The Ultimate Santa Barbara Wedding Weekend Guide

Photo courtesy of the Santa Barbara Zoo

Multi-day destination weddings are only getting more popular, and Santa Barbara is a dream location to host one. From its Mediterranean climate, picturesque Spanish-style architecture and charming airport, to the walkable downtown and waterfront, The American Riviera® makes tying the knot even more special. Beautiful wedding venues in Santa Barbara are plentiful, but what about the rest of the wedding weekend? Whether you’re planning your wedding or attending one as a guest, there are things to figure out such as a rehearsal dinner venue, places to stay and things to do in Santa Barbara between wedding-related events. Use this guide to plan unforgettable wedding festivities and an amazing weekend itinerary exploring everything Santa Barbara has to offer.

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Welcome Drinks

After guests arrive in town, a great way to kick off the weekend is with welcome drinks. This allows your loved ones to mingle and meet (often for the first time) ahead of the big day. Whether you host a cocktail hour or gather informally, bring everyone together for a toast in style. A swanky cocktail bar, The Good Lion is a cozy spot that’s perfect if you have a smaller group. Book a private tasting or cocktail mixing class for a truly memorable experience. The creative menu of margaritas at Flor de Maíz, which use everything from serrano-infused tequila to green apple cucumber basil juice, are sure to wow your guests from the very first sip. Belly up to Rodeo Room’s moody bar for a sophisticated take on western vibes, or reserve the back patio for a private space to enjoy batched cocktails and shareable bites.

Rehearsal Dinner

The night before saying “I do” typically involves a rehearsal dinner, which might include just the wedding party or all of the guests. Look for restaurants that can accommodate large parties, preferably in a private space so you can freely enjoy speeches, a slideshow or any other personal touches. Santa Barbara’s renowned dining scene means there’s no shortage of excellent restaurants. Blackbird’s sleek and modern setting within the Hotel Californian is complemented by delicious Central Coast fare, inventive cocktails and an extensive wine list. Bouchon delivers a classic wine-country experience with French flair, and offers the cozy Cork Room for private dining of up to 20 guests. Lean into the Spanish influences of the city with authentic tapas, paella, seafood and grilled meats served family-style on the private patio at Loquita. With multiple options for large parties and special events, Barbareño showcases the best of California’s farm-to-table ethos through its scratch-made menu.

Wedding After-Party

The last dance is done, the band or DJ is packing up and the wedding reception has come to an end … or has it? Keep the party going after hours with your night-owl crew at these lively venues. Known for spirited live performances, the Red Piano is where your post-wedding revelry can turn into a sing-along. For more laid-back vibes, Test Pilot’s tropical-island atmosphere and tiki drinks are the draw, while Shaker Mill has an alfresco ambience with bright, rum-forward beverages. If you want to hit the dance floor again, late-night haunts Wildcat Lounge and EOS Lounge are two long-time favorites, both with DJ-spun tunes and indoor and outdoor spaces.

Post-Wedding Brunch

Relive all the highlights from the night before over mimosas and a hearty morning meal. Newlyweds might arrange this as a last hurrah of the wedding weekend in Santa Barbara, or guests can get a group together for an unofficial debrief. Either way, look to spots like La Paloma Cafe, whose historic location and ranchero-style cuisine reflect both past and present. Just steps from the beach, Chad’s Cafe is beloved for its classic breakfast fare, like eggs benedict and stacks of pancakes. If you’re in the mood for an artisanal experience, head to The Lark for its seasonally inspired menu served family-style. At Scarlett Begonia on the weekends, diners can choose between an a la carte menu or a three-course, prix fixe brunch with bottomless beverages.

Places to Stay

The variety of accommodations in Santa Barbara ranges from charming bed-and-breakfasts and revamped motels to boutique hotels and upscale resorts. When choosing where to stay or book a hotel room block, focus your attention on Santa Barbara’s downtown area around State Street, where you’ll be in the center of the action and close to the waterfront. There’s even an Amtrak station for convenient travel from other cities in California. A stay at the Kimpton Canary Hotel comes with access to the idyllic rooftop pool and complimentary bikes, perfect for cruising to the beach. Only a block from Stearns Wharf, the Hotel Californian exudes luxury in a historic setting. Get wedding-ready with a pampering session at Majorelle spa, whose treatments include soothing massages, custom facials and hair blowouts. Though the nautical-themed Haley Hotel has just 17 rooms, its common areas offer lots of hangout spots to unwind with friends and family, from fire pits and swinging chairs to a giant chess board—all in the heart of downtown. For a quieter locale, check out the Hideaway Santa Barbara, a collection of serene suites with amenities like fresh-baked cookies and breakfast.

Santa Barbara Group Activities and Things to Do

One of the many upsides to having a wedding in Santa Barbara is that there’s loads of ways to entertain guests outside of the main event. The following ideas can be arranged for large groups or guests can explore on their own. Top sightseeing attractions include the Old Mission Santa Barbara and its colorful rose garden, and the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Incidentally a popular wedding venue, this 1929 masterpiece features a clocktower with 360-degree views over the red-tiled roofs of the city’s skyline. No Santa Barbara itinerary is complete without venturing into the Funk Zone, a vibrant and creative neighborhood known for its many wineries and breweries. Go wine tasting along the Urban Wine Trail to sip grapes from across the region. Take some time to also appreciate the beauty of the coast, whether it’s spending a day at the beach or a sunset cruise with Celebration Cruises, Santa Barbara Sailing Center or SunSwept Sailing. Don’t miss taking a stroll on Stearns Wharf, possibly Santa Barbara’s most iconic landmark. Completed in 1872, it’s the state’s oldest working wharf and boasts restaurants, specialty shops and immaculate views of the Pacific Ocean. Adventures on wheels can take the form of a bike ride or surrey rental, cruising the palm tree-lined path from West Beach to East Beach and on to Montecito. Or, hop aboard the open-air Santa Barbara Trolley for daily narrated tours around the city. It can also be chartered for private groups or the wedding day. 

Places to Eat

Wedding guests seeking low-key meals between wedding events have plenty of choices, from outdoor dining to buzzworthy bakeries and coffee shops. Santa Barbara Public Market serves as a culinary hub, with different eateries and communal spaces to gather. In the heart of the Funk Zone you’ll find Lucky Penny and its wood-fired pizzas. Santo Mezcal features classic Mexican dishes like mole, while East Beach Tacos is a casual favorite. Don’t leave town without trying the bounty of the coast—think fresh crab, uni, clam chowder, lobster rolls and more—at Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. on Stearns Wharf.