When one thinks of going to California, most minds immediately key in on Los Angeles, the celebrity ridden streets of Hollywood, and the glitziness of Beverly Hills and Calabasas. But two hours north of the city of angels lies a quaint, calming oasis full of LA runaways, where locals spend their days in beach-side coffee shops, surfing at Sandspit, and shopping on State Street. I visited Santa Barbara on my first trip to California and instantly felt like I had fallen into a Jack’s Mannequin song, charmed by this Mediterranean-style seaside town that’s bursting from the seams with art, culture, and a unique urban wine community. Here’s how to spend a perfect two days on this “American Riviera”.
Where to Stay
This hotel is an absolute dream. With Moroccan influenced interior design, a rooftop pool, and an unbeatable location, this is my go-to hotel in Santa Barbara.
Looking for something more budget friendly? Check out The Hyatt Centric - they offer a discounted “Santa Barbara House” that allows you to use all of the amenities of the main hotel, yet stay in their resident-style building two blocks away. For the price, this location can’t be beat.
Start your day off at one of my favorite brunch spots… well, ever. Scarlett Begonia is a breathtaking, garden-style restaurant located in Santa Barbara’s shopping district. Hidden behind a maze of buildings is their courtyard eating area, decorated with string lights, Italian garden fountains, and flowered ivy. I’m still thinking about their strawberries and cream French toast.
Spend the rest of your morning peeking into shops on Santa Barbara’s famous State Street, stopping into the Paseo Nuevo shopping center and visiting Santa Barbara’s three story Marshall’s (I almost had a heart attack). Another shop worth stopping into is Seven Hills Turkish Imports, where a colorful collection of Turkish lamps, dishware, clothing, and jewelry is on display. If for nothing else, this shop makes a great photo op.
Next, make your way down to West Beach, stopping into McConnell’s Ice Cream for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. They have multiple locations around the city and make the best desserts in the area. You can’t leave Santa Barbara without trying one of their frozen concoctions.
At the end of West Beach, opposite to Stearns Wharf, is the Santa Barbara Sailing Center. Spend a couple hours on one of their many excursions including, a private sailboat charter, whale watching, kayak & paddle board rentals, and sailing lessons. Looking for something more guided? Try a coastal kayaking tour with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company.
For dinner, take the drive to Montecito for an unforgettable dinner at Lucky’s Steakhouse. We loved this restaurant so much, we ate here twice during our six day visit. I recommend ordering the French onion soup and surf n’ turf - oh, and don’t forget to wash it down with a bottle of Caymus from their award winning wine collection.
Grab an early brunch at Goat Tree, the Hotel Californian’s on-site cafe whose outdoor seating option is surrounded by palm trees and sounds of the ocean. I recommend their twist on Avocado toast paired with a delicious house mimosa.
Whether you choose a relaxing beach day or a tour of Santa Barbara's winery village for your next activity, you’re going to need a bike, so head over to Fun Wheel Rental to pick up a rental for the day.
Looking to explore Santa Barbara’s wine culture? You don’t have to book a fancy wine tour to enjoy Santa Barbara’s quirky and contemporary wine scene - just spend a few hours in The Funk Zone, full of surf shops turned micro-wineries, vintage stores, and art galleries. With a map of the Funk Zone, bike from one tasting room to the next. Some of my favorite wineries in this area include Kunin Wines, Oreana, Riverbench, and Santa Barbara Winery.
Not a wine drinker? Butterfly beach is a short twenty minute bike ride from downtown Santa Barbara. Spend the day laying out and relaxing by the water with your favorite book, stopping into Bella Vista at the Four Seasons for a cool-down drink. Their breathtaking outdoor patio overlooks the sea-side cliffs below, making this the perfect place to soak in the landscapes of California.
Head back to your accommodations to get ready for a dinner at The Lark, a farm-to-table restaurant that is making a big impact among the Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. This is one of those restaurants that will make you appreciate the art of cuisine, so make sure to try a couple different things on their menu. I recommend their cheeseboard, diver scallops, and lamb ribs. Looking for a more casual menu? Sit at their bar where they offer simpler menu options along with various craft cocktails.
Some other great restaurants in Santa Barbara include...
Transportation from airport:
Although Santa Barbara has a small local airport, it is usually cheaper to fly into LAX and then take the Santa Barbara Airbus into town (make reservations online prior). This will cost you around $50 round trip and takes about two hours with LA traffic.
What is your favorite thing to do in Santa Barbara? Let us know in the comments below!