I have fond memories from my childhood of exploring creeks in Santa Barbara: the Botanic Gardens, Rocky Nook Park, Tucker's Grove and Oak Park were all places we would poke around, look at bugs, find the best walking stick and get occasionally get wet. I know I have lost some of you and others are freaking out about poison oak (which I have never had), but I am a firm believer in nature play for kids. (This probably fueled my love for nature as well as my pre-kids job as a science teacher.) Disclaimer: only you know the conditions of any creek you may walk in. Beware of high water levels and excessive poison oak.
My own kids love to take a creek walk or play in a park that let's them pick up rocks, sticks and examine bugs. They love the water when it is there, but they still love the dry creeks. My 7 year old especially would walk in the creek at least once a week. It isn't a power walk, but that is hardly the point.
Why it is a favorite: I could write a thesis about this, but in short, kids need unstructured play and need the calming time in nature.
Location: Many places listed in Best Parks with Outdoorsy Play Areas (Botanic Gardens, Stevens Park, Rocky Nook Park, Tucker's Grove and Oak Park as well as a creek in your neighborhood. If you pay attention as you stroll near your creek, you can find access points.
Directions: See posts above for the park directions
Time Spent: an hour or more
Parking: See posts above for the parking information
Kid Quotes: "Mama, when can we go on a creek walk?" 7 year old (at least once a week!)