The Best Santa Barbara Restaurants to Visit this Fall

Although it might seem like a city of endless summer, Santa Barbara has seasons, we swear. In the spring, it's windy. In the winter, the nights are cold. But the fall, well that's pretty much the perfect season here. It's a combination of Indian Summer and fall harvest. Farmers markets are bustling, winemakers are hustling, and we're all working up a serious appetite for heartier, post-summer fare. See you later, acai bowls – we have some serious forking to do!

This list of Santa Barbara's best fall restaurants will help you find seriously satisfying eats as soon as the first leaf drops. (Palm trees don't lose their leaves, but you know what we mean.)

In a hurry? Here's your short list:

  • Eat smoked meat and drink golden lagers in the middle of a forest at Cold Spring Tavern.
  • Try some of Ken's famous soup at the Dutch Garden, a kitschy German restaurant. He grows the veggies himself.
  • Gussy up for a dinner reservation at The Lark to see what innovative dishes chef Jason Paluska is cooking up using seasonal produce from local farms.


Santa Barbara

Enjoy a fall brunch with the best view in town... the Boathouse is right on the beach. A well-heated patio makes it perfect for chilly mornings. Tucked away in a quiet waterfront spot facing Hendry's Beach, this is a great place to start your day with friends and family. You might even see some dolphins while you eat! The menu is pretty tasty, ranging from smoked salmon eggs benedict to orange zest pancakes. Be sure to try the crab cakes, too. A number of breakfast cocktails are available. The Bloody Mary is unforgettable, garnished with bacon and a shrimp. Breakfast/brunch, lunch and dinner served daily. Happy hour is from 3 PM to close Sunday through Thursday, 8 PM to close on Fridays. Parking is free, but does get crowded.

The Palms is a legend! Open since 1912, this 100-year old steak and seafood restaurant is classic with a twist... you can cook your own food! That's right, order the cut of meat of your choice (like steak, salmon or halibut) and then belly up to the grill to cook it exactly how you like it. Not into DIY? Choose something from the other side of the menu, and let the chefs do all the hard work for you. Every meal also comes with a trip to the salad bar for endless veggies, salsa, beans, potatoes and homemade croutons. The bar serves stiff drinks and is often packed with locals and a live band on the weekends. A great place for a date or a party.

Santa Barbara
Palace Grill
Photo courtesy of The Palace Grill

"Laissez les bons temps rouler," is the motto at The Palace Grill, a phrase that translates to: Let the good times roll! A night at The Palace isn't complete without a sing-a-long (just one song) and rousing group toast. With a menu that reads like a roster of Southern and Creole favorites, you're guaranteed to leave with a full belly. Start with their hearty gumbo, then dig into a batch of crawfish etouffee before concluding your meal with their famous bread pudding with whiskey cream sauce. Reservations are accepted at 5:30 or not at all, so come early or be prepared to wait in line. But don't worry, even their line is fun, with musicians on many nights and passed appetizers to whet your appetite.


Cozy up for a coffee – or beer – and bite at this popular roasting spot. If you like really good coffee (and you don't mind lines), head to Handlebar for locally roasted beans and some delicious pastries and small plates. This coffee shop has it all: in-house roasting, a sunny patio and even beer on tap! Hungry? Be sure to try the housemade donuts. More like a very delicate sugar bun that's been filled with goodness like peaches and cream or zesty lemon fluff. Flavors vary daily. Handlebar also serves some of the most photogenic avocado toast, fully loaded, topped with a soft-boiled egg and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. The parking lot is disproportionately small given the popularity of this place, so be on the lookout for street parking as you near the building.

Santa Barbara
Brasserie Solera
Photo courtesy of Brasserie Solera

Brasserie Solera sounds fancy. You might show up expecting a lacquered, French-inspired dining parlor. Or a greenhouse. But you'd be wrong, and what you'll see will turn out to be more delightful than either of those. Tucked into a tiny cabin-like structure on the edge of the patio at Third Window Brewing, Brasserie puts out a surprisingly complex menu. The dishes are incredibly fresh, flavorful and local. Better still, they are designed to work in harmony with the beer. The tap list changes often and so does Brasserie's menu. Both rotate with the season. But you'll probably always find some nice cheese and meat platters for sharing, some wood-fired flatbreads for tearing into and some iteration of fried chicken... they make one of the best versions in town.

Via Maestra 42
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Move over, pumpkin spice lattes! For an even more indulgent fall treat, head to Via Maestra 42 for the Ravioli Zuccotto, savory pumpkin and ricotta ravioli with a browned butter sage sauce. This gem of an Italian restaurant is very small and, at first glance, barely resembles a restaurant at all. There are freezers full of Italian delicacies, a gelato counter, cases of tasty takeaway items and a few tables inside (there are also a couple of tables outside). Do not let this casual appearance affect your decision to eat here. Settle in to wait for a seat and your tastebuds will be rewarded. Every dish is delicious and authentic. Portions are small, more European than American, so start with an antipasti. And, whatever you do, save room for dessert: Via Maestra 42's classic Italian desserts - cannolis, tarts and more - can't be topped.

This fall, make a stop at The Bear and Star before or after a day of wine tasting in dreamy Los Olivos for a meal to remember. The menu offers a curated list of "refined ranch cuisine" that changes with what is in season. Most of the meat, eggs and vegetables are sourced from the restaurant's own ranch just seven miles away, including Waygu cattle that are raised there from birth. Everything is tasty but the appetizers are a true standout. Don't miss the cornbread, deviled eggs and oysters. The Bear and Star is located in the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as brunch on the weekends. Seasonal events include chef's table dinners and backyard BBQs.

Dutch Garden Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Originally opened in 1925, Dutch Garden is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Santa Barbara proper, but it's not on many tourism maps and definitely far off the beaten path. Owned and operated by Ken and Laura Leutjen since 1985, this small shack consistently turns out the best German (not Dutch) food in town. Schnitzel, bratwurst, einsbein, there is something for every German food connoisseur, even fish and vegetarian options. Lunch includes both hot and cold sandwiches and, quite possibly, the best hamburger in town. An extensive selection of German and Belgian beers pairs perfectly with every meal. There'sa lovely beer garden for dining al fresco in good weather.

Five years after it first opened, The Lark is still drawing a crowd with its impressive seasonal fare. The menu here celebrates Central Coast flavors, from locally-grown fruits and vegetables to meats and wines. Farm-to-table dishes are intended for sharing and served family style. Nothing comes to your table that will make you think, "Oh I could just make this myself." You can't. Chef Jason Paluska and his coconspirators even put out a (great) cookbook, but unless you keep a ready supply of preserved lemons, sea urchin and Douglas fir needles on hand, you're better off just coming here. There is a fun cocktail list, too. We strongly suggested that you make reservations online well in advance. The Lark fills up quickly, but walk-ins may luck out and find a seat at the bar or the long communal table.

Santa Barbara

With four fireplaces, an idyllic log-cabin setting in the middle of a forest and friendly (sometimes famous) patrons, Cold Spring Tavern is one of the best restaurants in California to visit in the fall. In a past life, Cold Spring was a stagecoach stop, a place for travelers to rest beside the stream, warm up and steel themselves for the trip ahead. Then in 1865, Cold Spring Tavern opened as a restaurant, and it has been serving great meals ever since. Breakfast, lunch and dinner feature hearty fare and game meats. Another small cabin a few steps away serves as their cozy bar. It has a stage area for live bands. On the weekends, Cold Spring smokes tri-tip sandwiches outside. Bundle up, grab a sammie, order a beer and settle in for one of the most amazing fall Saturdays you'll ever have!


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