Written by Jessica Graybill
Santa Barbara is an incredible place. Sun, sand, excellent eateries, places to booze and to cruise; it’s a great place to live and a beautiful place to visit. We’ve been in business here in downtown Santa Barbara for decades and over the years have seen a lot of changes occur in our retail scene. Retail everywhere is currently undergoing a bit of a shift, with colossal online marketplaces making it harder and harder for small businesses to thrive, so we thought it was high time to share the love of our favorite local small businesses! As a small, family-owned business ourselves, we always appreciate the effort made by customers looking for a more unique experience than your run-of-the-mill national chains.
Drishti – Our go-to spot for yoga essentials and athleisure, this excellently curated shop hand-picks the best yoga basics and seasonal styles from all the top brands like Joah Brown, Beyond Yoga, Hard Tail, Onzie and Teeki. Started in 2002 out of the back of the original owner Jenni’s Honda Accord (love it!); she recognized the need for a local one-stop-shop in the fast-growing SB yoga community and seized the opportunity. In 2017, long-time general manager Candice purchased the business and continued on with Jenni’s original vision. Drishti continues to be all female-owned and operated with a small, dedicated staff of 3 amazing employees. They strive to source ethically with US-made, eco-conscious brands being a priority, as well as attention to quality and fashion. Their philosophy is something I can definitely get behind: an end to fast fashion by buying quality-made items that will last years to come.
Paradise Found – Divinely inspired goods selected to enrich your life with beauty, truth and goodness; Paradise Found has been Santa Barbara’s Peace, Love, & Good Vibes shop since 1986. Books, music, crystals, jewelry, intuitive readings and friendly, helpful staff. This is a great place to pick up unique gifts for every budget, and this shop has a LOT to see. Immerse yourself in their peaceful environment and enjoy a cup of tea.
Skin Deep – Skin Deep is not only a well-stocked retail spot for professional beauty care products, bath essentials, self-care gifts, accessories, and jewelry, but it’s also an outstanding salon with expert technicians. Voted by locals as the “Best Place to get a Facial” in the SB Independent’s annual “Best Of” issue for 21 years running!
The Book Den – Half a block off State Street (the main drag here in Santa Barbara),The Book Den has been serving the literary needs of Santa Barbara residents and visitors alike for more than eighty years. They stock tens of thousands of new, used and out-of-print books in a clean, bright and well-organized store. They also have a large inventory of used and out-of-print books on most subjects, from Art and Literature through History and the Sciences. The Book Den boasts a rich and interesting history that you can read about on their website. We are so happy to have them nearby, as they are one of the very few dedicated bookstores left in town, and the only one in the downtown area.
Wendy Foster – For over 40 years Wendy Foster has set the tone for style in Santa Barbara and Montecito, capturing the essence of the elusive Santa Barbara lifestyle: understated, elegant, relaxed and natural. The Wendy Foster family of stores (which includes Pierre Lafond, the Lafond Winery and Santa Barbara Winery) brings worldly current style from New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Asia and exotic locales from all over the world to the paradisal community that is Santa Barbara.
The Blue Door – This 3-story building of expertly-curated vintage and modern furniture, jewelry, home decor, and clothing in the Funk Zone is a must-see. Take your time, you will not want to rush this!
Savoy Cafe – An award-winning salad bar with farm fresh seasonal picks, including wild salmon, grass-fed beef and house-roasted chicken. Daily soups with vegan and vegetarian options, and hot and cold cases that offer an incredible rotating selection of healthy dishes. Their sandwiches are prepared with only nitrate and hormone-free meats, which are sliced and roasted in house. Artisan bread baked daily and a dessert case full of handcrafted cakes, bars, and cookies — many of which are gluten-free or dairy, grain or sugar-free. If you’re in a rush, their grab-and-go case is stocked daily with fresh favorites. Local wines, beers, and fair-trade local organic coffee at their espresso bar, plus 35 varieties of loose leaf organic teas!
Blue Owl – Nested in the heart of Santa Barbara’s downtown district, serving Asian-inspired dishes, mouth-watering sandwiches on house-made breads and seasonal salads. Their fried rice bar (build your own perfect bowl!) is to die for, and the Bhan Mi (pork for me, but they have other options too) is my ideal sandwich. Blue Owl has won numerous local awards, and has been recognized in tons of local and national publications, including Food and Wine and The New York Times. Open daily for lunch and dinner, and one of the very few late-night restaurants in town – open til 2:30am on Fridays and Saturdays!
Paradise Cafe – Hands down my favorite burger in town, on one of my favorite patios in town, Paradise Cafe is the first and only grill to use Santa Maria live oak wood in the city of Santa Barbara. No worries if you aren’t in the mood for a burger though, they also serve prime steaks, fresh fish, pastas, fresh local mussels and cioppino in addition to their daily dinner specials. Their philosophy is simple and straightforward; take the highest quality and freshest ingredients possible, and let them speak for themselves. Delicious classic California cuisine in a lovely setting, with an excellent wine list and full bar.
Cold Spring Tavern – A destination in and of itself within the Los Padres National Forest, this historical stagecoach stop was built in 1860 and operational starting around 1868. There are multiple historical buildings on the property nestled among greenery and beautiful tall trees. The restaurant is open daily serving traditional American fare made with fresh local ingredients along with their delicious home-baked molasses bread. Dinners feature game inspired entrees, steaks, and ribs and are enjoyed by the glimmer of gas lanterns. Lunch is more casual and includes their famous Cold Spring Chili among other soups, sandwiches, and salads. If you visit in the winter, you’ll get to enjoy one of three warm glowing fireplaces. My favorite time to enjoy Cold Spring Tavern is on the weekend; every Saturday and Sunday from about 11am – 5pm (weather permitting) they serve the best BBQ tri-tip sandwich you’ve ever had and perfect beer-battered onion rings outside along with live music – it’s a weekly tradition! You will definitely need a car (Uber or Lyft will do!) there from downtown Santa Barbara, but I promise it is worth the trip.
Loquita – Somewhat a newcomer to our downtown scene, Loquita showcases the flavors and traditional cooking methods of Spain with hot and cold tapas, wood-fired seafood, grilled meats and three types of paella. Every bite is exquisite and I mean it from the bottom of my soul (and stomach!). As a bonus, they employ servers well-versed in food allergies, so you can be sure what you’re eating won’t hurt you.
Kotuku Elixir Bar – If you’re in the mood for something healthful, Kotuku Elixir Bar & Superfood Store located in Divinitree Yoga Studio is highly advisable. I hesitate to call these just smoothies because they are so much more than that; nutrient-dense ingredients combined with herbal boosts and a vast selection of supplements and tonics will no doubt have you feeling like your best self.
Grab A Drink:
Third Window Brewing Co. – A little bit off the beaten path from the downtown area, on Haley Street, you’ll find Third Window in a compound known as The Mill. This local brewery features six taps of rotating craft beers, and their brasserie has appetizing small bites like Korean wings and deviled eggs, charcuterie to share while you chat over a brew, plus flatbreads, tacos, burgers and bratwurst – there’s really something for everyone, including wine from Municipal Winemakers for those of us whose beer days are few and far between.
Lama Dog – Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop, located in the Funk Zone has 20 revolving craft beers on tap, 4 varieties of wine on tap and keeps their bottle shop full of craft beer from around the world. They serve food from The Nook (located in the same building) if you need a bite to eat, and if you time your visit right you might be able to partake in one of their beer education classes with certified cicerone Justin Crider. A few times a year they host an Art Market with talented local craftspeople, if you’re into incredible handmade local products. The building that houses Lama Dog is called The Waterline and also is the home of Topa Topa Brewing Co., Fox Wines, and some shopping.
Elsie’s Tavern – Quirky to the nines, this cash-only bar is a funky favorite if you’re looking for a more mellow scene. Patronized mainly by regulars, you’ll find plenty of couches to lounge on while you enjoy your beer or wine (no liquor served here) (keeps out the riff-raff, ha), a pool table, and excellent eclectic music played at the perfect volume. If you like to enjoy the occasional smoke with your beverage of choice, there’s a back patio that’s smoker-friendly, with heaters for the chilly months.
Santa Barbara Winery – Founded in 1962 by Pierre Lafond, Santa Barbara Winery became the first post-Prohibition commercial winery in Santa Barbara County. A rich local history combined with award-winning wines makes this winery an important fixture in the Santa Barbara community. Visit their tasting room, open daily at 202 Anacapa Street and enjoy some of Santa Barbara’s famous local wines!
Mission Street Ice Cream & Yogurt – This independently-owned neighborhood ice cream shop exclusively features McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams and has been locally owned and operated since 1986 by Santa Barbarians Bob and Jean Moss. Fun fact: Spalluto matriarch Carol worked here when it was McConnell’s on Mission, when she was in high school! McConnell’s ice cream is Santa Barbara famous since 1949 and it’s quickly becoming world-renowned, and for good reason! Milk from grass fed local cows (no rBST or rBGH here!), eggs from local, organically-fed cage free hens, and pure cane sugar plus dynamite flavor combinations makes McConnell’s the creamiest, cleanest, best ice cream ever.
Chocolats du CaliBressan – A short walk up the street from our store will take you to this elegant chocolate shop owned by Jean-Michel Carre, the French chocolatier of the American Riviera. Inspired bonbon and truffle flavor combinations and high-quality ingredients make these chocolates a decadent and satisfying treat! Jean-Michel does monthly flavor specials too – my favorite are the avocado truffles he makes during the month of October, when our neighbors to the south in Carpinteria host the Avocado Festival!
The French Press – With three locations between Santa Barbara and Goleta, you will never be too far from your caffeine fix. When Italian Pottery Outlet moved to our current State Street location in 2008, the French Press had recently opened just a block away from us (corner of Figueroa and State) and it quickly became the go-to spot for coffee breaks and baked good treats. Between all of us here at the shop, someone was there at least once a day! Though we’ve all since had to limit our mid-day caffeine intake, The French Press is still my preferred coffee shop when I’m bopping around downtown and need a bit of a pick-me-up. For those who avoid cow’s milk, they’ve got all the best dairy alternatives (I’m really into oat and coconut milks right now) and their matcha latte is perfect, as well as their chai.
The Andersen’s Bakery & Restaurant – Though this is a full restaurant that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I’m including it under “Treats” because even if you don’t eat a meal here, you definitely need to try a pastry! For over 40 years Andersen’s has upheld a well-earned reputation for handcrafted, time-honored traditional European cuisine and Danish pastries. All of their baked goods are incredible, but I like to pop in and get their super decadent hot chocolate on a cold (or even a mildly chilly) day.
Lilac Patisserie – A dedicated gluten-free bakery run by husband and wife team, Gillian and Alam Muralles. Their cakes are incredibly light and fluffy and their frostings are perfectly airy and not-too-sweet; I feel qualified to say this because I am one of those maniacs who scrapes off most cake frostings because they are entirely too sugary (where’s the subtlety, people!?). My favorite cake of theirs is the Raspberry Chocolate Mousse, but you really can’t go wrong any way you slice ’em!
Fun Spots and Activities:
Mission Rose Garden – Everyone knows the Santa Barbara Mission is a must-see. Across the street from the Mission you’ll find the Rose Garden, which is the best spot in town for a picnic. Bring a bottle of wine or your favorite six-pack, a picnic blanket and snacks or sandwiches and you can set up on the grass with a breathtaking view of the Mission, enjoying the wafting scent of hundreds of beautiful roses.
Yoga Soup – If you need to get your yoga on while you’re passing through town, look no further than Yoga Soup! All the teachers are wonderful, but my personal favorites are Madeline and Al.
Santa Barbara Bowl – Our premier outdoor concert venue! A beautiful setting in which to enjoy your favorite musicians.
Santa Barbara Courthouse – The courthouse is gorgeous and if you go up in the clock tower you’ll get a stunning 360-degree view of the city and all the Spanish-style red tiled roofs. Every Friday during the summer (July – August) you can catch a free movie in the surrounding Sunken Gardens. Bring a blanket to lounge on and some beach chairs, bring your beverage of choice and dinner, and enjoy!
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden – Widely regarded as a model botanic garden, this living museum nestled in the foothills of Santa Barbara spans 78 acres and features stunning displays of California native plants.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art – Just up the street from our store, the SBMA is home to 27,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years of human creativity. They have a great cafe and gift shop, too!
Museum of Contemporary Arts – For more a more contemporary art experience, check out MCASB, on the second level of Paseo Nuevo downtown. This non-collecting contemporary art museum rotates exhibits in their Main Space three times a year, and their Curated Cocktails event every First Thursday features interactive art activities and delicious signature cocktails.
MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation – Santa Barbara’s newest museum (as of the writing of this article) aims to ignite learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History – Founded in 1916 as the Museum of Comparative Oology, our Museum of Natural History has evolved to include millions of specimens from every aspect natural history. This was always my favorite local museum as a child. Their Chumash Hall exhibits some of the rich local history of our indigenous people and is not to be missed.
Ganna Walska Lotusland – Lotusland is a glorious, opulent property in Montecito that was once owned by Madame Ganna Walska, Polish opera singer and garden enthusiast. When she died in 1984, she left her gorgeous estate to the Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation, which opened it up to the public in 1993. The gardens have been lovingly maintained and cultivated, from the Jurassic garden to the cactus garden and everything in between. Since this is a public space operating in a residential neighborhood, you will need to make advance reservations, so be sure to check their website out.
Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show – If you’re here on a Sunday, definitely take a stroll down the waterfront and check out the 200 or so talented local artisans who sell their wares weekly at the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show! Established in 1965, this show is now the only continuous, non-juried arts festival of original art in the world and is unique in that every artist featured lives in Santa Barbara County and personally produces each piece that’s for sale. Pick up some souvenirs or large-scale artworks for your home that will remind you of your Santa Barbara getaway for years to come. Plus, it’s always nice to buy direct from the artist!
PHEW! That’s a lot of information! By no means is this an exhaustive list (and I intend to add to this over time), but if you hit all these Santa Barbara spots I guarantee you’ll have plenty of fond memories of your trip.
Above photo by Keith James – Featured image photo of the Mission Rose Garden by Jessica Graybill.