Situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, the city boasts a delightfully warm climate throughout the year, and as one of California’s most affluent areas, you can be sure there’s plenty of exciting cultural attractions to experience.
Head to the downtown area to witness stellar architecture in addition to museums, shopping, fine dining and an exciting nightlife scene. Throughout the rest of the city you’ll find even more to do. There’s plenty of outdoor space where you can plan a hike or a bike ride, laze around on the beach or partake in water sports like surfing.
Santa Barbara is often considered the American Riviera because of its stunning natural scenery, including picturesque beaches, magnificent mountains and unique way of life that make it a premier destination for visitors from all over the world.
Things to Do
- Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: Founded in 1916, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is the oldest museum in the city. It’s located in Mission Canyon and covers 12 acres. The museum is housed in a Mission-style, Spanish-Mediterranean complex of buildings and known for its dioramas of birds, mammals and southern Californian habitats. There’s also exhibits on marine life, geology, Chumash life and an art gallery dedicated to prints of natural history. The museum is also home to one the largest collections of Native American basketry from Chumash basket weavers.
- Santa Barbara Botanic Garden: See some of the best that nature has to offer at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden with 78 acres boasting more than 1,000 species of rare and indigenous plants. The garden is an ideal place to see native California plants in their natural settings. There’s also almost 6 miles of hiking trails in the garden, so you can enjoy some physical activity in between enjoying the natural sights.
- Chumash painted cave: For a truly unique experience, visit the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park where there’s a small sandstone cave preserved with rock art from the Chumash people. The drawings depict cosmology and other subjects created from mineral pigments. Trek down the path in the park that leads to the cave to experience this special location.
- East Beach: Hitting up the beach is a must-do in Santa Barbara, and East Beach is a great option. It’s often the first beach seen when entering the city, and it’s a well-known area for volleyball. In fact, several tournaments are held here throughout the year. East Beach has lifeguards so you won’t have to worry about water safety while you enjoy the sun and surf. There’s also a snack bar, a play area for kids and a bike bath.
Shopping and Dining
- Stearns Wharf: Get a multisensory experience with a visit to Stearns Wharf. Feel the ocean breeze across your face as the sun beams down, and breathe in the salty sea air. Relax for a while watching local fishing boats unload their morning catch or visit the special aquarium. You can also taste local wines and enjoy a deliciously fresh seafood meal after perusing the various shops.
- Paseo Nuevo: Paseo Nuevo is another great place to shop and dine. Located in downtown Santa Barbara, the outdoor shopping spot boasts Spanish-style architecture surrounded by beautiful flowers, trees and fountains. Explore the various shops selling clothing, beauty products, art and other goods. You can pick up some souvenirs to remember your vacation, then stop by one of the many eateries like Kahuna Grill, Pascucci or Sakura.
- Cajun Kitchen: You’ll want to start your day with a hearty breakfast, so stop by Cajun Kitchen. Each item is served with home fries, hash browns or grits as well as toast, an English muffin, flour tortilla, homemade biscuit, homemade blueberry muffin or homemade cornbread. Choose from a variety of omelets, burritos, oatmeal and more for a delicious main course.
- Cold Spring Tavern: After a day of fun, you can relax and dine on a tasty meal at Cold Spring Tavern. The meals here are prepared with homestyle techniques and everything is made with fresh ingredients bought from local producers. Favorite dishes include Western-style barbecue, Cold Spring chili and freshly baked breads. On the weekends you can especially enjoy the fun atmosphere here with live music from bands and singers.