Known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara, California, encapsulates coastal Southern California modern chic juxtaposed with Spanish-style architecture dating back to the 1600s
An easy-to-reach weekend escape from both Los Angeles and San Francisco, this sophisticated seaside city has something for everyone, from food and wine lovers to outdoor enthusiasts.
Window Shopping, Wine Tasting
There's no better way to kick off your first day than a stroll on State Street — Santa Barbara's historic downtown district lined with sidewalk cafes, local boutiques, galleries and bakeries, such as Jeannine's, a longtime favorite breakfast spot.
Next, it's time to get into the zone — the Funk Zone, a revitalized neighborhood home to artists, winemakers and chefs. Fortify yourself with a wood-fired pizza at Lucky Penny, before tasting at Cutler's Artisan Spirits or the Santa Barbara Wine Collective, which pours samples from six local wineries. Continue exploring Central Coast wines by foot or pedicab on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, with more than 20 tasting rooms, usually by nearby Santa Ynez winemakers.
Museums and Side Trip to Montecito
For culture and art lovers, Santa Barbara is a treasure trove. Start your day on State Street, where you can take the Santa Barbara Red Tile walking tour of 22 historic adobe buildings, visit the Old Mission Santa Barbara church — established in 1786 — and museum with beautiful gardens and cemetery, or peruse the Santa Barbara Museum of Art for its large collection of American art spanning the mid-18th to mid-20th centuries.
For another chance for a brush with greatness, hop on U.S. Route 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, for the 10-minute drive to Montecito — the home to such celebrities as talk show host and entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey and Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges. For lunch, opt for one of the local favorite Italian restaurants, such as Tre Lune or Pane e Vino.
While in Montecito, don't miss strolling the dog-friendly Butterfly Beach, located on Channel Drive, to admire the rugged golden cliffs and resident dolphins, and Lotusland, a haven for horticulturalists with more than 3,000 plants from all over the world. Finish up the day back at Butterfly Beach, by sipping a cocktail at the Biltmore hotel's beachfront patio and enjoying epic sunset views.
Outdoor Adventures Beckon
With a rugged mountain range hugging the coast and endless beaches, Santa Barbara's scenery begs for exploration, via hiking, biking or water sports. For sun and surf, take a stand-up-paddle or surf lesson, or opt for an ocean kayak excursion with Santa Barbara Adventure Company. If staying dry is more your style, rent a beach cruiser bike for a relaxing spin on the nearly five-kilometer beachfront path.
For hiking enthusiasts, Santa Barbara is home to dozens of trails, from easy to difficult. The Carpentaria Bluffs, about a five-kilometer loop atop the bluffs with stunning ocean vistas, is a crowd-pleaser for all fitness levels. Work out any muscle tension from the day's activities with a massage at the Salt Cave, home to two underground salt caves used for treating ailments. Or simply relax and recount the highlights of the past three days over a craft beer at Santa Barbara Brewery, the town's oldest brewery.
Getting to Santa Barbara
From Los Angeles, the drive to Santa Barbara takes about 90 minutes: Have lunch at Malibu's Reel Inn, famous for its fish tacos, shop for California fashion at Malibu Country Mart and enjoy the views at Point Dume Nature Reserve.
From San Francisco, the drive takes about five hours — San Simeon, site of the magnificent Hearst Castle, the opulent home of publisher William Randolph Hearst, is a perfect stop. You can also marvel at the 10,000 elephant seals basking in the sun on the beaches at Piedras Biancas.
Santa Barbara Shopping and Dining Guide
Cava Restaurant & Bar (1212 Coast Village Rd., Montecito) Tapas-style bar with Latin-Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and drinks.
C'est Cheese (825 Santa Barbara St.): Epicurean wonderland specializing in locally-made jams, pickles, olive oils and cheeses.
Diani (1324 State St., Suite B): A go-to boutique for more than a decade with the city's well-heeled women features the latest from Rag & Bone, Velvet and other California designers.
The Lark (131 Anacapa St.): One of the best spots for casual, alfresco dining, this Funk Zone staple specializes in local, seasonal California cuisine.
La Super Rica (622 N Milpas St.): The long lines are worth it for this casual Mexican eatery's quesadillas with hand-pressed tortillas, tamales and tacos.
Olio Crudo Bar (11 W. Victoria St.): Intimate spot specializing in Italian-style raw fish.
Sama Sama Kitchen (1208 State St.) Lively spot serving Indonesian food artfully created with local California produce.
Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. (230 Stearns Wharf): Head out to the pier for clam chowder or a whopping portion of steamed local crab.
Warbler Records (131 E De La Guerra St.): Score some collectible vintage vinyl records, as well as unique soaps, art books and handmade ceramics.