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Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

Discover Mediterranean-style magic and a perfect ocean breeze at “the American Riviera”

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Bougainvillea twining across red-tiled rooftops, birdsong mingling with the ocean breeze, islands and whale spouts on the horizon—Santa Barbara’s charms tempt at every turn. Perfect getaways don’t get much more perfect.

Take it from the movie stars who sneak away to Santa Barbara all the time—or just straight up move here. Oprah, Brad, Ellen, and other first-name’s-enough A-listers have estates here, many tucked away in the coastal enclave of Montecito. Why not? There’s that legendary Old World beauty that befits the city’s nickname, “The American Riviera.” 

Beaches and Parks in Santa Barbara

The charmingly small city, 90 miles north of Los Angeles, hugs both the beaches and Highway 101 (and also offers easy access by train): Don’t miss sandy stretches within easy reach—Gaviota State Park, about a half-hour’s drive up the coast, offers camping, and Rincon Beach Park, about 20 miles south of the city, boasts world-class surfing at Rincon Point. In between, from west to east, are such spots as Refugio State BeachCampus Point Beach, a favorite of college students thanks to being part of the famously gorgeous campus of UC Santa Barbara; and the dog-friendly Hendry’s Beach (where the Boathouse Restaurant has great seaside dining).

In Santa Barbara itself is East Beach, which is the perfect place to spend a lazy family afternoon, and just east of the city is Montecito’s Butterfly Beach, which sits across from the Four Seasons The Biltmore Santa BarbaraLookout Park, another three miles down the road, has picnic areas and hiking trails, as well as cliff-top views of Channel Islands National Park. If you’re looking for beach activity rentals (kayaks, bikes, stand-up paddleboards), surfing lessons, or a cycling tour in Santa Barbara/Goleta/Montecito, local outfitters Cal Coastal Adventures are the go-to.

Things to Do in Downtown Santa Barbara

Step across the 101 and the city is comprised of Spanish-style architecture (prime example: the Old Mission Santa Barbara) and rolling hills that stretch east into the Santa Ynez Mountains and wine country, while to the west you’ll find the under-the-radar, quiet appeal of Goleta.

But Santa Barbara has a new energy, too—the Funk Zone neighborhood boasts hip restaurants and bars, and the MOXI (Museum of Exploration + Innovation) dazzles with its reimagination of what a museum can be—kids especially love the interactivity. Main thoroughfare State Street and leafy streets alike are lined with designer boutiquesbuzz-worthy restaurants, and wine tasting rooms. It’s all so centrally located that there’s really no need to get around in your car—just hop on one of the electric bike rentals offered by the Santa Barbara BCycle bikeshare program, and zip to your next destination. If you have an itch for a longer ride, take the 10-mile Obern Trail that leads to Goleta Beach County Park before intersecting with the trail system of UC Santa Barbara.

Restaurants in Santa Barbara

For seafood, a visit to Santa Barbara’s most visited landmark, Stearns Wharf, is in order. Eat inside or out, in the fresh air and sunshine on the wooden pier. The many offerings along the town’s main pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare, State Street, include The Drunken Crab for Cajun and Creole seafood, Opal Restaurant & Bar for California fare with a global twist, and Jane Restaurant, a cozy bistro known particularly for their desserts. One could explore restaurants for days along State, but venturing a little off the beaten path can be rewarding too; check out these recommendations. if you’re looking for the makings of the perfect Central Coast picnic, the city’s farmers' markets and the Santa Barbara Public Market offer endless ingredients and locally-produced treats. Add to it all a waterfront teeming with sailboats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboarders. 

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