El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park symbolizes where Santa Barbara began in 1782. The restored and reconstructed former Spanish military fortress is a must-see on any Santa Barbara visit. And it will place you right in the heart of the charming Presidio Neighborhood made up of historic adobes, architecturally significant structures and small, family-run businesses. Local entrepreneurs drive the spirit of this downtown neighborhood and our “Like a Local” Presidio Neighborhood insider Steven Soria, Owner and Leatherworker at Make Smith Leather Co., exemplifies its thoughtful, hand-crafted ethos.
To help you meet makers like Steven and plan a perfect, walkable day of exploration through Santa Barbara’s historic and contemporary treasures, we’ve compiled a complete guide to The Presidio Neighborhood.
THINGS TO DO:
Educate yourself on Santa Barbara history and tour beautifully restored adobes. Start at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park operated by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. The Presidio Chapel is an iconic photo-op. Check out two remaining original buildings from Spanish rule—El Cuartel, the second oldest building in all of California, and the Canedo Adobe. Do a deep dive into Santa Barbara history at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Afterward, walk over to Casa de la Guerra, the 1800s residence of the fifth commander of the Presidio that served as the hub of the Santa Barbara community in the Mexican era.
Meander around the open-air El Paseo, Southern California’s very first shopping center that opened in the 1920s. Get to know the wines at Au Bon Climat, made by one of Santa Barbara’s pioneering winemaking legends, Jim Clendenen. Learn about one of the hottest grape-growing regions in Santa Barbara County at Happy Canyon Vineyard. Do a chocolate and wine pairing at Grassini Family Vineyards. Pet house pup Sophie at Jamie Slone Wines. Sipping wine is a favorite pastime of Hugh Margerum, the Presidio Neighborhood “Like a Local” insider. In fact, the artist and entrepreneur is one of the neighborhood’s biggest champions.
If pampering calls, book a massage or facial treatment at Float Luxury Day Spa. For evening entertainment, catch a show at the historic Lobero Theatre, California’s oldest continuously operating theatre since 1873. The iconic performing arts venue hosts leading musical talents spanning all genres. Plus, the theater brings in major comedy acts, film screenings, theatrical troupes and more.
PLACES TO EAT:
Perk up at Handlebar Coffee Roasters, a leading local roaster started by former pro cyclists. Grab gourmet food to go at Panino Santa Barbara or gather picnic provisions at C’est Cheese. Settle in for a leisurely lunch on the patio at Paradise Cafe. Wine Cask also has an inviting patio—or opt for dinner in the dining room for an elegant, upscale multi-course feast. The Middle Child is a newer casual lunch and dinner destination that has quickly become known for its seasonal pizza creations.
Indulge in global fusion cuisine at dinner-only The Black Sheep Restaurant. Be transported to the Middle East with the flavors of Lebanon at Zaytoon. La Playa Azul is the neighborhood’s go-to Mexican sit-down restaurant. Cap your night with a mai tai or pickle martini at The Pickle Room, a local’s favorite where the spirit of Santa Barbara’s former Chinatown lives on.
SPOTS TO SHOP:
The tight-knit Presidio Neighborhood business community epitomizes the “shop small” ethos—so relish in retail therapy here, where it’s all about specialty shops. Buy stylish and soulful leather goods and accessories at our Presidio neighborhood insider’s Make Smith Leather Co. Steven is the third generation to continue his family’s craft, and you can typically see and hear activity in the workshop while browsing their wares. Steve also hosts workshops for those interested in getting hands-on to learn how leather working is really done.
Hunt for new and used vinyl at Warbler Records & Goods and browse their eclectic selection of hand-crafted items and vintage home accents including turntables
Find colorful women’s designer fashions at the bohemian-leaning Jake & Jones. The cheerful boutique also has a selection of children’s and men’s clothing. Lovebird Boutique & Jewelry Bar is another delightful spot for women’s fashion finds with an emphasis on local makers. If home décor is where your heart is, peruse the wares at The Salvage Company. Tucked off an alley, the store is literally a hidden treasure stocked with antiques, rugs, art and historical architectural salvage.
Plan a trip around one of the neighborhood’s festive annual events, like the Presidio Neighborhood Holiday Stroll (December) put on by the Wineries of the Presidio Neighborhood. Check out the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation’s event calendar for information on happenings like the Asian American Neighborhood Festival (October), Día De Los Muertos (October), Una Noche de Las Posadas (December), Founding Day (April) and Old Spanish Days Fiesta (August)—to name just a handful.
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