Few things deliver the unique sense of freedom that comes with hopping in the car and hitting the open road—and this is especially true when the road in question happens to be one of the country’s most iconic highways. Through Santa Barbara County and a bit beyond, the Pacific Coast Highway—also known as Highway 1—merges with and is known as Highway 101, and skirts the gorgeous coastline to offer views that’ll challenge any driver to keep their eyes on the road. Santa Barbara’s convenient proximity to both San Francisco and Los Angeles make it an easy drive-worthy destination. And if you’re planning on checking this iconic coastal travel experience off of your bucket list, make sure you don’t miss these Santa Barbara stops.
Start your southbound journey along the stunning, 76-mile long Gaviota Coast, which is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in all of Southern California. With its rugged beaches, hilly ranchland (look for alpacas!) and postcard-like vistas of mountains and ocean, it’s not uncommon to sense that you’re in the presence of something truly special.
And as it turns out, you are: Not only is this place gorgeous, it’s a significant environmental gem, too. Between the Santa Ynez Mountain watersheds and the merging of northern and southern bio-geographies, the land provides a huge variety of habitats, producing staggering biodiversity and safety for several rare or endangered species.
“The Good Land” of Goleta
Goleta is an excellent pit stop for a little sightseeing and a nosh for later. Affectionately known as The Good Land, Goleta offers a variety of fresh favorites and custom brews, such as those found at M. Special Brewing Company. Don’t miss the Goleta Butterfly Preserve, which showcases the region’s incredible Monarch Butterflies.
This California coastal favorite is a must for anyone traveling along the West Coast. Santa Barbara offers a variety of things to do, but if you only have a day or two, here are some highlights you won’t want to miss. The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is an architectural icon with its Spanish Colonial influence. Walk its muralled hallways, take in a 360-degree view of the city from the clock tower or enjoy a picnic in the surrounding sunken gardens.
Walk along State Street where you’ll find an abundance of tasty choices, from restaurants and cafes to wine tasting rooms and craft breweries. Continue your journey toward the wild blue Pacific where Stearns Wharf extends into the sea and invites you to shop for souvenirs or go for a refreshing sea-kayak excursion. Of course, no trip to Santa Barbara is complete without a stroll along Cabrillo Boulevard. Catch a pick-up volleyball game, or simply stretch your legs and sink your toes into the sand as you watch the sunset—the perfect end to a day on the road.
Next on your Highway 101 road trip, begin your day with a quick stop in Montecito at Jeannine’s Bakery on Coast Village Road—but take your coffee and pastry to go. Follow Coast Village to Olive Mill Road, make a right, and drive past the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara until you see Butterfly Beach appear on your left. Street parking is free and easy, and plenty of benches offer front-row seats to the shore.
Sufficiently fueled up, just head back the way you came and jump back on the 101. A mere 10 miles south (though, technically, you’ll be traveling east … how’s that for a mind-bender?), you’ll come to the tiny, picturesque hillside beach town of Summerland. Tucked between Montecito and Carpinteria, this sweet little community is definitely worth exploring. Lillie Avenue, the town’s one-mile-ish main drag, boasts an eclectic and charming mix of shops: Don’t miss Botanik for chic home and garden goods, the Summerland Antique Collective for new-to-you treasures, or The Sacred Space for a transporting taste of Bali. And if you’re feeling a little wild, you’re not alone: Just check out the birds at the McLeod Parrot Menagerie!
In terms of sustenance, go big at Summerland Beach Café, known for its classic burgers, giant sandwiches and epic dog-friendly setting. Before you hit the road, don’t forget to dip your toes in the water at Summerland Beach.
From Summerland, hop back on the freeway headed south, and allow that gorgeous coastline to carry you just a bit farther until you reach Rincon Point. This beautiful and famed surf spot is home to the area’s biggest waves, and regularly draws its best surfers. Even if you’ve never waxed a board yourself, you’re sure to be impressed by the sight. And if you’ve managed to arrange your day so that you wind up at Rincon for the golden hour, check out how the surfers silhouetted against the streaked sky call to mind the famous Endless Summer image. Bonus points!