Santa Barbara is one of my favorite cities. I call it my home away from home.
I visit maybe 5 or 6 times per year since I feel totally disconnected from the chaos of Los Angeles when I am there.
Santa Barbara has the perfect combination of Spanish Revival architecture, beaches, mountains food and slow-pace. It is not called the American Riviera for anything.
Today, I have an article with 200+ places to visit in Santa Barbara. And, I am not limiting my list of ideas to the city but to the entire county. I want you to go beyond the city and visit the coastal towns and pastoral communities.
I really hope this article inspires you to explore more about this gorgeous part of California. I know I will keep going for years.
Places to Visit in Santa Barbara
Most of the places mentioned here are located in the city of Santa Barbara. As mentioned, I am not limiting my bucket list ideas to the city. I want you to get to know more about the county.
Other communities in the county can be visited as a “day trip” if you are using Santa Barbara as a base. I recommend adding a new place to your itinerary every time you visit.
Enough talk, let’s dig into the good stuff.
Downtown Santa Barbara
Our journey starts in the seat of the county, a city that has been described as Mediterranean many times (and for a good reason).
Santa Barbara is a gorgeous place. If you have never been, I recommend doing a walking tour about Downtown and stopping by historic places of interest. You can find self-guided tours on the Visitors Center or online.
And, if you have been, check the walking tour anyway and make sure you have hit all the spots. Walking around will give you the opportunity to discover gardens, brightly painted buildings, striking churches and the bougainvilia craze (they are everywhere).
Here is a sample of what you can/should see on your tour:
- Santa Barbara County Courthouse (Do not forget to climb to the top, it is free and views are fantastic)
- Public Library
- La Arcada Plaza
- Hill-Carrillo Adobe
- El Paseo
- Casa de la Guerra
- Orena Adobe
- Presidio Avenue (Oldest street in the city)
- Lugo Adobe
- Casa Covarrubias
- El Presidio State Historic Park
- Main Post Office
If you want to go off the beaten path, you can look for buildings such as The Pistachio House, the Ablitt Tower, and El Andaluz. If you are a fan of tiles, stop by the Casa Blanca Restaurant.
Other Areas in Santa Barbara
After Downtown, it is time to hit other parts of the city. Most visitors will visit the Funk Zone, a revitalized area full of street art, wine tasting rooms and restaurants, and the Wharf but other neighborhoods can be visited.
- The Funk Zone
- The Wharf and Marina
- East Beach
- San Roque
- The Mesa
- Nearby Montecito and Summerland
Other Towns to Visit
As wonderful as Santa Barbara is, other places located in the county have made a name on its own. They have a different vibe. I have planned weekend gateways based on most of these.
- Los Olivos
- Santa Ynez
- Los Alamos
- Santa Maria
The Channel Islands, a group of five islands that have been named National Park, are part of Santa Barbara County (you are going to see them from the coast).
These are considered remarkable since its isolation has made them a place of high biodiversity. The islands can only be visited through an outfitter called Island Packers. If you have time, I recommend putting this on your list of places to see.
You will need at least an entire day to see one of the closest islands (Anacapa or Santa Cruz). Overnight (camping) trips are also available. Reservations are encouraged.
If beaches are your thing, you have a wide array of options in Santa Barbara. Not all beaches listed here are appropriate for bathing. However, most of them offer a full set of facilities and some of them camping opportunities.
- Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve (near the border with San Luis Obispo County)
- Surf Beach (Lompoc)
- Jalama Beach (Lompoc)
- Point Sal
- Gaviota State Beach
- Refugio State Beach
- El Capitan State Beach
- Haskell’s Beach
- Goleta Beach Park
- Arroyo Burro Beach (dogs without a leash are allowed here)
- 1,000 Steps Beach
- Leadbetter Beach
- East Beach
- Butterfly Beach
- Padaro Beach
- Santa Claus Beach
- Carpinteria State Beach
- Rincon Beach Park
Read More: Things to Do in Carpinteria
I have been surprised by the good selection of museums available to visit in the area. Even small towns like Solvang has a good selection. Therefore, you can go as museum crazy as you want.
- MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration
- Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
- Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
- Santa Barbara Carriage and Western Art Museum (Free)
- Santa Barbara Museum of Art
- Art, Design & Architecture Museum (University of California, Santa Barbara)
- Rancho La Patera
- South Coast Railroad Museum
- Goleta Valley Historical Society
- Carpinteria Valley Museum
- Lompoc Museum
- Artesia School Museum
- Mendenhall’s Museum of Gasoline Pumps & Petroliana (Buellton)
- WIldling Museum
- Hans Cristian Andersen Museum
- Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum
- Elverhoj Museum of History and Art
- Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum
Read More: Things to do in Lompoc
Piers (North to South)
I cannot leave out of the equation our beloved piers. Visit as many as you can!
- Gaviota Beach
- Haskell’s Beach (in front of the Bacara Resort)
- Stearns Wharf
- Casitas Pier
Three of the 21 Missions in California are located in the county.
- Santa Barbara Mission (The Queen of Missions)
- Santa Ynez Mission
- La Purisima Mission (Lompoc) – This is a State Historic Park. Therefore, the exhibitions give you a good idea of how life was when the Mission was one of the few buildings in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Read More: La Purissima Mission on Lompoc
Outdoors (Walking and Hiking)
Even though the cultural offering in Santa Barbara is varied, I see it as an outdoor destination. There a lot of places where you can go for an easy walk while admiring gorgeous scenery.
In addition, you have the Los Padres National Forest behind the city. In there, you can find trails with different levels of difficulty.
I leave you several ideas on where to go to walk or hike.
- Gaviota State Park
- Seven Falls
- Nojoqui Falls
- La Cumbre Peak
- Douglas Family Preserve
- Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve
- Lake Los Carneros
- Andree Clark Bird Refuge
- Toro Canyon Park
- Lake Cachuma
- Lizard’s Mouth
- Cathedral Peak
- Elings Park
- Shoreline Park (great views of Santa Barbara)
- Chase Palm Park
- Alice Keck Park
- Tomol Interpretive Play Area
- San Marcos Foothills Nature Preserve
- San Antonio Canyon Park
- Rattlesnake Canyon Park
- Cold Spring Trail
- Inspiration Point
- Tangerine Falls
- Romero Canyon Loops
- San Ysidro Trail
- River Park (Lompoc)
- Ellwood Mesa
- Coal Oil Point Reserve
- More Mesa Preserve
Read More: Things to Do in Solvang
Santa Barbara is a gastronomic paradise. We loved dining on dishes prepared with fresh ingredients and innovative techniques. A lot of places gave us a homey vibe.
I have separated this section by regions since I have a lot of recommendations.
- Santa Barbara Public Market
- Louie’s California Bistro
- South Coast Deli
- Ca’ Dario
- Arigato Sushi
- Brasil Arts Cafe
- Sama Sama
- Jeannine’s Bakery (Love this place, excellent option for breakfast and lunch, I prefer the Montecito location)
- The Andersen’s (Danish fare and pastries, in case you cannot make it to Solvang)
- Ginno’s Sicilian Express
- The Blue Own (Serves fusion Asia fare until late-night)
- Pickles & Swiss (Great soups and salads)
- Loquita (My favorite, Spanish food)
- Lucky Penny
- The Lark
- Cajun Kitchen
- The Worker Bee Cafe (Delicious breakfast and friendly service)
- Guichos Eatery
- The Spot (This place always has a line)
- The Palms
The Santa Ynez Valley
- Side Hardware and Shoes (Los Olivos)
- Los Olivos Merchant Cafe
- Paula’s Pancake House (Solvang)
- Succulent Cafe (Solvang)
- Fresco Valley Cafe (Solvang)
- Hill Haven Provisions (Solvang)
- The Solvang Restaurant
- Copenhagen Sausage Garden
- Root 246 (Solvang)
- Ellen’s Danish Pancake House (Buellton)
- Industrial Eats (This restaurant in Buellton is my favorite in the Santa Ynez Valley, make an effort to visit, you will thank me later)
- Scratch Kitchen (Lompoc)
- Alfie’s Fish n’ Chips (Lompoc)
- Full of Life Flatbread (Los Alamos)
- PICO (Los Alamos)
- Bob’s Well Bread Bakery (Another of my favorites, great place to stop when you are driving north)
California’s own BBQ style is named after this city. Santa Maria-style BBQ consists of grilled beef tri-tip, pinquito beans, green salad, fresh salad, and French bread. Find this unique gastronomic delight on places such as:
- Far Western Tavern (Orcutt)
- Jocko’s (Nipomo)
- Shaw’s Steakhouse (Santa Maria)
- Hitching Post I & II (Casmalia and Buellton)
These restaurants have extensive menus. However, wait times can be long. Visit close to opening time or make a reservation.
Read More: Things to Do in Los Olivos
Here are some spots coffee lovers will visit for sure.
- Dune Coffee Rosters
- The French Press
- Santa Barbara Roasting Company
- Zizzo’s Coffee
- Green Star Coffee
- Handlebar Coffee Roasters
I had to dedicate an entire section to sweets because I do not want the following establishment to get mixed with other restaurants. These places deserve a dedicated visit. I am not necessarily a fan of sweet stuff but the places below are something else.
- McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream – Do not leave the city before visiting its premier ice cream spot. Their flavors are inventive and the ingredients are of prime quality.
- Solvang Bakeries – Solvang has 5 bakeries serving Danish pastries and other goods. I have an entire article on the topic: Solvang Bakeries and Sweet Treats. If you cannot make it to the Santa Ynez Valley, find Danish Pastries in The Andersen’s in Santa Barbara
- Aebleskievers in Solvang – These are rounded pancakes served with raspberry jam and powdered sugar. Find them at The Solvang Restaurant.
- Lilac Patisserie
- Chocolats du CaliBressan
- Chocolate Maya
- Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates (Solvang)
- Robitaille’ss Fine Candies (Carpinteria)
I love Mexican food and the one found in Santa Barbara is great. Check out some of these places:
- Lily’s Taqueria (Do not miss this place!)
- La Super Rica Taqueria
- Lito’s (Great place for breakfast)
- Super Cucas
- Los Arroyos
- Los Agaves
The Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys have more than 200 wineries with more than 50 grape varieties. Wine is huge in the entire county.
There is not enough space in this article to get you a detailed description of each winery. I am trying to give you a nice idea about the places you can visit. It is up to you how deep you want to get into this world.
The good thing is that places like Downtown Santa Barbara, Los Olivos and Solvang have a conglomeration of wine tasting rooms. You can walk from one to another.
Or, you can take a tour and forget about driving!
Santa Barbara (Downtown and Funk Zone)
- Jamie Sloan
- Au Bon Climat
- Grassini Family
- Municipal Winemakers
- Santa Barbara Winery
- Pali Wine
- Melville Winery
- Lucas & Lewellen
- Lions Peak
- Casa Cassara
Los Olivos (Basically, this is a town composed of wine tasting rooms)
- Andrew Murray
- Story of Soil
- Dragonette Cellars
- Solminer (Austrian Varieties)
- Alma Rosa
- Ken Brown
- Wine Ghetto with tasting rooms such as Flying Goat Cellars, Taste of the Santa Rita Hills, Palmina Winery and Montemar Wines
- Important Note: Most of the tasting rooms in the Wine Ghetto open during the weekends. As popularity grows, some have started to open Thursdays and Mondays. Confirm opening hours before your visit.
- Costa de Oro
- Wineries along the Foxen Canyon Road
Note: Save money of wine tasting by asking for “2 for 1” flyers at visitor centers. Or, look up for discounts at websites such as Groupon.
Read More: Solvang Wineries and Tasting Rooms
Beer, Spirits, and Cider
Wine may be king in Santa Barbara but that doesn’t mean you are limited to it. The county counts with a decent amount of breweries, distilleries, and cideries.
- Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company
- Night Lizard Brewing Company
- Lama Dog Tap Room
- Third Window Brewing
- Telegraph Brewing Company
- M Special Brewing Company
- Draughtsmen Aleworks
- Solvang Brewing Company
- Rincon Brewery
- Island Brewing Company
- Ascendant Spirits
- Cutler’s Artisan Spirits
- Dorwood Distillery
- Goleta Red Distilling Company
- Santa Barbara Cider Company
Read More: Solvang Pictures: The Danish Village of my Dreams
Theaters and Music Venues
Here are some ideas for those looking to do something after the sun goes down.
- Arlington Theater
- The Granada Theater
- Lobero Theater
- Solvang Festival Theater
- Santa Barbara Bowl
- The Red Piano
Those who like to mingle and network while playing golf, have several options too.
- La Purisima Golf Course
- Zaca Creek Golf Course
- Glen Annie Golf Club
- Birnam Wood Golf Club
- Twin Lakes Golf Course
- Sandpiper Golf Club
- Hidden Oaks Golf Course
Do not miss the opportunity to drive around some of Santa Barbara’s stunning landscapes. Some of the drives suggested below are short but pack a lot of scenery.
- The Santa Barbara Loop
- Gaviota Coast – Santa Barbara to Buellton through Highway 101
- Santa Barbara to Santa Ynez Valley through the mountains (Highway 154)
- The Santa Ynez Valley – Santa Ynez to Lompoc (Highway 246)
- Lompoc through CA-1 (exit Highway 101 when indicated)
- The Backroads of the Santa Ynez Valley – Alamo Pintado Road, Drum Canyon Road, Santa Rosa Road
- Foxen Canyon Road
There are some places to visit in Santa Barbara that are a bit hard to categorize. Here are even more ideas!
- Moreton Bay Fig Tree
- Goleta Butterfly Grove
- Lompoc Aquatic Center
- Ostrichland USA
- Knapp’s Castle
- Chumash Painted Cave
- Santa Barbara Zoo
- Santa Barbara Glassblowing
- Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club
- Casa del Herrero
- Santa Barbara Botanical Garden
- Tar Pits Park
- Clairmont Farms Lavender
- Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch
As you can imagine, Santa Barbara has several jaw-drop gorgeous hotels. Since we are in the bucket list realm, dreaming is allowed.
- The Ritz Carlton Bacara
- Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore
- Belmond El Encanto
- Rosewood Miramar Beach
- Hotel Californian
- Spanish Garden Inn
- Kimpton Canary Hotel
- The Upham Hotel
- San Ysidro Ranch
- Montecito Inn
- Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort
- 1880 Union Hotel
- Victorian Mansion Bed & Breakfast (Each restroom has a theme)
I know this article is about places to visit in Santa Barbara but I cannot let you go without recommending some fun festivals.
- International Orchid Show
- Wine and Chili Festival (Buellton)
- Taste of Solvang
- Kite Festival
- Earth Day Festival
- Founding Day
- Vintners Festival
- Buellton Brew Fest
- Wine Country Half Marathon
- Wine & Food Festival
- French Festival
- Flamenco Arts Festival
- Old Spanish Days – The biggest celebration of the year
- California Avocado Festival (Carpinteria)
Read More: Solvang Images: A Piece of Denmark Close to Home
I know there are a lot of recommendations here. I hope I have been able to show the richness of this county. So, there are no excuses. Dust off that weekender and start exploring Santa Barbara County!
More of Southern California
Find out how to spend one fun-filled day in Los Angeles
Get inspiration by reading my Los Angeles Ultimate Bucket List
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