8 Fabulous Things To Do In Beautiful Santa Barbara, California


Spanish Moorish architecture, the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains define the beauty of Santa Barbara, located just an hour and a half north of Los Angeles, California. This charming seaside city has a laid-back vibe that draws visitors to enjoy the sandy beaches, museums, galleries, food and wine tasting. From the moment you breathe in the fresh, salty air or stroll down legendary State Street, you’ll understand why it’s often referred to as the American Riviera.

1. Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Pier

Miles of sandy beaches and surf draw tourists to Santa Barbara. Surfing, swimming, and tanning are all part of the fun, but Santa Barbara has so much more to offer. Head to the port for a whale watching tour, rent a sailboat; go kayaking, stand up paddle board, or rent a jet ski, fishing charter and more. Almost all water sports and rentals will depart from the harbor or Stearns Wharf.

The Santa Barbara Harbor is also a great place to walk along the breakwater, admire the thousands of yachts, have a drink by the water, or dine while admiring the view.

Santa Barbara Water Taxi

For a fun and affordable narrated tour around the port, take a Lil Toot Water taxi between Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Pier. Rides are one-way only, on a first-come, first-served basis. Lil Toot is open to the public on weekends, but private rentals are available on weekdays.

Brophy brothers

Brophy Bros. is a perennial favorite with locals and Santa Barbara visitors alike. Take a seat at the bar and enjoy the harbor view while chatting with the person sitting next to you, although table seating is also available. Brophy is always crowded so be prepared to wait for a table. Order their signature Bloody Mary with oysters on the half shell. Ceviche is also a good option.

Pro tip: If you’re staying near the beach, leave your car at the hotel and walk to the port.

2. Stern Wharf

Stearns Pier, Santa Barbara’s most visited tourist attraction, has a turbulent history, threatened by many traumatic events, both natural and man-made. The oldest wooden pier in California, a walk along the pier offers great views of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains.

You’ll find a variety of restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, and tourist shops. Enjoy ice cream from the Great Pacific Ice Cream Company. While strolling the pier, don’t miss the dolphin sculpture, which marks the entrance to the pier and is a popular photo spot.

Pro Tip: Every Sunday, the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show lines up along Cabrillo Boulevard from Stearns Wharf to East Beach. The exhibition showcases 200 local artists working in every imaginable medium from jewelry making to painting, ceramics and digital art. If I’m in town for the weekend, I always go to this show and can’t always find something to take home.

3. beach

Hendry beach

Hendry is also known as Arroyo Boro Beach Park. It’s a lovely sheltered beach and you can walk for miles, which many people do with their dogs. Hendry’s has a grassy area with picnic tables and grills and a place to rinse your feet off after a walk on the beach.

I usually go to Hendry’s houseboat on Hendry Beach for brunch. Although casual, the food is great. There’s usually a wait, but this can give you time to walk on the beach and work up your appetite. Try Weavers Ranch.

Pro tip: Parking is very limited, so get there early if you plan to eat there.

Leadbetter Beach

Leadbetter is just south of the harbor. It’s a wide sandy beach with tall palm trees, volleyball nets, picnic tables, grills, and public restrooms. There is also a cafe called Shoreline Cafe where you can have lunch and dinner.

Pro tip: The Santa Barbara Visitor Center has three locations, including one just a stone’s throw from Stern’s Wharf at the intersection of Garden Street and Cabrillo Avenue.

4. State Street Promenade

State Street runs through the heart of Santa Barbara for ten blocks to Stearns Wharf. This is the perfect place to get in and out of unique stores like Lewis and Clark. You can also visit the galleries, stop for a coffee or a bite to eat, and sample wine at one of the tasting rooms located in El Paseo. Since 2020, some streets have been closed to allow restaurants to expand outdoor dining options. Upstate Street is home to the historic Granada Theatre, a beautiful performing arts venue. Check ahead to see who or what is going on.

Pro tip: Be sure to wander the many alleys and alleys off State Street, where you’ll find pretty fountains and hidden courtyards.

5. Santa Barbara Museum of Art

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art opened in 1941 in a building that was once a post office. The collection includes textiles, photography, ceramics, prints, paintings and ritual art. Recent refurbishments include expanded galleries and Luddington Court, a fascinating introduction to this wonderful museum. We particularly enjoyed the photography exhibit, and the paintings include some of the most famous names in art history.

6. Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Across the street from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, a major landmark in a city known for its architecture. The Spanish Moorish style, colorful tiles and wrought iron work make the courthouse a popular spot for photo shoots, and the sunken garden is the perfect setting for a romantic wedding.

Completed in 1929, it is a working court, but visitors are welcome to explore. Be sure to visit the bell tower for sweeping views of Santa Barbara. In summer there are movies, concerts and events on the lawn.

7. Santa Barbara Old Mission

Often referred to as the Queen of California Missions, this is certainly one of the prettiest Missions, with its iconic rose garden and fountains. The Old Mission of Santa Barbara was founded in 1786 by Franciscan monks on Santa Barbara’s Day. It is one of twenty-one missions founded in California, the only one that has received continuous Franciscan guidance since its inception.

There is a sprawling lawn out front where you’ll often find visitors camping and enjoying a little sunshine. The mission remains active and may sometimes be closed for services and funerals. Be sure to check the website for hours. You can also take a self-guided tour.

8. Wine tasting

When I first became a regular in Santa Barbara, we always went for wine tasting in Santa Ynez, forty minutes away. Today, there are more than 20 tasting rooms in Santa Barbara representing some of the region’s best producers, offering premium Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, sparkling wine and more. You no longer have to drive to Santa Ynez, you can simply follow Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail to one of the many great tasting rooms.

The Presidio Hotel

The Presidio (which means Fort in Spanish) is the center of Old Santa Barbara. El Paseo, California’s first shopping center, is located on this block. Tucked away in the many alleys are several tasting rooms, each with its own charm and style of wine. Grassini, Jamie Slone and Au Bon Climat are all in El Paseo. Kooning Wines is just one block away. Admire the Spanish architecture and learn about Santa Barbara’s history as you sip your glass of wine.

Grassini Family Vineyards

Grassini Family Vineyards specializes in Bordeaux varieties, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. The tasting room is cozy, best to reserve a table. Try the Reserve Cabernet with chocolate.

Oban climate

Au Bon Climat  is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and maintains a large library collection. The founder, the late Jim Clendenen, was largely responsible for putting wine in Santa Barbara County on the map. Anything you try here will be great, but of course you have to try a great pinot noir bottling.

Kooning wine

Kunin Wines is a small winery that produces Rhône-style wines as well as Zinfandel, Syrah and Viognier. The indoor tasting room can be noisy when it’s full, but there’s also an outdoor patio if the weather is nice. Kooning also has a tasting room in the funk area. Try the 2019 Grenache Alisos Vineyards.

La Paloma Café

For a taste of historic Santa Barbara, head to La Paloma Café , just a few blocks from State Street in the Presidio. The original stucco building opened in 1915 as an Italian bakery. In 1940, it opened as La Paloma Café and was an immediate success.

Walk through the downstairs bar and stop to admire the circa 1941 mural above the bar and the original bar stools, now restored in cowhide. The food is casual, plentiful and tasty. If you like smoky or hibiscus margaritas, try a mezcalita for something a little more refreshing. We had the pork shoulder which had a free smoky flavor with the mezcal…a great match.

place to stay

Eagle Inn

The Eagle Inn is a charming bed and breakfast that looks like someone’s home. This is a great location if you want to be close to the beach in a quiet area.

Eagle Inn has a variety of king and queen rooms, some with in-room spa baths and balconies. If you need more space, book the cottage, which is like a small apartment with a private entrance. Guest room amenities include wireless Internet access, coffee maker, refrigerator, complimentary refillable water bottle, wine glasses and corkscrew. Be aware that the Eagle Inn is pretty lo-fi and not all rooms have USB ports. Bikes are available and there is ample free off-street parking. A convenient and affordable location for a beach vacation.

Ramada by Wyndham

The Ramada by Wyndham is an older hotel that has been tastefully updated. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. Guest rooms provide high-speed wireless Internet access, microwaves, coffee makers and refrigerators. Most rooms also have full-size balconies, some facing the pretty inner courtyard. There is also a solar-heated pool and hot tub.

The address is Santa Barbara, the address is Santa Barbara, but you’re basically in Goleta, where the University of Santa Barbara is located. The Port of Santa Barbara is only a five to ten minute drive away. The Ramada offers Santa Barbara Value Pass, which offers discounts on everything from golf to wine tasting.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful destination with easy access to a big city (Los Angeles) but feels isolated. Anyone who enjoys nature, food and wine in a casual setting will love Santa Barbara.

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