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Best Nightlife in Santa Barbara

Sunset in Santa Barbara: What to do when night falls in paradise


We know our Santa Barbara 10Best Attractions and 10Best Restaurants lists have you covered from dawn ‘til dusk, but what is there to do in this small beach town at night? Truth be told, locals tend to enjoy an early evening happy hour. We enjoy sipping rosé in the rose garden and connecting with our buds on the sunny Lama Dog patio.
 
But just because the sun has gone to bed, doesn’t mean it’s time for you to turn in! From bars and nightclubs to late night eats, Santa Barbara has something to keep you busy every night of the week.

On bustling State Street, right downtown, you can take your pick of watering holes. Choose a place in the heart of the action, like Joe's Cafe, so you can watch the evening crowds as they ebb and flow. Or pick somewhere a little quieter, like Elsie's, where you and your friends can hold court... just as long as you don’t disturb the locals.
 
Nearby Goleta hosts it's share of gems too. For a stiff drink, pop into The Imperial. For something a little more, um, active, try Zodo's Bowling & Beyond.

Don't forget: When all that sporting, dancing, and drinking wears you out, you can always find a Santa Barbara late-night restaurant that will help you refuel before bed. 


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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. Red and white wines from local vineyards are also available. If you're hungry, you can order a pizza from the Lucky Penny (just out back), 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 Best Nightlife because: Nothing's better than a cold beer after a long, hot day on the beach. Find a good one at this brewery in the Funk Zone!

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 Best Nightlife because: Look, this is one of two English pubs on this list because the English know a thing or two about grabbing a pint.

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 →


Looking for somewhere to wet your whistle in Goleta? Fire up your favorite map app and chart a path to The Imperial - a sophisticated 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 ranges from margaritas to sours. A large outdoor patio has a tropical lounge vibe. Plenty of parking out front, but we advise you to take a cab so you can have more than one delicious cocktail!

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Hard to find and even harder not to fall in love with, The Imperial is a bar with velveteen charms and strong cocktails.

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 →


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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 that is not necessarily dressed to impress. 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 has also been known to be the place celebrities go when they don't want to be recognized, so keep your eyes out, but stash your phone. What happens here, stays here.)

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The Sportsman Lounge is one of the oldest dive bars in town, now in a new location (same authentic attitude).

Geneva's expert tip: Be nice to the bartenders, don't complain about the music and don't order a drink with more than three ingredients. If you can get those things right, you will do just fine.

Read more about The Sportsman Lounge →


Where do you go late night if some members of your party want to enjoy an adult beverage while others do not? And where should you take a large group after dark? And what if you all need is to blow off a little steam? The answer, friends, is Zodo's: Bowling & Beyond. Zodo's is not only Santa Barbara's singular bowling alley (and a mighty fine one it is, at that), but also it is one of the best places to enjoy draft beer, with over 40 varieties on tap. In addition, there are many tasty snacks, like Irish Nachos... aka cheese fries. And private parties? Yeah, it can accommodate you and about 549 of your closest friends.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Where else can you enjoy a cocktail while winning a stuffed animal from one of those grabby arcade machines? Pretty much nowhere.

Geneva's expert tip: Although Zodo's may seem a very far nine miles away from downtown Santa Barbara, you'll find it quite reasonable to split a cab there with friends.

Read more about Zodo's Bowling & Beyond →


Don't be bummed if you have a hard time finding it! The Bobcat Room is sort of a bar within a bar. It's quiet(ish) cocktail lounge tucked inside the Wildcat, Santa Barbara's favorite dance club. To enter, you have to go into the club first, and then pass through some double doors to find the Bobcat, a much more mellow vibe, with handcrafted cocktails, comfortable seating, and a distinct lack of club music. There is a window through which you can watch the dance floor - great for voyeurs - but you will feel miles away otherwise. In summary, great cocktails, comfortable vibe, weird location? Or maybe it's the best of both worlds!

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: If the Wildcat both intrigues and intimidates you, slip into the Bobcat Room, a slightly more intimate cocktail bar that is dance-club adjacent.

Geneva's expert tip: Ask what's local! The cocktail specials often feature freshly foraged ingredients like passionfruit, guava and mint.

Read more about Bobcat Room →


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Santa Barbara

The Wildcat Lounge has been at the heart of the Santa Barbara club scene for decades now. There are probably kids clubbing there whose parents clubbed there ... and in fact still do since no one really ages in this beautiful city by the sea. The club itself never ages either. Staying forever young, wrapped in red vinyl and leopard print, with platforms for dancing and tables for bottle service. There's a large outdoor space and a more intimate cocktail bar called the Bobcat Room right next door. Really, if you haven't been to the Sh*tty Kitty, have you even been to Santa Barbara?

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: It might be called the Wildcat Lounge, but there's nothing lounge lizard about it. Get ready to dance, dance, dance!

Geneva's expert tip: Don't miss Glitter Brunch on Sundays. It's a drag but definitely not a drag, you know?

Read more about Wildcat Lounge →


Old Kings Road
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

From the hard cider on tap to the witticisms lining the wall, everything at Old King's Road smacks of a London-style pub right smack in the middle of Santa Barbara. Of course there are more than a dozen varieties of beer on tap - and many more offered by the bottle - but there are also spirits, with a particular emphasis on scotch. Sporting opportunities include pool, darts and trivia games, including a popular quiz night. On Wednesdays, groups of friends line the bar, answering trivial questions about pop culture and munching snacks from nearby restaurants. So pull up a stool, grab a pint and settle in for a night of classic, pub-style fun!

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Old Kings Road is a no-frills English pub that welcomes locals and visitors alike.

Geneva's expert tip: Love answering trivial questions while drinking? Stop in on a Wednesday for trivia night.

Read more about Old Kings Road →


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 and local to Belgian specialties. There's even more varieties 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 cup o' noodles. And when you get tired of small talk? Why, there's an old style Pac-Man table waiting for you to take your opponent to town!

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Looking for a somewhat-secret bar to enjoy a good chat with friends? This is it.

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 →


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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 mini carafe refill on the side. 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 Best Nightlife because: If you're getting just one drink in Santa Barbara, go the classic route and pop into Joe's - a local tradition since 1928.

Geneva's expert tip: Did you drink a little too much? Don't forget that Joe's also serves breakfast. They even have shirts that read "Pancakes absorb alcohol."

Read more about Joe's Cafe →


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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

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