A Guide for the Perfect Day Trip to Santa Barbara

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Trying to find the perfect day or weekend trip from Los Angeles? The quintessential seaside town of Santa Barbara should be at the top of your list! With a small-town, beachy, Mediterranean vibe, Santa Barbara has always been a favorite of mine. Santa Barbara is also known as The American Riviera thanks to its Spanish architectural style and gorgeous coastal views. Be sure to notice all the beautiful buildings and red roofs. That’s what makes this place so beautiful and unique!

Planning the perfect Santa Barbara weekend or day trip can be a difficult task as there is so much this small but historic city has to offer. There’s shopping, great restaurants, nature, and so much more! You will definitely want to park and play for a full day! Santa Barbara should be more than a short stop quick detour on your trip.

Getting to Santa Barbara

From the south, Santa Barbara is just 92 miles from Los Angeles. From the north, Santa Barbara is 332 miles from San Francisco. If you’re driving to Santa Barbara, you will most likely take Highway 101. But, I suggest you enjoy a scenic trip along the Pacific Coast Highway via Malibu. It takes a smidge longer, but you will be amazed by the beaches and views along the way!

If you feel like skipping traffic, take the train! Santa Barbara is served by two Amtrak train routes, the Pacific Surfliner and the Coast Starlight. When you arrive, you will find that the Santa Barbara Amtrak station is located downtown. Just across from the Funk Zone and Urban Wine Trail and just two blocks from the beach! In fact, all the fun stuff in the heart of downtown is just a few blocks walk from the station! To make your day even easier, the Pacific Surfliner offers free transfers to your next stop via SBMTD buses and electric shuttles.  

What to do in Santa Barbara

State Street and the Paseo Nuevo shops

The Paseo Nuevo shops and State Street in downtown Santa Barbara are home to some of the best stores and boutiques from all over. Even if you’re not shopping, it’s fun to stroll. When the sun sets, be sure to check out the bars!

The Santa Barbara Salt Caves

Drop in to experience these underground Himalayan Salt Caves. Start the morning with some mindful meditation and good energy. Book a cave session to spend an hour in the salt cave for one of the most relaxing hours of your life.

Stearn’s Wharf

Stearn’s Wharf is the oldest operating wharf on the West Coast. Although the pier offers wine tasting, lots of shopping, and dining options, avoid it after noon – it tends to become a tourist trap later in the day. Be sure to check out the iconic dolphin statue before the crowding happens.

Butterfly Beach

Butterfly Beach is located along Channel Drive in ritzy Montecito, CA. This is one of the few west-facing beaches in the area so you can actually see a sunset over the water! This is a popular beach with Santa Barbara area locals, and many walk their dogs at the water’s edge (furry friends must be leashed). Bring water and sunscreen because there are no public facilities at this beach – it’s a real locals kind of place!

Santa Barbara Courthouse

This functioning Santa Barbara Courthouse is an iconic Santa Barbara landmark. Designed in the Spanish-Colonial style and completed in 1929, the architecture and tiled interior is dreamy! You can take a free drop-in tour, and for panoramic views of the city, climb to the top of the Clock Tower. The clock was installed in 1929 and is still ticking! You can take an inside look at the Bisno Schall Clock Gallery to see a 60-foot mural showing the history of timekeeping. The tower closes a bit earlier so be sure to plan in advance and stop earlier in the day!

Old Mission Santa Barbara

See where Santa Barbara started! Toward the hills are two pink-tinted towers of the Old Mission Santa Barbara, known as the “Queen of the Missions” for its #iconic beauty. It was founded by Franciscan fathers in 1786 as a church and community for the conversion of the native Chumash. Old Mission Santa Barbara is an active parish, so call before you go to make sure the church is open for viewing.

Where to eat in Santa Barbara

The Urban Wine Trail

You might think you can sip your way through the wineries of downtown Santa Barbara in one day, but there are more than 15 tasting rooms in the Funk Zone alone! Simple math will tell you that one day of tasting is not enough, be sure to check out this map of the Urban Wine Trail to pick the wineries you want to visit!

Lucky Penny

Go for the penny wall, stay for a delicious wood-fired thin-crust pizza and a glass of frosé for an al fresco lunch you won’t forget! Lucky Penny is a cute little pizza restaurant with casual patio dining in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone.

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde restaurant is located at 1919 Cliff Drive on The Mesa in Santa Barbara. It can be tough to see as it sits almost hidden on the south side of Cliff, just east of Miggs Road.

It is open for both lunch and dinner. If you check Yelp or Trip Advisor, you will find lots of five-star reviews. While the prices are on the higher side, the modern plant based cuisine featuring produce from local farms gets all the raves. It’s up there with the best vegan food we’ve ever had.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams

If you still have room after all of that, head to McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams! This establishment was founded in Santa Barbara, California in 1949 and is living out its 70-year legacy of churning out the world’s finest ice creams with multiple locations downtown. There’s always a line – but this ice cream is well worth the wait. We stuck with a single serving, but you can also order a flight which comes with three different types of ice cream!

If you need to stop and refuel during your journey, skip your usual coffee shop and go where the locals go: check out the French Press or Handlebar Coffee Roasters for an artisanal cup of joe.

Getting around in Santa Barbara

While your first thought may be to hop in your car each morning without even thinking about it, you can definitely save on parking meters and gas and get around the city car-free! The Santa Barbara Car Free project encourages car free travel to and around Santa Barbara by offering information, maps, ideas and, my favorite: deals!

Trolleys come by each of the 12 Santa Barbara Trolley Company stops every 60 minutes, for $25 you can hop on and off as much as you’d like. The Downtown-Waterfront Shuttle services will take you up and down State Street and along the waterfront in zero-emission battery-electric shuttles. The shuttles stop every block (Look for the blue and black sailboat signs) and run every 10 minutes, for just 50 cents each way. If you plan ahead, you can buy a one-day electric shuttle pass for one dollar for unlimited rides for one day. You can also walk around, or rent a bike or a segway.

Where to stay

Though there is certainly enough to keep you occupied and give you a taste of the city in one day, you could easily spend two or three days in Santa Barbara and have plenty to explore. Santa Barbara also provides an excellent hub to explore nearby world-renowned wine country.

Budget Pick

Hotel Milo

Hotel Milo is is situated perfectly by the waterfront just off State Street so you are in the middle of everything. Blending contemporary beach-chic and classic Spanish Colonial architecture, Hotel Milo features two beautiful pools, gardens, and free bike rentals.

Splurge

Hotel Californian

At the Hotel Californian, the blend of traditional Santa Barbara style architecture is complemented by unique and stylish Moorish and mid-century-inspired interior design and decor. The hotel also features a Moroccan-inspired spa and a rooftop pool, and is located in the Funk Zone.

Dog Friendly in Santa Barbara

Vacations are better when all members of the family can go, even the four-legged ones. Many of the local tasting rooms welcome furry friends. Dogs are allowed at most beaches as long as they are leashed. If you feel like letting your pup run in the sand and chase some waves , head to Arroyo Burro Beach, also called Hendry’s Beach, which is the only beach in Santa Barbara that allows dogs off-leash.

Traveling is good for the soul, and you don’t have to go far to get the benefits. Check out our SoCal day trip series for more!

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My Dress {similar} | My Hat | My Espadrille Flats | My Sandals | My Earrings | My Lip Pencil | Bonnie’s Leash | Bonnie’s Water Bottle

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