Santa Barbara is a beach city located on the central California coast, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Santa Ynez mountains, nestled in narrow canyons, with verdant vineyard valleys nearby.
First inhabited by the Chumash Indians, and once a Spanish Settlement, today this enchanting town is called the American Riviera. Visitors flock here for the laid-back beach vibe mixed with an upscale spin.
Its Spanish colonial heritage can be seen at the Mission Santa Barbara and the Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs that dot the landscape.
Here’s our growing list of recommendations on where to stay, dine and what to do.
For more of images, visit our Instagram account CLICK HERE to see photos from our recent trip.
Note: During covid-19, be sure to check for opening hours and more details at places mentioned below.
WHERE TO GO
Visit Mission Santa Barbara – built in 1786, this historic landmark is open to the public.
Walk State Street and shop at boutiques, dine at cafes. Visit La Arcadia, a beautiful, Santa Barbara style courtyard lined with art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and wineries.
Visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and admire its architrecture and gardens. Make sure to climb to the top of the clocktower for an amazing panoramic view of Santa Barbara!
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Find lush gardens with massive redwood trees, and an authentic tea garden. Check opening times.
Architectural Walking Tour Jeff Shelton is the architect responsible for the unique looking architecture in Santa Barbara modeled after Antoni Gaudí. He offers a self-guided walking tour on his website, where the map can be printed.
Museums – Spend time at the Santa Barbara Art Museum or Natural History Museum.
The Funk Zone – In the heart of the Funk Zone, check out the Funk Factory featuring a fine arts gallery, art studio and event space.
Stroll the beach promenade and walk out to Stearns Wharf, the pier located at the Santa Barbara Harbor. Built in 1972 and at the time was the longest deep-water pier between LA and San Francisco.
Saturday Fish Market – Select the freshest fish, crabs, lobster right off the commercial fishing boats along the wharf on Saturday mornings.
Best beaches – walk your dog at Arroyo Burro Beach, watch the sunset at Butterfly Beach in Montecito or surf, paddle-board or boogie board at Leadbetter Beach.
Farmer’s Market – Pick up produce and local goods at the Farmer’s Market
Lil’ Toot: Catch a ride on Lil’ Toot, Santa Barbara’s original waterfront taxi, for a 15-minute narrated boat ride between the Harbor and Stearns Wharf. Children are invited to help drive the boat and toot Lil’ Toot’s whistle.
Lotusland: Lotusland is a botancial garden located near Montecito. Lotusland is recognized as one of the 10 best gardens in the world. Reservations are required in advance because it tends to fills up quickly.
Channel Islands National Park, an archipelago where you can kayak through caves, snorkel in pristine waters, and hike among wildlife.
Whale watching is a must-do in Santa Barbara, whose coastal waters provide passage for humpback, blue, gray, and killer whales.
WHERE TO STAY
Belmond El Encanto is perched high in the hills with some of the best views of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean.
An iconic landmark, Belmond El Encanto opened in 1918 and is the ultimate luxury getaway with seven acres of terraced gardens and 92 California-styled bungalows with rooms and suites. Ideal for a secluded retreat where you can recline poolside at the infinity pool, relax at the spa, breathe in the fresh ocean air, dine at the outdoor terrace restaurant, or paint plein-air. In honor of the plein air artist’s history at this location, here’s a little piece I painted in the hotel’s gardens filled with birds-of-paradise.
WHERE TO DINE
Toma (Reservation Preferred) Dine In/ Take Out 324 W Cabrillo Boulevard 805.962.0777 Monday-Sunday 5pm-9pm
Toma is known for its Italian-inspired Mediterranean cuisine and is a local’s favorite. Rated the #1 restaurant in the area since 2013, Owners Tom and Vicki Dolan welcome you to experience a pinnacle of Santa Barbara hospitality. Located on Santa Barbara’s waterfront in an old-world, historic building with indoor and outdoor dining. Some of our favorites…Starter – Tuna Cones with Ahi Sashimi with Ginger, Sesame, Soy, Chile, and Chives, in Crisp Sesame Cones & Entrée – Ravioli with Fresh Ricotta, Tuscan Kale, Roasted San Marzano Tomato Sauce, Basil.
Next trip, we hope to dine at some of these restaurants…
- The Lark
- Bossie’s Kitchen
- The Stonehouse
- Olio e Limone
- Sama Sama
- Flor De Maiz
- Hike & Bike Los Padres: Hike the Alviso Trail and explore the Los Padres National Forest, which extends from San Luis Obispo to northern Los Angeles. The nearby Romero Canyon Trailhead is popular with hikers and mountain bikers. Los Padres also provides opportunities for camping, fishing, and swimming.
- Carpenteria: Only 10 miles from Santa Barbara, spend a day on the beaches of Carpenteria.
- Summerland: Stop in the small town of Summerland on the way to Carpenteria and o shop at antique stores and boutiques.
- Paso Robles, Santa Ynez & Santa Rita: Go wine tasting – here are a few places we visited.
Booker Winery is situated on 100 acres of the Paso Robles AVA. The land was purchased in 2001 by Eric and Lisa Jensen with the intent of growing and supplying fruit for the finest wine makers in the region. With the 2005 Vintage came a change of plans that would lead to the first release from wine maker Eric Jensen.
Booker produces a wide selection of wine specializing on Rhone varietals. Production is limited, frequently selling out to wine club members. This means a trip to Booker is often the best way to taste their offerings. However, Booker understands that not everyone can visit their property at this time. They are currently kicking off an innovative new program where the tasting comes to your home and can be conducted over Zoom with one of Booker’s knowledgeable hosts.
More wineries to visit…Tablas Creek, DAOU, Villa Creek, kukkula, Law
Story of Soil is a boutique winery situated in the picturesque town of Los Olivos. Winemaker Jessica Gasca shares their mission to create high quality balanced wines, and focus on 4 things: 1. The farming practices of vineyards supplying the fruit, 2. The production of single vineyard, single varietal wines, where soil and microclimate differences can be celebrated. 3. Ultra-small releases. And most importantly, 4. The team puts their hearts and souls into the making of their wine.
More wineries to visit…Foxen, Bridlewood
Bite to eat…Buellton – stop for a bite at Industrial Eats
Babcock Winery – Arriving at Babcock winery was a feast for our senses even before we tasted any wine. It was a sunny, warm, breezy day, the Beatles Good Day Sunshine was playing, and the large inviting outside tasting area was already calling us to stay a while.
Babcock’s wine can be appreciated by everyone, but if you are a fan of the sound of 60s and 70s vinyl, a visit to Babcock in Lompoc, Santa Barbara County is a must. Wine maker Bryan Babcock has been making wine since the early 80s, shortly after the Babcock family first ventured onto the land of the western Santa Ynez valley. Today Babcock is surrounded by over 60 vineyards supplying fruit that produce some of the finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays available.
More wineries to visit…Fiddlehead, Melville, JCR Vineyard, Brewer-Clifton – Lompoc’s Wine Ghetto
Bite to Eat: Stop for a sandwich or pick up a picnic lunch at http://www.centralcoastspecialtyfoods.com/
Good to note: During covid-19, for all wineries: Tasting is currently conducted outside and follows all California state and county health guidelines which meant we felt completely safe during our visit.
Global Adventuress would like to thank our local friends Jerrol Golden & Larry Stapleton, Santa Barbara Tourism and Belmond El Encanto for their recommendations in this article.