Best Waterfront Dining in Santa Barbara

Sea Food: 10 best Santa Barbara waterfront restaurants

For any Santa Barbara beach bum who doesn't want to leave the sand, getting hungry can be a drag. Do you have to put on proper clothes? And possibly even shower? Or do you pack a picnic and let it sit for hours while you build sandcastles? Eat soggy sandwiches and gritty salads?

No, thank you very much. Here in Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas, there are plenty of places to grab a bite in sight of the shoreline. You may not even have to put on pants to do so. Isn't that novel?

For the most casual dining experience, dust the sand off and order at the walk-up counter of The Spot, a century-old burger shack right on the beach. Or, if you're feeling fancy, make a dinner reservation and take a date to the Boathouse, a secluded seafood restaurant on one of Santa Barbara's most scenic shores. This restaurant is also a great brunch spot (and it's located on a pet-friendly beach, so you can bring Fido and make a morning of it).

Looking for something in between? Just consult this list. Whether you're hungry for shellfish, spaghetti or something else entirely, we'll steer you in the right direction!


Bluewater Grill
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

If you see a lighthouse, you're in the right place! Pop into Bluewater Grill for seafood with a sea view. Located just across the street from the beach, it has three levels of dining space and two bars. The menu includes traditional options – like cedar plank salmon and crab cakes – and less traditional fare, including their legendary ponzu scallops, served raw in the half shell. Not a fish lover? No problem, they serve salads and steaks too. You'll also find cocktails and a decent local wine selection if you're in the mood for a tipple. Plenty to walk to nearby, including Stearns Wharf and Municipal Winemakers.

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Bluewater Grill is one of Santa Barbara's newer beachfront restaurants, and its menu has something for everyone.

Geneva's expert tip: Skip the downstairs bar and race up the steps to the top of the lighthouse. There's another, smaller bar there with an incredible view, as well as a couple of two-top tables.

Read more about Bluewater Grill →

Santa Barbara FisHouse
Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara FisHouse

The motto at the Santa Barbara FisHouse says it all: Usually local, always fresh. If you're looking for some fresh catches and pretty view, head to the FisHouse, a welcoming seafood restaurant located just across the street from the Pacific Ocean. The menu celebrates sea creatures of all kinds, including local halibut. Reserves a table in the dining room or on the patio or belly up to the full bar. Large aquariums and various decorations set the under-the-sea tone. Themed cocktails and local wines round out your visit. Traveling with a picky kiddo or two? No problem, they have a great kids menu, too.

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: The FisHouse has been a Santa Barbara classic for more than two decades. Locals go there to watch games at the bar!

Geneva's expert tip: Try the FisHouse for breakfast on the weekends. They have some unique dishes, like pork chilaquiles.

Read more about Santa Barbara FisHouse →

Padaro Beach Grill
Photo courtesy of Padaro Beach Grill

Is there a prettier beachfront restaurant in the area? We don't think so. Overlooking Santa Claus beach, a local favorite, the Padaro Beach Grill boasts a park-like outdoor dining room that's ideal for day dates and impromptu gatherings. Enjoy fresh salads, savory burgers and sinfully rich milkshakes that are blended by hand only after you place your order. A large sandbox encourages the kiddos to play while grownups indulge in refreshing beers and local wines. Try the shrimp salad, prime burger or chili cheese fries. Live bands are common on the weekends. Free (but often crowded) parking right out front.

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: There is no better, family-friendly restaurant with a view in town. (They even have a sandbox.)

Geneva's expert tip: Carpool! Parking is very limited, so pack as many family members are you can into one car.

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Convivo serves large, shareable plates of food that change weekly with what's in season. The Italian-leaning menu includes wood-fired pizza, grilled seafood that's often locally caught, house-made pasta and farm-fresh vegetables (the grilled avocado salad is popular with their regulars). To complement the food, there's a beverage menu complete with spritzes, classic coktails and, of course, vino. Convivo is located at the Santa Barbara Inn, across the street from East Beach. So in addition to beautiful food, there are beautiful views and fresh ocean air. Very romantic, incredible menu, sunny patio, lots of free parking. .. are you on your way yet? Did we mention they serve brunch too?

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Score a table on Convivo's sunny patio to enjoy Italian food directly across the street from the beach.

Geneva's expert tip: Bring some cash for the valet! Valet parking is free when you dine at the restaurant, but it's always nice to tip.

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Santa Barbara

The Boathouse is a Santa Barbara seafood restaurant with the best location in town ... it's right on the beach. Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood and facing Hendry's beach, this is a great place to go for a romantic date, family dinner or birthday celebration. Enjoy fresh surf and turf on a beautiful patio that's sunny during the day and nicely heated at night. Local seafood is a priority here. Frequent Santa Barbara catches include spiny lobster and Dungeness crab. Brunch, lunch and dinner served daily. Happy hour is from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Parking is free but does get crowded (be patient, something will open up eventually).

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: This tasty seafood restaurant is tucked away on a hidden beach that's popular with the locals. Stroll the sand while you wait for a table.

Geneva's expert tip: Happy hour lasts from 3 - 6 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday. It's the perfect place to enjoy a sunset cocktail. Try the $8 blood orange margarita.

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Flor De Maiz
Photo courtesy of Flor De Maiz

If you're looking for fresh Mexican food with a view of the sea, this is the place! Think of Flor De Maiz as the fancier, more sophisticated sister of local favorite Los Agaves. Sure, she has tacos, but hers are stuffed with lobster and Angus steak. Yes, she has ceviche, but hers is served in a young coconut for extra drama. Of course you can get a margarita, but it will be made with Patron. Flor de Maiz celebrates the innovative cuisine of Oaxaca in a fun and lively atmosphere. There's an open kitchen, wraparound bar and sunny patio that's right across from the beach. While takeout is available, you'll get the best experience if you eat there. But be warned: it gets busy –" especially on Friday and Saturday nights –" so be prepared to wait!

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Fresh Oaxacan dishes within sight of the beach –" what could be better?

Geneva's expert tip: Weekends can be really busy (and parking is hard to come by), so try going during happy hour from Monday - Thursday from 2-5 p.m.

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Photo courtesy of Carter Hiyama / Datsu Films

For a totally indulgent, totally scrumptious meal (with an unparalleled ocean view), look no further than Caruso's at the Rosewood Miramar Beach. Chef Massimo's perfectly plated seasonal dishes use the highest quality ingredients sourced from neighboring farmers, fishermen and ranchers. The prix fixe menu includes four courses that change often; there's a vegan prix fixe option too. Choose from an extensive selection of hyperlocal and international wines and handcrafted cocktails to pair with your meal. Caruso's was recently added to the Michelin Guide, making it one of an exclusive handful of Central Coast restaurants to achieve that distinction. Fun note: Caruso's has a "Casual Elegance" dress code. If you've been wanting an excuse to dress for dinner, this might be it.

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Caruso's is the only place in Santa Barbara where you can enjoy a true fine dining experience paired with the sound of crashing waves.

Geneva's expert tip: Arrive early for your reservation so you can enjoy a drink or appetizer at the beach bar before dinner. The view is incredible!

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Santa Barbara
Brophy Bros.
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Unbeatable harbor views issue a siren's call to hungry diners at this popular restaurant. (Of course, their menu full of delicious seafood doesn't hurt business either.) Bustling and busy, Brophy Bros. serves up some of the city's most coveted clam chowder, along with awesome garlic baked clams and hefty portions of cioppino. Fresh, grilled fish is also a fine choice, along with a host of other fresh-from-the-sea options. Grab a table on the patio overlooking the water for the most romantic experience. These are the best seats, even on wet, gloomy days when they pull down the transparent siding to protect you from the elements. Arrive early because weekend waits can be over an hour.

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: This one is right on the harbor. Stop by Brophy's for some of Santa Barbara's best seafood paired with a view of the boats.

Geneva's expert tip: Although the upstairs restaurant usually has a long wait, you can visit the ground-level bar for drinks and appetizers without checking in with the hostess.

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The Spot
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Located just past the train tracks on Linden Avenue, mere steps from the beach, is The Spot: a trusty little shack of a restaurant that all the locals know. Serving up delicious burgers and fries for more than 100 years, The Spot is Carpinteria's go-to for a quick, savory bite. The surprisingly vast menu also includes veggie burgers, select Mexican specialties and fish n' chips. There's no dress code so come in your bikini or trunks if you please. There is seating outside OR you can just walk across the street to the park or sand for an impromptu picnic!

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Visiting Santa Barbara? Drive just 10 min south to grab a tasty burger at The Spot, then cross the street to the "world's safest beach."

Geneva's expert tip: The Spot is cash only and often has a line. Plan ahead and call in your order, then stop by the ATM on your way or use the one onsite.

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Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Seafood doesn't get any fresher than this! At the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, you can pick your lunch right out of the saltwater tanks that line the kitchen. Established in 1980, this restaurant –" that looks like a tiny shack at the end of the pier –" began as a shellfish shop before popular demand (and secret family recipes) transformed it into the bustling eatery it is today. Their menu includes all types of shellfish but locally sourced live abalones, crabs and lobsters are the real stars. Local and national beers are available on draft and pair nicely with a bread bowl of chowder on a cold or foggy day. There is bar seating inside, table seating outside and even walk-up window for to-go orders.

Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Visit the pier and take your pick! Select live lobster, crab or abalone from one of the tanks and have it cooked while you wait.

Geneva's expert tip: If you're in a hurry and there's a line to get in, skip the wait and order from the walk-up window outside instead.

Read more about Santa Barbara Shellfish Company →


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