It’s easy to see the allure of Santa Barbara: Long stretches of tawny sand edging an expansive ocean, an imposing backdrop of chaparral-covered mountains, and in between, a ribbon of land that is home to four exciting cities—Santa Barbara, Goleta, Montecito and Summerland. Santa Barbara and surrounding areas welcome families and individuals who enjoy the outdoors, sports, arts and culture, fine food and wine. There’s something for everyone … let this guide to Santa Barbara give you inspiration to sample its charms.
HEAD FOR THE HEART: Start with the Spanish-Moorish fantasy that is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse for an overview (literally) of town from the Clock Tower observation deck, and admire colorful panoramas of Santa Barbara’s story in the Mural Room. Afterward, you can trace the historic landmarks of downtown—including the Presidio, where the town was born—on the Red Tile Walking Tour. Follow State Street to the Pacific for a stroll out along Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara’s Waterfront district. Located in the other direction is Old Mission Santa Barbara, which was called the “Queen of the Missions” for its beauty. Founded in 1786, it is still active as a parish church.
BREAK FOR LUNCH: Bistros and cafés, taquerias and pizza parlors offer possibilities for all ages and appetites, including a chance to enjoy the weather from the veranda at the La Paloma Café, or to savor the harbor comings and goings from Brophy Bros.
SIFT THE SANDS: Clear the mind with some beach time. So many to choose from! East, West and Leadbetter beaches are often full of activity, while Arroyo Burro (called “Hendry’s” by locals) boasts long uncrowded stretches beneath scenic cliffs. Montecito has Butterfly Beach, and Summerland’s Lookout Park includes picnic areas. Just up the coast, Goleta Beach sometimes attracts students from the neighboring university, and El Capitán State Beach offers swimming, surfing, and tide pools to explore.
SIP & SUP: Make your dining decision from an array of cuisines and settings, from formal to casual. With the surrounding bounty of land and sea to draw on, many fine restaurants, such as Toma Restaurant & Bar, emphasize fresh, local and seasonal menus and pair their offerings with the products of close-by vineyards.
SHOW TIME: Plays, music, movies and more … the curtain goes up at historic theaters like the Arlington, Lobero, Granada and the New Vic, as well at intimate venues like Paseo Nuevo’s Center Stage. UCSB’s Arts and Lectures program presents a mix of traditional and avant-garde fare both in town and on campus.
PICNIC FIXIN’S: Why not plan for a lunch al fresco? A deli will make up a sandwich to order, or you can pick up the ingredients for a lunch-to-go at one of the purveyors in the Santa Barbara Public Market. There’s also a farmers market somewhere in Santa Barbara almost every day of the week, such as the Downtown Santa Barbara Market on Saturdays and the Goleta Market on Sundays.
GET ACTIVE: What’s your sport of choice? Santa Barbara has a place for it: Surfing … check. Golf … of course, complete with ocean panoramas at places like Glen Annie Golf Club and Sandpiper Golf Club. Tennis … multiple courts. To say nothing of vendors who will provide the equipment and opportunity to kayak, bicycle and sail.
RELAX: When you feel the need to ratchet down the activity level, try a treatment at one of the day spas or re-energize your body and mind at one of the yoga centers.
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CHILD’S PLAY: This is an ideal place for children to learn about the environment and the natural world while having fun. Time will fly at the Santa Barbara Zoo or the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center. Or, take to the seas for an afternoon surrounded by whales and dolphins in their aquatic environment, you can even board a Condor Express Whale Watching boat.
ALL THE BUZZ: Explore The Funk Zone, home to working artists, artisans and galleries open to visitors—especially on weekends and during monthly art walks. The hip neighborhood abounds with tasting rooms on the Urban Wine Trail as well as its share of craft breweries, like the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. There are also myriad places to dine, offering everything from small bites and casual fare to gourmet meals at The Lark.
MUSEUM MORNING: Art lovers, history buffs, maritime enthusiasts and garden aficionados will all find something to inspire them. Superb collections of painting, sculpture and photography fill the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and colorful exhibits grace the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. In Montecito, Ganna Walska Lotusland is a world-class horticultural jewel, while Casa del Herrero, a 1925 Andalusian-style farmhouse designed by architect George Washington Smith, also boasts a fine garden. And in the hills beyond the Old Mission, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden offers 78 acres of rare and indigenous plants.
LINGER OVER LUNCH: Find a seat with a water view or head for a romantic corner in a quiet restaurant, order a glass of local wine and savor the moment. Santa Barbara is about enjoying the good life—for residents and visitors alike.
RETAIL THERAPY: There’s still time to find the perfect gift for someone else or yourself in one of the many area shops. State Street is lined with boutiques filled with clothing for the whole family, home décor and specialty wares. Don’t miss the passageways of La Arcada, El Paseo and Paseo Nuevo. La Cumbre Plaza is another retail mecca beyond downtown. In Montecito, you can stroll Coast Village Road and the Upper Village, while Summerland’s lively thoroughfare is a bonanza of antique stores, along with a variety of other shops and eateries.
AFTER DARK: All year long there’s a tempting list of concerts, plays and other theatrical performances, including — from April to October—big-name bands and singers at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Be sure to check out the late-night lounges and music-centric hot spots, like those at the Sandbar, The Red Piano and SOhO.
You weren’t really ready to leave yet, were you? There’s always more to do…