Just 1 1/2 hours north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is a small slice of paradise brimming with life, energy and culture. The delectable food, stunning white-washed adobe brick buildings, pristine beaches, and expansive wine country make for a simply unbeatable experience. Now just a quick flight away, come see for yourself what makes Santa Barbara so unforgettable and use this guide to ensure you make the most of your stay in our seaside oasis.
Begin your day with a fresh cup of coffee from the one-and-only French Press, conveniently located in downtown Santa Barbara. This cornerstone coffee shop is guaranteed to start your day off right, before setting out on the high seas for an exhilarating whale watching excursion with Condor Express Whale Watching. Available year-round, expect to see dozens of different whale species as they migrate through the Santa Barbara Channel. Bring your camera for wildlife sightings and don’t be startled if you get a splashy surprise from whales showing off in the waves!
Kick off lunch at Intermezzo Bar + Café, a vibrant space in the heart of Santa Barbara’s Presidio Neighborhood, where you can take in the sights by the historic fountain with a glass of wine and a beautifully plated charcuterie board. After you’ve had your fill, explore the historical riches of the Presidio Neighborhood, home to many of California’s first white-washed adobe buildings and a large stretch of the savory Urban Wine Trail. This series of more than two dozen downtown wine tasting rooms peppered throughout town offering visitors the chance to sample multitudes of Santa Barbara County wines. For your first wine-sipping stop, we’d recommend the world-renowned Au Bon Climat for a chilled glass of Pinot Blanc.
Dinner is up to you. Santa Barbara offers dozens of options that are all at your fingertips as you make your way along Restaurant Row—an eclectic collection of popular restaurants situated on the cross of Victoria and Upper State Streets. Feeling like a farmer’s market fête? Head into Bouchon Santa Barbara, where regional produce is transformed into simply astounding plates. Complement your meal with an array of local wines straight from California wine country. Next door is Olio e Limone Ristorante, Olio Crudo Bar, and Olio Pizzeria–three mouthwatering spots all under the tutelage of seasoned Italian chef and owner Alberto Morello. Don’t miss the Insalata di Mare Tiepida paired with a chilled Italian white wine for a one-of-a-kind experience. Opal Restaurant and Bar is located steps away from the awe-inspiring Arlington Theatre and offers up a wide variety of dishes that even the pickiest of eaters will enjoy.
Your second day in Santa Barbara is sure to find you craving more. Head to Boathouse Restaurant, where you can dig in to Crab Cake Eggs Benedict directly on the beach. Not to mention the numerous dogs you’ll be able to pet on your way over, as Hendry’s Beach is one of the most popular pup-friendly spots in Santa Barbara. There is even a super convenient dog washing station for post-sand digging suds!
The beauty of Santa Barbara is the ease with which you can access everything you want to experience. From Boathouse, it is a short drive (or bike ride for those more adventurous folk!) down picturesque Shoreline Drive and East Beach to Stearns Wharf. California’s oldest working wharf extends from Cabrillo Boulevard into the Pacific and is home to souvenir shops, fish ‘n’ chips restaurants, and the Deep Sea tasting room, where you can sip local vino while overlooking the deep blue. Keep an eye out for curious marine life basking in the sun!
Why not stay an extra day? By adding one more night, you’ll open a new world of possibilities. Sip your way through Sanguis Winery’s highly acclaimed Syrah, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir among others. Head to their winery and tasting room just a few blocks from Cabrillo Boulevard for a private, in-depth tour, where you will learn the ins and outs of the winemaking process while swirling delicious varietals.
Transition from afternoon to evening with dinner at Convivo. A hip eatery situated across from East Beach, you can sip on a tangy Lavender Pisco Sour and relax beachside under the bougainvillea-covered trellis. Watch in awe as the colors of the sky fade from bright cerulean blue to dark pinks and purples and the night stars begin to poke out.
It’s time for the beach. Santa Barbara doesn’t shy away from sand, sun (300+ days every year), salt water, and fresh sea air, all of which define its coastal vibe.
Start with a cruiser bike ride along Cabrillo Boulevard. Stop off for a walk along the pristine public East and West Beaches. Catch a game of pick-up volleyball or watch the local fishermen bring in their Saturday catch, sustainably harvested from the nearby Santa Barbara Channel.
If you decide this is simply where you’d like to spend the rest of the day, no one will judge you. In fact, you can rent a red-and-white-striped umbrella from The Cabanas Santa Barbara to cool off in the breezy shade while you relax on the sand.
However, if you find yourself needing some “me time,” calm your senses and take a moment to de-stress at Salt Santa Barbara, the largest Himalayan salt caves in North America. Take a yoga class or meditate in the Crystal Cave before heading north to Goleta, one of Santa Barbara’s best-kept secrets. Home to a handful of welcoming craft breweries and trendy eateries, a drive-in movie theater, and the stunning The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, this hideaway didn’t have to work hard to earn its moniker. Play a round of golf beachside at Sandpiper Golf Club, where the ocean views rivals those from resorts across the world.
Finish the day with a walk along the cliff-backed shores of Gaviota State Park and then scale the hillside to reach the Gaviota Wind Caves, where you can score an almost 360-degree vista of the cliffs and ocean. After working up your appetite, dine at The Bistro at The Ritz-Carlton, Bacara Santa Barbara, named “One of Top 100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants in America” by OpenTable.
Craving a day jam-packed with art, wine, and sunshine? Look no further than Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, an eccentric cluster of tasting rooms, galleries, and open-air eateries that draw visitors and locals alike.
Located adjacent to Cabrillo boulevard, Municipal Winemakers is the perfect stop for tasting delicious local wine. Every Sunday the spot plays host to a pop-up oyster bar, where you can sample straight-from-ocean catch with savory toppings that will pair delectably with your wine. If beer is on your mind, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company is the perfect spot to toast with cold brews while sitting outside in the warm sun, where adults and children alike can play giant Jenga and dance to live music.
Meander over to Mony’s Mexican Food for mouthwatering carne asada tacos and burritos, or if tri-tip is more your style, Shalhoob Meat Company houses an expansive patio where you can play games while enjoying juicy steak sandwiches with house-made horseradish dip.
Over in the Lagoon District, The Mill hosts a collection of local artisan storefronts where you can pick out gifts like macramé succulent holders, hand-painted watercolors, and leather tote bags all while soaking in the excitement radiating from next door craft brew tasting room Third Window, and Potek Winery.
Lastly, settle in with a blanket on the beach for sunset on the coast, and as the golden light washes over you, you will undoubtedly understand why Santa Barbara is an unforgettable seaside haven.