Best Nightlife in Santa Barbara

Best Nightlife in Santa Barbara: Party after the Sun Sets

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 after dark? 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 Old Kings Road, so you can watch the evening crowds as they ebb and flow. Or pick somewhere a little quieter, like the Sportsman, where you and your friends can hold court... just as long as you don’t disturb the locals.
If live music and high energy is more your speed, the Velvet Jones is a solid choice.
Nearby Goleta hosts it's share of gems too. For a stiff drink, pop into The Imperial or The Bourbon Room. For something a little more mellow (but truly a hidden gem), visit the Outpost at the Goodland.

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


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 →

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, and the Creekside Bar is right next door.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Fans of a properly mixed whisky cocktail should look no further.

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

Read more about The Bourbon Room →

Santa Barbara

The best place to hear live music on State Street, this thumping club promises high-energy entertainment and an enthusiastic clientele. Known for its powerful sound system, Velvet Jones puts its speakers to good use with top DJs and amazing bands, from local acts on the rise to national headliners. A full bar serves up the usual cocktails (in dance-safe plastic cups), and musical styles range from hip-hop to punk. If you're up for a quiet night and relaxation, this probably isn't your best bet. If you're in the mood to power through the night, then head on over! During the day, it's still a bar - it's just a little less loud.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Velvet Jones is loud, fun and packed - home to feisty live bands and equally raucous crowds.

Geneva's expert tip: This is not the place to wear your silk shirt or open-toed sandals. This is the place to get some party-style war wounds worth bragging about.

Read more about Velvet Jones →

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 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 on English fish n' chips from a chip shop just down the block. So pull up a stool, grab a pint (most are just $5) and settle in for a night of fun, classic pub style!

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Old Kings Road is a no-frills English pub, within easy walking distance of the best fish and chips in town.

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

Read more about Old Kings Road →

If you're ready to be surprised by a chic oasis in the middle of residential Goleta, pop by the Outpost at the Goodland for a meal... or a drink. This restaurant is Palm Springs meets 60's California beach town. Stroll across patterned tile to dine pool side or sidle up to the bar for a handcrafted cocktail. The Outpost serves brunch and dinner made with a SoCal mindset. Central Coast wines, local craft beers and a wide variety of spirits are available to drink. Try a classic cocktail or a flight of a single spirit by a variety of makers! Pop into the Good Bar (same drink menu, also onsite) for a round of pool.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Get out of town! Head to Goleta to discover a hip little bar you would never find on your own.

Geneva's expert tip: On Sunday nights they serve ramen in limited supply, so you should probably go on a Sunday.

Read more about Outpost at the Goodland →

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: If you're looking for a somewhat-secret bar in which to have 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 →

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 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 Best Nightlife because: The Sportsman Lounge is the friendliest dive bar in town, and it almost didn't make this list (because we want to keep it a secret).

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 →

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 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 →

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 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 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. →

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 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: Drink 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 →


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