Santa Barbara: Old World Elegance and Beautiful Beaches

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Planning a trip to Santa Barbara beaches? Congratulations! You'll be on "The American Riviera."

This city's Spanish Mission has been called the "Queen of the California Missions." Down the hill is the Presidio, yacht clubs, art galleries, and a sea of red tile roofs that blanket the town in old-world elegance.

Santa Barbara Sunset

You'll find Bacara Resort just up the road, and in Montecito, hotels once the haunt of luminaries as diverse as Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin.


But don't let that fool you. For the rest of us, turn any corner and this city is also full of economically priced beach-town hotels, lots of quirky restaurants, and family activities.

The two aspects of the city happily co-exist. Visitors can dress up for dining at the Four Seasons Biltmore then throw on flip-flops and hit the beach. Click here for our directory of Santa Barbara restaurants.


Graceful Santa Barbara Mission, with its peach skin yellow-and-pink façade, glows in the sun. In July it's the fulcrum in the swirl of Old Spanish Day's Fiesta, and on Memorial Day weekend it’s home to I Madonnari, chalk drawing festival, when artists draw elaborate sidewalk paintings right on the steps of the grand old mission.

Couple all that with the irreverent Summer Solstice Parade: whatever would the old founding padres have thought of the locals getting so out of control?

Farther up Mission Canyon is the city's 1916

Museum of Natural History, a fun family excursion. Ask anyone native of the city and you'll probably hear about their sixth-grade visit to this treasure: School buses still fill its parking lot every day.

Even farther up the canyon, follow the dusty scent of sagebrush to the Botanic Garden, a perfect place to wander around and feel lost in nature.


In town, in the State Street retail area, narrow paseos filled with eclectic boutiques weave between Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. Shoppers can buy everything from Cartier to beach gear. It's also something of a Restaurant Row, ranging from intimate sidewalk cafes to family spots to boisterous pubs.

Photo opportunity: Visit the Arlington Theatre, its interior is known for its ceiling lit like a starry sky, and balconies fashioned as an old Spanish village.

Santa Barbara Courthouse One block east on Anapamu Street, visit the stately County Courthouse and Sunken Gardens, looking like an outpost of empire, is arguably the most lavish setting anywhere for filing a building permit or paying a traffic ticket.


Also just off State Street, children will forget the time at the Susan Quinlan Doll & Teddy Bear Museum and Library, one of the largest doll and teddy bear collections in the world.

The city's Conference, Visitors Bureau and Film Commission offers a downloadable self-guided walking tour of this area.

At the beach, palm- and hotel-lined Cabrillo Boulevard curls around the crescent of the downtown oceanfront. The grassy area between the beach and the boulevard is Chase Palm Park, a Mediterranean-style promenade with endless volleyball courts, lawn and bike path.

Follow Cabrillo west to Stearns Wharf, the local pleasure pier with shops and the Ty Warner Sea Center, with touch tanks and aquariums crawl-through tubes for kids. Follow Cabrillo east and visit the city's small Zoo.

Want to head out of town? Drive a few minutes south to Carpinteria's wide beaches and gentle surf.

The town hails as having "The World's Safest Beach." Travel north and inland to wine country, not only home to wineries, the Danish-founded town of Solvang and horse farms, but the focus of popularity in recent years in the wake of the film "Sideways," set in these rolling hills.

In fact, "Sideways" Trips have become so popular that the city's Conference, Visitors Bureau and Film Commission offers a map marked with key scenes from the movie.

For dining, restaurants abound fit for any budget. And accommodations range from the luxurious Bacara Resort to the Montecito Inn once owned by Charlie Chaplin) to more modestly priced hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, within an easy reach of the sea.


The city is 90 miles north of Los Angeles and 330 miles south of San Francisco, along U.S. Highway 101. It's accessible by air via Santa Barbara Airport and by rail via Amtrak.


Beach camping is available at Carpinteria State Beach, El Capitan, Refugio and Gaviota State Park. Other camp sites are available inland.

Don't miss these related pages...

Beaches to the City's South

Beaches within the City's Limits

Gaviota, El Capitan and Refugio Beaches and North County

Hotels Near South County Beaches

Hotels Near North County Beaches

Restaurants in South County

Come back soon: We'll be adding more dining, activities and accommodation news.

Photos courtesy of the Santa Barbara Conference, Visitors Bureau & Film Commission.

Santa Barbara Sailboat

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