Santa Barbara

Photo by Kim Grant

Santa Barbara Itineraries

Perfect Day in Santa Barbara

A small town with a big-city heart and soul

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Santa Barbara, California, has much to envy. Nature, for starters. Gorgeous scenery. Mountains and ocean to play in. Great weather — usually not too cold, not too hot, and just enough rain to keep everything a’bloom. White-sand beaches and glorious gardens.

This enviable natural setting is largely due to to Santa Barbara’s most unusual orientation. The Santa Ynez mountains run east-west. (Nearly all the world’s mountains run north-south.) The Channel Islands lie just a few miles offshore. Both mountains and islands protect the area and contribute to the balmy climate, which means residents and visitors alike can play outdoors year-round.

Thanks also go to generations of residents who worked — and continue to work — to preserve thousands of acres of open space. Santa Barbara just wouldn’t be the same without those pristine mountains and coastal bluffs as a backdrop.

Great Food, Arts, Drinks and Smarts

We who are fortunate enough to live here year-round live a wonderful life. We’re a small town (population circa 89,000), where you’re likely to run into people you know — or within a few degrees of separation, people who know your friends and family. But we’re not small at all in the world of travel and tourism. We have big-city attractions right here: world-class cultural arts, museums, and entertainment, plus historic sights and gardens. Fresh organic produce we can easily fetch from farmers markets and stands, fine dining representing every cuisine at more than 400 restaurants and more than a hundred wineries that rival the nation’s best. Best of all, nearly all these attractions lie within a 15-minute drive from downtown, and if you don’t have a car, the public transportation options to get here and get around is affordable and frequent. (See our handy Transportation section for details.)

We also have serious brain trust in the community: The University of California at Santa Barbara, Westmont College, and Santa Barbara City College (recent recipient of an Aspen Institute award as the #1 community college in the nation) infuse the community with intellectual chops from professors, students and staff. The Music Academy of the West gives full scholarships to 140 of the nation’s most promising young musicians every summer — and everyone in the area is invited to hear them play during the eight-week festival. A number of major international businesses are also based in Santa Barbara, including Sonos, Deckers and Linkedin Learning.

More than a Pretty Face

On the surface, Santa Barbara evokes images of stunning beauty, glamour and wealth. But beneath the stylish veneer, Santa Barbara is really a small, genuine place with a big heart, filled with friendly people from all walks of life. In return for Santa Barbara’s many gifts, we give back to our community. We volunteer at hundreds of nonprofits and support our many cultural programs in every way possible. We care about our region and work hard to preserve the quality of life, which by all accounts ranks as high as any rating could get.

We welcome you to our paradise to share our lucky lives and experience your own Santa Barbara-style adventures. Dive into the waves, and swim and kayak along the shore. Hike the hillside trails and ride horses on the open range. Sip our wines and savor our delectable food. Learn about the native Chumash ways, and why we still hold fast to our Spanish-Mexican roots. Spend a day at a spa, and an evening at the symphony. Then return home with a bit of Santa Barbara in your hearts, and spread the word: it’s one of the best places to be on the planet.

Santa Barbara County Towns and Cities

This guide covers all of Santa Barbara County, which has two distinct regions: the South Coast and the North County. The Santa Ynez Mountains divide the two regions, which are very different in terms of scenery, culture and politics.

The liberal-minded South Coast includes the city of Santa Barbara and stretches from Gaviota in the west to Carpinteria in the east. It also includes UC Santa Barbara, Isla Vista and the city of Goleta.

The more conservative North County is Santa Barbara County wine country, a pastoral region speckled with vineyards, ranches, tasting rooms and restaurants. Main towns include Lompoc, Buellton, Solvang, Santa Ynez, Los OlivosLos Alamos and Santa Maria.

What it Costs

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

N/A => Not applicable

$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person


Getting There

Santa Barbara is easy to access using nearly all methods of transportation. It’s right on Highway 101, which travels from Los Angeles through the Central Coast up to Northern California.

Fly into Los Angeles or Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Airport is like none other on the planet. Its sparkling new terminal opened its doors to the public in August 2011 — a stunning complex that reflects Santa Barbara history and character inside and out.

No worries about battling LA traffic when flying through LAX. Just board a deluxe Santa Barbara Airbus coach (or a mini version) and ride in comfort while the driver navigates along the 405, 101 or sometimes Highway 1 through Malibu. It makes 16 trips a day and stops in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara (Hyatt Santa Barbara and Goleta (its home base).

Ride the Train

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner trains travel southbound from Goleta and Santa Barbara to Carpinteria, continuing all the way to San Diego several times a day. Amtrak buses also connect with Los Angeles certain times of day. Northbound trains and buses travel up to San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. The Coast Starlight (Seattle to San Diego route) stops in Santa Barbara once a day (both northbound and southbound trains).

Getting Around

The City of Santa Barbara operates 12 public lots in the downtown area. Most have entrances on Anacapa and Chapala streets, which run parallel to State Street.

Punch a button at the entrance machine to receive a time-stamped ticket. And don’t lose it, or you risk paying a $5 lost ticket fee (or up to $20 for subsequent losses).

You can also try your luck with free street parking, but look carefully for signs with restriction info — especially those banning parking during weekly street cleaning sessions.

Most spaces within three or four blocks of State Street have 75-minute time limits. Green striped spaces are valid for 15 minutes.

Tip: watch out when you exit the lots — Anacapa and Chapala streets are one-way. We’ve seen many a visitor head the wrong direction.

Link to Downtown Parking Map

The city lots in the busy tourist area near the waterfront operate differently than those downtown.

The main lot at Santa Barbara Harbor is open 24/7 all year long. Punch a machine at the entrance to receive a time-stamped ticket. If you depart the lot within 15 minutes, parking is free. Otherwise, pay the kiosk attendant with cash or check when you exit. Don’t lose your ticket — you’ll be charged a $20 fee.

Other waterfront lots are at Leadbetter Beach, Garden Street, Stearns Wharf, Chase Palm Park and Cabrilllo East and West near the bathhouse.

Some lots have staffed kiosks and others rely on the honor system. Park in a numbered spot and leave the fee (cash only) in the matching numbered slot in the pay box. And yes, staff monitors the lots daily and issue collection envelopes (tickets) if you haven’t ponied up the toll. Fees in the honor lots are $3 for 3 hours minimum, $7 to $12 max per day for regular vehicles. Note: at the Harbor West lot, you can pay with a credit card or cash at an automated machine.

If you visit Stearns Wharf and you stay less than 90 minutes, parking is free if a wharf merchant validates your time-stamped ticket. This applies to lots on Stearns Wharf, Garden Street and Palm Park. Otherwise, parking on the wharf costs $2.50 per hour (max $20 per day).

Note: waterfront parking fills up FAST on summer weekends and holidays. Arrive before noon to nab a spot.

Tip: If you live here or visit often, buy an annual permit for $95. It’s SO worth it.

Link to Waterfront Parking Map


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