Best Guide for 4 Days in Santa Barbara, CA

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Advisor - Anna Ingoglia
Curated By

Anna Ingoglia

  • Nature Escapes

  • Santa Barbara

  • Beaches

  • Food & Wine

  • California

  • Sightseeing

  • Local Food

  • Bucket List-Worthy

Aerial view of a street in Santa Barbara.
Curator’s statement

Santa Barbara is a tucked Southern Californian coastal town with the freshest seafood, banging Mexican cuisine and top-notch wine from the local Santa Ynez Valley. Just a couple hours drive north of LA or a breezy flight from anywhere along the West Coast, Santa Barbara is an easy-going, funky vacation destination. It exudes cool, So-Cal vibes and is the perfect place to do a little shopping, sip delicious wines, and hit the beach. It’s a bit under-the-radar, mostly visited by Californians and those in the know, but it’s chock full of some seriously luxurious stays both beachside and nestled in the mountains with gorgeous views. I fell in love with Santa Barbara when we made it our chill-out destination of the year and it’s the perfect place for a long weekend getaway.

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Where to stay in Santa Barbara, CA

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Things to do in Santa Barbara, CA

Sandy beach with colorful houses on the opposite side and people in the water

Get Outdoors

There is a plethora of stunning natural landscapes in Santa Barbara. The infamous Santa Barbara Marine Layer usually lingers in mornings and burns off in the afternoon so start your day inland to enjoy one of the many hikes or parks Santa Barbara has to offer, then head to the beach to soak up the afternoon rays.

For hiking enthusiasts, Montecito Hot Springs is an awesome, unique 3.5 mile loop that rewards trekkers with good views and natural hot springs along the way. Bring your hiking boots and swimsuit and sweat it out in multiple ways. Check trail conditions before you go, sometimes it can be muddy or the springs dry up in the heat of the summer. A quick couple tips: you can totally just go to the springs and back to shorten your trip, and pack a hat and sunscreen— parts of the trail are full sun.

Another good inland outdoor activity is to visit one of the beautifully maintained gardens in Santa Barbara. Don’t miss the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, a beautiful 13 acres living museum of native California plants and habitats, and Lotusland, an horticulturalist’s exotic paradise. The SB Botanic Garden is very kid and dog friendly, so bring the whole family and explore at your own pace, and there are optional guided tours available with your ticket purchase. Lotusland has amazing backdrops and is ideal for really memorable pictures, but please note that it does not allow dogs. Tickets and time reservations are required for both and can be purchased online.

Once the Marine Layer disappears you can enjoy some time at the beach. My favorites are Butterfly Beach, East Beach and Coral Casino Beach. If you're up for it, rent or borrow bikes to explore the shoreline. It’s a dreamy way to experience the coast, and the bike path is very well maintained. We biked from Downtown to Butterfly Beach on 4 speed cruisers, and it was moderately challenging thanks to a few small hills there and back. If you want to make it as leisurely as possible, ask your hotel concierge to drop you off at the beach, or rent an electric bike to do the hard work for you.

Along the shore is the infamous Stearns Wharf too. This iconic landmark has lots of kitschy shops and restaurants that are wholesome fun. Cool off with a scoop of ice cream in the summertime, or cozy up with a delicious bowl of clam chowder in the cooler seasons and watch the salty waves roil by.

Shop and Sip

All along State Street and throughout the Funk Zone there are tons of choices for shopping and tasting. State Street is lined with a plethora of shops along with an outdoor mall full of cute boutiques, thrift stores and mainstays. Back in 2020, the city of Santa Barbara converted State Street to pedestrian only and made the transition permanent in 2023. So you can easily spend an afternoon wandering up and down State Street, shopping and vibing out in the middle of the street.

Walk towards the water, and State Street ends in the Funk Zone. This cool, hippie enclave (hence the name) is home to art galleries, wineries, craft breweries and some seriously trendy restaurants. You can toss a stone and hit a tasting room, so stop at one (or two, or three) and savor the moment.

Wine Tasting

For oenophiles, the famous Santa Ynez Valley is just shy of an hour outside Downtown Santa Barbara. Even if you’re not a wine aficionado, the prime weather and picturesque vineyard views are a relaxing escape. Here they’re known for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so take a glass and enjoy. Many tour companies offer to pick you up in Santa Barbara and drive you to 3-4 wineries before returning you home (where you can continue the good vibes in the Funk Zone if you’re so inclined).

Day Trips

If you're staying longer than four days, take a day trip to Solvang, CA! About one hour away, this cute Danish style town is easily walkable and has tons of great tasting rooms, a Danish Museum of History and Art, plus a cool Motorcycle Museum.

Places to eat & drink in Santa Barbara, CA

A view from a roof top in Santa Barbara.

Flor de Maiz - Beachfront Mexican with a patio and amazing tortillas, ceviche, mole and margaritas.

Lucky Penny - Laid back wood-oven pizzeria and coffeehouse serving a large patio in the Funk Zone.

The Lark Santa Barbara - A do-not-miss special dinner in Santa Barbara. New American cuisine with emphasis on fresh seafood. Try their take on a wedge salad, it’s one of my favorites!

La Super-Rica Taqueria - A turquoise painted taqueria stand that has maintained its reputation as Julia Child’s favorite restaurant. Sometimes stars fade, but this one has not! Try the Super-Rica Especial and don’t miss the chile relleno if it’s offered as a special of the day. Get there early before lunch rush, or be prepared to wait about 30 minutes in line.

Toma Restaurant & Bar - Harbor vistas and delicious pastas and Italian fare with an amazing cocktail and wine menu. Fabulous cioppino.

Area 5.1 Winery - One winery of many in the Funk Zone. This one shares a patio with The Lark next door. Delicious red and white blends, and literally next door to numerous other wineries and a craft brewery, so a great starting point to a fun time in the Funk Zone.

Santo Mezcal - Mexican mar, seafood focused fare with a seriously impressive tequila and mezcal list.

Alessia Patisserie & Cafe - Lovely French breakfast and lunch. Their delicious and crispy croissants pair beautifully with their coffee or chai lattes.

Djinn - A trendy bar within the Hotel Californian that serves delicious craft cocktails and hosts monthly full moon DJ and tarot parties. Try the namesake cocktail fizz with gin, Lillet Blanc and rosewater, shaken and served frothy in a martini glass.

Test Pilot - Who doesn’t love a good tiki bar? Handcrafted concoctions served in a kitschy, breezy atmosphere.

The Dining Room & Terrace at El Encanto - Beautiful terrace restaurant set in the hills. Breakfast is where they truly shine. Order the cold pressed juices and huevos rancheros.

Need to Know

Santa Barbara is a great place to visit with your dog! We took our 14 year old Pomeranian with us and everything was a breeze. Let me know if you'd like to book with your four legged friend!

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, Two Week Itinerary for Your First Time in Costa Rica.

Advisor - Anna Ingoglia

Travel Advisor

Anna Ingoglia

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