How To Spend One Perfect Day in Santa Barbara From beaches to bites: A 24-hour guide to sun-kissed shores of The American Riviera.
- Santa Barbara balances luxury living with a laid-back vibe.
- The city offers a range of activities fitting any budget.
- Unique shopping, breathtaking views, and historical hotels make for a great one-day journey.
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With its perfect weather, lush landscape, and excellent food and wine, Santa Barbara has been called "The American Riviera." It's no surprise that some of the world's most successful businesspeople have homes there, including Oracle's Larry Ellison, Google's Eric Schmidt, and Oprah Winfrey. More recently, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle evacuated their palatial digs in England to set up shop in Montecito, a tony community in Santa Barbara County.
But despite its billionaire status, Santa Barbara still possesses a homey, laid-back vibe that seems a million miles away from its bustling neighbor to the south, Los Angeles. Visitors can find a variety of restaurants, shops, culture, and activities at all price points while soaking in the SoCal sun.
Ready to explore all the best sights, hotels, and dining options in one perfect day in Santa Barbara? Here's a 24-hour itinerary for your next trip.
Bike the Beach
No matter what the season, Santa Barbara's expansive beach is a must-visit for any traveler. Rent an e-bike through Santa Barbara's first bike share program, BCycle. There are plenty of stations on the waterfront (cost is $8 per 30 minutes). Or you can rent a Segway at Wheel Fun Rentals. Start your journey on The Cabrillo Bike Path, about four miles from Santa Barbara Harbor to Butterfly Beach. Some highlights include the 150-year-old Stearns Wharf, the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and the stunning Santa Ynez Mountains dotted by Colonial Spanish-style buildings. If you visit on Saturday, check out the Fisherman's Market for fresh fish.
Photo by Jordan Siemens/Getty
Grab a bite to eat
You'll be famished after your long bike ride, but fear not, food is on the way. Santa Barbara is famous for its restaurants, so finding a bad meal is hard. In nearby Goleta, the Santa Barbara Fish Market is a new restaurant serving local and sustainable seafood. The SBFM Lobster roll and the Petrale sole sandwich are not to be missed. For vegetarian, farm-to-table fare, Satellite is the place to orbit. The eclectic, astronaut-themed restaurant uses uncommon locally-grown ingredients. Founded by "Winestonaut" Drew Cuddy, Satellite also boasts a natural wine shop inspired by Cuddy's experience working on organic, biodynamic vineyards across Europe.
Do Some Shopping
The heart of Santa Barbara commerce is the State Street Promenade, which offers a mix of surf shops, bars and restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and big national chains. The nine-block stretch has been closed to car traffic since the outset of the pandemic. Pura Luna Apothecary is a few blocks away on Chapala Street, a fascinating hybrid between a salon and an alternative herbal superstore. The black, queer, women-owned wellness shop sells medicinals, products, and gifts made in-house or by other women-owned/minority-owned ventures. Idyll Mercantile is an independent, brick-and-mortar plant shop that offers a beautiful assortment of plants, plant care products, mugs, prints, earrings, stained glass, and greeting cards. Also off the beaten path is Funk Zone, a former 19th-century manufacturing hub transformed into artists studios, galleries, and wine-tasting rooms.
Pura Luna Apothecary
Take a Lovely Sunset Walk
If you haven't consumed too much wine, take advantage of the many hiking spots in Santa Barbara that offer spectacular sunset views. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a 65-acre wonderland of native California flora that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. You can also take walks along the scene bluff-top parks such as Ellwood Mesa or Douglas Family Preserve. For a two-hour sunset cruise, climb aboard the Double Dolphin sailboat, which offers views of the Santa Barbara's coastline and maybe even dolphins and whales.
Stay in Style
Little known fact: Before Hollywood was Hollywood, the burgeoning movie business operated out of Santa Barbara. Silent film icons such as Charlie Chaplin fell in love with the area, so much so that he opened a hotel for all his fancy friends to stay. Built in 1928, Montecito Inn has all the glamour of early Hollywood with the modern amenities of a 21st-century boutique hotel. The hotel is also home to an outstanding French restaurant called Coast & Olive, which offers farmers' market fare, fresh fish, and seasonal specials. For a more casual dining experience, head down Coast Village Road to Bettina, a wood-fired pizza spot popular with the locals.