Santa Barbara isn't your typical Los angeles town. And, in actual fact, this beautiful US city marks the end of Central California! However, upon visiting, it's possible to soon be forgiven for mistaking “SB” (because the locals refer to it as) for Los angeles because it too offers sunshine, beautiful beaches and quintessential California charm. Here’s quick tips towards the best things you can do in Santa Barbara, including insider tips and also the perfect itinerary that you’ll wish to steal!
Why you must visit Santa Barbara in your next California trip!
Santa Barbara is the perfect California-weekend destination because it has a little bit of everything. The city is just small enough to feel charming but big enough to be a cultural destination with museums and nationally ranked dining experiences that you certainly won’t wish to miss!
And this really is all without forgetting to say that the former fishing town is often dubbed because the gem of the ‘American Riviera’ because of its picture-perfect nature. You should also know prior to going that this Californian destination may be easily experienced on the highlights tour from the stunning city of Los Angeles (LA) like this one.
Due to its proximity towards the University of California, the town also offers the benefit of using a distinguished university close by, expanding the cultural offering and giving the town a little bit of a”college town” feeling- AKA a vibe that's virtually quintessentially American!
Truth be told, quite possibly the best thing about a weekend in Santa Barbara is the feeling of relaxation that accompany a visit. The moment I arrived I felt welcomed in to the relaxed pace of life – unhurried to do anything, I had been capable of taking my time and extremely become familiar with the wonderful city. For an excellent and simple time, continue reading for many suggestions on how to benefit from the perfect weekend in this Californian city…
Best things to do in Santa Barbara
#1 Have a Boat Cruise
Hands down, among the best things to do in Santa Barbara is to go through the city by sea. I found its way to Santa Barbara on a Friday afternoon. Immediately I felt pulled towards the Santa Barbara Harbor. From there it had been simple to visit a boat for any sunset boat cruise. The Santa Barbara piers are full of boats, giving a nautical nod to the Gulf of mexico.
Sailing is an excellent method to see the California coastline for people less inclined to surf or paddleboard, although there are plenty of opportunities for aquatic sports as well- just make sure to remember your wetsuit! Check here to find the best of Santa Barbara waterfront activities.
#2 Venture out in the Funk Zone
Yes, you read that correctly: the Funk Zone!! This area of Santa Barbara is a great place to go for food and drinks. Stay out late enough and also you can also feel like a university student again, because it is among the favourite districts of the collegiate population.
In all seriousness, the Funk Zone provides a great choice of breweries, restaurants and bars to choose from. There's, of course. the aptly named Funk Zone Patio (220 Gray Ave) for outdoor drinks and meat-focused fare. Otherwise, head to Test Pilot (211 Helena Ave) for your favourite fancy Tiki cocktails and Seven Bar & Kitchen (224 Helena Ave) when you really wish to go ahead and take night to the next level.
#3 Stroll down State Street
State Street is one of the main boulevards in SB. Along State Street, you’ll soon discover many restaurants, retail stores, antique shops and galleries. All in all, this thoroughfare is a prime example of classic Santa Barbara architecture since many buildings were built in a uniform Spanish Colonial Revival style inspired through the old missions built by the Spanish throughout the colonial period.
The Old Mission and El Presidio fort are particularly famous examples of this style of architecture, though it’s important to note that most of downtown Santa Barbara has the red roof tiles and whitewashed adobe walls which are so synonymous with the design.
#4 Eat the Art of Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara has an affluent community that contributes to an ever-growing art scene. For any traditional museum experience, I visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The Museum of Art began as early as 1941 and boasts an expansive permanent collection as well as a variety of temporary exhibits.
For a far more modern experience, you may also go to the Museum of recent Art Santa Barbara. What’s particularly interesting about this Santa Barbara attraction is that the museum is non-collecting, ensuring a thrice a year rotation of artworks, along with a guarantee that no two visits will ever function as the same.
Elsewhere in SB, there's also many galleries in downtown SB for a more casual viewing experience. For all those Western History buffs, the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara provides an interesting check out the past of the Wild West.
#5 Visit the Beach!
It wouldn’t be considered a true trip to any coastal California town with no stop (or two) towards the beach. My favourite beach of would be a trip to Hendry's Beach, also it may or may not have been because Hendry's BoatHouse (2981 Cliff Dr), a little restaurant on the beach, offers lobster rolls, fish tacos and Crab Louie salads for lunch!
Other great beaches in SB include East Beach, Leadbetter Beach and Arroyo Burro Beach County Park. For another perspective of Santa Barbara in the sea, then you may well consider booking this wildlife and history Kayak tour. Taking place over 2 hours, around the tour you’ll soon find out more about the wildlife, as well as the history, of the Californian city.
#6 Enjoy Food, Food and more mouthwateringly delicious Food all over town!
As with any trip, I like to prioritize food (and you will probably too in the event you take time to explore the very best of Santa Barbara). Going through the culinary scene is a great way to get to understand any new place and SB isn't any exception. Luckily, there’s an abundance of good food in SB!
A few of my favorites include Lilac Patisserie, 1017 State St (for gluten-free pastries so tasty that you would think there is gluten), Loquita Santa Barbara, 202 State St (for amazing tapas and paella), McConnell's Ice Cream (for the frozen treats the locals swear by) and also the well-reviewed Santa Barbara Public Market, 38 W Victoria St (to have an elevated food hall experience).
#7 Takes the time look around the surrounding County
Los Padres National Forest, California
While Santa Barbara proper has more than enough to offer, there are other amazing spots close by that are worth exploring. In the end, SB sits right alongside Los Padres National Forest, an incredible national park with some amazing hiking and trails. Discover more about this special destination here.
Also close by is the smaller town of Montecito, which makes for the perfect day trip from Santa Barbara and may easily be explored during the period of several hours. Made popular by Oprah along with other Fashion followers, Montecito boasts high-end shopping and dining. Other highlights of Montecito worth looking at include the botanical garden that is Lotusland and the stunning Butterfly Beach.
Los Olivos, California
Of best wishes things you can do in Santa Barbara (and close by), your day trip to Los Olivos is perfect for your wine enthusiasts! Los Olivos is a short drive over the mountains and it is the place to find some famous wineries that will satisfy any curious nose. If you are seeking to enjoy the best of wine in the area without needing to worry about car rentals, search for a tour like this one.