Old Spanish Days Fiesta only takes place once a year, but you can get your “Viva La” on here all year round. Tacos, Spanish-style accents and agave-spirited cocktails are everyday staples of the Santa Barbara lifestyle. Our bars and restaurants have honed their margarita-making craft to a refined science so you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding where to go to satisfy your cravings for the best margarita in Santa Barbara. Whether you’re pairing your margs with tacos, quenching your thirst after a long hike or lifting a glass to celebrate a special occasion, these watering holes have got you covered—on the rocks, with salt…or however you take your margarita!
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Let’s start with the tried-and-true classic establishments. These restaurants get high points for ambiance and have been serving margaritas to Santa Barbarans and our visitors for decades. Built in 1922, the El Paseo Restaurant space is one of the main anchors of the historic El Paseo shopping center, which became the model for Southern California’s Spanish-Colonial architectural style. Set in a cozy house with an inviting patio overlooking El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, La Playa Azul Café is a locals’ favorite that’s been in business since 1976. Carlitos Café y Cantina opened two years later in 1978 and also boasts a stellar patio. Here, you can people watch as you enjoy the view of the landmark Arlington Theatre across State Street.
The Creative Types
There are so many delicious twists on the class margarita and these stylish hideaways offer innovative interpretations with both tequila and mezcal as the base. The craft cocktail menu at Milk & Honey Tapas includes a Violet Margarita with a float of raspberry liqueur and the mezcal and herb-driven Falkor’s Fire with tarragon, among many others. Nectar Eatery & Lounge offers a sultry place to sip on their Damiana Margarita—Damiana liqueur is considered an ancient aphrodisiac. They also offer a margarita flight so you can sample three different variations of flavors like habanero, guava and blood orange. Grab a perch at Somerset’s elegant bar and order the Ortega’s Revenge for a modern adaptation of the margarita. The complex work of libation art includes tequila blanco, smoked citrus, arugula, Thai chili and wild elderflower. Yum, yum, yum!
State Street Staples
All roads lead to State Street when you’re in Santa Barbara, and there are countless spots shaking up refreshing adult beverages from the waterfront end all the way to upper State. Benchmark Eatery prides itself on being a purveyor of generous cocktails, so if you want a stiff drink, belly up to the bar here and order the very best kind of “basic” margarita. Also known for their ample pours, Sandbar Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar is a full service restaurant by day and the life of the party by night. Their margarita menu spans a diverse range of flavors and styles, from skinnies for the calorie counters to a rotating line-up of seasonal farmers’ market flavors. The team behind the popular Los Agaves eateries recently opened Santo Mezcal in the Funk Zone and it’s no surprise it was an instant hit. Get this: you can supersize your margaritas, as they offer a choice of “regular” or “extra large.” Designed by local architect Jeff Shelton, Casa Blanca is a whimsical sight to behold with its contemporary interpretation of Santa Barbara’s Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style. Tequila connoisseurs will appreciate the extensive tequila list that spills over into the margarita offerings—like the Million Dollar Margarita made with Don Julio 1942, a bargain at just $25!
A Luxury Twist
Speaking of million dollar cocktails, Santa Barbara’s premier luxury hotels take their bar programs very seriously…and you can be the beneficiary of their R&D! If you’re not a hotel guest, you can still stop by for swanky drinks to experience the gorgeous grounds and impeccable hospitality at these Montecito legends. The San Ysidro Ranch offers an exclusive Warner Margarita for a mere $160. Why so high? The addition of Grand Marnier’s 150th Anniversary special edition of the liqueur, which was made with a cognac aged more than 50 years. Between the herbal Sage Margarita and citrus-forward Mandarina Margarita, the waterfront Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore’s Ty Lounge executes beautiful margaritas that capture the essence of The American Riviera®. If you’re a guest at the Four Seasons (or friends of one), don’t miss the Coral Reef Bar experience at the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club right across the street—access is an exclusive hotel guest perk. The orange hues of the the Spicy Mango Margarita are the perfect companion to the coral colored interior accents and the sun setting on Butterfly Beach.
Two If By Sea
Truly, nothing says vacation like cocktails by the sea. Convivo Restaurant and Bar takes full advantage of the Santa Barbara Inn’s prime location along Cabrillo Boulevard with waterfront and palm-lined views. Watch the day turn to night as you savor their refined Mesa Margarita or go for the La Paloma. The beach doesn’t get any closer than Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach. They also serve a take on the grapefruit-centric Paloma with their Paloma Valentina. But it’s probably the Blood Orange Margarita that will have you at “hello.” You can opt to add fresh jalapeno for a kick of heat. Olé!