Life gravitates outside all year round in Santa Barbara, and come summer, the call of fresh air and sunshine reaches its peak. If you’re craving a day of culture that’s equal parts inspiring and al fresco, we’ve got you covered. Between our dreamy, perfectly preserved historic landmarks and pristine botanical gardens, you can easily step back in time and learn about the Spanish and Mexican eras as well as the native natural environment. In between wanderings downtown on the Red Tile Walking Tour and along manicured garden trails, you can pop into intimate, air-conditioned museums and galleries to admire art created by local talents and artists of international renown. This itinerary will give you a healthy serving of culture complete with your daily dose of Vitamin D—and it’s perfectly suited to those long, leisurely endless summer days.
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Start your morning with coffee and breakfast at Breakfast, a hybrid art gallery and café showcasing works by local artists. Then head to the 78-acre historic landmark Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, where you can take an invigorating walk along the living museum’s 5.5 miles of trails. The showcase of California’s native landscapes features diverse habitats ranging from desert and meadow to creek side and redwoods. Get snap happy as you admire the native trees, flowers, shrubs, cacti and other plants. Take advantage of the stunning vista of the Channel Islands 25 miles offshore from the Garden’s new Island View Garden at the Pritzlaff Conservation Center—it’s seriously one of the best views in town. Kids, in particular, will have a blast checking out the Garden’s temporary exhibition opening July 1 (running through December 31). Garden Casitas: Playhouses Designed with Nature in Mind is a collection of six playhouses constructed primarily of plant-based materials, highlighting the importance of plants in everyday life.
Stop by the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara for a photo op on your way back downtown en route to Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA). The easily accessible and brilliantly curated SBMA is regarded as one of the leading art museums on the West Coast, featuring world-class exhibitions and a permanent collection spanning the arts of Asia, Europe and the Americas. Given its prime location and high-quality works, you can see incredible art and be in and out in a couple of hours—it makes for an ideal midday break from the sun. The museum’s current must-see work, Kehinde Wiley: Equestrian Portrait of Prince Tommaso of Savoy-Carignan, is on display through October 13. Now through August 18, you can also see Out of Storage and into the Light: Sculptures That Tell Stories—the museum’s first exhibition devoted exclusively to sculpture. And Chris Kallmyer: Ensemble (May 19-June 23) is a new multimedia installation by the Los Angeles-based sound and performance artist.
After perusing the SBMA gift shop, stroll over to the Presidio Neighborhood for a late lunch at Wine Cask in the historic El Paseo open air shopping center. After an artfully presented meal of regional specialties, make your way to Casa de la Guerra, a historic house museum owned and operated by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP). Constructed between 1818 and 1828 by José de la Guerra, the fifth commandante of the Presidio, it was the social, political and cultural center of Santa Barbara during the Mexican period. Today it remains a popular community event space, and during Old Spanish Days Fiesta (July 31- August 4), it’s home to the lively and colorful “Casa Cantina.”
A short two block walk down Canon Perdido Street will bring you to El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, where Santa Barbara truly began. The Presidio is the last of four Spanish forts built in California and is where Santa Barbara was founded in 1782—even predating the Mission. The beautifully reconstructed Presidio Chapel held the first European weddings in Santa Barbara and still functions as a wedding venue today. El Cuartel, another site on the five-and-a-half-acre park, is the oldest remaining building in Santa Barbara and the second oldest building in California. The original Cañedo Adobe houses the Presidio’s Visitor Center, where you can pick up information for a self-guided tour.
After your full day of sight-seeing, you’ll be ready for a refreshing cocktail at The Pickle Room, a bar in the former home of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, the longtime heart of Santa Barbara’s Chinatown. If you want to keep going, check our calendar of events to see what’s on in local theatres and parks. Summer is packed with outdoor concerts, film series and festivals. And our historic theatres are abuzz with performances, concerts, lectures and more.