Santa Barbara is a beautiful city in a great location. Located 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, it is cradled by mountains to the north and lovely beaches to the south. It is beloved by artists, food lovers, shoppers, and anyone who enjoys natural beauty. Come and visit! And if you’re anything like us, the best part of traveling to a new town is checking out the small businesses that make the place unique. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite locally-owned small businesses – we hope you get a chance to check them out!
To Get Here
By air – Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA)
This is a beautiful, newly remodeled airport. There is service to and from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix and other destinations.
By train – Amtrak is housed in an historic building on lower State Street and has service on the Pacific Surfliner (San Luis Obispo to San Diego) and the Coast Starlight (Seattle to Los Angeles) .
By bus – The Greyhound station is located directly across from Amtrak on lower State Street.
By car – You access Santa Barbara via the US 101. There are no other good alternative routes. **Beware** On Sunday afternoon traffic comes to a halt near the Milpas Street onramp and is slow through Ventura. Take the train or stay for dinner and then brave the highway!
If you aren’t bringing your car you can walk to most restaurants and shops from the downtown and beach hotels. You can also rent bikes from Reggie at Wheel Fun Rentals or rent a Segway at 16 Helena Street, at the beach.
There is an electric shuttle that runs daily: Sunday through Thursday 9am to 6pm – Friday and Saturday from 9am to 10pm. The shuttle cost is .25 cents and runs from the waterfront to the zoo and from the wharf to Victoria Ave. up State Street.
There are bike lanes along the beach, on State Street, and on many other city streets. There are a number of great rides in Santa Barbara County. Check out Bicycle Rides in Santa Barbara County. This is a wonderful resource for day-ride ideas. One of my favorite routes is from my house near the Mission to Goleta Beach. Much of this ride is on dedicated bike routes – no cars! If you are ambitious you can keep going and check out the UCSB campus. If you need gear or a tune up check out Hazards at 110 Anacapa Street.
Places to Eat
Santa Barbara has hundreds of restaurants – some are great and others??? They come and go and ownership changes so please check one of the review sites before you make your decision…
John Dickson’s Santa Barbara Restaurant Guide
Nipper’s Santa Barbara Restaurant & Wine Reviews
Here are a few that we like:
Cajun Kitchen – 901 Chapala and 1925 de la Vina (breakfast/lunch)
Garrett’s – 2001 State St. (“diner”) (breakfast/lunch)
The Biltmore (but not on Sunday) (B/L/D)
Cold Spring Tavern – 5995 Stage Coach Road (breakfast Sat & Sun – L/D everyday)
Jeannine’s Bakery– 15 E. Figueroa St., 3607 State St. and 1253 Coast Village Road (B/L)
Sambos – 216 W. Cabrillo (B/L)
Scarlett Begonia – 11 West Victoria Street #10 (B/L)
Shoreline Beach Café – 801 Shoreline Drive (breakfast Sat & Sun – L/D everyday)
For Salads & Sandwiches
Natural Café – 508 State St. (L/D)
Southcoast Deli – 1436 Chapala and 10 E. Carrillo St. (L)
Savoy Café – 24 West Figueroa (one block west of State Street) (B/L)
The Blue Owl – 5 West Canon Perdido (L/late night)
Los Arroyos – 14 W. Figueroa and 1280 Coast Village Road (L/D)
Rudy’s – 305 W. Montecito and 811 State Street (L)
Carlitos – 1324 State Street (L/D)
La Super Rica – 600 N. Milpas (L/D)
Rose Café – 1816 Cliff Rd. (B/L/D)
Ca’ Dario and Ca’ Dario Pizzeria – 37 E. Victoria St. (L/D) (serves a gluten-free, buckwheat pasta dish)
Pane e Vino – 1482 East Valley Road (L/D)
Pascucci – 7 29 State Street (L/D) (will prepare any of their pasta dishes with gluten-free rice pasta)
Via Maestra 42 – 3343 State St. (B/L/D)
Trattoria Vittoria – 30 E. Victoria Street (L/D)
Olio e Limone – 17 W. Victoria St (L/D)
Burgers & Steaks
Paradise Café – 702 Anacapa (L/D)
The Habit – 216 S. Milpas and 628 State St. (L/D)
Holdrens Steak and Seafood – 512 State St. (L/D)
Derfs – 2000 de la Vina (B/L/D)
Brewhouse – 229 W. Montecito (L/D)
Milk and Honey – 30 W. Anapamu (D)
Arigato Sushi – 1225 State Street (D)
Saigon (Vietnamese) – 1230 A State Street (L/D)
Zaytoon (Middle Eastern) – 209 E. Canon Perdido (L/D)
Zen Yai (Thai) – 425 State St. (D)
Your Place (Thai) – 22 N. Milpas St. (L/D)
Fish House – 101 E. Cabrillo Blvd (L/D)
Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. – 230 Stearns Wharf (L/D)
Brophy Brothers (Fish) – 119 Harbor Way (L/D))
Jane – 1311 State Street (L/D)
Loquita – 202 State Street (D)
My favorite places for dinner right now are Jane, Paradise Cafe, and The Rose Café. Paradise makes a great burger. The Rose Café is a local Mexican restaurant (there are 2 in town, but the one on the Mesa is better) with a varied menu, which includes five varieties of chilaquiles.
If you have food allergies try Savoy or Loquita. Both have menus with food allergens spelled out and knowledgeable staff.
My favorite breakfasts are at Scarlett Begonia and the Cajun Kitchen. I prefer the Cajun Kitchen on De La Vina – shorter wait.
Things To Do & See
Mission Santa Barbara – 2201 Laguna Street (from downtown go up State Street or Garden (or Santa Barbara Street – the fastest choice) to Mission and turn right, then follow the signs. This was California’s 10th mission to be built. It has a beautiful rose garden with remains of the mission aqueduct (built by the Chumash Indians), a mill, tanning vat and a reservoir. Self-guided tours are available daily from 9am to 5pm. The tour is a great way to get in and see the Mission graveyard. Your Californian 4th grader will love it. The remains of Chumash trails are found in this part of Santa Barbara. They bisect residential streets throughout the upper East Side. Look for one that leads from the Rose Garden to Padre Street (it’s near the middle of Plaza Rubio). You will find more of these trails (sometimes in the form of stone staircases) on Alameda Padre Serra (APS).
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History – 2559 Puesta del Sol (just above the Mission on the left) – open daily from 10am to 5pm. This museum is located on beautiful grounds along Mission Creek. There are natural trails and picnic tables. This is one of the most beautiful museum settings I have ever seen (and this is where I get to vote!). Every fall there is a juried ArtWalk at the museum with more than 100 artists showcased on the grounds. This is one of my favorite Santa Barbara events.
Stearns Wharf, built in 1872 and once owned by James Cagney, is located at the end of State Street. This is a great place to experience a winter storm – with waves crashing over the boards. You can fish off the end of the pier – rentals available from Bait and Tackle (805-965-1333) at the end of the wharf – or just admire the magnificent view of Santa Barbara, the gathering pelicans and the outrigger canoes as they race past. Don’t forget to stop by SB Shellfish for lobster tacos and a beer.
Santa Barbara County Courthouse – located at 1100 Anacapa Street. The Courthouse was designed by William Mooser III in the Spanish/Moorish style and was built in 1929. Check out the view from the 85-foot “El Mirador” tower. There are free docent tours at 2pm daily except on Sunday. You can often find a musical performance or art show in the sunken gardens on the weekend and movies on Friday nights during the summer.
Wine Tasting – There are a number of tasting rooms in downtown Santa Barbara. Kalyra Winery (you may remember them from the movie Sideways) recently opened a second tasting room at 212 State St. Santa Barbara Winery, the county’s oldest winery, is located at 202 Anacapa St.
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden – located at 1212 Mission Canyon Road. The Garden is open 7 days 9am to 5pm. From Mission Santa Barbara – pass the Mission going north toward the mountains. At Foothill Road (stop sign) turn right. Continue to the next stop sign at Mission Canyon Road and turn left. Bear right at the fork of Mission Canyon Rd. and Tunnel Rd. The Garden is about ½ mile up on the left.
The Botanic Garden is one of 30 gardens in the United States that is accredited as a Living Museum. It is comprised of 78 incredible acres. There are unique native California plant displays, nature trails, docent-led tours and my favorite – retail nursery and gift shop. The nursery grows and sells a broad array of California native plants as well as uncommon drought-tolerant plants.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art 1130 State Street. Open Tuesday through Sunday 11 to 5pm. This is a wonderful little museum with a gallery feel. The visiting exhibits change regularly and are always excellent. They have a great gift shop and café.
1st Thursday is a program highlighting downtown arts, culture and entertainment on the first Thursday of every month. All 1st Thursday attractions are free from 5-8pm. 1st Thursday venues feature attractions, such as art openings, live music, artists’ receptions, lectures, wine tastings and hands-on activities. Many Downtown businesses partake in this event including non-conventional galleries, retailers and restaurants. In addition, State Street comes alive on 1st Thursday with performances and interactive exhibits.
Santa Barbara Beaches
If you are staying downtown and you don’t have a car there are two options – Ledbetter Beach and East Beach. Ledbetter is the best choice. It is located to the west of the Marina and extends to the cliffs. There are restrooms and showers near the restaurant (Shoreline Beach Café). The winter point break at Ledbetter provides some of the best waves in Santa Barbara to learn to surf.
Your second option is East Beach. This is the beach to the far east of the wharf – the portion in front of East Beach Grill. There are volleyball courts down the beach and if it’s windy – there are windbreaks in front of the restaurant. These are great for getting sun, even on cold windy days.
If you have transportation there are two other local beaches that you should check out:
Arroyo Burro Beach (known locally as Hendry’s Beach) is a ten-minute drive from downtown. It is secluded by towering cliffs on a curving coastline. You can take a long walk on the beach with beautiful views of the ocean and the fancy homes of Hope Ranch. There are restrooms and showers behind the restaurant. Hendry’s is another great beach for beginning surfers and boogie-boarders. This is my favorite beach, but there are a few cons. The parking is limited. In the summer you need to get there by 11 or after 2. You usually come home from Hendry’s with tar on your feet and dogs roam free, so if you are afraid of dogs, go to a different beach. To reach Hendry’s from downtown, drive west on Cabrillo Blvd. As you go up the hill (at Ledbetter) the street name becomes Shoreline Drive. Follow Shoreline Drive for a few miles (beware – there is a huge dip in the road after you pass Shoreline Park) until the stoplight at Cliff Drive. Turn left on Cliff and drive for a few more miles. After you pass the stoplight at Las Positas, turn left into the beach parking lot.
The other beach to consider is Butterfly Beach. This beach is located in front of the Biltmore Hotel in Montecito. If the tide is low, you can get here along the beach from East Beach. If on bike – head east on the bicycle path on Cabrillo Blvd. Cross Cabrillo at Channel Drive (at the Santa Barbara Cemetery). Continue east on Channel Drive. Years ago, the road that connected Santa Barbara to the Biltmore and the beach slipped into the ocean, now the remainder of that road is a dedicated path for bikes and pedestrians. If driving – take the 101 south to Olive Mill Road in Montecito; at the stop sign turn toward the ocean and follow the road for about ¼ mile. The beach is on your left.
This is a beautiful beach for walking and playing in the waves. You might even spot a celebrity on the beach. The cons: parking is limited. You can park on both sides of the street, but there is no lot. There are no bathrooms, showers, snack bars, stores etc. If you happen to be staying at the Biltmore it’s great, otherwise, come prepared.
Things To Do With Kids
We have beautiful parks throughout the city. Some are complete with playground equipment and others are just great open spaces to walk and run.
Alice Keck Park and Memorial Gardens – 1500 Santa Barbara Street.
This park features a large botanical collection (75 different tree and plant species); a koi pond, complete with turtles; sensory garden with audio posts; low water-using demonstration garden; picnic areas and gazebo. Across the street is Alemeda Park.
Alameda Park – 1400 Santa Barbara Street.
One of the City’s oldest parks, this two-block park features unique rare trees, a gazebo, and is the home of Kids’ World, an 8,000 square foot playground built by local residents containing a castle, swings and slides. Free concerts often held here during the summer on Sundays.
Chase Palm Park – both sides of East Cabrillo
Oceanside: A palm-lined, narrow strip of park adjacent to East Beach with an oceanfront bikepath and walkway from Stearns Wharf to East Beach, home of the Sunday and Holiday Arts and Crafts Show.
Across the street: What we call “Shipwreck Park”. A 10 acre park featuring fountains, creeks, a lagoon, snack bar and a Shipwreck Playground modeled after an ocean schooner. The large grassy area is the home of a free summer concert series held on Thursday nights.