Best Bars in Santa Barbara

The Best Santa Barbara Bars for Every Type of Barfly

Santa Barbara must be a notoriously thirsty town because it seems like there’s a place to get a drink around every corner. Beer, wine, fancy cocktails, even not-so-fancy cocktails, we like it all. So where should you spend your drinking dollars? Choose a place (or two) on this list for a guaranteed good time.

For a low-key brew, pop into any one of Santa Barbara’s cozy pubs or dive bars. The Press Room and Figueroa Mountain Brewing both have great beers on tap and a friendly, not fussy, atmosphere. Or try Elsie’s, an intimate beer and wine bar that draws an artsy crowd.

If all these palm trees and red tile roofs put you in the mood for something a little more chic, sidle up to the bar at the Bourbon Room for a fresh take on classic cocktails featuring seasonal, local ingredients. Or find a seat at Milk & Honey. It’s dark and romantic with one of the longest drink lists in town, perfect for impressing a date.

We know you’re ready to quench your thirst but, before you jet out on the town, here’s a little-known fact you can use to start some small talk: one of the reasons that Santa Barbara has so many bars – and so few dance clubs – is that dancing is allowed by permit only. So be careful what you play on the jukebox; we don’t want your dancing feet to get you in trouble with Johnny law!


Mercury Lounge
Photo courtesy of Mercury Lounge

Sometimes you want to get away from it all... all the downtown noise, crowds and traffic. For times like these, head to Goleta and pay a visit to the Mercury Lounge. A hidden gem in an unassuming strip of storefronts, the Mercury is something of a haven - a dark velvet calm of a wine and beer bar complete with low couches, a single pool table, vintage glassware and a cozy rear patio. With dozens of beers to choose from and a wine list that leans local, it's a connoisseur's type of place - perfect for intimate conversations or dark solo musings.

Recommended for Bars because: The Mercury Lounge has an inviting, vintage atmosphere and is sure to impress beer drinkers with its selection of specialty taps.

Geneva's expert tip: If you love live music, keep your eyes on the Mercury Lounge Facebook page to catch great acts.

Read more about Mercury Lounge →

Visit this Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. location in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone to try locally brewed, award-winning beers. Order a pint or sample a beer tasting. The draft list is ample and there are long tables to accommodate groups. Red and white wines from local vineyards are also available. If you're hungry, you can order a pizza from the Lucky Penny nearby, or there are a number of other restaurants within easy walking distance. In addition to a spacious indoor bar, there's a great patio that's pet friendly. Figueroa Mountain gets pretty busy on weekend nights, so expect a line and bring your ID. Park on the street or in nearby city lots.

Recommended for Bars because: Try some locally brewed beer in Santa Barbara's happening Funk Zone neighborhood. Great drafts, nice people and beer floats!

Geneva's expert tip: Get a growler to take home with you during your visit. Refills are a steal!

Read more about Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. →

The Press Room is a small English style pub on one of downtown Santa Barbara's side streets, just half a block away from the Paseo Nuevo Mall. The Press Room is a good place to sneak off and have a pint when you prefer to avoid the retail crowd. There's one long bar, a few side tables and window seats for attempting quiet conversation. We say "attempting" because - although usually quiet during the day - this bar gets loud and crowded quickly, especially during late weekend nights and soccer matches. Visit The Press Room for brews or strong cocktails, just don't try to order anything too fancy. This isn't that kind of place.

Recommended for Bars because: Shouldn't all best bar lists include at least one proper pub?

Geneva's expert tip: Go to this bar to watch great footballers (no, not the Monday night kind) from all over the world compete at all hours.

Read more about The Press Room →

Santa Barbara
Milk & Honey
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Milk & Honey is a tapas restaurant and cocktail bar in downtown Santa Barbara. It is dark and romantic. Black and white silent movies project above the bar. A fireplace burns next to the small patio. The food menu consists of cheese, vegetable and meat dishes sized perfectly for sharing. The drink menu is sorted by alcohol type, serving up everything from classic martinis to tropical mojitos garnished with a stick of real sugarcane. Gorgeous bottles line the floating wood shelves of the bar, tempting you to try exotic liquors you've never heard of before. Night out with the girls? This is the place. Night out looking for girls? This is also the place; it's full of the pretty, smart ones with good taste in booze.

Recommended for Bars because: Perfect for date night or a girls' night out, Milk & Honey knows how to impress the ladies.

Geneva's expert tip: Do not miss this opportunity to order some super tasty tapas. The brussels sprouts are killer.

Read more about Milk & Honey →

An excellent cocktail bar located where Goleta and Santa Barbara meet, The Bourbon Room is your destination when you want something a little different, a night with a drink or two to remember. True to its name, this bar serves up a variety of bourbon-based cocktails, as well as many others. There's also a food menu that highlights local, sustainable ingredients. And if that weren't enough, hot and tasty pizzas are cooked onsite, too. If you want to go back home with a story about "this amazing amazing drink you had in Santa Barbara" (and the inspiration to try to duplicate it), make a beeline for The Bourbon Room. Ample parking out front, and a great dive bar, the Creekside, is right next door.

Recommended for Bars because: Cocktail enthusiasts staying in the vicinity of Goleta will want to head here immediately for a properly mixed drink.

Geneva's expert tip: Follow them on Facebook to see tantalizing pictures of their weekly cocktail special. Past creations have included the spicy heirloom margarita and strawberry bourbon mojito.

Read more about The Bourbon Room →

Elsie's Tavern
Photo courtesy of Jesse Keenan

If you're in the mood for a relaxing night spent conversing with a few close friends - or making new ones - Elsie's Tavern is the place to go. A neighborhood hangout right in the heart of downtown, this lounge-style beer and wine bar consists of a few rooms and a back patio, all with ample seating. Beers on draft range from classic to local to Belgian specialties, and there's even more available by the bottle. There's also wine by the glass (the kind that won't give you a headache the next morning) and snacks, like chips and cups o' noodles. And when you get tired of small talk? Why, there's an old style Pacman table in the front room waiting for you to take your opponent to town!

Recommended for Bars because: Elsie's is hip, cool, artistic, angsty and all of those other words that imply young and rebellious. A hidden gem of a watering hole!

Geneva's expert tip: Don't leave home without your wallet: this low-key wine and beer bar is cash only.

Read more about Elsie's Tavern →

Looking for somewhere to whet your whistle in Goleta? Fire up your GPS and map your way to The Imperial - a swanky bar tucked away in a nondescript parking lot. Step through the rather ordinary front door to be transported to another time, a time when bars were clean, attractive and TV-free. There's a good selection of whiskeys here, as well as a specialty cocktail menu that includes such favorites as cucumber margaritas and marmalade sours. The Imperial is owned and operated by the same fabulous lady that owns the Mercury Lounge beer and wine bar down the street. Plenty of parking out front, but we advise you to take a cab so you can have more than one delicious cocktail!

Recommended for Bars because: Arguably the most secret, hard-to-find bar on this list. If you can locate it, you're in for a treat.

Geneva's expert tip: Not sure what you're in the mood for? Tell the bartenders what booze you like, and they'll craft you something special on the spot.

Read more about The Imperial →

The Sportsman Lounge
Photo courtesy of Aron Ives

Do you like your bars dark, your drinks strong and your bartenders somewhat surly? You do? Then the Sportsman is the perfect place for you. Built for comfort rather than speed, the Sportsman serves stiff drinks at down-to-earth prices to a local crowd not necessarily dressed to impress. It also holds the oldest liquor license in Santa Barbara! This is exactly the bar you want to be at when the rest of town is going all silly for some sort of holiday. Cover charge on New Year's Eve: never! Valentine's Day: what's that? (This is also the place celebrities go when they don't want to be recognized, so keep your eyes out, but stash your camera. What happens here, stays here.)

Recommended for Bars because: This bar is so awesome that Nerf Herder wrote a song about it. Look up the lyrics if you want to know more.

Geneva's expert tip: General dive bar rules apply: be nice to the bartenders, don't complain about music, and do not order a drink with more than three ingredients.

Read more about The Sportsman Lounge →

Get a great drink in one of Santa Barbara's most historic buildings! Located in downtown Santa Barbara, Lovejoy's Pickle Room occupies the remaining visual landmark of Santa Barbara's China town. Locals who have been here for a while will remember this as the site of Jimmy's Oriental Gardens (and home to delicious tiki drinks). After a brief hiatus, the owners of Three Pickles deli, right next door, reopened the bar as the Pickle Room. They revamped the interior and kept a lot of the classic favorites, including the Mai Tais! Stop in any night of the week for a stiff drink and some tasty deli/Asian fusion food. (Yes, you read that right. Rueben egg rolls!)

Recommended for Bars because: Lovejoy's Pickle Room occupies one of the most iconic buildings in downtown Santa Barbara and pours an excellent cocktail, too!

Geneva's expert tip: Happy hour is from 4:30 - 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and it's a good one! Go for an Old Fashioned and some fried rice.

Read more about Pickle Room →

Santa Barbara
Joe's Cafe
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Go for dinner and stay for cocktails; this legendary Santa Barbara restaurant transforms into a lively bar as the night goes on. A State Street tradition since 1928, Joe's Cafe offers up the stiffest drinks in town. The martinis are even served with a little bit of backup, still in the shaker. Another part of Joe's undeniable appeal is the huge mix of people that patron Joe's. On a busy night (and almost all of them are), the main floor will be standing room only – packed with coeds, frat boys, fabulous divorcees and forward older men. The kitchen is open for traditional American fare and greasy spoon snacks until 10 p.m. Lunch and breakfast are also served.

Recommended for Bars because: Joe's is one of the oldest bars in Santa Barbara, located on a prime downtown corner. Fun for stiff drinks and wild weekend nights.

Geneva's expert tip: They have food here, too. (Pro tip: if you get more than one cocktail at Joe's, you'll definitely need a snack.)

Read more about Joe's Cafe →


Meet 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...  More About Geneva