It’s Easy Being Green: Santa Barbara Ecotourism

Santa Barbara is a pretty large city, but we wouldn’t say it’s urban. We at Marina Beach Motel love the way Santa Barbara balances city resources and natural ecology. In fact, Santa Barbara is one of the nation’s top destinations for ecotourism… which probably just sounds like we’re throwing around buzzwords. Sure, ecotourism has gained popularity in recent years, but our guests sometimes know nothing about it! We’re proud of Santa Barbara’s efforts to conserve our natural surroundings, so we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to Santa Barbara ecotourism: your questions, answered.

What is ecotourism? According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). While “nature-based tourism” only describes travel to natural places, ecotourism’s core value is the unity of conservation, communities, and sustainable travel.

What is the history of Santa Barbara ecotourism? One of the major events of the environmental movement in the 1970s happened right here in Santa Barbara – the world’s first Earth Day celebration. Santa Barbara still commemorates the event with an annual Earth Day festival in May. Over the years, ecotourism has evolved from being mainly nature-based to popularizing green alternatives in the larger tourism market – golf courses, motels (such as Marina Beach), urban tourist attractions, and beach resorts are much more environmentally conscious today than they were even ten years ago.

How does an ecotourist get around without a car? Ecotourism includes any activity that conserves energy and respects the natural environment. We recommend electric shuttles, bikes (like the free beach cruisers for rent at Marina Beach), horseback rides, or your own two feet.  Santa Barbara may be a city, but it’s one of the most walkable cities in southern California. Any destination to which you would drive is the opposite of ecotourism.

What are some examples of ecotourist activities? Lots of what Santa Barbara is known for is ecotourism-friendly already. Surfing, paddling, hiking, mountain biking, visiting the Santa Barbara Mission, and wine tastings are all eco-friendly as they allow you to get in touch with natural areas and sustain the well-being of local people (shopping, on the other hand… probably not).

What about meals? Are restaurants here part of Santa Barbara ecotourism? Of course! With six weekly farmers’ markets and dozens of specialty restaurants, Santa Barbara cuisine puts quite a bit of emphasis on locally sourced food and beverage – which certainly meets the definitive requirement of “sustaining the well-being of local people” and “involving interpretation and education” about the area’s local economy. The county is also well-known for its many vineyards and wineries, so when you’ve got an itch to wine and dine, you can do it with Santa Barbara grapes instead of wines from anywhere else.

Is Santa Barbara ecotourism family friendly? We understand how difficult traveling with children and entertaining them can be, and sometimes you have to sacrifice environmental consciousness for convenience. If you have the means, we suggest showing the kids the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Ty Warner Sea Center, or Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to take advantage of the “interpretation and education” parts of the ecotourism definition.