities to choose from. If you have five days, this is a great place to go. Five days is usually enough time for a trip here.

Travelers enjoy the nightlife and food when visiting the opulent coastal town of Santa Barbara. The length of your ideal trip is an individual decision. It's also a relaxing resort destination. Five days is plenty of time to see everything, even with extra days to spare.

A week in San Diego or Santa Barbara?

You'll find museums and nightlife around the coastal city of San Diego. 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.

Santa Barbara is a popular choice for travelers. People enjoy relaxing at one of the resorts. One week 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. It will give you the chance to have new experiences.

Which city is cheaper, Santa Barbara or San Diego?

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

The average daily cost (per person) in San Diego is $161, while the average daily cost in Santa Barbara is $130. 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 city. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for San Diego and Santa Barbara in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    San Diego $91
    Santa Barbara $71
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    San Diego $182
    Santa Barbara $142

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    San Diego $19
    Santa Barbara $33

Hired Cars and Shuttles in San Diego

Also for San Diego, here are a few examples of actual transportation services:

  • Private Airport Transfer: from San Diego to San Diego Int. Airport (SAN): $35
  • Private Departure Transfer from San Diego to SAN San Diego Airport: $46
  • Private Airport Transfer: San Diego International Airport (SAN) to San Diego: $46
  • Private Arrival Transfer from San Diego Airport SAN: $48
  • Private Departure Transfer to San Diego Airport SAN: $48
  • Private Arrival Transfer from SAN San Diego Airport to San Diego City: $49
  • San Diego Airport (SAN) to San Diego hotel or address - Arrival Private Transfer: $60
  • San Diego hotel/address to San Diego Airport (SAN) - Departure Private Transfer: $60
  • Transfer from San Diego International Airport to San Diego: $62
  • Departure Private Transfer San Diego to San Diego Airport SAN in Business Car: $63
  • Private Airport Transfer San Deigo Arrival And Departure: $67
  • Private Airport Transfer: Hotel to and from San Diego International Airport: $70

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Santa Barbara

Some specific examples of transportation prices in Santa Barbara:

  • Santa Barbara-Ojai: Private Transfer To the Los Angeles.: $345
  • Santa Barbara Area Private Transfer To Los Angeles.: $335
  • Private Transfer from Santa B├írbara to Terceira Lajes (TER) Airport: $87
  • Santa Barbara Municipal Airport One Way Transfer: $48

Is it cheaper to fly into San Diego or Santa Barbara?

Prices for flights to both Santa Barbara and San Diego 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
    San Diego $36
    Santa Barbara $37
Typical Food prices in San Diego

Here are some examples of typical meal expenses from previous travelers to San Diego:


  • Mexican Lunch for Two
    $27
  • Breakfast at Starbucks
    $20

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in San Diego

For San Diego, here are some samples of tours and activities related to meals and dining experiences:

  • San Diego North Park Food Tour: $49
  • Liberty Station Food Tour: $49
  • Market and Guacamole Cooking Class in Tijuana Mexico: $89
  • Private Cooking Demonstration of Indian Fusion Cuisine in San Diego: $96
  • Farmers Market Tour & Social Cooking With A Chef: $100
  • San Diego Harbor Dinner Cruise: $111
  • Private Tour: Secret Food Tours San Diego: $129
  • Secret Food Tours San Diego w/ Private Tour Option: $277

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Santa Barbara

Also, here are some specific examples of food and dining related activities in Santa Barbara.

  • Downtown Santa Barbara Food Tour: $99

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    San Diego $38
    Santa Barbara $22
Typical Entertainment prices in San Diego

For San Diego, here are some examples of average entertainment and activity prices from previous travelers:


  • San Diego Zoo
    $15
  • Sea World Parking
    $12

Tours and Activities in San Diego

Also, here are some specific examples of entertainment, tickets, and activities for San Diego.

  • La Jolla: Explore California's Riviera on a self-guided audio tour: $5.40
  • La Jolla: Ultimate Self-Guided Combo Tour: $12
  • San Diego Zoo Hunt: Roar with Rex Adventure at the San Diego Zoo: $12
  • San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter Historic True Crime Tour: $16
  • San Diego Scavenger Hunt Adventure: $21
  • San Diego Balboa Park Scavenger Hunt Adventure: $21
  • Behind-the-Scenes at Petco Park Tour: $23
  • San Diego Gaslamp District Ghost Tour: $24
  • Ghost-Themed Walking Tour: $25
  • Skip-the-Line: USS Midway Museum Entry Ticket: $26
  • San Diego Harbor Cruise: $28
  • Tijuana Walking Tour from San Diego: $28

Tours and Activities in Santa Barbara

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

  • Authentic Funk Zone Tour: $125
  • Beginner or Intermediate Mountain Bike Tour of Santa Barbara: $105
  • Kayak Tour of Santa Barbara with Experienced Guide: $50
  • Private All-Inclusive Wine Country Tour for Couples from Santa Barbara: $550
  • Private Party Bus Tour in the Santa Ynez Valley: $245
  • Private Santa Barbara Winery Tour in Mercedes Convertible for up to 18 Guests: $848
  • Private Santa Barbara Winery and Estate Tour in Tesla SUV: $381
  • Private Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Tour: $326
  • Private Walking Ghosts Tour at Santa Barbara: $35
  • Santa Barbara Amazing Scavenger Hunt Adventure: $44
  • Santa Barbara Downtown Cocktails and History Walking Tour: $85
  • Santa Barbara Electric Bike Tour: $95

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    San Diego $17
    Santa Barbara $9.46

Sample the Local Flavors in San Diego

Also in San Diego, these are the prices for nightlife and alcohol related activities from various tour providers:

  • San Diego Bar Hunt: Slammin' San Diego Bar Crawl: $12
  • Wine Tasting Or Beer Tasting: $15
  • San Diego Brewery Tour: $85
  • San Diego Micro Brewery Tour: $91
  • The San Diego Downtown Craft Brewery Tour: $95
  • The San Diego Downtown Craft Brewery Tour: $101
  • Private San Diego Brewery Tour: $107
  • All inclusive brewery tour-Fire Truck: $189
  • Luxury Private Wine Tasting Tour to Guadalupe Valley from San Diego.: $249
  • Private Wine Tour of Temecula from San Diego: $475

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:

  • Santa Barbara Private Wine Tasting Experience: $69
  • Santa Barbara Ghost and Wine Tasting Private Tour: $75
  • Private All-Inclusive Santa Barbara Brewery Tour: $125
  • Santa Ynez Wine Tour from Santa Barbara: $129
  • Private All-Inclusive Wine Tasting Tour from Santa Barbara: $135
  • Santa Ynez Valley Wine Tour: $139
  • From All-Inclusive Wine Tasting Tour & Lunch: $146
  • Santa Ynez Valley Cupcake and Wine Tour: $159
  • Small-Group Santa Barbara Wine Tour to Private Locations: $163
  • All-Inclusive Wine Tasting Tour from Santa Barbara: $167
  • Small-Group Wine Tasting Tour of Santa Barbara Wine Country: $169
  • Santa Barbara Small-Group Wine Tour to Private Locations Not Open To Pubic: $180


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between San Diego and Santa Barbara, we can see that San Diego is more expensive. And not only is Santa Barbara much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Santa Barbara would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Santa Barbara 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 San Diego would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in San Diego than you might in Santa Barbara.

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San Diego vs. Santa Barbara Travel Comparison

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