Santa Barbara, a stunning beach town on the Central Coast of California just north of Los Angeles. “SB,, as the locals call it, is by far my favorite town, and that is saying a lot considering I’ve made it my mission to explore the world as much as I can.
I went to college at UCSB and after graduation, I stuck around for another 10 years teaching surf lessons and enjoying the perfect beach town bubble that is Santa Barbara.
I would probably still be living in SB if my then-boyfriend (now husband) hadn’t taken a job in London. I loved living in Europe (for seven years) but I missed SB and still think of it as the best place on earth because it is small, pristine, beautiful, the people are nice, and there is so much to do and see.
To that end, here’s my Santa Barbara bucketlist guide with all my must-do activities!
Lunch At Brophy Bros
When I arrive in Santa Barbara I usually head straight to Brophy Bros for the best seafood in town with an amazing view. Nothing says Santa Barbara more than eating fresh seafood with a beautiful view of the harbor and mountains in the distance.
If I’m by myself, I’ll snag a seat at the bar. Or I’ll meet friends and sit at a table outside on the patio.
The spicy oysters shooters with Kettle One, are a must try and their clam chowder is hands down the best I’ve ever had.
And if you occasionally indulge in bread and butter, this is the time. The sourdough bread at Brophy’s is out of this world!
Sterns Warf (aka the pier) is one of my favorite places to take my daughter when I visit Santa Barbara. There is a great candy shop on the pier as well as a Sea Center where your child can pet sharks and stingrays.
There are also several good restaurants on the pier. Longboards is good for a casual lunch with kids or cocktails with friends. And the Shellfish Company at the end of the pier serves up excellent seafood in a casual setting overlooking the sea.
There is also wine tasting with stunning at Deep Sea Wine Tasting Room on the pier.
Shopping On State Street
No trip to Santa Barbara is complete without a day of shopping on State Street. State Street is the main street that runs through downtown where you will find great shopping as well as good restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and art galleries.
Paseo Nuevo is a beautiful open-air mall on State St where you’ll find familiar high-end brands, and La Arcada, just up a few blocks, is another beautiful open-air mall that is home to locally owned boutiques.
Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail
The Urban Wine Trail offers wine tasting in the heart of Santa Barbara, all within blocks of downtown and the beach.
There are 20+ wineries, primarily in the Funk Zone, which you can walk or bike to. Tasting fees range from $5 to $15 dollars and typically include five to eight wine tastings.
Most of the wineries source their grapes from vineyards that are located about 45 minutes North-East of the city so if you want to visit actual vineyards, I recommend booking a full day of wine tasting up in Santa Ynez Valley.
Dinner At Lucky’S
Lucky’s in Montecito is my favorite place to have dinner in Santa Barbara. They have the best martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives, amazing steaks, and just thinking of their abalone makes my mouth water.
Make reservations in advance, and arrive early before dinner to have a drink at the bar where you’ll probably find yourself sitting next to Jack Nicholson or another famous celeb.
Bouchon in downtown SB and The Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch are two other fantastic dinner spots not to be missed.
Brunch At Jeanine’S
Jeanine’s is the place to grab breakfast or brunch in SB. Their most popular location is on Coast Village Rd in Montecito but they also have another restaurant just off State St in downtown Santa Barbara.
Grab a table on the patio at either location to enjoy amazing weather and my favorite eggs benedict! Jeanine’s serves up delicious French toast, hearty pancakes, and has tons of healthy options and smoothies, plus they have great coffee.
If breakfast is not your thing, just go straight to Carlitos for lunch where you can enjoy excellent Mexican food and delicious margaritas while soaking up the sunshine on their patio.
Run Or Bike The Beach Path
Running the bike path along the water’s edge, from West Beach to East Beach, is one of the things I miss most about living in Santa Barbara.
I use to start my run at the entrance to the harbor and run along the beach, passing the pier and skateboard park, East Beach Grill, volleyball courts, and then finally ending at Butterfly Beach.
There is something magical and invigorating about being out in the fresh air with palm trees swaying above, people running and biking all around you, and ending your workout with your sneakers in the sand.
You can also rent bikes and ride along the path which is very fun. I took my hubby and daughter on a beach bike ride last time we were in SB and we all had a blast!
Relax At Butterfly Beach
Butterfly Beach is my favorite beach in Santa Barbara County because it offers beautiful views looking up the coast at the city of Santa Barbara.
Butterfly Beach is located in Montecito in front of the Four Seasons Biltmore, which is a great hotel is you want a luxury stay on the beach. They offer my favorite Sunday brunch in SB with bottomless mimosas!
This is a great beach to layout (check to make sure it is not high tide before you go), and when there is a swell, there can be good surf down in front of the Coral Casino.
Hike Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point is my favorite hike in SB because it is a relatively easy hike (if you walk fast it will take you about 45 minutes) and offers amazing views of the city, harbor, and coast from the top!
The trailhead is located up behind the Santa Barbara Mission. Warning – when parking at the trailhead make sure you stay within the white lines along the side of the road and do not block any driveways or you will get a ticket.
Also watch out for poison oak, which grows along the trail in the fall months.
Take Surf Lessons
Santa Barbara is one of the best places to learn how to surf in all of California! Protected by the Channel Islands, the beaches in SB County offer great beginner waves in Carpinteria at Santa Claus Beach or 15 minutes south down at Mondos.
In the summer months, the water is pretty warm but you’ll still need a wetsuit, which your surf teacher will provide. If you want to book a surf lesson during your stay in SB I recommend booking a private surf lesson with me!
I teach private lessons year-round in Malibu and in Santa Barbara at Mondos because it is, in my opinion, the very best place to learn. They call Mondos the Waikiki of California because it offers a long, mellow wave and a shallow sand bottom, making it easy to paddle out and catch waves.
The Sunset Kidd is a 41ft sailboat that offers 2-hour sailing cruises around Santa Barbara. You can take a morning or afternoon cruise, or my favorite, the Sunset Cocktail Cruise.
The boat holds a max of 18 people so be sure to book in advance. The price is $40 per person, excluding the cost of drinks.
Be sure to bring your camera to capture the amazing view, as the sun sets on one of the most beautiful beach towns in the world! Paradise found.
Where To Stay In Santa Barbara
These are the best luxury hotels in Santa Barbara:
- Rosewood Miramar Beach
- El Encanto
- Ritz Carlton Bacara
- Hotel California
- San Ysidro Ranch
- Four Seasons Biltmore
- Kimpton Canary Hotel
- Hotel Milo (mid-range)
Santa Barbara is not a budget destination but it is possible to find affordable hotels. Here are two of the best budget accommodations right across from the beach, walking distance to the pier, harbor, the funk zone, and State Street:
Another way to find an affordable place to stay in Santa Barbara is to book an Airbnb. I put together my favorite Santa Barbara Airbnbs, so give it a read to find the perfect place to stay no matter your budget or group size.
How To Get To Santa Barbara & When Should I Visit?
Santa Barbara has its own small, domestic airport (SBA) that you can fly into but it can be pricy. If you’re flying in from out of state or out of the country I suggest flying into LAX and then driving up.
It is an easy, two-hour drive from LA to SB and if you take the Pacific Coast Highway up to Oxnard and then over to the 101 highway you will be rewarded with gorgeous ocean views the entire drive!
Santa Barbara is a great destination to visit during any season because the weather is perfect year-round! But it’s expensive and flooded with tourists in the summer so I suggest planning your trip during fall when the weather is still in the 70s and you can snag better deals on hotels.
Have you been to Santa Barbara? Please share your experience or questions in the comments below!
Read More About California
- The 10 Best AirBnBs in Venice Beach
- The 9 Best AirBnBs in Santa Monica
- 15 Amazing California Girls Getaways
- The Best Hotels in Santa Barbara For Any Budget
- 10 Essential Stops On A Highway 1 Roadtrip
We Are Travel Girls Co-Founder Vanessa Rivers
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Hannah Hinson says
Totally agree! I recently visited Santa Barbara and found the weather as close to perfect as you can get. It really makes you want to spend as much time outside as possible.
If you are looking for bike rentals I would suggest Cal Coast Adventures https://www.calcoastadventures.com/, as they offer tons of biking options. Beach cruisers to mountain bikes – they really have it all!
Another bucketlist item I was able to check off was learning to surf with Santa Barbara Surf School https://www.santabarbarasurfschool.com/. The instructors were so knowledgeable about ocean life and safety and I stood up on my first wave.
It was an experience I’ll never forget. Can’t wait to make my way back to Santa Barbara!