Hugged by the Santa Ynez Mountains to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West, Santa Barbara is a terracotta-topped oasis brimming with heritage, history and hip hangouts.
Before the curtain rose on the LA film scene, Santa Barbara reigned supreme as California’s city of lights…home to the state’s first major movie studio, Flying A Studios, and the original bolt hole of the Hollywood elite. Combining the fashion and trend of all things Hollywood in the 20’s with the Spanish colonial influence of Santa Barbara’s early settlers, you will find an incredibly laid back, culturally diverse and breathtakingly unique city which is impossible not to love.
Getting to Santa Barbara From LA
The drive from Santa Monica, LA’s coastal town, is approximately two hours via the Pacific Coast Highway. This is definitely the most scenic route but if you want to get there quickly, save half an hour by taking the inland Highway 101. If you are coming from central or downtown LA, leave lots of time to get through the traffic leaving the city.
Lunch Stop? Head to Malibu Farm Pier Café on the Pacific Highway route– known for it’s freshly ground coffee, cold pressed juices, Ottolenghi inspired salads and relaxed café vibes.
Getting to Santa Barbara From San Francisco
The drive from San Francisco is approximately 6 hours. We highly recommend stopping over en route for a few nights along the coastal drive in Carmel, Monterey or Big Sur although it can be done in a day if you are short on time.
Lunch Stop? Sierra Mar, Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur– known for its farm to table fine dining, extensive wine list, incredible cliffside location and jaw-dropping views… eco-chic luxury lunching!
It is always best to plan your road trip starting from San Fran and heading south towards LA as you are then driving on the right side of the road to soak up the incredible coastline and ocean view in all its glory.
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara?
There are two options of where to stay whilst visiting Santa Barbara. For those who like to be in the buzz, with everything on your doorstep then choose The Kimpton Canary Hotel. Its superb location, just a few blocks from State Street means that you can be footloose and fancy free to explore the city, safe in the knowledge that you have a relaxing haven to retreat to when it’s time for a swim and cocktail – both of which are located on the hotel’s roof terrace in prime sunset position!
If you are city lover but like to dip in and out of the action. If you like views, space, privacy and the ultimate luxuries in life. You will love Belmond El Encanto. Hidden in the hills, a 15 minute drive from downtown, the hotel overlooks the city, harbour and ocean beyond and the large indoor/outdoor terrace which the hotel is famous for (amongst locals and hotel guests) is a truly magical place to enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks.
What to do in Santa Barbara?
State Street is the beating heart of the city, running from the Cabrio (the road that runs along the waterfront) right up towards the hills. It is home to shops, restaurants, bars, galleries, cinemas, tasting rooms, museums…you name it, you’ll find it. Visit La Arcada, a gorgeous courtyard of shops and tasting rooms – our favourite being the Sanford winery which boasts the oldest (and incredibly delicious!) Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills. On Tuesday nights, the road is closed off to traffic and the weekly farmers market comes to life. Enjoy ‘meeting the makers’ who supply all the local restaurants and for the ultimate experience – book a ‘foodie stroll’ with your favourite eatery where the head chef will join you at the market to guide you through the Santa Barbara culinary story and help you choose the ingredients for your meal that evening! State Street is easy to explore by foot OR jump on the electric shuttle for 50cents a journey…hop on and off as you like but don’t miss an ice cream stop at Mc Connells…word on the street is the fresh waffle cones are the best in the business!
The Clock Tower
Just a few blocks from State Street, the Santa Barbara clock tower reigns supreme! An incredibly beautiful mosaic tiled staircase leads visitors up to the viewing platform which is the best place to see the city in all its glory. We highly recommend paying a quick visit to The Clock Tower early on in your trip as it helps orientate yourself within the maze of casita lined streets and squares below. Take a few moments to walk through the sunken gardens behind the tower which host open air cinema evenings, festivals and events throughout the summer season. The annual Santa Barbara fiesta takes place in August.
The Funk Zone
Aptly and awesomely named…’The Funk Zone’ has sprung to life over the last few years as the coolest area in town. Having undergone extreme gentrification from its former run down state, locals and visitors now flock to the bars, restaurants, wine and cider tasting rooms which line the streets of this truly funky area. The choice of places to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner is endless but our vote goes to The Lark. Located in an old fish warehouse, the menu is fresh and local with a twist…accompanied by an eclectic choice of cocktails and of course…a wine list to die for. The Turquoise team highly recommend trying the Crispy Brussel Sprouts…trust us, they are amazing and worlds apart from Grandma’s Christmas dinner.
An obligatory ‘must do’ on any holiday to California is to enjoy a hot bowl of clam chowder served in a freshly baked sourdough bowl! One of the very best can be found at the Brophy Brothers café located on Stearns Wharf pier in Santa Barbara’s harbour area. The longest deep water wharf between San Pedro and San Francisco, the harbour is the hub of the cities fishing industry. From here you can book whale-atching excursions and day trips over to the neighbouring Channel Islands – also known as ‘The Galapagos of the North’.
Feeling inspired to visit Santa Barabara? Take a look at our California itineraries for more ideas for your next holiday to California!