The Charms of
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a city of charm, grace and culture set in one of the loveliest spots along the California coast. The weather is mild and (almost) unremittingly pleasant throughout the year.

Even the topography here is special, with the beaches facing south, and the Santa Ynez Mountains running east to west -- totally against the grain with the rest of California. But that's Santa Barbara.

The place is steeped in history -- at least, as much as a California city can be. The area was discovered and claimed for Spain in 1542. The presidio was established in 1782, and a mission soon followed.

When the United States took over, new construction took on a more typically American look, until the whole business was leveled by a devastating earthquake in 1925. The city planners decided to return to the city's Spanish roots, and so a unique style of Spanish Colonial architecture came to define the character of the city.

There's so much to do here, it's hard to know where to begin. You'll find an abundance of outdoor activities, lovely beaches, art and theatre, winery tours, shopping, golf, spas, missions, parks and gardens, and the list goes on. So let's just take it one item at a time.


Missions and History

Santa Barbara Mission

You won't need to go far to savor the historical atmosphere. With over 70 designated historic landmarks, history is everywhere. Take the Red Tile Walking Tour to view the historic landmarks in the downtown area. The tour covers about 12 blocks, and there are plenty of restaurants and shops along the way.

Mission Santa Barbara, called "Queen of the Missions" for its beauty, sits atop a hill, and is still a functioning church. You can tour the museum, cloister gardens, chapel, and mission grounds. There are also two other missions in the area: Mission Santa Ines in Solvang, and La Purisima Mission State Historic Park in Lompoc.

The city has numerous museums with an historical focus, including the Santa Barbara Historical Society Museum, The South Coast Railroad Museum, The Maritime Museum at Santa Barbara Harbor, Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, and the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara.

Other museums in the area include the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum, the Santa Ynez Valley Museum, and The Carpinteria Valley Museum of History.


Wine Country

Warm, sunny days, cool nights, and dry summers -- that's what you need for growing great wine grapes. And that's what you'll find in the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, the area's burgeoning wine producing regions.

There are over 80 wineries and 24,000 acres of vineyards within a 45 minute drive from Santa Barbara on Highway 101 or 154. You'll even find a few wineries in the city itself, and in nearby Summerland.

The wineries here produce a variety of world-class wines, and there are numerous tasting rooms, fine restaurants and picnic sites throughout the region. You might want to plan your trip around one of the many festivals, concerts, dinners and special events that take place throughout the year.

Los Olivos, in the Santa Ynez Valley, is a popular wine touring destination. This charming small town features many fine art galleries, wine tasting rooms, unique shops, gourmet restaurants, and picnic sites.

The Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association provides an Interactive map of Santa Barbara Wine Country.


Beaches

kids on the beach

No trip to Santa Barbara can be complete without a day at the beach. You'll find eighteen beaches along the nearly 100 miles of coastline.

To the north, the Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes are a wonder to behold. They're part of the extensive dunes system that includes Pismo Dunes and Oceano Dunes. Check out the Dunes Center for special programs and walks. You can also take the mile long boardwalk across Oso Flaco Lake to the beach.

To the west, Goleta Beach offers an abundance of recreational activities, including biking, bird watching, pier fishing, beach volleyball, picnicking, surfing and family fun. The University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) is located next door to the beach.

If you prefer to be in the thick of things, head to the beaches around Stearns Wharf, where you can enjoy fantastic views of the California coast. The Wharf offers unique shops, seafood restaurants, wine tasting and boat charters.

Also on the Wharf, the newly renovated Sea Center features exhibits of local sea life, including a tide pool exhibit and a life-size model of a gray whale mother and calf.

East Beach, located next to the wharf, is one of the prettiest strands in the area, and one of the most popular. Swimming, fishing and volleyball are the major attractions here. Across from the beach, Chase Palm Park offers kids a chance to let loose, with a skateboard park, bike trail, playground, and antique carousel.

coastal bike path

A three mile bike path runs along the beach all the way from Ledbetter Beach, past the Santa Barbara Zoo, and on to the Andree Clark Bird Refuge. Or take the Goleta Bikeway to UCSB. Rent bicycles, roller skates or family surreys (bicycles for six) on State Street.

Butterfly Beach in posh Montecito is a luxurious stretch of sand located opposite the historic Four Seasons Resort Santa Barbara. The beaches in the small town of Carpinteria are popular with families. The surf here is calm and excellent for swimming. Go fishing, bird watching, kayaking, bicycling, or tidepooling. Camping is available at Carpinteria State Beach.



Parks and Gardens

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The Los Padres National Forest occupies nearly 2 million acres. That's almost a third of Santa Barbara County! Head up to Cachuma Lake Recreation Area for fishing, boating, hiking, backpacking, camping and picnicking.

Offshore, you can take an excursion to the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. Day trips and multi-day camping trips are available. Hiking, kayaking, diving, snorkeling, fishing and tidepooling are popular activities at the islands.

In and around the city, you'll find parks everywhere you turn. The outstanding, lovely parks are a large part of what makes Santa Barbara such a graceful city. Among the best of these gems you'll find Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, Casa del Herrero, Franceschi Park, Lotusland, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara Zoo and Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.

For family fun, head to Shoreline Park, Alameda Park, or Chase Palm Park.


Art and Culture

Santa Barbara boasts some pretty sophisticated cultural offerings. You'll find ballet, opera and the symphony. There are more than 200 stage productions of various sorts annually, and more than 50 museums and galleries. Indeed, the area has become famous as an art colony.

You won't want to miss the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, with its outstanding collection of American, Asian and European art. Or head to the nationally renowned Museum of Natural History, which features an enormous blue whale skeleton in front. Other museums include the University Art Museum and the Wildling Art Museum.

Nightlife and dining options are equally sophisticated, with an abundance of live entertainment and fine dining available.


Golf

For the golf enthusiast there's pleasant weather year-round, varied terrain, and beautiful settings. You'll find eight championship golf courses, plus a number of nine-hole and private courses. Some of these outstanding courses include:

Rancho San Marcos Golf Course, a Robert Trent Jones II course, is located in the Santa Ynez Mountains, on scenic Highway 154, 12 miles north of S B.

Glen Annie Golf Club in Goleta offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands from 130 acres of rolling foothills.

La Purisima Golf Course is located just outside Lompoc in the scenic Santa Ynez Valley. It's been rated among California's top 10 championship public golf courses by Golf Magazine.

Sandpiper Golf Course in Goleta offers breathtaking views of the mountains and the Pacific. It's consistently rated among the top 25 public courses in the country by Golf Digest.

Alisal Guest Ranch, located in the Santa Ynez Valley in Solvang, offers two courses: The River Course and the Billy Bell-designed Ranch Course. (The Ranch Course is reserved exclusively for its guests.)



Shopping

You'll find quite a variety of shopping opportunities in the area, from posh boutiques to factory outlets.

Downtown offers an eclectic mix of shops amid charming plazas and courtyards. You'll find four distinct shopping areas, all located along State Street:

  • El Paseo, built in the 1920s, was California's first shopping center. You'll find unique shops, art galleries and restaurants amid Spanish courtyards and gardens.
  • Paseo Nuevo offers more than 50 shops, including Nordstrom and Macy's. There are gardening shops, live music and art galleries.
  • La Arcada Court is a Spanish paseo and courtyard. It offers more than 20 shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants.
  • Victoria Court hosts more than 30 shops and restaurants.

The largest shopping complex in the area is La Cumbra Plaza, located on upper State Street. It offers over 60 shops, restaurants, and services.

In upscale Montecito, you'll find quality shops, restaurants and galleries at Coast Village Road and in Montecito Village (at East Valley Road and San Ysidro Road).

For antique shops and browsing, head to Summerland, to the east of Montecito.


Discover Santa Barbara: Get vacation information about Santa Barbara from a local.


Photo credits:
Mission Santa Barbara by Robert Holmes/ California Tourism
Kids on the beach by Scott Jungling
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden by Dan Homerick