Known for its entrepreneurial spirit and down-to-Earth vibe, Goleta is home to several successful tech companies and the prestigious University of California, Santa Barbara. A hub of innovation and big ideas, the “Good Land” is a laid-back city of 30,000 residents that also welcomes a steady flow of visitors who come for the academia, business and leisure opportunities—think golf, craft beer, the beach, farms and festivals. In recent years, several new hotels and restaurants have opened their doors, further elevating Goleta’s culinary cred. Between destination restaurants, local hangouts and “sister” restaurants of popular regional establishments, this guide to Goleta’s must-try restaurants will help you find the best bites in the Good Land.
Established in 1995, Cody’s Café is a longtime locals’ go-to for comfort food classics served in a casual atmosphere with surfboards adorning the walls. The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus include daily and seasonal specials, while menu staples include country-fried steak and eggs, tri-tip sandwiches and burgers. With a full bar at the ready, your brunch can be paired with Bloody Marys, margaritas or mimosas.
Nikka Fish Market and Grill is a reliable neighborhood staple for quality, budget-friendly seafood. A diversity of international cuisines influence the various seafood dishes offered, and for those who like their fish plain and simple, basic preparations like grilled and charbroiled fish come with a potato cake, salad, and steamed veggies. A visit to Nikka Fish Market and Grill is a casual dining experience, where patrons order at the counter and food is brought to your table—inside or outside.
Cal Taco Fresh Grill has been feeding Goletans since 1987. The fast-casual outpost specializes in straight-forward Mexican and American classics. Open daily, you can stop by for a breakfast burrito in the morning, a char-burger for lunch or a customized taco salad in the evening. Kids can choose from chicken tenders, cheese quesadillas, burgers and bean burritos. This is very take-out-friendly fare if you’re looking for a bite to bring to the beach or a picnic in a park.
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The Leta Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton is home to Caya Restaurant, a vibrant locale that reflects the hotel’s youthful and stylish persona. The menu is inspired by southern California street foods and beachy bites, such as fish tacos, bao buns, and oysters on the half shell. The cocktail program is a big draw, which boasts the region’s best selection of agave spirits, along with a strong local wine and beer list.
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Locally owned and operated, Hollister Brewing Company has been a tried-and-true staple of the region’s craft beer scene since opening in 2007. The brewpub always has at least 15 different beers on tap, but folks come here for the food just as much as the beers. The gastropub menu features items like duck fat fries, free-range chicken wings, burgers, salads and more. Pop in for a bite and brew, and check out its online calendar or social media channels for updates on specials, happy hours and events.
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Jane at the Marketplace is a family-owned and operated establishment with three generations of roots in the Santa Barbara South Coast’s dining scene. A tribute to the family’s matriarch, Jane, the restaurant specializes in classic American bistro fare with a European influence. You’ll find hearty salad bowls, wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches and burgers on the menu, plus pastas and artfully prepared entrées like filet mignon and grilled salmon. Jane at the Marketplace is open for lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Sundays, with a popular happy hour running from 4-5 p.m.
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Considered Goleta’s neighborhood bakery, Anna’s Bakery has been in business since 1990. While it is best-known for sweet treats and baked goods like cakes and pies, Anna’s offers savory items for breakfast and lunch as well—think breakfast burritos, soups and salads. The gourmet sandwiches are prepared with freshly made croissants and breads and come with your choice of cookie. Lunch items are available daily and the bakery is open every day of the week, catering to early birds.
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Discover the vibrant flavors of Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant—where you can savor delectable, authentic enchiladas, sopes and burritos paired with refreshing margaritas and a lively atmosphere. Let your palate revel in the depth of flavors from age-old family recipes, where each bite carries the warmth of Goleta’s vibrant community and the rich tradition of Mexican cuisine, making your dining experience at this community staple worth writing home about.
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The original Freebirds in Isla Vista (near the university) has a cult following among UCSB alumni for its build-your-own burritos. The takeaway spot was opened in 1987 by a UCSB student, and it went on to become a national chain, Freebirds World Burrito. The OG burrito joint remains under local ownership and is not part of the chain. The burritos, tacos and salads are as huge and satisfying as ever.
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The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara is a large luxurious resort on the northern end of Goleta overlooking the Pacific. Home to six dining concepts, its elegant fine dining restaurant, Angel Oak, is the top draw and a locals’ go-to for special occasions. Chef Josh Kellim combines unique flavors and techniques to create an ever-changing menu of refined classics showcasing such delicacies as Wagyu beef, local abalone and Santa Barbara uni. The restaurant is famed for its 12,000-bottle wine cellar as well as its stunning ocean views framed by floor-to-ceiling windows.
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Goleta is home to a number of local favorite “mini-chain” restaurants that originated in surrounding neighborhoods and brought second or sister locations to the Good Land. Locals love having these restaurants right in their own backyard now, and visitors benefit from additional opportunities to sample some of the Santa Barbara South Coast’s greatest hits. Take On the Alley, the casual concept from the team behind Brophy Bros. OTA, as it’s known, serves breakfast all day as well as burgers, tacos and fish and chips. Cajun Kitchen and Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery are two other excellent breakfast and lunch options.
If you’d like a super healthy start to your day or a post-hike nutrient infusion, hit Backyard Bowls for an açai bowl or smoothie. Natural Cafe is another local institution for organic, healthy lunch and dinner, including many vegan and vegetarian dishes. When it comes to All-American burgers and more meat-centric menus, The Nugget Bar & Grill and Mesa Burger are true crowd-pleasers. If you’re craving quality Mexican cuisine, you can’t go wrong with Los Agaves or Lilly’s Taqueria. And last but certainly not least, if pasta and sit-down table service is calling to you, Ca’ Dario is one of the region’s most revered Italian restaurants.