If you don’t have time to go to the south of France, how about a summer getaway to beautiful, relaxing Santa Barbara? It’s no mystery why Santa Barbara’s been dubbed “The American Riviera” with its white-washed buildings topped with red tile roofs tucked between lush mountains and sparkling sea. This small city exudes warmth and friendliness. The sun shines nearly 300 days a year, making Santa Barbara a mecca for every kind of outdoor pursuit – both coastal and inland – along with an array of cultural attractions ranging from theater and dance to music and visual arts. Let’s go for a tour…
300 Days of Warm California Sunshine
Santa Barbara’s ideal California location makes it easy for anyone in the state to enjoy its 100 miles of pristine coastline and amazing diversity in a compact area. Comb downtown art galleries and museums before settling in for an evening of delicious eats or beats to live music.
Ocean lovers can lounge on the beach or sail up the coast. Love wine? You’ve come to the right place – just head inland. There’s so much beauty and diversity that you’ll need a little guidance.
Getting there: Santa Barbara is located just 92 miles north of Los Angeles and 332 miles south of San Francisco, on the Pacific coastline. Visitors can arrive via scenic Highway 101, by flying into Santa Barbara Municipal Airport or Los Angeles International Airport. Even better, you can save 20% on tickets aboard the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner or the San Joaquin to or from all nine Amtrak stations in Santa Barbara County. Read more at SantaBarbaraCarFree.org.
The best of Santa Barbara’s beaches begin at Carpinteria in the south and continue 45 miles up to Gaviota. Watch for spouting whales, go cycling and in-line skating on pristine paths, hit the water with a sailing or fishing excursion, go sea kayaking or surfing, play beach volleyball, or pick up kiteboarding. You can also go skydiving, hang gliding, windsurfing, SCUBA diving, birding, tide-pooling, or take advantage of direct service from Santa Barbara Harbor’s SEA Landing to the Channel Islands just off the coast.
The waterfront is eclectic with wine-production warehouses, surfboard shacks, and fishing vessels (pictured here pulling in super-fresh sea urchins) with sophisticated attractions like four new wine tasting rooms, museums, and a burgeoning food truck scene along with upscale restaurants.
Mainstay attractions include the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, weekly Fishermans’ Market, the Urban Wine Trail, and more. Adding to the ease of access, the Santa Barbara Train Station is centrally located here, allowing for a car-free and carefree vacation (see above).
Beach lovers alert! More sand and surf…
Highway 154 is an alternate route to North County, leading from Santa Barbara to the other side of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Along the way you can explore swimming holes and hiking trails along the Santa Ynez River. Then head over to the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, which offers camping, seasonal wildlife tours (watch out for bald eagles!), golfing, road and mountain bicycling, and excellent fishing. Santa Barbara also offers four horseback riding ranches and seasonal polo tournaments at the Santa Barbara Polo Club. Giddy-up!
Oh Yeah, Wine Country
Take a refreshing break from NorCal’s Napa and Sonoma and discover one of the fastest-growing viticultural regions in the nation.
Currently home to more than 150 wineries and 24,000 acres of vines, Santa Barbara produces pinot noir and syrah, as well as sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, riesling and other delicious varietals.
Tasting tours, picnic spots, outdoor concerts, winemaker dinners, festivals and harvest parties are all part of the area’s wine country experience.
To start your wine-tasting journey, visit the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association.
‘Sideways’ to Solvang – Danish Capital of America
Turning right from Highway 101 at Highway 246, visitors enter the heart of North County, which includes the 100-year-old Danish town of Solvang and the spectacular wine country beyond. Solvang features traditional Danish architecture, terrific bakeries and restaurants, endless shopping, several museums and a 700-seat stage theatre for outdoor summer productions. Don’t miss the aebleskiver, Solvang’s signature sweet-and-doughy Danish indulgence.
A mile or so before reaching Solvang, stop for terrific barbecue and excellent wine at Buellton’s famous Hitching Post restaurant, which starred in the Oscar-winning 2005 film Sideways, and is just a few hundred yards from another intriguing roadside attraction – and another Sideways bit-part player – Ostrich Land. After swilling enough wine you’ll want to check out some convenient accommodations: click here for some great options!
More wine, you ask? The Sonoma Coast: Your 4-Day Dream Getaway
Easy-going Fun for Families with Fido
Santa Barbara’s manageable size, easy-going pace and friendly locals create a relaxing yet engaging family travel experience – no lines, no expensive admissions, and no hassles. Endless family and pet-friendly outdoor adventures like mountain hikes, nature preserves, recreational lakes, skateboard parks, beaches, and bike paths are all yours.
There are interactive museums and kid-centric cultural attractions like the popular Ty Warner Sea Center, Santa Barbara Zoo, Carriage and Western Arts Museum, South Coast Railroad Museum, Susan Quinlan Doll & Teddy Bear Museum and Surfing Museum. Find off-beat animal encounters at Quicksilver Miniature Horse Farm and Turtle Dreams.
EAT & DRINK: Santa Barbara continues to evolve into a true dining destination where chefs haunt farmers’ markets to create dishes with the freshest local ingredients and partner with local wineries to pair on their seasonal menus. The Wine Cask has an award-winning 2,000-bottle cellar along with excellent food and service in an authentic Mission Revival dining room.
Local favorites include the venerable Paradise Cafe, which offers both casual alfresco garden dining and counter seating inside – the perfect place to enjoy a burger, a beer and a game on TV. Blue Agave downtown provides an impressive global menu and sensual bar scene in a stylish film-noir atmosphere. Opal is one of Santa Barbara’s hottest bistros; check out its house-smoked salmon and gourmet pizzas. Across the water on Stearns Wharf, an ahi sandwich on the deck at Longboards Grill is heavenly.
SHOPPING: Whether you prefer chic boutiques, one-of-a-kind stores or modern malls, Santa Barbara will impress. Built in the 1920s, the courtyards and passages of the Spanish-style El Paseo present a variety of gift shops, galleries and restaurants as does the equally charming La Arcada Court on State Street.
Paseo Nuevo, the city’s main shopping center, is anchored by Nordstrom and Macy’s and includes a mix of national chains and independents – boutiques, restaurants, specialty shops and art galleries.
We suggest checking out the local boutiques like Diani, dressed and ready by susan pitcher, Wendy Foster, and Angel and Kate. Thanks to its upscale residents, Santa Barbara is a hotbed of high-end vintage and second-hand designer finds at spots like The Closet, Renaissance Fine Consignments and Vintage Heart, or try your luck at weekend estate sales.
ARTS & CULTURE: Few cities of Santa Barbara’s size can match the quality and diversity of its artistic and cultural offerings, which include 50 museums and galleries and a wide range of stellar performance venues hosting multiple theatre groups, opera and dance companies, chamber orchestras, a symphony orchestra and more. Check out SBStage.org for more information.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art houses outstanding collections of art from the Americas, Asia and Europe while The Museum of Natural History is nationally renowned. Santa Barbara presents more than 200 professional and amateur stage productions every year and offers 60 art galleries making it easy to encounter murals, sculptures, fountains, bronzes and mosaics wherever you may wander. Santa Barbara Bowl concerts, Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, Opera Santa Barbara and PCPA Theaterfest are just a few of the compelling options.
The Santa Barbara Visual Arts Alliance provides information on galleries, museums, studio tours, art events, public art and art education. Santa Barbara continues to support the literary and film arts and the people who make them through a series of festivals and special events, including the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival held over ten days every January/February.
For fantastic hotel deals in Santa Barbara, click here and book!