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Posted by on Jun 6, 2012 | 6 comments

Santa Barbara: A Gem Between the Sea and the Mountains

Santa Barbara conjures Mediterranean dreams.  This part of California is known as the “American Riviera”.

There are fine restaurants with vistas of the blue seas.  Artists and millionaires have their “ranchos” in the mountains behind town. The main street is full of stores selling all the designer goods you can imagine.  In summary, everything is posh and fashion in here.

Behind all the glitz and glam, there is a rich history waiting to be discovered.  A couple of streets separate the founding site of Santa Barbara (and many more buildings from the period) from the modern shopping areas and restaurants.

The good thing is that the city is ideal for people who love to walk or bike (like me).  If you enjoy interesting, historic landmarks, I am sure you will love to wander around the streets of this beautiful city.

If you are arriving to town by car, follow the signs directing you to downtown and park in one public lots (first 75 minutes free).  The visitor’s center (on Cabrillo Blvd.) offers free maps detailing the “Santa Barbara History Walk”.  You can find more information on a website called Santa Barbara Car Free.  The site offers walking, cycling and public bus taking ideas.

Clock marking the entrance to Old Town


It doesn’t matter where you start your tour.  For example, I started around the Santa Barbara and Ortega corner.  This is the place where the Covar Adobe or Casa de Covarrubias is located.  This is an L-shaped Spanish-style adobe where the last Mexican assembly met.  This is one of my favorite places because of the contrast between the sandy walls and the bright flowers adorning the place.

Fountain and Covar Adobe


Covar Adobe


Covar Adobe and Flowers


Continuing on Santa Barbara Street, you encounter the Santa Barbara Historical Society Museum and Library.  This is the perfect place to learn more about the beginnings of the city.

Historical Society Museum


Big anchor in front of Historical Society Museum


Then, take a look at the Presidio Gardens.

Presidio Gardens


You don’t have to walk much before getting face to face with the place where everything started: El Presidio.  This is the site of the founding (1782).  You can take a look at the chapel, the Canedo Adobe (original part of the Presidio residential area) and the Cuartel.  The adobes have demonstrations of how daily life was conducted in colonial times.  You can observe the rooms, kitchen, gardens and looms.

Presidio Chapel


Adobe Kitchen


Walking one more block along Santa Barbara Street will take you to the County Courthouse.  This is probably the most elaborated building in town.  It is not from the colonial period (completed 1929) but it fits well in the city since it exhibits Spanish-Moorish influences.  Make sure to admire the front and back of the building.  Go inside to take a look at the tiles, the murals and the stained glass work.  Don’t miss a view of the city from above.  Ascending to the top of the 85 ft courthouse observatory tower is free.

Court House seen from the back


Court House Seen from the Front


View from the top of Court House's Tower


The Public Library and the Museum of Art are close to the courthouse.

Other interesting points located in downtown:

  • Hill-Carrillo Adobe
  • Casa de la Guerra
  • Orena Adobes
  • El Paseo
  • Lobero Theatre

A walk around the city should include a visit to the Stearn’s Wharf (pier).  In here you can find, the Ty Warner Sea Center.  The area is also full of fun rentals (kayaks, boats, bicycles).  The Wharf and harbor are about 0.5 to 1 mile south of downtown.  If you don’t want to walk, take the shuttle which has stops in State Street (main street).

Stearn's Wharf


Restaurant close to Stearn's Wharf, Santa Barbara, California


I am sure the most famous building in Santa Barbara is the mission.  I am including a reference to it in here since it is part of the city’s identity.  However, it is about 3 miles from downtown.  Therefore, it is not such a short walk.  Consider visiting by car or bus.  Do what you have to do but don’t miss it.

Santa Barbara Mission


There are tons of shopping and eating options in downtown (State Street).  You are not going to have to walk around hungry.  There is also a beautiful shopping area called Paseo Nuevo. I just love everything about this charming place.

Paseo Nuevo


Anyway, I don’t know if all these instructions have left you cuckoo.  It doesn’t really matter if you have a map or follow a route.  Santa Barbara has a surprise in every corner.  Just take a look at the following photos.

Pink Adobe


House covered with plants


Wall covered with colorful flowers


Impossibly beautiful house


Buildings in State Street


What else can you ask from a city?

Note:  I do believe you should start your visit at the visitor’s center.  They can give you tons of coupons that are going to help you to save money.

Have you visited Santa Barbara? Let me know in the comments section below.


    • When I went, there were some chalk art on the floor (in front of the mission). There were some serious designs. Looks like the city heavily promotes arts.
      Ruth recently posted..Cachuma Lake, CaliforniaMy Profile

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