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Santa Barbara, CA

Taking a stroll through the coastal, ocean hugging town of Santa Barbara is as though you are taking a walk through a Mediterranean village. All around the downtown core area are pristine white stucco, Spanish style buildings with bright red tile roofs and lush cascades of vines crawling up the walls.

As you venture along you can’t miss how the Spanish colonial heritage of the city is mixed with modern boutiques. The town of Santa Barbara, also known as the American Riviera, is a thriving sea town located about 2 and a half hours north of Orange County along highway 101.

From sandy beaches to wineries to obscure sites to explore; there are so many things to do here for just about everyone in your entire family. Want to learn more? Here is your guide to your personal getaway to Santa Barbara. 

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Beach Bumming 

California is known for its beaches. Santa Barbara sits right on the coastline with its beautifully pristine, sandy white beaches. The waves are gentle making it a surf friendly location with many options to lay out and sunbathe for the day. Here are some of the top picks in the area: 

  • Arroyo Burro Beach County Park: This is the dog lover beach with its large off leash area for your pup to enjoy. The locals call this area Hendry’s Beach as it is located off of Cliff Drive surrounded by tall bluffs. Park features include bbq grills, picnic areas, local bird watching, equestrian trails, sea fishing, a restaurant to grab cocktails or a quick snack, restrooms, surfing, and swimming with seasonal lifeguards.
  • Mesa Lane Steps: The name of this beach says it all. The work out to reach the shores may seem tough, but the reward is a beautiful stretch of beach that runs along striking bluffs. The 241 mostly wood steps provide the only beach access. The stairs begin at the south end of Mesa Lane and zig-zag down to Mesa Lane beach. Be prepared that there are no amenities offered at this lovely beach. 
  • West Beach: This wide sandy beach is located just west of and adjacent to the very popular Stearns Wharf Pier at State Street. It is the home to Santa Barbara’s firework shows every New Year and 4th of July. The pier nearby has many shops and dining options and a bike path runs along the entire coast to enjoy.
  • Leadbetter Beach: When visiting this beach you for sure will see beginning surfers, windsurfers, and sailboats trying out the mellow waves. It is also just a great spot to walk along the coastline or sunbathe. The beach is located between the Santa Barbara Harbor and Shoreline Park and amenities include picnic and barbecue sites, outdoor showers, restrooms, and a grassy lawn. 

Santa Barbara Wine Country 

Santa Barbara’s location is the Southern border of the world renowned wine country. A short drive from the beaches will deliver you to rolling hills lined with lines of lush grape vines. Now this is more of an adult experience but everyone needs some kid free time every now and then. 

  • Pence Vineyards & Winery: This small estate vineyard is available by appointment only for private tours and tastings of their winery. They are known for bringing their Burgundy selections to Santa Barbra with their grown on-site grapes. You will love the beauty and small locally owned winery experience.
  • Crown Point Vineyards: This 104-acre ranch is nestled amongst the foothills of Happy Canyon. 50 acres of this property are dedicated to vines, exclusively the award winning Bordeaux varieties. You are welcomed to their different tour and tasting options, one of which is in an elite members only club. Unable to go in person? Crown Point Vineyards also has an online tour available.
  • Happy Canyon Vineyard: This is the only vineyard on my list that has an option for walk in service and tasting experiences. You can also opt for reservations to ensure you experience a one of a kind wine tasting. Happy Canyon Vineyard is located in the heart of the beautiful Presidio neighborhood of downtown Santa Barbara. The estate is family owned with its award winning Bordeaux varietal wines.

Unique Experiences 

Now if you are like me you enjoy the less traveled and more off the beaten path type of attractions. The ones that give you the nostalgia of road side stops along newly minted freeways. Santa Barbara has a few hidden gems that will give you one of a kind type of fun. 

  • Lotusland: The name is just as enchanting as the story behind the 37 acre, privately owned botanic garden. These gardens were once the estate of Hollywood socialite and opera singer Madame Ganna Walska. This eccentric Madame built a wonderland complete with a butterfly garden, exotic plants, a cactus garden, a topiary, and much more. If you wish to visit make sure to make reservations in advance so that you can experience the gardens on foot with a trained tour guide.
  • Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park: I just love learning about the indigenous tribes’ rich cultural history throughout Northern America. Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park preserves the Chumash Native American history. The small cave is full of colorful symbols on the beige sandstone created long before any European settlers. The location is around two miles up on the narrow Painted Cave Road behind an iron gate right off the road. 
  • Lil’ Toot: You can not help but smile when you see the bright yellow, complete with a smile, little boat sitting in the harbor. The water taxi can only hold 19 passengers as it shuttles them between local landmarks Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor. Ironically though there really is no need to take a boat to these destinations since Stearns Wharf and Santa Barbara harbor are actually connected by land.

Places to Rest Your Head 

Since Santa Barbara is not a short drive from Orange County you may want to plan to spend a night or two in order to explore all this city has to offer. The city has many accommodations from unique bed and breakfasts to lovely resort stays. Here are some of our top recommendations for places to stay in Santa Barbara: 

  • Palihouse Santa Barbara: This Mediterranean style hotel is located right in the downtown Historic Presidio Neighborhood. The accommodations are well appointed with private outdoor balconies and gardens, cozy fireplaces to cuddle by, the finest Italian linen and robes, deep soaking tubs, espresso machines, and full size refrigerators and kitchenettes in select suites. The hotel is pet friendly and even has complimentary Linus bicycles to bike around town. 915 Garden Street, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Simpson House Inn: This inn is an elegant and prestigious escape into luxury. Simpson House Inn is an adult only boutique hotel surrounded by award winning English gardens. There are only 15 guest rooms available that are decked out in the Victorian Manor, Carriage Barn, or English Cottages. When you stay you will be treated to afternoon refreshments, an evening wine and heavy hors d’oeuvres reception, dessert bites, and a gourmet breakfast in the morning which can be served in the main house or in your room for some breakfast in bed relaxation. 121 East Arrellaga Street, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Agave Inn: Located just a short drive from downtown Santa Barbara is this modern and reasonably priced hotel. The décor is bright with Mexican inspired fixtures. Each room has the basic necessities such as a microwave, fridge and docking station. Although pets are not allowed, a light breakfast of juice, hot coffee, muffins, scones and fruit is included with your stay. 3222 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara is a special place. It is a place where rolling hills of grape vines stand over Spanish style homes lining the crisp blue ocean. The locals are welcoming and there are a few hidden gems to explore. Once you visit you will understand why this California coastal town truly is the American Riviera! 

Happy adventures! 

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Kaitlin Musser
Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her tall-one husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they wouldn’t be a forever home for all of them they were able to adopt their daughter buckets and are legal guardians of their son monkey.