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Weekend in Santa Barbara: what to do and see

Under a clear blue sky and shaded by palm trees, I fell completely under Santa Barbara ‘s spell as soon as I arrived.

Closely associated in my mind with the TV series of the same name, I soon realized that this small town with a Spanish accent has much more to offer.

Located at the foot of California‘s stunning Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara offers a vibrant culinary scene, wineries and microbreweries to discover, all combined with the pleasures of the sea.

To whet your appetite, here are 6 favorites from the “American Riviera”, nicknamed for its climate and red-tiled roofs.

6 charming things to do in Santa Barbara

The historic center

Santa Barbara’s historic center is within easy walking distance.

It’s a real pleasure to stroll around, alternating between shopping and visits to historic sites.

Don’t miss the Red Tile Walking Tour, a self-guided walking tour of 22 historic sites.

The Court House is a must-see, with its hand-painted ceilings, chandeliers and, above all, the panoramic view from the top of its tower.

Court House - Santa Barbara
Court House - Interior - Santa Barbara
Several rooms in the courthouse are adorned with gigantic murals.
Presidio - Santa Barbara

Also in Santa Barbara’s historic center, Presidio Street is the city’s oldest street.

The Santa Barbara mission

Mission Santa Barbara

Built in 1786 by the Franciscans, a visit to the Santa Barbara mission, nicknamed the Queen of Missions, is a must.

The gardens of Mission Santa Barbara
A visit to the mission gardens and small cemetery completes the tour.

The culinary scene

Santa Barbara has many markets and excellent restaurants.

Here, local ingredients are given pride of place, from farm to table and from sea to plate!

Much to my wallet’s delight, the big tables rub shoulders with restaurants where it’s possible to eat very well at lower prices.

In this vein, my favorite is Mexican restaurant Los Agaves, which featured in Yelp’s 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. in 2016.

Los Agaves - Ceviche - Santa Barbara
Los Agaves ceviche is a must-try. Super fresh and tasty.

It’s a very lively place, where you order at the cash desk and then choose a seat where your food will be brought to you.

Meanwhile, you can indulge in the nachos and various salsas on offer. The portions are generous and everything is very tasty.

Markets to discover

As far as the market is concerned, Santa Barbara has nothing to complain about. State Street is transformed into a farmers’ market on Tuesdays.

There are berry, cheese and nut stands, and everything you need for a picnic.

Otherwise, there’s also the Santa Barbara Public Market to stock up.

Excursion to the Santa Ynez Valley

Santa Barbara in 6 favorites - Sunstone
Sunstone Vineyard, one of the wineries visited during our visit

Popularized by Alexander Payne’s film Sideways, the Santa Ynez wine region, located 45 minutes from Santa Barbara, is well worth a visit.

The region is made up of several micro-climates, due to the presence of the surrounding mountains and the proximity of the sea.

Syrah, pinot noir and chardonnay grow here to produce very interesting wines.

Here you’ll find a number of small, independent producers who will be delighted to help you discover their products.

Vineyards - Santa Ynez
You can take a few days to visit the area, but it’s also a great day trip from Santa Barbara.

In the Santa Ynez valley, the small town of Solvang transports us straight to Denmark.

A Danish colony settled here at the beginning of the 20th century, and even today, you can sample typical Danish dishes.

Santa Barbara in 6 favorites - Solvang

Fans of the movie Sideways should not miss a stop at Hitching Post II in Buelton. You can also taste their excellent wines, including the Bien Nacido pinot noir.

Hitching Post - Buelton

The steaks served at Hitching Post II, pompously baptized the best in the world, are still a success. A meal that rounds off our trip to the Santa Ynez valley.

Hiching Post -Buelton

The beach and Stearn’s wharf

Of course, the beach and Stearn’s wharf are Santa Barbara must-sees.

In addition to swimming, you can enjoy whale watching, cycling or renting trolleys to ride along the Cabrillo bike path, sea fishing or boat excursions.

Santa Barbara Beach

Built in 1872, Santa Barbara’s wooden Stearns Wharf is the oldest working wharf on the West Coast.

Here you’ll find the usual stores, the marine center and a few seafood restaurants.

Santa Barbara in 6 favorites - the wharf

Funk Zone

The Funk Zone is a former industrial zone where tasting rooms, galleries, boutiques and restaurants all come together.

To explore this trendy neighborhood, you can take the Urban Wine Trail, a tour that takes in over 20 Santa Barbara-area wineries.

Beer is also in the spotlight with Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. Perfect for 5@7.

Funk Zone Santa Barbara

You can also dine in the Funk Zone.

Lucky Peny - Funk Zone - Santa Barbara
Facade of Lucky Penny restaurant

The Lucky Penny, with its penny-covered exterior, serves wood-fired pizza and sandwiches.

There are a few tables outside where you can eat in or take away.

Enjoy your visit!

Où manger
  • Los Agaves (600 N Milpas St., Santa Barbara)
    Web site
  • Lucky Penny  (127, Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA)
    Web site
  • Public market(38 West Victoria, Santa Barbara)
    Web site
  • Hitching Post II (406 East Highway 246, Buellton)
    Web site

More activities and accommodations suggestions

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