The Best (and Most Important) Meal of the Day in Santa Barbara
By Geneva Ives
Santa Barbara Local Expert
The hardest thing about having breakfast in Santa Barbara is the fact that it (usually) only happens once a day, meaning you only get to pick one place to eat it. And there are so many great breakfast and brunch spots in the area that even those of us who are lucky enough to live here are familiar with this internal argument:
"I should start strong! Backyard Bowls and then a hike."
"No, wait, I'm starving... eggs and hash browns and cornbread Cajun Kitchen it is."
"Oh my god, does anything sound better than a chocolate croissant and cappuccino at Renaud's right now?"
As you can imagine, it gets even more complicated when you add more people and taste buds to the conversation. Fortunately you have this list to guide you and - let's hope - more than one chance to enjoy the most important meal of the day while you're in town.
And if you only have one breakfast opportunity, here's your cheat sheet. If you're a gourmand, head to the Scarlett Begonia. Greasy spoon connoisseur? Garrett's Old Fashioned Restaurant is for you. If both size and scope are important, the best brunch buffet (possibly in the state of California) can be found at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. And finally, for a great European inspired breakfast, visit D'Angelo's Bread.
10 Cajun Kitchen Cafe
Cajun Kitchen is a Santa Barbara tradition, a local breakfast and lunch joint with something like a million different area locations. And every location is packed, too! Hearty food, good prices and quick service keeps us coming. Standard fare at Cajun Kitchen includes big, three-egg omelets, syrupy french toast and classic sandwiches. Breakfast is served all day. In addition to your usual toast options, they also offer cornbread and blueberry muffins. This a great place to take kids even if they're notoriously picky eaters. It's also a fun, informal place to dine with a group. Prepare for a wait on weekend mornings. ((805) 687-2062)
9 Bella Vista
If you've ever talked to anyone in Santa Barbara about brunch - and price was no object - then you've undoubtedly heard of the "Biltmore brunch." Brunch at the Bella Vista restaurant within the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara is the stuff legends are made of: two whole rooms of food, bottomless mimosas, hours to indulge while sitting on an ocean view patio. There is a seafood station, caviar station, cheese and charcuterie station, carving station, dessert station and kid station (don't worry, it features tasty food for children, not actual kids) in addition brunch specials and made-to-order egg dishes. This grand buffet is open from 10:00 AM until 1:30 PM. A smaller, a la carte brunch is offered on Saturdays. Reservations recommended. (805-969-2261)
8 Tupelo Junction Cafe
Tupelo Junction Cafe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but breakfast is the meal that's made them famous with residents and visitors alike. Southern-influenced dishes include cinnamon apple beignets, fried green tomatoes and chicken fried steak with eggs and roasted herb potatoes. Try their poached eggs... perched atop crab cakes and paired with avocado salsa, of course. (No Santa Barbara restaurant is complete without a taste of the sea.) At this casual but cozy eatery, your coffee arrives in cheery red crockery and mimosas come in mason jars. Conveniently located in downtown, Tupelo Junction Cafe is family and group friendly; reservations are highly recommended. (805-899-3100)
7 Backyard Bowls
Their slogan says it all: better life through better food. Don't let your meals slow you down; you can grab complete nutrition on the go at Backyard Bowls. Serving acai bowls, whole grain bowls and nutritious smoothies, Backyard Bowls offers you a healthy alternative for breakfast or lunch. Most ingredients are organic and none contain any chemicals or high fructose corn syrup. Better still, Backyard Bowls engages in sustainable practices that are good for your planet, too. Food scraps are composted and to-go containers are biodegradable. Visit Backyard Bowls anytime you want to eat real food and feel really good about it. ((805) 845-5379)
6 C'est Cheese
C'est Cheese got its start as a humble cheese shop in Santa Barbara. It is still a great place to buy cheese, but a recent expansion has turned into more of a meeting place for locals and travelers alike. A cafe serves delicious, made-to-order bistro breakfast in the morning. If you prefer to start your day with something smaller, a coffee and a freshly baked bun should set you right. The lunch menu offers grilled cheeses (of course), fresh salads and soups and, in the afternoons, there are divine cheese and salumi boards worth lingering over. Two patios and a cozy indoor dining space make this the perfect place to enjoy some fromage with your nearest and dearest, just blocks from the heart of downtown. ((805) 965-0318)
5 Cold Spring Tavern
In a past life, Cold Spring was a stagecoach stop, a place for travelers to rest beside the stream, warm up at the fireplace and steel themselves for the trip ahead. Then in 1865, Cold Spring Tavern was opened as a restaurant, and it has been serving great meals ever since. Breakfast, lunch and dinner feature hearty fare and game meats. The breakfast menu includes venison sausage, country fried steak and huevos rancheros topped with wild game chili, among your more standard fare. Tavern-made buttermilk biscuits or molasses toast comes with your meal. With four fireplaces, an idyllic setting and friendly (sometimes famous) patrons, Cold Spring Tavern has earned its reputation as one of the most romantic getaway spots in California. (805-967-0066)
4 Renaud's Patisserie & Bistro
The best chocolate croissant you will ever enjoy is not waiting for you in Paris. (Sorry if that shakes up some plans for intercontinental travel but, don't worry, they still have the best escargot.) No, it is right here in Santa Barbara, waiting, nay, beckoning from the beautiful glass case at Renaud's Patisserie & Bistro. Before you even take the first bite, you know there is something different about this croissant, something that makes it superior to any previous croissant you've eaten. Just put one finger on the shell and you will feel the difference; the crust is so flaky and perfectly baked that it literally shatters at the touch! And yet somehow, through a magical method likely known only to Monsieur Renaud, the interior is still moist and chewy. And the chocolate? Of the highest quality, dark yet sweet and not too much. The almond croissants aren't shabby, either. ((805) 569-2400)
3 Garrett's Old Fashioned Restaurant
Garrett's Old Fashioned Restaurant is a diner style place, complete with a greasy spoon breakfast menu and a great lunch counter. Their affordable offerings are straightforward: omelets, french toast, burgers... the usual short-order fare, perfect for beginning a long day or ending a long night. But what really sets Garrett's apart are the blueberry pancakes. Big, fluffy pancakes the size of your face, filled with fresh, juicy blueberries and swimming in butter. Always hot, never chewy or burnt. And the service! The staff at Garrett's is so friendly and welcoming and your meals come out so quickly that, after your first visit, you'll kick yourself for not coming sooner. This small place fills up with regulars quickly, so prepare for a little wait at peak hours. It's worth it! ((805) 569-0400)
2 Scarlett Begonia
There is not enough space here to describe how truly scrumptious and utterly satisfying a meal at the Scarlett Begonia is. First, everything they serve is made in house; from pastries to ketchup to pickles, it's all made just steps away in their bright and bustling kitchen. Then there's the menu: everything you want for breakfast - eggs, potatoes, pancakes - made even more delicious. Think eggs topped with aged gouda, pancakes with lemon ricotta. And of course there are tasty things you didn't even know you were hungry for to add to the confusion. Shrimp and grits with chorizo sausage? Yes, please. Add to that indulgent beverages, like maple bacon lattes, ginger limeade and watermelon hibiscus champagne soup, and you've just had a meal you'll brag about all day long. Dinner is now served Tuesday through Saturday, too. ((805) 770-2143)
1 D'Angelo Pastry & Bread
For a true breakfast or brunch treat, plan to spend a little time at D'Angelos Bread. This combination bakery/restaurant is situated just off State Street in the older part of downtown Santa Barbara. From perfectly poached eggs to personal-sized bundt cakes to finger sandwiches served with local greens, D'Angelos has something for every appetite. The outdoor patio is dog-friendly and ideal for getting a little sun while socializing with the locals. In a hurry? Table service can be slow at peak hours, but you can always walk up to the counter for fresh coffee, warm baked goods, and house made loaves of bread to go. ((805) 962-5466)
About Geneva Ives
Geneva Ives moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 on a whim (ok, and to go to college) and never looked back. She loves Santa Barbara because it’s really one of America’s greatest small towns - it just happens to have glorious beaches and celebrity residents, too! Geneva spent a decade managing an adorable, locally owned boutique in downtown Santa Barbara and met her husband when he was working as a waiter at the Cajun restaurant right next door. Together they go on many adventures trying to find the best activities, drinks and dining experiences in the tri-county area.
Read more about Geneva Ives here.