If there ever was a quintessential beach town in California, Santa Barbara is it. The weather hovers at around mid-60s to mid-70s year round, with a nice sea breeze keeping the area temperate. Add in a laid-back beach vibe, beautiful white stucco Mediterranean-style buildings and wine tastings featuring locally grown wine and you will understand why it’s nicknamed the American Rivera. It’s an easy two-hour drive or scenic train ride next to the Pacific Ocean from Los Angeles. Coming from the north, it’s an ideal stop along Highway 1. Here’s a complete weekend Santa Barbara itinerary to make the most out of your stay.
When To Go
To avoid the high summertime prices, go during the shoulder seasons of spring (March-May) and autumn (September-November). Since the weather should not be an issue year-round, winter is also an option, though you might want to check the weather since it’s the rainy season.
First things first: brunch. Make your way to Garrett’s Old Fashioned Restaurant for a hearty diner-style breakfast. This no-frills diner has been a long-time local favorite and although the interior is small, the line goes quickly. Order the California eggs benedict with avocado, the chorizo and egg omelet, or the fluffy blueberry pancakes.
Afterward, walk off breakfast by heading toward the Old Mission Santa Barbara, one of the prettiest of all the California missions (the walk is around 12 minutes). Pay the $9 entrance fee and take a self-guided tour of the grounds, including the picturesque gardens. When you’re done, head over to the park across the street to rest in the shade and admire the mission from afar.
Walk back to State Street and make your way towards the beach, stopping at Pickles and Swiss to pick up sandwiches for lunch. The namesake sandwich is worth trying with ham, Swiss cheese and pickles. Veggie sandwiches are also available.
After you’ve got your sandwiches, make a beeline for East Beach, which is quieter and cleaner than most of the beaches in the area. If you feel like wandering, there’s a scenic walking path to take a leisurely afternoon stroll. Though if you just want to stay put in the soft sand and take a nap that’s completely understandable too.
Slowly make your way to the far end of East Beach, where there’s Stearns Wharf, one of the oldest working piers in California. It’s a great spot to people-watch and walk out to the end of the pier for panoramic views of the city behind you.
For dinner, Los Agaves is a local staple for delicious Mexican food. Try the Agaves burrito with the fish of the day, shrimp, and fresh guacamole, or for something a bit lighter the tacos del mar with either your choice of halibut or shrimp. Make sure to take advantage of their homemade salsa bar.
Hope you saved room for dessert! A visit to Santa Barbara is not complete without a visit to McConnell’s with its innovative flavors like Turkish Coffee or Eureka Lemon and Marionberries.
For a taste of France, go to Renaud’s for almond croissants and a European breakfast with a toasted baguette, croissants, and jam. Grab a sweet treat for the road in the form of an apple tart or a box of macaroons.
Make your way to neighboring Montecito, where Ganna Walska Lotusland, one of the area’s most impressive botanical gardens sits on the former estate of a famed Polish singer. Get lost in a grove of dragon blood trees, cactus gardens, lily ponds, and numerous succulents. Tour reservations need to be made in advance over the phone for a two-hour guided tour of the property.
After building up an appetite for lunch, head to The Natural Café for a healthy midday meal. Clean eats include soups, salads, and sandwiches. This restaurant does a great job catering to all kinds of dietary needs, including vegetarian and vegan. Try the Zen Burger, a veggie burger with garlic mayo that doesn’t disappoint.
In the afternoon, head over to the Funk Zone and check out the Arts Fund Gallery, where local artists show off their stuff. Afterwards embark on one of the largest parts of the Urban Wine Trail and stop in working wineries like Whitcraft Winery, where you can sample small-production chardonnays and pinot noirs.
A few other notable wineries in the Funk Zone include Santa Barbara Winery, Deep Sea Tasting Room, Area 5.1 Winery and Carr Winery. For a on point sparkling wine tasting menu, head to Riverbench Winery.
For dinner stay in the Funk Zone, and make your way to Lucky Penny for some outstanding pizza pies. You will know you’re there when you see a building covered in shinny copper pennies. Try the OG with fennel sausage, smoked mozzarella, arugula, chili peppers and roasted tomatoes. If it’s a hot day, cool off with a glass of their refreshing frose.
For dessert head back towards State Street to Rori’s Artisanal Creamery, since this is vacation and it’s your duty to try all the best ice cream spots in town. Try their all-organic ice cream in inventive flavors like brown sugar banana or malted milk ball.
Where To Stay In Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara lodging is not cheap, but that being said the Sunset Motel is a great budget place to stay close to downtown and with a free breakfast to start your day right. The Lavender Inn By The Sea is a solid midrange option, where you get complementary milk and cookies, and a free continental breakfast as well. For a luxury option the Kimpton Canary Hotel has an impressive rooftop pool and the Finch & Fork, an excellent on-site restaurant serving American comfort food with local ingredients.