Vibrant Vistas: Explore Santa Barbara's Downtown

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Advisor - Devyn Evrist Rice
Curated By

Devyn Evrist Rice

  • Arts & Culture

  • Active Travel

  • Bachelorette Party Destinations

  • Bachelor Party Destinations

  • Entertainment

  • Shopping

  • Sightseeing

An aerial view of the city
Curator’s statement

Downtown Santa Barbara is a treasure trove of historical significance, cultural diversity and a thriving contemporary scene. Every cobblestone street, every charming storefront and every bustling plaza waiting to be discovered, whether for the first time, or the hundredth. Embark on a stroll along State Street, the bustling main thoroughfare, where Spanish colonial architecture blends harmoniously with modern structures. Explore the hidden nooks and crannies that reveal the city's historical roots, from the iconic County Courthouse with its picturesque views to the historic Presidio Neighborhood that tells the tales of Santa Barbara's earliest settlers. Beyond its historical charm, Downtown Santa Barbara pulsates with a vibrant arts and cultural scene. Visit the numerous galleries, or attend a performance at the Lobero Theatre. Downtown Santa Barbara, where history, culture and contemporary charms intertwine to create an experience that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

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Where to stay in Santa Barbara

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Things to do in Santa Barbara

An aerial view of the city near the seashore.

Stearns Wharf:

When there's a pier, you walk down it, if not for the unobstructed view of the ocean, for the possibility of an oceanfront bite or drinks. If that's not your style, head down to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center for an interactive educational experience, make sure to visit their "Wet Deck" where you can try their tools for ocean study and how we learn about life beneath the surface.

State Street:

On Santa Barbara's State Street you'll enjoy the Spanish architecture as you peek into the windows of many boutique shops and restaurants. Some of my favorite shops are the Prop and Decor Outlet, Raoul Textile and SALT.

Underground Salt Cave:

SALT is more than just a unique boutique shop with all sorts of Himalayan salt goods such as lamps, candles, bath bombs and salts. Book a Salt Cave experience, whether it's a massage, yoga, sound bathing or just relaxing in one of their lounge chairs — last time I was there, a girlfriend and I just laid in it. The Salt cave is one of my favorites stops EVERY time.

MOXI - The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation:

While this museum may be directed at children, my husband and I love museums, and this one encourages bringing out the inner child in us all, including a giant lite brite, and a wooden derby car race. Head to the top of the museum for a short escape from the hustle and bustle of indoor fun, beautiful views of Santa Barbara from above, along with some interactive water features.

Santa Barbara Courthouse:

Santa Barbara has one of the most beautiful courthouses in my opinion, and that's just why My husband and I eloped there back in 2020. The grounds themselves are gorgeous to walk through, Spanish architecture like most of State Street, and full of beautiful tropical greenery and florals. In the summertime you can enjoy free community movies in the sunken gardens.

See a show at one of the Two Historic Theaters:

In the heart of downtown, located off of State Street is Santa Barbara's Granada Theater, A Performing Arts Center that offers plenty of entertainment from Opera to comedy. Off the beaten path, On E Canon Perdido Street you'll find Lobero Theater, California's oldest continuously operating theater which hosts a variety of musical performances, which in the past have included one of my favorites, Ottmar Liebert.

Funk Zone:

Check out local artists throughout the studios and art galleries in between bar hoping, or wine tasting in this special square of Santa Barbara.

Rent Bikes or Buggies:

There is no shortage of rentable fun in Santa Barbara, and what better way to see such a beautiful place than in the fresh air while riding a tandem bike with friends or with your hair in the wind in one of Santa Barbara's Buggies?

If you're looking for something a little more relaxed...

Take a private winery tour of Santa Ynez:

Get picked up and driven around by a professional tour guide to multiple wineries. No worries about which friend is the DD, and with a specially curated lunch included, this is a sure pick for birthdays and bachelorette parties!

Charter a sail around the harbor:

While this excursion would be on the pricier end, you get what you pay for in views and privacy. Enjoy a packed wine picnic while you're sailing around the harbor. This can be both a romantic date idea, as well as a fun twist on a wedding venue!

Tour Lotusland:

While I unfortunately have no had the chance to visit, it is the one thing I always circle back to when it comes to what to see next. You do have to make reservations in advance which can sometimes make this tricky for last minute day trips! The photos look well worth it though!

Santa Barbara Zoo:

Another tried and true for my husband and I, we love zoos and aquariums, they provide so much insight to the rehabilitation of animals that we would not have a chance to see up close otherwise. Zoos and aquariums are an incredible opportunity to teach others about wildlife and how we can best protect it. Not to mention it's one of those activities where you get your steps in and barely notice!

Day Trips:

If you're local, or even if you're not and just want to extend your trip to some surrounding areas worth seeing take a day trip to Solvang! This adorable Danish town is known for the architecture as well as it's many wineries. Walk along the boutique shops and find some unique souvenirs to bring home with you, like glass flowers or miniature furniture.

Places to eat & drink in Santa Barbara

An iron table and chair picture

La Paloma Cafe:

One street over from State, on Ortega, is this gem of a restaurant. A friend of mine and I had brunch on their patio right as the world was opening back up, and the food and cocktails did not disappoint. Try the Sourdough Banana Pancakes!

Santo Mezcal:

The only stop I'll ever need for a Santa Barbara lunch. This is my husband and I's favorite Mexican Food restaurant. They have it all, an aesthetic space, outdoor patio dining right off of State Street, and The most delicious food and of course MARGARITAS! Our Recommendations? Start with the Ceviche de Pulpo, My husband gets any variation of the tacos, but tends to go Pulpo for these as well, I have a hard time straying from the Camarones al Mezcal (Can you tell we like seafood?) We like to pair these selections with the La Fresh Margarita for a classic strawberry, or mix things up with a Margarita Mora from their premium list for a Blood Orange, Sage, Thyme, and Mint mix with a Black Sea-salt rim!

Zaytoon:

My absolute favorite Santa Barbara restaurant! Located on the same street as the historic Lobero Theater, is a restaurant you wouldn't even know was there if you didn't know about it prior. If you find it tucked away on this side street, you'll be led to a completely outdoor patio surrounded by lush greenery, their patio is like stepping into a secret garden filled with outdoor fire pit tables. Lebanese/Middle-Eastern inspired cuisine, specialty cocktails, and a pretty decent wine list. Do not sleep on this choice, and be sure to make a reservation beforehand, and bring tips for the evening belly dancer!

Loquita:

Spanish Tapas and Cocktails in an outdoor patio setting, also located right on state street. The Patatas Bravas makes an excellent snack before making your way through the local bars.

Lilac Patisserie:

Santa Barbara's ENTIRELY GLUTEN FREE cafe and bakery. The best part? You literally can't tell (taste wise). Long gone are the days when eating gluten free meant giving up tasty favorites.

Caje:

Boasting high ratings, and having multiple locations throughout Santa Barbara, this is one coffee stop I have yet to make, but not for lack of allure. This is not your typical grab-and-go. Stay a while, enjoy the ambiance, and take a pic for the gram of these coffees that look like cocktails. Personally, I'll be ordering the Strawberry Matcha (it has rose petals!) Another fun fact, their Outdoor Arlington location is also known as "Villa & Vine", a Premier all-in-one venue for weddings and events.

Glass House:

I couldn't resist adding this long gone gem... The Glass House was my former favorite speakeasy. After Chris and I eloped, we bar hopped with friends and this was our last and best stop of the night, sitting amongst their eclectic vintage living room sections sipping on interesting cocktails. While you unfortunately won't get to experience Glass House, you can still visit Milk & Honey Tapas whose owners were responsible for Glass House.

The Cruisery:

This is a fun little spot to get your drink on! Right off State Street, they have great food to snack on, and excellent drink options like their "Pineapple Express", or the "Fig & Haley". This location is dog friendly and leaves bowls of water out for the dog passerby.

Djinn:

Located within the lobby of The Hotel Californian is an upscale modern cocktail bar with a Moroccan twist. And another Dev(o)n is responsible for the keen mixology. Try the "A Djinn by any other name"!

The Pearl Social:

This adorable bar is located between The Lark, and the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. It can be missed if you don't know where to look. It screams modern vintage, and is definitely a place to gather among friends. I don't remember the first time I tried a Paper Plane, but I usually modify it with scotch, and this place hit the nail right on the head.

McConnell's Fine Ice Cream:

It's ice cream — I'm going to let you figure out the rest, but this is a spot you don't come to Santa Barbara without getting. My personal favorites are the Earl Grey and Shortbread Cookies or Honey & Cornbread Cookies.

(Specifically Wine Tasting Rooms)

Grassini Family Vineyards: Steps away from State Street in the presidio Neighborhood, this award-winning tasting room provides $25 tastings of their estate-grown wines. Stay a while in what feels like your own living room, and order an additional glass, or maybe even a bottle.

Jaime Sloane Wine:

Whether you decide to sit inside of their cozy tasting room, or outside on the patio, this tasting room has a little bit of everything. White? Red? A Variety. You can even do a chocolate pairing. I absolutely love this tasting room. It was actually one of my first that I visited (In Santa Barbara) and I continue to love it every time I return.

Happy Canyon:

This tasting room is actually where I met one of my favorite "Opinionated Gay" Podcasters (@enablingarain). He worked there at the time and told us all about the Barrack family and their wine lineage of Santa Ynez. This tasting room boasts an old money feel, I favor their reds.

Silver Wines:

One of my favorite things about Santa Barbara is that places make an effort to feel like home, this tasting room was another location that feels like you're sitting in your living room. Strangers become friends in places of comfort like this, which is exactly how I made friends with Arain (@enablingarain). When Arain got off work at Happy Canyon, he headed to Silver for his own "wine-down" where we were able to strike up true conversation about life, over wine instead of about it.

Kunin:

Located within the Funk Zone and on Santa Barbara's Urban Wine Trail, Kunin is an easy first stop if starting your tastings closer to the beachside. This tasting room was my very first tasting room ever, when I started establishing my taste for wine, when I was freshly 21. My favorite here continues to be their Viognier.

Frequency:

A recommendation from a Santa Barbara local, and friend. While I haven't had the pleasure yet, I'd love to schedule a trip back to Santa Barbara and sip on their Grenache Rose in the summer sun on their outdoor patio.

Au Bon Climat:

While you may walk into this tasting room thinking that it looks an awful lot like a library, you'd be right! It's a wine library, filled with their many vintages. Another recommendation that I regretfully have not had a chance to try myself. (Santa Barbara is so vast! There's always new things to see)

Santa Barbara Wine Collective:

This Collective is a tasting room and bottle shop that curates a selection of Santa Barbara wines from an allotment of different Vineyards in the Santa Barbara designated area. While they are open for tastings daily, they also provide an excellent venue for smaller weddings and events. My first visit was actually just that. My friend had her wedding reception here after a beautiful ceremony on the beach!

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Clara Raposo’s guide, A Local’s Kid-Friendly Guide to Santa Barbara, CA.

Advisor - Devyn Evrist Rice

Travel Advisor

Devyn Evrist Rice

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Santa Barbara