The Best of Santa Barbara
A LITTLE SLICE OF HEAVEN...
That's what I always say when people ask me about Santa Barbara. The palm trees, sunsets, ocean and mountains all within your close grasp is a nature lovers' paradise. The Spanish architecture, the delicious restaurants with lots of character, the ample amounts of good wine, and the fun bars are a culture seeker's answer to city living. The fact that there is always an activity to partake in whether it's horseback riding, paddle boarding, scuba diving, sailing, hiking, rock climbing, surfing, playing volleyball or biking is a huge attraction for the active individual. In addition to everything above, the chill vibes and most of all, the community, make Santa Barbara the unique city that so many fall for.
I've come to realize I've had a personal connection with Santa Barbara since I was very young and I continue to feel this connection today. Throughout my life I have always come back to Santa Barbara, not on purpose but by circumstance. I had no idea, aspiration or inspiration to fall in love this city...but it happened. Growing up I used to come to a swim meet every summer with my dad. We'd roller blade all around town after my morning swims, sometimes the family would come and we'd watch Fourth of July fireworks on East Beach. In high school I committed to UC Santa Barbara for swimming. I spent my four college years on campus and working downtown. Then, after graduation, instead of moving home, I moved near State Street and spent a year just hanging out and living the SB life before finally pulling myself away from Santa Barbara to go to grad school. Now, since moving back to Los Angeles, I go up every few months for a weekend. We drink wine, bask in the sun, go on awesome hikes and revel in how happy and carefree we feel whenever we're there.
- The Lucky Penny is the new kid on the block...and dishes out some amazing personal size pizzas (and some fun frose in the summer!). It's quaint and small with a few outside tables and conveniently located in the heart of the Funk Zone. You can soak up all the wine you've tasted with their delicious dough! If you want a more formal dinner head next door to The Lark for modern California cuisine.
- Zaytoon is a local favorite with twinkly lights, fire pits and Mediterranean food. You can't quite beat the atmosphere here.
- The Boat House is a bit on the chicer side and a bit north of downtown. I can promise it's worth the drive! It's right on the beach, they serve epic seafood dishes and it's a great spot to drink the day away while watching the waves crash. Try the Boathouse Punch for a fun cocktail, they also have some great Bloodies.
- Carlitos is a a quaint (mainly outdoor) Mexican staple for the locals of Santa Barbara. It's more upscale than the delicious and quick hole in the wall taco stands around town. They serves fresh margaritas and huge plates of Mexican specials which are delivered to guests in a Spanish courtyard. On the weekends they have local Mexican bands playing live music to further set the mood.
- Fresco is on Upper State street and it's an order first option in town for fresh, tasty food with rotating daily specials. There's something for everyone at this laid back spot. Pro tip...don't skip dessert, their chocolate mouse ball is to die for!
- If you're feeling like an indulgent seafood meal and maybe throwing back some oysters, head down to the harbor for a hearty meal at Brophy Bros. From clam chowder to fried calamari to oysters any way, you'll find whatever seafood dish you're looking for at this fun, buzzing harbor spot.
- Eureka! Isn't a Santa Barbara Staple but if you're craving a delicious burger and sweet potato fries then this is the spot for you.
- Opal has a cozy global atmosphere and serves down right tasty twists on American classics. Located next to the historic, mission style Arlington Theatre, you can catch a show or movie after dinner.
- La Super Rica Taqueria is the BEST little taco stand, Oprah will attest to this as it's her favorite place in town to eat.
- Jeanine's Bakery makes superb granola (take some for the road) and is the ultimate spot for a nice Sunday breakfast. There's a location in Montecito if you want to explore the surrounding Santa Barbara area, or there's one on State Street. Their French Toast is to die for, literally.
- Cajun Kitchen is a cheap, delicious brunch spot and if you're looking for huge portions this is for you. And of course, they have multiple Cajun options. All meals come with a side of toast, blueberry muffins, cornbread or biscuits. They have anything from omelettes, to gumbo, delicious hot chocolate and shrimp and grits.
- If you can't make up your mind on where you want to eat then Santa Barbara Public Market is the place to hang out. The trendy marketplace serves locally and regionally sourced food from a variety of vendors (Noodle bar, raw bar, pizzeria, Mexican counter, ice cream, and a beer garden). They also have a wine bar right in the middle.
- My favorite sandwich in the world (ya heard me) is at South Coast Deli. They have about four locations around town and two in the city center. I opt for their eggplant sammie with a side of pesto. They close early so make sure you head there for lunch.
- There's a couple epic Italian spots in town, my favorite being the small, quaint Ca Dario. A more popular option is Olio e Limone. They have a full, formal restaurant up front (reservations recommended) and a laid back pizzeria around the back.
- For delicious, up scale french food head to Bouchon. The ambiance and interior will make you feel like you're dining in the French countryside.
- McConnell's ice cream is a born and bred Santa Barbara company that serves the thickest and creamiest of ice cream.
- If you want to take a drive inland, stop for dinner at the hidden gem, Cold Springs Tavern, off Old Highway 395 for a cozy, romantic, country dinner. Or head there on the weekends when they serve their famous Tri Tip BBQ at lunchtime. You can enjoy their specialty at wooden tables, while enjoying the occasional live music and grabbing a drink from the bar.
Loquito is another new spot in town, also in the Funk Zone, that serves tapas style plates that pack a punch of flavor.
Pro Tip: For a night of drinking head to lower state street and bar hop between Ortega street and Guitierrez.
- Any Santa Barbara local would tell you to start a night out at Joe's Cafe on State Street. It's a restaurant, turned hot spot bar at night. They make the stiffest drinks in town and it's always a packed bar Thursday through Sunday. You're guaranteed to have a good time.
- If you're looking for a club on State Street you'll find EOS downtown. It's hard to find a nightclub vibe in Santa Barbara but this place has the neon lights, DJs and cocktails to make you feel like you're in Los Angeles. Make sure to head there later in the night for a full house.
- If you want to dance but aren't necessarily a fan of clubs then head to Indochine, my personal favorite on State Street. The Eastern style bar has a dance floor at the front of the building, a bar lining the walls down the back and a courtyard outside in the rear. If you're feeling a bit wild get on that dance floor and dance in that window!
- The Funk Zone hot spot, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. is an awesome place to have a drink and listen to live music on the weekends. The outdoor patio surrounded by bushes of bright orange flowers is the perfect place to grab a refreshment and enjoy a sunny day.
- The oldest, most authentic place in the newly revived Funk Zone is The Neighborhood. A traditional, no frills bar to hang with friends, watch a game and play beer pong on the patio.
- The ultra chill Santa Barbara Brew Co. is an awesome place to grab a beer, watch a game and have some down right delicious bar food.
- The James Joyce is my favorite hipster bar to listen to tunes while throwing darts and sipping on a drink. It's a low key, fun place to hang with friends, fully equipped with buckets of peanuts to snack on and throw on the floor.
- O'Malley's Bar or Whiskey Richards are two great dive bars you should check out if you want to drink and dance without any worries in the world.
- Creekside in Goleta is THE place to get your country on. Booze, country music and line dancing are what this place is all about.
Urban Wine Trail
- Municipal Winemakers - The ultimate hipster tasting room. You sip wine from vintage poster inspired bottles surrounded by tin lockers and wooden shelving filled with their colorful wines. The former scuba shop has tons of natural lighting and outdoor space to soak up the California sun.
- Kunin Wines & The Valley Project - More chic than hipster, Kunin is the city's notorious wine maker that sells more traditional, delectible wines, while The Valley Project is it's more alternative and quirky sister project, attracting the millenials with a major thirst to learn more about the Santa Barbara County wine region and it's terroirs.
- Santa Barbara Winery - The simple yet elegant tasting room sells beach vibe wine accoutrements that you can browse while sipping their vino in a bright, narrow, wood lined tasting room.
- Deep Sea Tasting Room - The tasting room with the expansive views of the city and the ocean. This spot has a 360 degree view of the ocean on one side and a view of the entire length of the city on the other. With the indoor/outdoor space created by floor to ceiling sliding doors you don't have to choose one or the other. Make sure to pick up your favorite bottle equipped with sea creature sketches on the labels. They make for a great conversation piece or unique gift!
- Oreana Winery & Marketplace - The chill, laid back and relaxed tasting room. Oreana doesn't serve the best wine in the Funk Zone but it's great, cheaper and and has live music occasionally. The walls are covered with wine barrel halves used as shelves and twinkly lights hang along the walls creating a unqiue and cozy vibe.
- Corks & Crowns Tasting Room - Where beer lovers and wine-os come together. Sit next to the fire to warm up in the chilly seaside winters or bask in the sun on the porch outside in the hot summers. Whichever season, this place is always buzzing with locals.
Pro Tip: There are a ton more wine tasting rooms in the city, these are just a few of our favorite. Make sure to pick up a map of the Urban Wine Trail when you get to you're first stop and there might be some coupons for complimentary tastings and other deals available as well.
Hiking & active adventures
- Gaviota Peak Trail is North of Santa Barbara and is an out and back 6.3 mile hike with amazing views and no civilization in sight!
- If you hike the trail above, reward yourself with another, more relaxing, outdoor activity at the Gaviota Hot Springs. This is great for those of you who aren't hiking fans. The springs are located about a mile in from the roadway and are a wonderful place to relax after hiking and warm up during a chilly day. They are natural and full of blue sulfury water that makes your skin feel soft as silk.
- Inspiration Point: The most popular hike in Santa Barbara, the easy 2.1 mile trail leads to views that overlook the entire city.
- Lizard's Mouth is a popular area to explore, with a trail and look out over the city, you can go to admire the view and have a picnic, or explore some longer hikes and take on some bouldering trails.
- Cathedral Peak is a pretty challenging and fun hike. It's a 4.7 mile out and back trail with a steep vertical. You get to climb some boulders on your way to the peak! Once you're up there, the views are pretty spectacular overlooking Santa Barbara city in one direction and Los Padres National Forest in the other.
- Red Rocks is an really fun day trip from Santa Barbara (when there's enough water). Only a half a mile from the trailhead, people bring food and beer and spend an afternoon swimming in the blue pools or lounging on the red rocks.
- Biking around Santa Barbara is super fun. There are a ton of bike trails all over downtown, you can bike from downtown Santa Barbara to Montecito, or from Goleta to downtown Santa Barbara. If you're looking for some hills head to Gibraltar Road for the ride of your life!
- Lay out front of the Santa Barbara Mission on the big lawn and look up at the surrounding mountains. You can also sneak glimpses of the ocean on clear days.
Pro Tip: In the ocean between the channel islands and the coast of Santa Barbara county exist some of the most diverse underwater eco systems in the world. Grab a paddle board or kayak and take to the ocean to see dolphins, seals and more. For the more adventurous you can take diving or surfing trips out to the Channel islands!
- Butterfly Beach is south of downtown located right in front of the Biltmore hotel between Santa Barbara and Montecito. Sunsets here are magical.
- East Beach is located where State Street meats the ocean and runs all along the downtown area. There's volleyball courts always busy with local or personal tournaments, Sunday art walk, bonfire pits and a cafe that serves up tacos for lunch.
- Devareau Beach is located in Goleta, and is the northernmost spot of sand that UCSB students frequent. A cliff rises above the beach on one side and goes on for miles at the other. Diving for lobsters is common in the winters.
- Santa Claus Lane is a pristine beach south of Santa Barbara in a quaint town called Summerland. There's Padaro Beach Grill, Surfboard rentals and a long, flat beach to lay out and enjoy. Beginner surfers love this spot as most of the intermediate and pro surfers head to Rincon (one of the best waves in California!) so beginners are free to test the tides here.