Fall is one of the most beautiful, vibrant times of the year in Santa Barbara. The days are generally still warm and summer-like, the nights get crisp enough to call it “sweater weather” and the dramatic sunset skies take on more saturated hues. Pumpkin patches are open and farmers markets abound with seasonal specialties like persimmons, figs and pears. Over in wine country, harvest is in full swing as the vineyard leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red. The crowds of summer thin out, and you can linger longer thanks to attractive hotel deals that include booking two nights and getting the third free. Without further ado, read on for more trip-planning ideas and itinerary inspiration.
Discover the magic of the outdoors at the NatureTrack Film Festival, celebrating its fifth anniversary in Goleta from Oct. 6-8, a haven for nature aficionados and film buffs alike. Since 2018, the festival has dazzled thousands with cinematic masterpieces worldwide. This year, be inspired by the theme “Igniting passion for nature through film.” Kick off the celebration on Oct. 6 with the festival’s opening night party at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, featuring a cocktail reception prior to the screening of “Wild Waters,” a documentary film about French kayaker Nouria Newman, revered as the best kayaker in today’s world.
Goleta Valley Historical Society’s Santa Barbara Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention & Festival will be held on Oct. 7 for its 51st run at Rancho La Patera & Stow House. After enjoying some old-timey music, visit the festival’s “Instrument Petting Zoo,” where you can try your hand at playing the banjo and fiddle or participate in a free banjo or yodeling workshop.
This fall, the Santa Barbara Zoo is hosting a variety of popular family-friendly events like Boo at the Zoo, which offers trick-or-treating, tasty food and drinks (adult beverages, too!) and other chilling—and thrilling—activities from Oct. 20-29. ZooLights returns Nov. 15, presenting a world of glittering silk-covered lanterns—most shaped like some of the zoo residents!—for an enchanting evening among the animals.
The Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival, a cherished seaside event in Santa Barbara, is back for another year on Oct. 21. Enjoy a day full of fresh seafood right on the dock, offering everything from mussel and shrimp paella to fish tacos and freshly cracked sea urchin.
Join the Central Coast’s preeminent cycling event, Ride Santa Barbara 100, on Oct. 21. This top-tier century ride guides participants along the picturesque paths of Santa Barbara, catering to cyclists of all levels, from novices to seasoned riders. Runners from near and far journey to Santa Barbara for the Santa Barbara Half Marathon, happening on Nov. 5, which showcases a 13.1-mile run and a 5K route. Both take place along palm-lined Cabrillo Boulevard and finish on State Street. If you’re bringing the kids, there’s a free children’s run, ensuring an energetic and enjoyable weekend for the entire family.
Harvest & wine events
The Santa Ynez Mountains, coupled with the more distant San Rafael range, sculpt a mosaic of valleys and microclimates, perfect for growing a multitude of grape varieties. Indulge in the region’s best: Santa Barbara Vintners hosts the 39th Annual Santa Barbara Vintners Festival on Oct. 14 in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley. The festival invites attendees to taste over 50 of the area’s best wine and food purveyors at Vega Vineyard and Farm, about 33 miles north of Santa Barbara. Because there is limited parking at the venue, the festival is partnering with Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort to offer free off-site parking and transportation to the event.
Want to discover more ways to fill your glass this harvest season? Santa Barbara boasts a downtown Urban Wine Trail, meaning you can easily navigate between tasting rooms to try as many local wineries as possible. Be sure to check out these unique ways to wine in the Santa Barbara South Coast, or make it a total wine weekend with this guide to the ultimate Santa Barbara wine getaway.
Go Pumpkin Picking
Nothing shouts fall more than a trip to the pumpkin patch, whether you’re taking the kids on an outing to get into the spirit of Halloween or looking for decorative accents to set the mood in your home. Family-run Lane Farms on Hollister Avenue (between Santa Barbara and Goleta) is a local favorite for its vast pumpkin patch and other fun activities. Shop its produce stand, check out the farm animals and treat the kids to corn maze and hayride adventures after they pick out their carving pumpkins. Big Wave Dave’s sets up a pumpkin patch in La Cumbre Plaza (near Macy’s) for the month of October. In addition to a selection of pumpkins of all sizes, this pumpkin patch also has a variety of gourds, hay bales and corn stalks to spruce up your home—plus photo ops galore.
Savor Seasonal Flavors
Pumpkin spice lattes aren’t the only autumn specialty to get excited about. Local chefs build dishes around seasonal ingredients that shine this time of year. Winter squash, apples and broccoli rabe start appearing on menus for a spell, as does spiny lobster straight from the Santa Barbara Channel. On Saturdays, you’ll find local fishermen selling premium spiny lobster at the Santa Barbara Fish Market. Some years, Santa Barbara spot prawns have a limited fall haul as well, so if you see those on a menu, don’t miss your chance to relish in that local delicacy. For farm-fresh seasonal produce, head to one of many Santa Barbara farmers markets, held on Tuesdays and Saturdays in Old Town Santa Barbara and downtown Santa Barbara (respectively), Fridays in Montecito and Sundays in Goleta.
Plan a Picnic
Picnics are a perfect way to enjoy the warm autumn days and subtle seasonal shifts. If you like a hands-on, DIY approach, shop one of the weekly Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Markets to stock up on fresh fruits, veggies and artisanal items. For a sweet finish, stop by Chocolates du Cali Bressan to buy a sampler of their seasonal spiced cinnamon bonbons or Chocolate Maya for a Marshmallow Fluffy, a gluten-free marshmallow treat layered with a 70% dark creamy chocolate ganache. If you prefer to simplify when it comes to sourcing your provisions, pick up hearty sandwiches from local deli like Savoy Café & Deli or Three Pickles. Better yet, make it a deluxe, ultra-gourmet fall picnic by working with a vendor like Santa Barbara Picnic Co. or Slate Catering.
Some of our go-to locations for a spacious fall picnic include Alameda Park and its neighboring Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, both tucked on a leafy residential street a couple of blocks off State Street. Shoreline Park and the Douglas Family Preserve offer dreamy vantages for ocean views. Elings Park serves up 230 acres of prime picnicking grounds, including several perches with ocean views. The rose garden at Old Mission Santa Barbara is another breathtaking venue, with a picture-perfect backdrop of the mission and surrounded by the fragrant blooms of colorful rose bushes. In Goleta, Rancho La Patera & Stow House is a charming locale for a picnic with 19th-century ambiance. Goleta Beach Park is another top seaside spot with picnic tables.
HORSEBACK RIDING IN PARADISE
Santa Barbara offers some of California’s most picturesque horseback riding terrains, with its stunning coastlines and majestic mountain vistas. Los Padres Outfitters provides unforgettable beach rides, while Circle Bar B Stables allows riders to explore the breathtaking backcountry. Experience the true essence of the Santa Barbara South Coast atop a gentle steed—perfect for beginner riders—and create memories that will last a lifetime. Opt for a full day of adventure (without the planning) with Captain Jack’s Tours: The van will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the first activity of the day: horseback riding with Circle Bar B, then wine tasting at two wineries, typically Vega Vineyard and Farm (lunch can be purchased on-site—make sure to visit the petting zoo and retail shops, too!) and Lafond Winery and Vineyards. Fall is one of the best times of the year for a trail ride due to the cooler temperatures and the breathtaking seasonal foliage.
Cheers to Oktoberfest
Celebrate Oktoberfest this fall by visiting a few local Santa Barbara craft breweries to taste their seasonal offerings. There are so many to choose from—many within walking distance—and they all offer something different to bring to the table (or should we say, “bar”). Here’s a recipe for a festive-yet-responsible, self-guided brew trek: Rincon Brewery (Kickflip, a German pilsner), Validation Ale (Netflix & Chai, a brown ale), Institution Ale Company (RX Pils, a German-style pilsner), M. Special (All Time Saison, a farmhouse ale) and Night Lizard (Alt-Bier, a malty German-style beer with notes of grape nut and raisin). The best part: Each of these breweries have food menus that take your typical bar-style food to the next level. If you’re looking for light bites like fries, loaded potato skins or tater tots, look no further than Validation Ale or Rincon Brewery. For pizza, Institution Ale. M. Special hosts Beast Taqueria, and Night Lizard partners with Yona Redz to bring birria-queso tacos to the mix.
Is it time to update your wardrobe with a few staples or statement pieces to usher in the cooler months? Diani Boutique and Diani Shoes in Arlington Plaza are stocked with cozy sweaters, stylish coats and blazers and effortlessly chic boots for women. K. Frank in Montecito outfits men and women in timeless designer threads. Denim is always in season and Loveworn in the Funk Zone and Ace Rivington in downtown Santa Barbara are wonderlands of denim for all. Locally designed slip dresses that make the perfect foundation for layering can be found at Catherine Gee in the Haley Corridor. These are just a handful of local shopping ideas—you can find many more independent and chain retailers at outdoor shopping centers like Paseo Nuevo, La Cumbre Plaza, Montecito Country Mart and La Arcada Court.
For more ways to enjoy fall in Santa Barbara, check out these epic outdoor activities.