Located along scenic Highway 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Santa Barbara is the perfect spot to stop and sped a couple of days relaxing on the beach before hitting the road.
With its lively and sunny atmosphere and many kids friendly attractions Santa Basrbara is a great destinations for families.
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How many days you should spend in Santa Barbara
One could spend several days relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Santa Barbara, and enjoying the lively atmosphere of the downtown.
If you have included Santa Barbara in your SoCal itinerary plan to spend here one night and two days.
If you have more time, spend in Santa Barbara two or three nights and explore its beautiful surroundings.
Best time to visit Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara enjoys excellent weather most of the year.
Winters are mild, and sunny days are perfect for a stroll along the palm-lined beaches.
Summer is peak season: beaches and hotels fill up with tourists, and the ocean’s temperature gets warmer.
Spring and fall are both great seasons to visit Santa Barbara: prices drop and so do the number of visitors, while the weather remains pleasant.
What to do in Santa Barbara
Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara has a special charm, and is called by locals the “American Riviera”.
The streets of the pretty downtown are characterized by buildings in Spanish Colonial style, with white stucco facades and red tile roofs and are full of nice cafes, restaurants, boutiques and wine testing rooms.
If you are lucky enough to spend more than one day in Santa Barbara, spend the first day on the beach and then explore the downtown. In the following days explore pretty Santa Barbara County , considered one of the most beautiful areas in California.
The main attraction of Santa Barbara are its stunning beaches.
The bike path on the sand, the row of palm trees that runs parallel to the coast, and the Santa Ynez mountains that frame the landscape, make this part of the Californian coast special.
As for the beaches, there is plenty of choice. The best option for families is East Beach , a large beach with volleyball courts, a playground, and coffe shop.
After spending a few hours on the beach, take a stroll to Stearns Wharf, an old wooden pier that houses souvenir shops, and small seafood restaurants. Although the pier is accessible by car, it is preferable to walk there: parking is scarce, and the walk is very pleasant.
At the Wharf do not miss the Sea Center : with its small pools where you can touch and caress fish, vegetation and marine animals, it is a perfect activity for the little ones.
Santa Barbara Harbor
Once you leave the Wharf, continue towards Santa Barbara Harbor, and stroll among the docked yachts and boats.The Harbor hosts, among other things, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum , a museum on the maritime history of California full of interactive exhibits.
The most evocative time to visit the marina is sunset, when the sunlight paints the mountains of Santa Ynez in purple and pink. A must in any Santa Barbara trip.
Known as the “Queen of Missions” for its beauty, Santa Barbara Mission was founded by Spanish Franciscan friars in 1786, with the aim of converting the local Chumash tribe to Christianity.
Situated on a hill just outside the city center, the Mission is the most iconic of Santa Barbrara’s monuments.
The visit includes the church and a small museum, where Chumash artifacts are exhibited. You can tour also some of the rooms of the ancient Mission, such as the kitchen and the private quarters of the Franciscans. The outdoor spaces includes a beautiful garden and an ancient cemetery.
From the Mission, head back to downtown for a stroll along State Street, the city’s main shopping and entertainment street.
Walk among vintage shops, trendy bars with outdoor tables, and small cafes, and treat yourself to a snack break at Renaud’s .
Santa Barbara County Courthouse
Built in 1929 in Spanish Colonial style, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is still in operation. Admissions and guided tour are free .
The highlight of the visit is undoubtedly the 360 degree view of the city from the Clock Tower.
What to do in Santa Barbara County
After a couple of days in Santa Barbara take some time to explore Highway 154 . This stunning scenic drive passes through green hills, the Santa Ynez Mountains, and the Los Padres National Forest .
At the intersection with Highway 246, turn left, and stop for coffee and Danish pastries in Solvang .
With its architecture, windmills, shops and patisseries in typical Danish style, you will feel like you have magically left California, and have landed in a small town in Denmark.
Click here for the best things to do in Solvang.
Los Olivos is a lovely town in the Santa Ynez Valley, most famous for its wineries, restaurants and wine tasting venues.
After walking down the main street continue for a couple of minutes to Clairmont Farm . Here you can stroll among lavender fields, and stop for a picnic on the tables and armchairs under the oaks.
The small boutique sells lavender-based handicrafts and delicious soft drinks.
Channel Island National Park
Accessible by boat from Ventura , this archipelago of small islands is home to stunning nature. On the islands you can go hike, kayak, camp and go whale watching.
Where to stay and where to eat
ViaVai : this excellent trattoria is located in Montecito, an elegant town located 8 kilometers south of Santa Barbara.
Usually I am a little reluctant to eat in Italian restaurants outside of Italy, but I must say that the pasta, pizza and tiramisu of Via Vai really tasted like home.
Hotel Milo : Located on the waterfront, just a few minutes’ walk from Santa Barbara Harbor, this lovely Spanish Colonial-style hotel offers complimentary breakfast.