Streets full of flowers, tall palm trees, beautiful beaches, great shops, amazing restaurants, very nice houses… Santa Barbara well deserves its nickname of the American Riviera. During our road trip through California, Santa Barbara was one of our favorite stop, it was love at first sight! If you drive through California a stop to Santa Barbara is a must (at least for a day)
Santa Barbara is so beautiful and majestic. Expect,spectacular mountains, deep blue ocean, beautiful landscapes and year-round Mediterranean climate. Santa Barbara is a melting pot of culture. It is home to artists, winemakers, chefs who love to play with their imaginations and create something different. The activities in Santa Barbara are very diverse. You will find the Urban Wine Trail which offers 22 wine tasting rooms. Carpinteria the safest beach in the world. And a beautiful wharf which offers fresh seafood. Relax on the pristine Butterfly Beach of Montecito and watch celebrities or go kayaking in the Channel Islands sea caves. Here are the top 10 things to do and see in the beautiful city of Santa Barbara.
First, a bit of history:
The general commander of the interior provinces, Teodoro de Croiz had to fulfill his mission in 1780; to colonize the land and spread the faith. He then built the Presidio of Santa Barbara, quickly followed by the Mission of Santa Barbara. These 2 buildings testify to the colonial past of the city. The city was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1925, however new houses were rebuilt in the same architectural style. This contributes to the homogeneous allure of Santa Barbara. The city still seems to be still a pretty fishing village, lost in time.
1. Admire the beauty of the city from stearns wharf
The Stearns wharf is one of the main tourist attraction of Santa Barbara. The oldest wharf in California still in operation offers fresh seafood, entertainment and an incredible Sea Center. Visitors will want to spend a few hours observing the views and landscapes and enjoying the catch of the day. The ocean and mountain views from the dock are spectacular. You also have the opportunity to spot seals, pelicans and other species of seabirds. Watch local fishermen unload their catch or try to fish yourself at the end of the wharf.
Stop at the Sea Center, a marine laboratory, to learn more about the marine life of the region. Take a water taxi ride, buy souvenirs or have a bite at a local restaurant. Buy an ice cream and wander along this wooden doc. Read the history plates, placed at intervals by the water’s edge. Enjoy the good weather and the interesting history that will make you want to come back.
Head there at sunset to enjoy the majestic view of the city
2.Go Back in time at the santa barbar mission
Missions were built by the Dominicans, the Jesuits and the Franciscans between 1769 and 1823. The Missions were intended to carry the holy word and convert people to Christianism. A total of 21 Missions have been built between Sonoma and San Diego. Santa Barbara is one of the prettiest. Nicknamed “Queen of the Missions”, the Santa Barbara Mission is absolutely magnificent. It is located at the foot of a small hill and surrounded by lush gardens. Destroyed after an earthquake in 1925, it was rebuilt according to the original mission, and is definitely worth a visit.
3. visit the presidio and historical museum
In downtown Santa Barbara visit another must-see in the city: the Presidio. There are only 9 presidios in the United States including 5 in California. The Santa Barbara building is the second oldest building in all of California (1782), after the Mission San Juan Capistrano.
But what is a presidio?
During colonization in the 18th century, the Spanish built military forts around the missions in order to protect them. Most of these presidios have now disappeared. But the one in Santa Barbara has been preserved. It is part of the state parks of California and classified in the National Register of American Historic Places. Unfortunately, the original structure is no longer visible, but the restoration work undertaken restores all the splendor of the presidio.
Right in front of the presidio, the small Santa Barbara Historical Museum retraces the history of the city with some pieces dating from the 15th century. During our visit, Spain was honored during a temporary exhibition. Two blocks away is the Casa de la Guerra, the former residence of the 5th commander of the presidio, José de la Guerra y Noriega in the mid-19th century.
4. Admire the 360° view from the Santa Barbara County Courthouse
Santa Barbara County Courthouse is magnificient and a signature building of Santa Barbara. The court is located in the historic center and it feels like it has been there for centuries due to its Andalusian-inspired architecture. However, the date of its construction dates back only to 1929. You can enter the building for free and admire the beautifully decorated rooms.
The centerpiece is the Wall Room, in reference to the frescoes decorating it and retracing the history of the city. This is where certain cases are judged and marriages are conducted. The highlight of the visit is the terrace, which is accessible by the stairs or the elevator, and overlooks the city and its red-orange roofed buildings. The 360 ° view of the mountains and the Pacific ocean is breathtaking.
5. enjoy some wine tastings
If you are a wine lover, Santa Barbara is the perfect place with its urban vineyards located a few steps from the city center and the beach, in the green hills of the nearby mountains. The unique climate, the east-west mountain range, the Pacific breeze and the very long growing season are factors that contribute to the creation of award-winning wines produced on site. Famous for its tasting rooms and vineyard tours, here is the first activity offered by the city of Santa Barbara.
The Santa Ynez Mountains offer some of the best wineries, including Australian Mike Brown’s Kalyra Winery. It is quickly becoming the most fun and relaxed tasting room with its beach vibe and wine choices for everyone. Featured in the film ‘Sideways’, the vineyard has become popular so you should book your visit.
For a more traditional vineyard, the Rusack Boutique Winery offers a welcoming tasting room with a redwood terrace built around magnificent oak trees. A custom-made tasting bar, pottery and private wines make this room perfect for a picnic and a good glass of wine. For a more urban experience, be sure to visit the Funk Zone.
6. Have fun at the funk zone
The city of Santa Barbara has always been a haven for artists, winemakers, chefs and artisans looking to bring something different, and it’s no surprise that the Funk Zone was created to support these incredible people. The Funk Zone is a trendy neighborhood of old warehouses and old stores that have been transformed into a culture of artisans, micro-breweries, wine tasting rooms, art galleries and trendy restaurants.
The Funk Zone is best known for its Urban Wine Trail, a series of 22 wine tasting rooms that represent the best award-winning vintages in Santa Barbara. From Tiki themed rooms to the famous Santa Barbara Winery and its exceptional wines, it is impossible to visit all these rooms in one day, but if you want to try it, they open their doors from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Located two blocks from the beach and close to great restaurants, the Urban Wine Trail is one example of what makes the Funk Zone unique and fun.
7. Walk around the waterfront and harbour
The Santa Barbara waterfront, close to the city center, is a must. Bordered by exotic vegetation and huge palm trees, the beach is beautiful and very tempting. Mingle with the locals who wander as a couple or family, ride a bike, skate or simply admire the Pacific Ocean. A bit further, you can reach the harbour, with its pleasant Harbour Walk. Admire beautiful sailing boats and yachts one 1 side, and the deep blue ocean on the other side. Such a relaxing place, we could walk there every day.
8.Shop on state street
Santa Barbara State Street will charm all visitors: compulsive buyers with great shops, gourmets with welcoming restaurants, dreamers with colorful building facades and ubiquitous flowers. State Street is undoubtedly the liveliest street in the city. Wander in some of the side alleys as well which are also full of charms.
Historic el paseo
Do not miss the first shopping center in California born in the 1920s. The place is full of flowers, full of charm, fountains, romantic gardens and … shops! Souvenirs, jewelry, art galleries, restaurants…
Lots of charm for another typical shopping place: La Arcada. Here you can wander among art galleries, fountains and restaurants in a rather picturesque atmosphere. La Arcada was built in 1926 by architect Myron Hunt. You will see there many realistic statues as well as bronzes, we owe them to J. Seward Johnson and George Lundeen.
El Paseo Nuevo
Come back to the 21st century with the contemporary El Paseo Nuevo, an open-air shopping mall with international brands.
9. Visit the safest beach in the world (Carpinteria)
Only 20 km southeast of the city of Santa Barbara is Carpinteria (or Carp, as called by locals), the safest beach in the world. Perhaps, the gentle slope of the beach, the calm waves or the welcoming community, something makes this place the safest beach in the world. Or is it the seals playing in the waters, or the tidal pools that house starfish, sea urchins, crabs and more that attract visitors to this beach?
Visit the beach to relax by walking on miles of white sand, or rent a buoy at the beach hut and go paddling onto the calm waters. Pack a picnic and enjoy on-site barbecues, or play a game of volleyball. Swim with the dolphins that often visit the area or watch the migrating gray whales. Head north to Santa Claus Lane to hire or take surf lessons, as this beach is a great place for beginners. Whatever you choose to do on this spectacular beach, you will not be disappointed.
10. Check out celebrities at Montecito
The intimate and lush village of Montecito is located a short distance on the outskirts of the city of Santa Barbara. It’s a place where billionaires live and celebrities are the norm. One of the wealthiest places in the whole country. It is a great day trip to explore the beautiful hotels, beaches and delicious food. If you decide to treat yourself and spend the night there, we recommend the Four Seasons Biltmore or the Montecito Inn, built for none other than Charlie Chaplin.
With one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country, Montecito has no shortage of magnificent beaches. Head to Butterfly Beach where the calm waters and warm sand create the perfect atmosphere to relax. Miramar Beach is another popular beach with its houses lining the curved beach. The tidal pools offer hours of fun and the waves are great for bodyboarding. Have a bite to eat on one of the many outdoor terraces, where star chefs come to amaze locals and visitors with innovative cuisine. Remember, this area is home to many stars who come for some privacy and appreciate the space left by visitors.
Santa Barbara, nestled at the foot of the Santa Ynez Mountains, facing the Pacific Ocean and known as the very chic American Riviera is one of the most beautiful pearls of California. We can’t express how much we loved this place. We went there twice and stayed there for a few days. Life is so pleasant and peaceful there. We would go back there anytime.
Where to stay in Santa Barbara?
Los Angeles is a very big city. If you want to see most of it, the location of your hotel would be crucial. We highly We probably stayed in one of the most beautiful place in Santa Barbara, called Simpson House Inn. Located at the heart of Santa Barbara, this old Victorian villa built in 1874, has been beautifully restored. Surrounded by lush gardens, it makes it such a beautiful and relaxing place to stay. The owner and the staffs have been so amazing and made our stay unforgettable. Simpson House Inn includes free breakfast which you can enjoy in the garden in a beautiful setting, free bicycle rental, freshly baked cookies in the evening, free wine tasting a few days a week. We can only highly recommend you to stay there. You can book your stay at Simpson House Inn here.
Links to related articles
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POINT LOBOS: richest underwater reserve in the US: here
LOS ANGELES: Full guide for visiting LA: here
SAN DIEGO: What to do this beautiful city: here
ROMANTIC DATES IN CALIFORNIA: 10 Best Date Ideas: here