Bathed in the golden glow of Southern California, Santa Barbara, known as the “American Riviera,” is a delightful coastal paradise. A short drive from Los Angeles, it enchants visitors with its Spanish colonial charm, world-class wineries, and stunning beaches. It’s a city where history meets a vibrant lifestyle; you can explore the iconic Santa Barbara Mission, shop and dine on State Street, or hike in the Santa Ynez Mountains. Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventures, a cultural immersion, or simply relaxation under the sun, Santa Barbara promises an unforgettable experience. Stay tuned to discover how to make the most of one day Santa Barbara!
Santa Barbara is a delight to visit year-round, thanks to its Mediterranean climate. Spring (March-May), with temperatures between 60-70°F (15-21°C), is a pleasant time for outdoor activities. Fall (September-November) offers warm weather, fewer crowds, and vineyard harvests, making it ideal for wine lovers. Winter (December-February) is mild with temperatures around 60°F (15°C), providing a quieter experience and lower hotel rates. While summer (June-August) is popular and bustling with festivals, it also sees higher prices and crowded attractions.
- The Channel Islands, also known as “North America’s Galapagos” and located just off Santa Barbara’s coast, host over 2,000 plant and animal species, with 145 found nowhere else in the world.
- Santa Barbara’s palm tree-lined streets are iconic, and there’s one tree for every three people in the city!
- Santa Barbara is often listed as one of the least stressed cities in the United States. This status can be attributed to various factors that contribute to a relaxed and balanced lifestyle.
Squeezing the best of Santa Barbara into a single day requires careful planning. Here’s a suggestion to make the most out of your 24 hours in Santa Barbara:
Begin your day in Santa Barbara with a mouthwatering breakfast at Jeannine’s Bakery, a cherished local haunt. Indulge in the flaky perfection of their almond croissant or savor the classic Eggs Benedict. This delicious meal is certain to provide ample energy for your day of discovery. Afterward, immerse yourself in the vibrant pulse of the city as you meander through downtown Santa Barbara. State Street, the city’s central artery, awaits you with a myriad of boutiques, art galleries, and a diverse assortment of eateries.
Your next stop is a leisurely stroll away – the iconic Santa Barbara County Courthouse. A beacon of Spanish-Colonial architecture, the courthouse also offers the chance to ascend its bell tower. If open, it provides a breathtaking panorama of the city, a vista that perfectly frames the adventure that lies ahead.
Just a brief stroll away from the courthouse, you’ll find the renowned Santa Barbara Museum of Art, a cornerstone of the city’s cultural and artistic landscape. This sanctuary for art lovers houses an impressive collection spanning several continents and centuries, showcasing the richness of human creativity and expression.In the American art section, you’ll find pieces that tell the stories of the nation, ranging from colonial times to contemporary periods. Notable works include pieces by Edward Hopper and Childe Hassam.
Meanwhile, the European art collection showcases everything from Renaissance to 20th-century modernist works. Among the iconic artists represented, you’ll encounter pieces from Edouard Manet and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec!
This extraordinary botanical garden, replete with an array of thematic gardens, offers a mesmerizing journey through a tapestry of flora. As you wander through the paths, you’ll encounter a spectrum of plant groups and unique design styles, each contributing to the estate’s rich visual palette.
From exotic cacti to tranquil Japanese gardens, and tropical rainforest foliage to serene water gardens, Lotusland encapsulates a world of botanical beauty. Not just a horticultural feast, Lotusland also tells the story of its creative and unconventional creator, Madame Ganna Walska, whose vision and passion for plants can be felt at every turn.
Whether you’re a plant enthusiast, a lover of design, or simply seeking a serene escape, Lotusland invites you to immerse yourself in its magical landscape. It’s a must-visit in Santa Barbara, promising a day of exploration and enchantment.
When lunchtime rolls around, make your way to Los Agaves Restaurant, a beloved local staple known for serving mouth-watering authentic Mexican cuisine. Don’t miss out on their famous mole enchiladas, a symphony of flavors wrapped in soft tortillas, or the seafood chile relleno, a savory dish that will make your taste buds dance. Continue on to the wine exploration in the city’s very own ‘Funk Zone’.
This vibrant neighborhood is home to numerous tasting rooms, offering an excellent introduction to Santa Barbara’s wine scene. These hip, modern venues showcase a wide variety of local wines, from the crisp and balanced Chardonnays to the complex and sumptuous Pinot Noirs that the region is renowned for.
Take a journey back in time by visiting the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara. Often referred to as the ‘Queen of the Missions’, this grand establishment stands as a testament to Santa Barbara’s rich colonial past. As you roam the mission’s tranquil grounds, you’ll be able to take in the stunning example of Spanish Colonial architecture, characterized by its clean, symmetrical lines and ornate detailing.
Make sure to explore its serene gardens, which boast a variety of indigenous plants and provide a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s an opportunity to not only appreciate historical architecture and beautiful landscapes but also to gain insights into the early history of California.
Make your way to the Santa Barbara Waterfront, a gem of the city that comes alive with a different kind of magic as the day ends. A scenic stroll along the beach is a serene way to wind down and absorb the cool ocean breeze and captivating sunset views. Nestled in this area, you’ll find the historic Stearns Wharf, the oldest working wharf in California.
Its charming boardwalk is perfect for a leisurely ambiance, where you can feel the planks resonate with history under your feet and enjoy panoramic vistas of the coastline. Dotted with quaint shops and boutiques, the wharf is a fantastic spot to find unique souvenirs or simply indulge in some window shopping. As the evening unfolds, try Santa Barbara Shellfish Company for a memorable dinner!
When the sun sets, Santa Barbara comes alive with an array of vibrant nightlife options, from cozy wine bars to lively dance clubs. Backstage Dueling Piano Bar should be your first stop. This trendy spot is known for its chic, eclectic interior and is a popular haunt for both locals and tourists. For those who fancy a more sophisticated evening, head to Wine Therapy. As the name suggests, this spot is dedicated to wine lovers and offers a wide selection of local and imported wines.
Adding to Santa Barbara’s lively beer scene are Biergarten, Third Window, and M Special. For those seeking live music, SOhO Restaurant & Music Club is a must-visit. This venue regularly hosts performances from local and touring artists across various genres, making for some memorable musical nights. If you’re in the mood for a clubbing experience, EOS Lounge is your destination. With its modern vibe, pulsating music, and extensive cocktail menu, it’s a hot spot for those looking to dance the night away!
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
Hotel Santa Barbara
533 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Located within a comfortable distance of 3.2 km from attractions like the Santa Barbara Zoo and Leadbetter Beach and Park, Hotel Santa Barbara welcomes guests with a host of amenities. This includes complimentary Wi-Fi across the premises, and the convenience of a Starbucks Coffee shop right at the doorstep. Every air-conditioned room at Hotel Santa Barbara boasts a flat-screen cable TV with movie channels and a work desk, catering to leisure and business travelers alike. Guests can expect a restful sleep on the pillow-top mattress, complete with a selection of down, feather, and non-allergenic pillows. Each room also comes with conveniences such as a coffee machine, mini refrigerator, hairdryer, and complimentary toiletries. Situated just a 5-minute drive from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Hotel Santa Barbara offers easy access to the city’s cultural landmarks. The hotel is also just 2.4 km from Santa Barbara City College. For guests flying in or out, the Santa Barbara Airport is a manageable 16.6 km away.
La Playa Inn Santa Barbara
116 Castillo Street, West Beach, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
La Playa Inn Santa Barbara, located less than a five-minute walk from the Pacific Ocean, provides guests with a refreshing blend of comfort and convenience. Amenities such as complimentary continental breakfast and free Wi-Fi are offered to all guests. Each room is also equipped with a refrigerator for added convenience. The Santa Barbara Airport is a comfortable 10 miles away. Guest rooms at La Playa Inn Santa Barbara are furnished with a cable TV that includes movie channels. For additional comfort, each air-conditioned room comes with a coffee maker and complimentary toiletries. Just a 2-minute drive away lies the renowned Santa Barbara Winery, perfect for visitors with a taste for local wines. For those interested in academia or exploring a college campus, the University of California – Santa Barbara is only 11 miles away.
El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel
800 Alvarado Place, Santa Barbara, CA 93103
Situated a mere 5-minute drive from Central Santa Barbara, the boutique El Encanto hotel offers guests breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. It is a haven of relaxation with amenities including an outdoor pool, a spa and wellness center, and an on-site bar and restaurant. Free Wi-Fi is available in all of its spacious rooms. Guest rooms at El Encanto are outfitted with a flat-screen cable satellite TV. Additional in-room amenities include a minibar, a cozy fireplace, and a seating area. Every room boasts a serene garden view. El Encanto provides a 24-hour reception to cater to guest needs around the clock. Business travelers can make use of the on-site business center equipped with fax and photocopying services. The on-site fitness center is perfect for guests who wish to maintain their fitness routine during their stay. The hotel’s proximity to major attractions is another plus. Guests can visit sites within 2 miles of the hotel like the Santa Barbara Mission and Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens. For golf enthusiasts, the Santa Barbara Municipal Golf Course is a mere 10-minute drive away.
Los Angeles, the captivating “City of Angels,” is just a two-hour drive from Santa Barbara. It’s a city teeming with diverse cultures, unparalleled entertainment, and remarkable natural beauty. Hollywood glamour, stunning beaches, eclectic neighborhoods, and a vibrant culinary scene all merge to offer a unique urban experience. The city is an entertainment epicenter, boasting attractions such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, world-class museums, and fashion-forward boutiques on Rodeo Drive. What’s more, with over 280 sunny days a year, Los Angeles offers a warm welcome year-round. Whether you’re an adventurer, a foodie, or a culture enthusiast, LA has something to offer everyone. To discover how to make the most of this vibrant city in just one day, explore our comprehensive itinerary.
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo, affectionately known as SLO, is a hidden gem tucked halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A mere two-hour drive from Santa Barbara, this charming Central Coast city captivates visitors with its laid-back lifestyle, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant cultural scene. San Luis Obispo is also home to a rich historical legacy, with architectural landmarks like the iconic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Known for its welcoming community spirit and festive atmosphere, the city offers a calendar packed with events, from the famous Thursday Night Farmers’ Market to music, film, and food festivals. You can read more about San Luis Obispo here!
La Jolla, a jewel of Southern California, is a mere three-hour drive from Santa Barbara. This idyllic seaside community offers an enticing blend of natural beauty, upscale charm, and adventurous spirit. Nestled on the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, La Jolla is renowned for its stunning coastlines, vibrant marine life, and panoramic ocean views. Downtown La Jolla, known as “the village,” is a haven for art, culture, and high-end shopping, with a variety of boutiques, art galleries, and gourmet restaurants. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art or enjoy a play at the La Jolla Playhouse, a launching pad for Broadway productions. With its pleasant climate year-round, La Jolla is an ideal destination for any season. Whether you’re a nature lover, a culture enthusiast, or a leisure traveler, La Jolla offers an unforgettable experience. For an in-depth look at how to maximize a day in this coastal paradise, read our detailed itinerary.
- If you’re willing to venture a little outside the city, a short drive into the Santa Ynez Valley is highly recommended. Here you’ll find several vineyards and wineries where you can see the grape-growing and winemaking processes up close.
- Getting Around: The city is quite walkable, especially around downtown and the Waterfront. For longer distances, consider renting a bike or using the city’s shuttle service.
- Parking: If you’re driving, keep in mind that while street parking is available, it can get crowded, especially in popular areas like downtown or the Waterfront. Paid parking lots are available around the city.
- Outdoor Activities: Santa Barbara is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. If you love hiking, don’t miss the chance to explore the Santa Ynez Mountains. If you’re a water sports fan, paddleboarding or surfing at East Beach could be an exciting addition to your itinerary.
- Local Events: Check local event calendars. Santa Barbara hosts several music, art, and food festivals throughout the year which can add a unique flavor to your visit.
- Reservations: For popular restaurants and activities (like visiting Lotusland), making a reservation in advance is highly recommended.
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.
Romi is a llama coach from Split, Croatia. This sounds made up but it’s true. She lived in Toronto, Canada for about ten years, give or take, but she wasn’t working with llamas. She was working in PR, restaurants, daycares, one yoga clothing store. She doesn't know how she got that job as she has never done yoga at that point. She taught English in Colombia and Vietnam. Traveled the world for two years. Then she got into writing. Actually, she was always writing, but then someone paid her to write. Then more people paid because they saw she was making them money. Then it became a thing she does for a living. And here we are now. Specializing in travel, real estate, and digital nomad guides, familiar with SEO, and always ready to learn something new so she can branch out and take over the world.