Santa Barbara, known to some as the American Riviera, is a beautiful part of California set between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. With its fair year-round weather, beautiful beaches and iconic Spanish architecture, this seaside town is a hotspot for tourists all around the globe. There are so many things to do there that it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming trying to figure out what to do during your visit. To make your life a little bit easier, we’ve come up with 5 unmissable things you need to do in Santa Barbara.
Drive down the Pacific Coast Highway
Photo Credit: Jeff Keacher
One of the best parts about Santa Barbara is its location. Its convenient proximity to both San Francisco and Los Angeles make it an unmissable drive-worthy destination. And the best part is that you get to drive on one of America’s most iconic highways: Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway which merges with Highway 101 and skirts along the Pacific Coast (hence the name). The coastline offers incredible vistas along the way, so you might find it hard to keep your eyes on the road at times. If concentrating on driving becomes too hard, there are many places to stop along the way to take in the scenery, and if you’re lucky you might even get to see some whales splashing around in the ocean.
Treat yourself to a delectable dinner
Photo Credit: Santa Barbara CA
Being a tourist hotspot, there are more than enough restaurants to choose from in Santa Barbara, with all different types of cuisine, from local to French to Asian and many more! One of the most iconic spots in the area is the Hitching Post II restaurant, which was featured in the film ‘Sideways’ and claims to serve the best BBQ Steaks in the world. Although we’ll leave that judgement up to you, its wine list has recently received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. The list includes the restaurant’s own Hitching Post Wines and specially selected Santa Barbara County wines which are the place’s specialisation, but also fine wines from all around the world. You must also make ‘The Funk Zone’ a destination for food and wine (and shopping, for that matter!) Located off Highway 101, steps from the beach and opposite the Amtrak station, this trendy district is THE place to eat, taste wine, shop and generally, be seen.
Visit Santa Barbara’s finest wineries
Speaking of wine, it would be a great shame to visit Santa Barbara and miss out on touring its wondrous wineries. There are roughly 200 in the area, so you’re definitely spoiled for choice, from the smaller producers who are creating world class, boutique wines, to the bigger names. Here are three of our favourites:
Au Bon Climat: Sourcing fruit from several of the most highly regarded vineyards in the Central Coast, the owner Jim Clendenen takes special care in choosing the best quality ingredients for Au Bon Climat’s wines. The winery has cultivated an international reputation for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. A visit to the winery’s tasting room will reveal a choice of over 100 different wines to taste, in a warm and casual setting.
Photo Credit: Au Bon Climat
Firestone Vineyards: Nestled in the hillside, the Firestone Winery is one of the Santa Barbara’s original wineries, and has been in operation since 1972. The region’s climate allows the winery to grow many different grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay to name a few. The winery tasting room outlooks the estate vineyards, which you can also visit on a guided tour.
Photo Credit: Firestone Vineyard
Fess Parker Winery: Originally purchased with the intent of simply owning some cattle and planting a few grapes, Fess Parker Winery has become a thriving family-owned business that has produced award-winning wines. It sits amongst California’s iconic Oak Trees, rolling hills and endless vineyards, a beautiful setting for a wine tasting or even the “enhanced” wine tasting that Fess Parker Winery offers.
Photo Credit: Fess Parker Winery
Take a stroll down Cabrillo Boulevard
Photo Credit: Jeff Turner
The pedestrian equivalent to the Pacific Coast Highway (well, almost), Cabrillo Boulevard is a beautiful street to stroll down. Bordered by palm trees and populated by joggers, inline skaters, and other people enjoying the seaside air it makes for the perfect post-meal or mid-afternoon stroll.
Visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
No Santa Barbara guide would be complete without mentioning a visit to the County Courthouse. Built in 1929, it is described by some as the “grandest Spanish Colonial Revival structure ever built” and is a prime example of Santa Barbara’s architectural style. There are free tours given all throughout the week if you wish to learn more about this historical and iconic building. For more information, visit the official website.