10 Best Isla Vista Restaurants: Eat, Eat and Be Merry!

Isla Vista - often affectionately abbreviated to IV - is a unique microcosm of it's own. Not really a part of Santa Barbara (although it's only 10-15 minutes away) and certainly not claimed by neighboring Goleta, this area is where all the college kids hang out. 

And you know what that means, right?

Right. Good, cheap food. And lots of it. And very little that is nutritionist or dietician approved, so let's not worry about that.

This list of the 10 best Isla Vista restaurants will help you find almost everything that's good to eat in the area, from bagels to burritos. You might start your day with a breakfast burrito from El Sitio, enjoy a pitcher of beer and a sammie at Sam's to Go for lunch and end your night with a giant plate of Freebirds' nachos. 

Or, if we're really considering all the options, you might do exactly that, but backwards. That's the joy of a college town. Long hours, flexible schedules, big appetites. Are you in? We are. 

So get ready to go through this list and have an indulgently good time. Should you wind up feeling totally guilty, we've included two healthy options. Silvergreens and Blenders in the Grass will cure what ails you (and your liver). Because we care. We really do. 


When you're looking for a healthy bite in Isla Vista, consider a visit to Silvergreens. Everything on the menu - from the soups to the breads to the salad dressing - is made from scratch in their kitchen daily. Try a scrumptious sandwich, crisp salad or savory gluten-free quinoa bowl. Silver greens serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. On an educational note: check the back of your receipt to see that calorie count and nutritional value of your order. But don't let that stop you from ordering one of their cookies - they're delicious! There's another Silvergreens location in downtown Santa Barbara, too.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: Man cannot live on grease alone. Enter Silvergreens, the affordable, healthy alternative to late night/early morning college eats.

Geneva's expert tip: Check the back of your receipt for nutritional information! It will tell you exactly what you're ingesting.

Read more about Silvergreens Isla Vista →

This local Mexican food chain has a few restaurants around the Santa Barbara and Goleta areas. This entry is for the Isla Vista location, where it is possibly the most underrated. Stop in for killer breakfast burritos, great regular burritos, large tortas and all kinds of delicious tacos, served quite authentically on corn tortillas. There is a salsa bar with a few selections (nothing too mild), and the occasional paper sign alerting you to temporary specials. The burritos are HUGE, so come hungry. They lightly grill the outside of your burrito, before wrapping it up in foil and handing it off to you. Great horchata, too.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: El Sitio has authentic Mexican tacos, burritos and tortas at reasonable prices.

Geneva's expert tip: Where you should go when you wake up at noon or later. The breakfast burritos are served (almost) all day for a reason.

Read more about El Sitio - Isla Vista →

If you like pizza, but you're a little bit picky about what goes on it AND you're totally in a hurry, Blaze Pizza in Isla Vista is the place for you. (Full disclosure: you should also be completely ok with college crowds and limited parking.) This restaurant lets you build your own pizza, adding any toppings you want for one flat price. Then it's fast fired while you wait in just 180 seconds! Toppings include bacon, artichokes, smoked ham, spicy red sauce, ovalini mozzarella and much more. In the event that building your own pizza is too much pressure, there's a nice list of signature pizzas you can choose from instead. Or you can order a salad.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: It's super fun to have a pizza made exactly the way you want it, and then watch it get fired in just over 2 minutes.

Geneva's expert tip: Be creative! You can get as many toppings as you want for one flat price, so go crazy.

Read more about Blaze Pizza →


Sam's to Go in Isla Vista is a perfectly fine place to go for a sandwich. They have all the classics: turkey and avocado, pastrami, ham and cheese... The prices are fair and delivery is available. BUT the real reason to go to Sam's to Go is to have a beer and hang out with your friends in the center of the action. It's the best place to grab a pitcher, laze through a relaxing afternoon and make plans for the night ahead. Not to mention it's an Isla Vista classic, having been open in the same location for years (a rarity for this college town). This sandwich shop is hit with current students and alumni alike.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: Sam's to Go is all about location, location, location! Get a pitcher of beer and enjoy it on their sunny patio.

Geneva's expert tip: Get your sandwich on a Dutch Crunch roll and order the onion rings. You won't regret it!

Read more about Sam's to Go - Isla Vista →

Home to the best smoothies in Santa Barbara! This local chain serves up healthy smoothies, fresh juices and acai bowls in a jiffy. You can customize your drink with the supplements of your choice, like chia seeds, bee pollen and whey protein. Monthly drink specials give you something new to try every time you visit. It's the perfect place to stop for a light meal or a tasty snack that won't weigh you down. Try the Strawberry Colada or (seasonal) Pumpkin Pie. There are multiple locations throughout the area; this one is located in Isla Vista, a college-centric neighborhood close to the university.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: Blenders is a Santa Barbara classic. Stop in for a smoothie, juice or acai bowl.

Geneva's expert tip: You can have your big smoothie split up into two cups, making the perfect, shareable snack.

Read more about Blenders in the Grass - IV →

Looking for a cup of organic, fair trade coffee? Caje in Isla Vista has you covered! This casual coffee shop is a great place to stop for a pick me up - whether you're pulling an all nighter or just need to make it through that next lecture. In addition to the classics, the team at Caje creates seasonal specials like Nutella lattes and chocolate chais. Bagels, cookies and other snacks available. Fast and free wi-fi makes it a good place to get some work done, too. Within easy walking distance of pretty much everything in IV. Limited car parking available because everyone in the area rides their bikes.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: The best place to get a coffee in Isla Vista. And we all know that students un on coffee.

Geneva's expert tip: Ask the baristas what they are drinking and order that. You might end up with a Nutella latte or chocolate chai. Yum!

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A good bagel can be hard to find. But not at the Bagel Cafe in Isla Vista, where everyone's favorite breakfast roll is both plentiful and delicious! Stop into the Bagel Cafe for plain bagels, bagel melts, bagel sandwiches and even Benedict Eggles (trust us, you'll just have to order it). In a rush? Place your order online and pick it up in a flash. Although they usually close at 3 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays this place stays open late... until 3 a.m.! The Bagel Cafe serves Santa Barbara Roasting Co. coffee - keeping it local with every sip.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: You can easily have a bagel for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Especially one of these bagels. Don't miss it!

Geneva's expert tip: Don't get a plain bagel unless you're very, very sick. Get something more magnificent - like the Fire in the Hole - with habanero salsa, turkey, avocado and bacon.

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Authentic Italian food in Isla Vista? It exists! Hidden among all the late night Mexican food stops, coffee shops and burger joints, Sorriso is a true gem. Enjoy fresh, homemade flavors at reasonable prices, all in a cute and clean little restaurant. Everything is as Italian as it gets, right down to the street sign with handwritten specials, just like you'd see in Sicily. Good news for people with food allergies, you can visit the restaurant's website ahead of time to see the ingredients used in each dish. While there, don't forget to try their namesake dessert; a sorriso is kind of like a sweet calzone. Event rentals and catering services are also available.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: This is an Italian restaurant owned by actual Italians with reasonable prices and decent wine. If you're in Isla Vista, you should definitely try it!

Geneva's expert tip: On Sundays and Wednesdays, Sorriso offers an all-you-can eat lunch for just $8.95.

Read more about Sorriso Italiano →

If you haven't eaten at Freeboards World Burrito on Isla Vista, you've clearly never been a UCSB student. Located in the college-centric neighborhood of IV, this late night, build-your-own combo casual Mexican restaurant is the place to go for burritos as big as your leg and nachos the size of your head. (We're not joking.) Although there are now dozens of Freeboards franchises across the US, this one right here is where it alllll started. Because you get to choose exactly what goes into your meal, Freebirds is a good choice for meat lovers and vegetarians alike. Like Chipotle on steroids.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: Since its inception in 1987, Freebirds has helped thousands of students sober up and make better choices. And they have giant burritos. Win-win.

Geneva's expert tip: When in doubt, add it! You'll always regret the topping you turned down.

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For the young and adventurous pizza-lovers among us, Woodstock's Pizza calls out as one of the the tastiest pizza parlors in Goleta. Do you have to venture into Isla Vista, a notoriously party-friendly college town, to get it? Yes, yes you do. But the large, freshly made pizza pies are worth it... and the people watching is not half bad! Choose from their selection of specialty pizzas - like the hot and spicy Firebird - or create your own. To drink, there are bottomless sodas, juice boxes (we're not kidding!) or beer and wine. Parking is creative, and it's within walking distance to the park and a beach.

Recommended for Isla Vista's Best Restaurants because: Woodstock's Pizza has been an Isla Vista mainstay (and college student hangout) for decades.

Geneva's expert tip: Eat in! Their pizza is best enjoyed hot out of the oven, accompanied by a pitcher of beer and surrounded by the sights of IV.

Read more about Woodstock's Pizza →


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