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Santa Barbara, California Travel Guide

Santa Barbara Summary


  • Cozy, small-town vibe with a walkable core
  • Beautiful setting between the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez Mountains
  • Pleasant climate, with temperatures ranging from mid-60s to mid-70s year-round, and late summer climbing into the mid-80s
  • Lush environment -- a mix of redwoods, cacti, and sweet-smelling wildflowers
  • Highly-rated, world-famous wineries
  • Renowned fine dining restaurants
  • Eclectic cuisine, from fresh seafood, to authentic Italian and Mexican
  • Beautiful Mission-style architecture -- a local ordinance requires all commercial construction to abide by the Mission style
  • The Funk Zone -- a formerly industrial, now Bohemian area with art galleries an a surfing museum
  • Accessible by Amtrak and Greyhound buses
  • Only about 90 miles away from LAX airport
  • Popular hiking trails at Mission Canyon


  • Pricey, especially during the summer months, when the area is in its peak season
  • Downtown bars cater to the nearby university crowds (a pro for some!)
  • Some may find the downtown area a little stodgy

What It's Like

This red-roofed town, only an hour or so outside of Los Angeles, might as well be on another planet. With stucco, Mission-style buildings, mild temperatures, local restaurants, and beautiful views of the ocean and mountains, it doesn't feel like you're in the most populated state in the U.S.

Casual and laid-back, Santa Barbara echoes a Mediterranean-like song. Despite its small size, there are a surprising number of significant tourist attractions. Namely: The Santa Barbara Mission, a wonderful illustration of California’s Franciscan-Spanish architecture; Stearns Wharf, a long deep-water pier with restaurants, shops, and the Ty Warner Sea Center; the Santa Barbara Zoo; and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. State Street is the town's main drag, and features boutiques, the shops at Paseo Nuevo (including a Nordstrom), art galleries, and quaint restaurants.

Numerous beaches offer surfboard rentals along with small waves, perfect for beginners. The “back country” has an outstanding collection of wineries, and wine tasting excursions depart daily. Outdoor enthusiasts will find kayaking, paragliding, hiking, and golfing. Nightlife is pretty happening, thanks to the nearby university crowd that frequents Santa Barbara, especially on Thursday nights.

Where To Stay

Many hotels are clustered near the picturesque waterfront west of Stearns Wharf and State Street, offering easy access to the beach and, in some cases, ocean views. But they'll cost you dearly. More hotels are clustered near the waterfront east of State Street, near the Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens; they're less convenient to restaurants and shops, and less expensive. Downtown Santa Barbara is a long walk or short trolley ride to the water, and staying here means being close to great shopping and dining. Visitors traveling to Santa Barbara for wine tasting might want to stay in the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County’s main wine country.

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