Things to do in Santa Barbara, CA

Get Your Bearings in Santa Barbara

By Geneva Ives
Santa Barbara Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

Culture lovers will be impressed with the wide variety of museums within city limits. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy Santa Barbara's many natural attractions, like white sand beaches and mountain trails. A warm Mediterranean climate ensures that most of these are accessible no matter when you visit. And, there's always Santa Barbara's wine country reputation. Walk the urban wine trail in the Funk Zone or take a day trip to Los Olivos.

Take It or Leave It:

Santa Barbara loves a good parade. Check upcoming parade dates when planning your trip.

Where to Stay

Hotels in Santa Barbara run the gamut; you can reserve almost any type of overnight lodging, from convenient motels to intimate bed and breakfasts to lavish resorts, even camp sites! Weather here is typically mild, so an oceanfront hotel is a safe choice year round. If you're looking to stay near the hustle and bustle of downtown, keep in mind that State Street is actually a very long street and only part of it is easily walkable. Addresses above 1400 are more residential in nature.

Avoid:

Booking at the last minute - especially during the summer.

What to Eat

Many of the area's best restaurants can be found on small side streets downtown. Wondering where to eat? Just ask a local. Santa Barbara takes great pride in the variety and availability of local produce and seafood. You're more likely to be directed somewhere fresh and unique than a chain. In fact, if you're looking for your favorite chain restaurant, you may need to look outside of downtown, toward upper State Street or Goleta.

Be Sure to Sample:

The urchin! Santa Barbara provides much of the most sought after uni (urchin roe) in the world.

Places to Party

Santa Barbara nightlife is hard to describe. On the one hand, there are multiple colleges in town, so there are a lot of college students. Student nightlife starts late, around 11:00 PM, and is largely contained to two downtown blocks. On the other hand, the locals' relaxed beach lifestyle results in happy hours that start early, run late and are generally mellow. Restaurants stop serving pretty early, too. So pick your poison: loud clubs or the local bar scene. There's not much in between.

Hot Tips:

Take a cab. There are about a million cab companies in town (very slight exaggeration), so there's no excuse to drink and drive.

Where to Shop

Santa Barbara is a shopper's paradise. State Street is packed with brand name stores, mid-size chains and specialty boutiques. There are two outdoor malls, Paseo Nuevo in downtown and La Cumbre on upper State Street. You can also get your retail fix in other neighborhoods. Ritzy Montecito is the place to go for designer fashions and home goods, whereas laid back Carpinteria is your stop for all things surf-related.

Caution:

Park in one of the many inexpensive city lots downtown to avoid a parking ticket. Parking enforcement is fierce!

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Santa Barbara Neighborhoods

Things to do in Santa Barbara


Santa Barbara is known for...

Five of Santa Barbara's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Celebrities:

What do Oprah, John Cleese, Drew Barrymore, and Justin Bieber have in common? They all have (not so humble) homes in sunny Santa Barbara. The rich and famous have long escaped the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles by driving up the coast to visit - or stay - in this more relaxed beach town. For one thing, it’s beautiful. For another, the locals don’t bat an eyelash when a star appears among them... unless that star cuts in front of us in line at La Super-rica!

2. Beaches:

Santa Barbara has earned a reputation as the “American Riveria” because of its Mediterranean climate and stretches of sandy shores. Publicly accessible white sand beaches run along the inviting coast, perfectly suited to almost every imaginable recreational activity - from bicycling to kiteboarding. Locals take full advantage of Santa Barbara’s most famous natural asset by using the shoreline to stage weddings, craft fairs, music festivals, and more. Each beach has its own personality; spend a lazy Sunday with the beautiful people at Butterfly Beach or try to catch some surf at Rincon.

3. Wine:

Our unique combination of ocean breezes, rolling foothills, and shallow valleys creates a haven of microclimates, responsible for one of the most diverse grape producing regions in the country. Famous for our (legendarily fickle) pinots, Santa Barbara is also home to many Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. For a Dionysian sampling, schedule a daytrip to Santa Ynez to visit the vineyards and tasting rooms. Rather stay within city limits? Let our Urban Wine Trail take you to wineries within easy walking, biking, or - let’s be honest - inexpensive cab fare distance of most downtown locations.

4. Red Tiles:

The ubiquitous red tile roofs of Santa Barbara are practically inescapable. After a devastating earthquake in 1925, the majority of the city was rebuilt, taking inspiration from the Spanish style of the California Missions. Spanish red tiles cover the roofs of most downtown buildings, creating a scenic vista from higher vantage points, like the legendary 360-degree view from the clock tower at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Start at the Courthouse to begin the easy, twelve block Red Tile Walking Tour developed by the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

5. Gardens:

Santa Barbara’s coastal location and temperate climate make it a natural home for lush foliage and gorgeous blooms. Pack a picnic and spend a lovely afternoon in the legendary sunken gardens of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden to take a tour of the native floriculture and learn about sustainable agricultural practices. Or schedule a trip to Lotusland to admire the extraordinarily curated gardens of deceased opera singer Madame Ganna Walska - a place where giant cacti rise and tumble toward earth, water lilies bloom in placid pools, and blue leafed plants crowd together in a fantastic monochromatic display.