Santa Barbara isn’t a hard sell. Known as the “American Riviera”, it has one of most picturesque coastlines in the state, an award-winning wine region, some of the most photographed ocean-view mansions, year-round sunshine, and it’s only second to LA when it comes to that rich and famous leisurely lifestyle.
Every year, millions of people visit the coastal city. Of those people 15-percent come from Canada, the UK, and Germany, with millennials making up nearly 12-percent of that group. This SoCal town is evolving, opening up new places, and adding more things to do. But, trying to see and do everything in 48 hours will make you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel.
So, here’s what to do in Santa Barbara:
VISIT THE WATERFRONT
Looking to capture that money shot? Then the Santa Barbara waterfront is ground zero. With views to die for, Stearn’s Wharf has whales, dolphins, and pelicans. This area of Santa Barbara Harbor has the best vantage point with restaurants and souvenir shops as well. Although it can be touristy at times, with views like this it’ll be hard to find a time when it isn’t filled with tourists.
SHOP AT THE BLUE DOOR
The Blue Door is a shopper’s paradise. I challenge anyone who loves vintage finds to walk in and out of this place in less than an hour. It’s located just east of State Street and within walking distance from Santa Barbara’s waterfront. The owners handpick every single piece of furniture and all of the household ornaments for sale in this warehouse-turned-vintage shop. The items for sale change often and one of the coolest things about this store is the transformation that old furniture undergoes. If you’re a shopaholic or lack impulse control you might want to set a limit before you step inside.
HIT UP THE URBAN WINE TRAIL
After the 2004 movie “Sideways”, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know that the Santa Barbara area is the epicenter of Southern California’s wine region. The city’s Urban Wine Trail is within blocks of downtown and features several wineries and 17 of the city’s 37 tasting rooms. One of the best tasting rooms is The Valley Project on Yanonali Street, which boasts a large wall mural featuring all five of region’s AVAs (designated wine grape growing regions). Also, try out Pali Wine Company next door and Lafond Winery right across the street.
HANG OUT IN THE FUNK ZONE
All of the cool kids are here, I swear. Think of the Funk Zone as the “it” girl that everyone wants to be around. The 12 block area is near the waterfront. From art galleries to bars and restaurants, nightlife thrives here. One of the busiest establishments is Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. Between the live music and the outdoor patio, it’s definitely a favorite for locals every weekend! Across the street is The Lark restaurant. It’s in the historic Santa Barbara Fish Market building. With locally sourced food and urban millennials packing the place, it’s another spot you just have to hit up for great food and people watching.
TAKE A STROLL ON BUTTERFLY BEACH
Butterfly Beach is one of the crown jewels for locals in Montecito. It’s across from the legendary Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Hotel and Beach and Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club. Local residents love this gem, perhaps because it’s not the most visitor-friendly beach; it doesn’t have public restrooms. But, that’s what makes it quintessentially Santa Barbara. It’s a quarter-mile-long and unarguably one of the most elegant beaches to spot a celebrity while taking a stroll. In addition to the Santa Barbara waterfront, this is one of the best places to watch an amazing sunset.
SPEND THE NIGHT AT A 5-STAR HOTEL
OK – if you’re visiting Santa Barbara, I’ll assume you like the pampered life. So visiting the celebrity enclave, Bacara Resort & Spa, should be a no-brainer. Bacara’s 78 acres of lush real estate, hundreds of guest rooms, and miles of beach makes it an easy choice for a weekend stay for sure. But, don’t forget the legendary Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Hotel. The massive Spanish colonial resort boasts some of the most unique guest rooms around. With perfectly manicured gardens, the new Palm Nail Suite at its spa, and a beautifully renovated lounge bar, it has everything for the discerning tourist. Eating at the Four Seasons’ oceanfront restaurant, Bella Vista, is a must when in town. But, the Biltmore’s best asset is its members-only Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club. You have to be referred by active members and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just to join. With a gym, pool, and restaurant right on the water across from the main hotel, it’s easy to see why VIPs love this exclusive place.
SHOP AND DINE ON COAST VILLAGE ROAD
One of the best places to lose yourself is in the heart of Montecito, an oasis for Hollywood’s Celebrities. Coast Village Road is the main drag filled with posh boutiques and ritzy restaurants and cafes. The tree-lined road may look sleepy, but on any given weekend, you’ll find people dining at sidewalk restaurants and window shopping. Spend a few hours walking this street and you’ll feel like the one-percent.
Bacara with Ocean View
Courtesy credit: Bacara Resort & Spa
The Lark Exterior
Courtesy credit: ©Macduff Everton