Santa Barbara is all about the good life. That's why it attracts celebrity residents along with hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, and that's why you'll fall in love with this coastal Californian destination.
If all you want is a beach holiday, look no further. Pit your skills against the surf at Carpinteria, swim with the college crowd at Leadbetter Beach or find somewhere secluded to sunbathe at Arroyo Burro.
If you want to eat, drink and be merry - Santa Barbara is the place to be. Explore the incredible variety of the region's wine production, dine on Indonesian food at Sama Sama, burgers and beer at the Lark or Mexican delicacies at La Super Rica.
You can shop all day on State Street, enjoy a round of golf at Sandpiper, and even get to Los Angeles in under two hours. What more do you need to know? Santa Barbara is somewhere everyone should find time to visit.
California and sunshine are part of the same package. Santa Barbara is blessed with year-round temperatures of 60 plus degrees and the months between May and October see wall-to-wall sunshine pretty much every day.
Santa Barbara offers a huge selection of beaches, from the convenient (and sandy) city beach to Leadbetter Beach (which is all about partying) and more relaxed locations like Carpinteria or Arroyo Burro. If you just want to perfect your tan or you want to try surfing, there's no better destination.
Santa Barbara isn't just about the beach. Far from it, in fact. With the huge collection of ancient Roman artworks at the Museum of Art, the 18th century Presidio of Santa Barbara and an original copy of the Declaration of Independence at the Karpeles Museum, there's plenty for culture lovers to enjoy as well.
The Funk Zone in Downtown Santa Barbara is a super destination for foodies - so much so that daily guided tours can allow visitors to sample eight of the neighborhood's best eateries. With craft breweries like Pure Order creating award-winning beers, Santa Barbara is a genuine gourmet destination.
The California climate also suits wine-making. In fact, the network of valleys around Santa Barbara is one of the world's most diverse and successful wine-growing regions. Start off at city center wineries like Jaffurs before heading out on guided tours to sample everything the region has to offer.
This Spanish-style Franciscan mission is considered one of the most iconic and historic sites in Santa Barbara. The Mission is situated on 13 acres of prime ocean-front property and itself boasts an impressive facade with unique 17th century architecture. Known affectionately as the "Queen of the Missions," Old Mission Santa Barbara offers daily guided tours through the Mission's church, cemetery, mausoleum and gardens. If you're only going to visit one Mission while in California, you can't go wrong with a royal visit to one of the best in Santa Barbara.
Take a break from the beach and dive into true Santa Barbara culture when you spend an afternoon exploring the centrally located Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The museum offers both permanent and revolving exhibition spaces as well as Art Talk Series and Panel discussions with the artists themselves. Most of the artists featured here hail from Asia, Europe, and America including famed paintings and sculptures from ancient European masters like Boticelli, Chagal and Rodin. However, there are also many more contemporary artists who are taking deliberate strides to use their art as a commentary on current political, economic and intercultural shifts in America.
This beautiful building with its iconic clock tower, sunken garden and intricate facade was completed in 1929 and remains one of the oldest functioning administrative buildings in Santa Barbara. Daily tours are conducted to share the city's history with visitors. In the summer the courthouse hosts many cultural events and movie screenings to foster a better sense of community among its residents. Visitors are welcome to join in on the festivities -- in fact, it may just be the thing to help you pack up your bags and make Santa Barbara your new permanent home!
Enjoy the cultivated gardens with breathtaking views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and its many walking trails leading you through meadows, hills, redwood forest, cliffside ocean views. On site there is also a herbarium and library to further educate yourself about the steps Santa Barbara Botanical Garden is taking to conserve local wildlife and help native plants flourish. Take a stroll through an authentic Japanese Tea Garden and learn about the ancient customs involved in a tea ceremony. Embrace your inner green thumb and pick up a souvenir at the nursery to remember your trip.
Ranked as one of the best small zoos in the United States, the Santa Barbara Zoo showcases over 140 different species of animals from around the world. From leopards to lemurs, penguins to polar bears -- you'll be hard pressed to find a more dynamic form of entertainment in Santa Barbara. Those with kids will also love the many family-friendly events hosted by the Santa Barbara Zoo including safari sleepovers, zoo camp and kids club. You can even host your child's next birthday party and cozy up to some of the Zoo's most popular residents!
Santa Barbara has the kind of climate that is pleasant all year-round. However, you might want to avoid the city during the peak summer months (June through early September) as the beaches can be crowded and accommodation prices spike. Instead, plan a trip in May or October, when the temperatures are mild and everything is more relaxed.
Santa Barbara Municipal Airport may be small, but it provides a wide range of flight connections to cities like Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and Phoenix. Getting into town from the airport is easy. Just take bus number 11 from the terminal entrance.
Santa Barbara's Amtrak station is an architectural landmark, right in the center of town, and the town is a stop on two intercity routes. The Pacific Surfliner provides a link to San Diego, while the Coast Starlight travels from Los Angeles all the way to Seattle.
Driving from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara is simple and shouldn't take more than a couple of hours. Just take Route 101 up the coast. If you are driving from the north, Route 101 also makes sense, although it might be faster to take I-5 to Los Angeles and then head northwards on Route 101.
Santa Barbara's Greyhound bus stop is located on State Street, right next to the Amtrak station in the center of town and the company provides direct links to Los Angeles, San Francisco and other regional cities.
Most of the best accommodation options in Santa Barbara are located right next to the beach, and it's worth paying extra for the sea views if you can afford it. The Harbor View Inn and Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort both back onto the seafront. For a more relaxed stay, try the Cheshire Cat Inn on West Valerio Street. A little way inland, it's more convenient for the shopping center and tucked away from the nightlife. Budget travelers should check out the Avania Inn, which provides affordable rooms a short walk from the beach.
Carpinteria – Famous for its surfing community, Carpinteria seems to be self-contained and somewhat separate from the rest of the city, although it's only few minutes' walk from Downtown Santa Barbara. Be sure to head to Rincon Beach to catch some rays, and dine in the area's excellent restaurants like Siam Elephant and Sly's.
Downtown – Santa Barbara doesn't have a Downtown packed with skyscrapers and offices. Instead, the Downtown district is a relaxed shopping center, with red tiled roofs, buzzing cafes and cultural institutions like the Granada Theater.
Montecito – The city's most famous district is also one of the most luxurious residential areas in the USA. It's home to celebrities like Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres and Jeff Bridges - and with good reason. This beautiful neighborhood has great beaches, fine art at the Easton Gallery, and spots to relax, like the Lotusland desert botanical gardens.
Buses in the city are provided by the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District, which should be able to get you between the major attractions without any problems. The most useful route is probably the shuttle bus along State Street (the main shopping street), which costs just 50 cents per journey.
Taxis are another option to get around town, but be aware that Santa Barbara has some of the most expensive taxi fares in the USA. Taking a cab from Carpinteria to the city center will cost as much as $18, while airport transfers are usually around $30. However, Uber is an option, with their cheapest vehicles charging $1 for the meter drop, then $1.25 per mile (with a minimum fare of $5.75).
Renting a car is a great option in Santa Barbara. Not only does it make it easy to hop between beaches and get to the city center, but you can be in Los Angeles in under two hours as well. Parking in the center of town is free for 75 minutes, then costs $1.50 for every subsequent hour, so it's not too expensive.
Santa Barbara's major shopping center is clustered around State Street in the Downtown area. Designed to suit pedestrians, State Street Plaza is packed with independent apparel boutiques and jewelry stores. Check out the bikinis at A Tropical Affair, the latest fashions at Angl or visit chain stores like Nordstrom's and Old Navy. A short drive up 101, you'll also find La Cumbre Plaza, a huge shopping mall complete with a Sear's, J. Crew, Tiffany and Co., as well as many more major brands.
The cost of living in Santa Barbara tends to be relatively high. As you'd expect from a luxury retreat for the rich and famous, there are plenty of organic supermarkets and upscale vendors like Whole Foods, but you'll also find a Ralph's downtown and smaller delicatessens like Tino's. Expect to pay around $4.30 for a gallon of milk and $15 for a good bottle of wine.
Santa Barbara is full of fantastic places to eat, many of them with a strong Mexican influence. Head to Los Agaves and La Super Rica Tacqueria on N Milpas Street for the finest Mexican food in town. Or take a trip downtown to State Street, where you'll find gourmet American dishes at Finch & Fork Japanese delights at Arigato Sushi and fine Italian specialities at Olio e Limone. Downtown is also the place to be if you love craft beers, and all beer lovers should find time for a visit to the tasting room at Pure Order Brewing. Expect to pay around $20 for a mid-range meal and upwards of $40 for a gourmet dinner.