Best Restaurants for Fall in Santa Barbara

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.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your next meal already.


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 Sunday through Thursday from 3 - 6 p.m.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Enjoy an unimpeded view of the beach from the warmth of the heated patio. It doesn't have to be summer to dine al fresco.

Geneva's expert tip: If you've always wanted to drink at breakfast, now is the time. The Boathouse Bloody Mary is one of the best in town - expertly garnished with celery, bacon and shrimp.

Read more about Boathouse →

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, don't worry) 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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Rich Cajun dishes are perfect in the fall. Tuck into some spicy jambalaya or a plate of BBQ shrimp. And save room for bread pudding!

Geneva's expert tip: Order their "World-Famous Cajun Martini" and be prepared to discover why there is a limit of one per guest.

Read more about Palace Grill →

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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: The Bear and Star has their own ranch. That means their own veggies, their own eggs, their own cows... it doesn't get fresher than that!

Geneva's expert tip: Get the cornbread and ask for extra browned butter. Also, be patient because it's served in the cutest, smallest, hottest cast iron skillet.

Read more about The Bear and Star →

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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: If you're not eating Via Maestra's pumpkin ravioli, you're not doing fall right.

Geneva's expert tip: Don't limit yourself to dinner. Stop by for breakfast Monday through Saturday. Hearty breakfast dishes are served with grilled bread, fresh fig jam and melon depending on the season - and they make a perfect cappuccino.

Read more about Via Maestra 42 →

Kitchen at Third Window Brewing
Photo courtesy of Kristopher Parker

Fall weather calls for wood-fired dishes straight from the farm. Tucked into a tiny cabin-like structure on the edge of a patio, the Kitchen at Third Window Brewing puts out a surprisingly complex menu. The dishes are incredibly fresh, flavorful and local. (In fact, many of the ingredients are sourced from their ranch just over the hill on Foxen Canyon.) Better still, items are designed to work in harmony with the beer. The tap list changes often and so does the Kitchen's menu. Both rotate with the season. But you'll probably always find some some wood-fired flatbreads for tearing into and some iteration of Wagyu beer... they raise their own cattle from birth on the ranch and feed them spent grain from the brewery.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: The Kitchen at Third Window Brewing recently partnered with Chef John Cox and the Fess Parker Home Ranch for a new menu worth trying!

Geneva's expert tip: Don't order your beer until you've consulted the menu. It suggests pairings for each dish.

Read more about Kitchen at Third Window Brewing →

Hook & Press Donuts
Photo courtesy of Denisse Salinas

"Eat more hole foods" is the motto at Hook & Press Donuts. And it should be your motto for fall. These donuts aren't what you remember from Sundays with your dad. Instead of chocolate or plain, think cider caramel, meyer lemon thyme and pomegranate rose. Basically, it's fancy donut central with flavors that rotate with the season. And, there are also donut holes. And espresso beverages. Hook & Press shares space in Mosaic Locale, a collective of businesses in downtown Santa Barbara. Stop by for donuts and coffee, stay for beer and empanadas. Open Tuesday - Sunday from 8 a.m. until sold out.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Visit more than once this fall to try the rotating seasonal flavors. Will you luck into locally made cider caramel? Spiced pumpkin? Who knows!

Geneva's expert tip: Follow Hook & Press on Instagram for up-to-the-minute specials, including 2-for-1 deals and donut hole discounts.

Read more about Hook & Press Donuts →

Bibi Ji
Photo courtesy of Blake Bronstad

Billing itself as "unauthentic Indian," Bibi Ji is home to some of the brightest flavors in Santa Barbara. Owners Alejandro Medina and James Beard award-winning sommelier Rajat Parr, along with Executive Chef Gary Singh, offer a menu that highlights the abundance of local seafood served sea-to-table with traditional Indian coconut curries and fresh produce sourced from the farmers market. Accordingly, dishes change with the season. Start with the chutney platter, definitely try the uni biryani (if it's available) and leave the rest to fate when you sample the chef's menu. Open for dinner seven days a week and walking distance from almost everything downtown.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Bibi Ji's menu is packed with bright jolts of flavor, just what you need when the days start getting shorter.

Geneva's expert tip: Bibi Ji isn't just a food destination. It's also a bottle shop with a selection curated by famed sommelier Rajat Parr. Stop in and grab a bottle of wine (or beer) to parch your thirst.

Read more about Bibi Ji →

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's a lovely beer garden for dining al fresco in good weather.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: There is no cozier place for a fall lunch than the Dutch Garden. From its checkered tablecloths to its homemade soup, it's a true gem.

Geneva's expert tip: When they ask soup or salad, always say, "Soup!" It might be sorrel. Or celery root. Or almond carrot. But whatever Ken's cooking, it's always mind-blowing.

Read more about Dutch Garden Restaurant →

Six 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 going to the restaurant to eat. 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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: The Lark's menu changes with the season, highlighting the freshest local ingredients.

Geneva's expert tip: Dine al fresco without worrying about getting chilly. The Lark has a heated patio and piles of cozy blankets for guests.

Read more about The Lark →

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!

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Dining in a 153-year-old restaurant in the middle of a forest... is there a better way to experience the season?

Geneva's expert tip: Bring a designated driver if you plan on imbibing adult beverages. The scenic winding roads that lead to Cold Spring Tavern are pretty but perilous.

Read more about Cold Spring Tavern →


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