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So You Think You Know Santa Barbara?

Explore unique restaurants, quirky boutiques, rugged hikes, and private wineries

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Posted 2 months agoby Jessica Sebor

Rolling mountains to the east, sparkling shoreline to the west—it doesn’t take insider knowledge to grasp Santa Barbara’s appeal. But there’s more to the “American Riviera” than perfect weather, pretty views, and a storied Mission. Why not visit a secret winery only accessible by rope pull? Or enjoy a tea service in a tiny thatched-roof hut overlooking a lily pond? Go beyond the basics of this beautiful seaside city—and its nearby communities—by hiking, shopping, eating, drinking, and simply blissing out at these 14 under-the-radar spots.

Labyrinth Trail, Santa Barbara

In search of mind-clearing meditation? Make a mini-pilgrimage to UC Santa Barbara’s Goleta Lagoon Island, where you’ll find the 0.6-mile Labyrinth Trail modeled on an ancient design that relieves modern-day stress. The trail may look like a maze, but there are no wrong turns. Simply follow the path outlined by river rocks before reaching the center. Free and open to the public, the trail is seldom crowded, making it all the more appropriate for a soul-soothing stroll.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Return to Freedom, Lompoc 

Travel north to the hills of Lompoc to experience the majesty of wild horses running free. The nonprofit organization Return to Freedom is dedicated to the conservation of these beautiful creatures. Book a walking tour or photo safari and meet the herds of mustangs and burros who call this 300-acre sanctuary home. 

Moreton Bay Fig Tree, Santa Barbara 

If you’re searching for a respite from the SoCal sun, head to the corner of Montecito and Chapala Streets where the Moreton Bay Fig Tree has provided shade for weary travelers for more than 140 years. Now a City Landmark, the tree was originally planted by a young girl who received the seed as a gift from an Australian sailor in 1876.

The Sacred Space, Summerland

Santa Barbara has long beckoned creatives with a spiritual bent⁠—and The Sacred Space in Summerland is the perfect spot to build on a nascent interest in the healing arts. Not your average boutique, this gem of a shop sells essential oils, books, and various treasures from all over the world. Relax in the oasis-like gardens and enjoy a tea service under the shade of a little hut that sits over a lily pond.

The Hilltop Sanctuary at Belmond El Encanto, Santa Barbara

A Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Resort, Belmond El Encanto is hardly an under-the-radar hotel. But there is an exclusive, private hideaway⁠ right inside the property. The Hilltop Sanctuary can accommodate as many as 10 guests with private dining spaces and a furnished terrace. If you opt to stay elsewhere, head to Belmond’s lounge to unwind with the signature cocktail, the 101 Spritz.

Sunset at Mesa Lane Steps, Santa Barbara

The beach at Mesa Lane Steps is hidden in the truest sense of the word: When high tide rolls in, the narrow sliver of sand completely disappears. Check the water levels and climb down the 241-step wooden staircase to find a secluded slice of shore. Unfurl your blanket, take a seat, and watch the sun sink into the sea.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Mate Gallery, Montecito 

This 150-square-foot store in Montecito Country Mart conjures memories of sandy feet and lobster rolls. Styled like the inside of an old ship’s cabin, Mate Gallery showcases the beach-themed work of photographer Matt Albiani alongside charming nautical knickknacks like vintage signal flags, paperweights, and out-of-print field guides. 

BUNS, Santa Barbara

Within the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, there’s a special building dedicated to, you guessed it… bunnies! BUNS serves as a temporary home for roughly two dozen rabbits and guinea pigs. Kids are welcome to feed the cute little critters carrot tops and fresh parsley, which the shelter provides. Careful, you might just go home with a new family member or two.

Sanguis Winery, Santa Barbara

The Funk Zone is known for buzzy restaurants and bustling bars—but reservations-only Sanguis Winery offers up a completely different sort of experience. Pull a rope at the unmarked door to signal your arrival before enjoying a private tasting, with a focus on unique, small-batch blends from local grapes.

Sama Sama Kitchen, Santa Barbara

This airy restaurant serves intensely flavorful Southeast Asian fare with a stick-to-your-ribs spin—all from locally sourced ingredients. While Sama Sama has been around since 2013, it was named a Bib Gourmand choice by Michelin in 2019. Still relatively undiscovered, you should have no issue nabbing a table. Go before the word gets out.

Gibraltar Trail, Los Padres National Forest

Just east of Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Mountains are an outdoor lover’s wonderland. Inspiration Point and Rattle Canyon are the most popular spots, but the slightly farther out Gibraltar Trail is more than worth the drive. Go big with the full 10.5-mile, out-and-back adventure, or pack a lunch and hike until you find a hidden swimming hole along the Santa Ynez River.

Lil’ Toot Water Taxi, Santa Barbara

Unabashedly cheery and utterly whimsical, the Lil’ Toot Water Taxi shoots bubbles out of its smokestack and lets children take the wheel on the 12-minute ride between the harbor and the wharf. A favorite with kiddos, this mini attraction is seldom busy and for $5 a ride, you can toot along to your heart’s desire.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Field + Fort, Summerland

Find your next piece of “where-did-you-get-that” home decor at Field + Fort. Interior designer Kyle Irwin’s Summerland store introduces English countryside charm with a curated collection of linen napkins, fire pokers, wooden trinkets, and more. Linger for lunch at Feast, the in-store café, to enjoy fresh specials like homemade toast topped with fava beans and crumbled feta.

Saturday Fisherman’s Market, Santa Barbara

The Sunday Farmers' Market is a popular weekend activity for locals and tourists alike. But set your alarm on Saturday morning for a real taste of the region’s bounty. From 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., head to the Fisherman’s Market at City Pier to find halibut, black cod, abalone, rockfish, and more. What better way to start the day than with a freshly cracked sea urchin right out of the shell?

Before you explore, be sure to visit our Responsible Travel Hub, which includes helpful Travel Updates.

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