Top 10 List: Santa Barbara, California


Santa Barbara, California has easily won its way into our hearts as one of our favorite destinations.  We recently returned from our second visit and thought an update to our Santa Barbara Top Ten List was in order.

Santa Barbara is located 92 miles north of Los Angeles and 332 miles south of San Francisco.  It is considered the northernmost part of Southern California and the southernmost part of Northern California.

It is also known as “The American Riviera” because of its dramatic mountains, sparkling seas, lush gardens, white-washed buildings, red tile roofs and abundant sunshine found in the Mediterranean Rivieras.

Furthermore, if you are planning a south to north drive of the world-famous central California coastline, then Santa Barbara is a great place to begin your journey.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Santa Barbara
  • San Ysidro Ranch –  check out our feature article from last year’s visit.  Travel + Leisure calls this the #1 resort in North America.
  • Simpson House Inn – this was our home away from home in Santa Barbara this year.  This is the only AAA Five-Diamond Bed & Breakfast Inn in North America.
Our Favorite Places to Eat in Santa Barbara
Top 10 Things to Do in Santa Barbara

Although these are in no particular order, we think that you’ll find some great experiences in our list:

  1. Santa Barbara Red Tile Walking Tour – we spent half a day and enjoyed it greatly.
  2. Santa Barbara Urban Wine Tour – if you don’t have time to drive out into the wine country, this is a wonderful way to sample some of the local wines.
  3. Sideways (The Movie) Wine Tour – this will take a whole day, but the wine country with its accompanying small town are certain to be a delight.
  4. Shopping on State Street – it’s lined with shops, cafés, museums, galleries, day spas and theaters.  We spent a whole afternoon strolling these quaint shops.
  5. Arroyo Burro Beach Park – The locals call it Hendry’s Beach -a place to meet for breakfast or a cocktail at sunset, stroll or jog the sandy shore, watch for whales, surf fish, or ride the wild surf.
  6. Steams Warf - this is Santa Barbara’s most visited landmark.  It is replete with shops, restaurants, and the area is a great place for people watching.
  7. Montecito Home Tour – Montecito is the stomping grounds of Hollywood’s A-list.  Driving alongPark Lane and Bella Vista Drive will produce jaw-dropping views of palatial mansions with ocean views from mountain heights.
  8. Explore Nearby Cities – Getting out to explore nearby cities is another must if you have time.  We highly recommend Solvang.  This Danish village is packed with quaint shops and on Wednesdays has a farmer’s market to die for.  We also loved Los Olivos.
  9. Art & History – There are a great many art and historical spots to explore in Santa Barbara.  This 116-page on-line Santa Barbara Visitor’s Guide will help you choose which are most appealing to you.
  10. 101 Free Things to Do – if the preceding 9 things don’t wet your whistle, then here are 101 more things to do.  Perhaps best of all, they’re free!

Well, there you go!

If you spend some time clicking around on these links, you are certain to find just the perfect experience for your visit to the great town of Santa Barbara.

As I mentioned above, we love Santa Barbara, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see us back again real soon.  We’re not done exploring the area ourselves.

Have fun, and please, come back and share your experiences with in the the comments section below.

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8 Responses to “Top 10 List: Santa Barbara, California”
  1. Jamie Craig says:

    I haven’t tried Downey’s before…I definitely will on my next trip. Do you have any suggestions of romantic budget-friendly things to do? My husband and I are coming up soon and will be going on some wine tours (of course) but want some more ideas…we are tight on money right now and can’t afford the usual luxuries we enjoy while in town. A friend suggested staying at the Sandman Inn ( and going for some day-time hikes or spending time in the park across from the Mission. Any other suggestions? Thank you!

    • David Porter says:

      Hi Jamie,

      Romance is easily found in Santa Barbara. I’d suggest a hike/picnic on one of the beach trails. Grab a bottle of wine, some cheese, and find yourself a private place to spend some time whispering sweet nothings to one another. Smile

  2. Antigone says:

    Bouchon is by far the best restaurant in Santa Barbara. Delicious food and relatively affordable as well. The atmosphere in there is out of this world! I heard the Simpson House is quite nice as well and in a residential part of town so very quiet. I hear that place is very pricy though so I’ve never bothered attempting to find a deal there. Santa Barbara is a town full of expensive things but there are ways to avoid the overspending. I personally love staying at the South Coast Inn ( Right out of the way and beyond elegant.

  3. Adriana says:

    There is so much more to add to this top list of things to do in Santa Barbara! You hit all the major points though, which are essential. Beach volleyball in the summer and movies in the sunken gardens at night, makes for a great day for sure. My college friends who have been come local themselves have been able to show me so much i was unable to experience when I was in college at UCSB. It is always so much fun to go back and learn more about a place I lived for four years! Now whenever I come back I love staying at the South Coast Inn ( Close to UCSB and tons of great hiking trails, beaches and restaurants!

  4. Angie says:

    There are a ton of things that should be on this list that aren’t, totally surprised! Whale watching, hiking, lunches at the Biltmore, Botanical Gardens, the list just goes on! There is so much to do it is honestly really hard to get bored there while visiting. Can get quite pricy, so you need to know where to pinch your pennies! Accommodations are the best bet, the hotels are very hit or miss in SB so a sure bet is staying somewhere like the Sandman Inn ( Inexpensive and right in the flames of the action.

    • Couper says:

      I love the Courthouse In Santa Barbara! It is so gorgeous and the yes, the tile work is saltcpcuear. Taking your own walking tour of it is quite necessary and a great experience. I was just in Santa Barbara and we had a great time doing just this! Stayed at the South Coast Inn ( So elegant and affordable!

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