Your Guide To An Epic Santa Barbara Vacation

16 May Your Guide To An Epic Santa Barbara Vacation

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Santa Barbara has long been the place Californians searching for a getaway escape to. Many come in from L.A., which is just 90 minutes northwest, but more and more people across the world are turning heads to this coastal getaway. And it’s easy to see why- both the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains frame the city, offering both beachside fun and also miles of trails to be explored in the higher country.

It’s a city that while a laid-back beach town at it’s core, doesn’t lack in sophistication, and includes amazing architecture, world-class wineries, raved about restaurants and eclectic neighborhoods.

Here are Seven reasons Santa Barbara may nudge out L.A. and even San Francisco on your next trip out West.

courthouse in santa barbara

1. Architecture

The city is famous for adobe and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. After an earthquake in 1925 destroyed several buildings, the city decided to build back up in a cohesive and unified style. You will notice arches, courtyards, white wall surfaces, and tile roofs, all derived from the Mediterranean world.

santa barbara courthouse

One of the crown jewels is the county courthouse on Anacapa Street, which sits in a lawn studded with palms and cypress trees. Inside, you can climb a viewing tower for a 360-degree view of mountains and oceans and a look at the red tile roofs atop buildings and homes. Wander a bit more and you will find a mural room with incredible artwork and a magnificent staircase adorned with hand painted tiles.

Pro Tip: If you’re driving, several garages offer free parking for the first 75 minutes. It’s only $1.50 for every hour after that.

santa barbara old mission

2. Old Mission

With three of the state’s 21 missions in Santa Barbara, it’s easy to see why this city is sought after for a deep look into the history. But it’s the Old Mission that really steals the show. Referred to as the “Queen of the Missions,” it was built in 1786 with adobe brick buildings and thatch roofs. It has since evolved to more permanent structures. On a tour, you can see inside the mission, the garden, historic cemetery, the church, and the nine rooms the make up the museum. Docents lead 60-minute tours ($9 adult) Thursday and Friday at 11 and Saturday at 10:30.

3. Sensational Seafood: Enter Sea Urchins

Seafood here goes beyond what’s traditional. Sure there are shrimp, clams, mussels, tuna, lobster and crab, but this city is also looking to capitalize on trends making waves in the global culinary industry, like cooking with sea urchins. Head to the Santa Barbara Harbor and you may even spot Stephanie Mutz, the only female sea urchin diver in California. She sells her catch for $5 a pop at fish markets and will also teach you how to crack one open and eat it.


Watch this video, where I eat a sea urchin on camera.


Grab a cup of coffee and breakfast from On The Alley, and watch and watch as fishing boats head out and back from sea to this working harbor. Each year, 10,000 pounds of seafood are brought in from here.  Pair those fresh catches with a year around growing season, and you have some of the freshest cuisine in the country.

4. Urban Wine Trail

Santa Barbara County is home to more than 200 wineries and 170 tasting rooms. The climate and soil in this part of California make fore ideal growing condition and the area is ripe with all sorts of different grape verities.

Between downtown and the Funk Zone, you will fine 26 wineries along the Urban Wine Trail. One not be missed is Sanford Winery, which opened a rustic tasting room inside Paseaso La Arcada, a charming shopping center that is one of the oldest in town. This winery can claim the oldest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in Santa Barbara, which were planted in the 1970’s.

5. Funk Zone

One of my favorite neighborhoods, which is also relatively knew to the scene, is the Funk Zone. It’s a successful example of an artist colony flipping an area and giving it a definitive style and flair. Here, warehouses and manufacturing plants have been taken over by wineries, local eateries, galleries and shops to enliven the area. Of the best spots to grab pizza, salads and sandwiches is the Lucky Penny- you can’t miss it from the outside- 164,456 pennies are glued to the façade of the building. Afterwards, check out Gallerie Silo (former grain silo turned gallery) and Figueroa Mountain Brewery, where outdoor seating and live music make this a local’s favorite.

6. Salt

Downtown Santa Barbara is home to the largest salt cave in North America. A visit here, and you will find 45 tons on Himalayan sea salt in a basement. Visitors can sit in lounge style chairs in the dimly lit room for up to an hour and soak up the claimed health benefits. The salt in the caves is nearly 200 million years old and comes and is packed with 84 minerals including magnesium and potassium, which the owners say helps promote Ph balance, respiratory and sinus health, muscle cramps and other aliments. Pricing: 1 session $25. Afterwards, check out some of the products for sale including scrubs, sprays and salts for cooking made in a nearby commercial kitchen.


 Bacara Resort & Spa

This Mediterranean Style oceanfront resort, 15 minutes from downtown town Santa Barbara, sits on 78 acres, offering a place to enjoy a quiet beach, spa and a handful of onsite restaurants. Our favorite is the Ocean House, which even if you aren’t staying at the hotel, is worth coming in to dine for. The hotels executive chef, Vincent Lesage, hails from Paris and brings a special twist to menu items. You can’t miss the Fritto Misto, a mix of calamari, rock shrimp, zucchini and Meyer lemon served with a side of lemon aioli. This is best enjoyed from the restaurants patio with a straight shot view of the ocean. Each room has a private patio or balcony with views of the ocean, gardens, or mountains.