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Santa Barbara offers escape and relaxation, along with opportunities to contemplate the ocean, mountains, and engaging vistas, and to explore a bit of history and humankind’s relationship to coastal ecology. The area offers a multitude of activities for active and passive vacationers: everything from swimming, boating, hiking, and sports fishing to the more exotic jet skiing, kayaking, whale-watching, windsurfing, horseback riding, and more. Or you can select your beach lounge chair, watch the scenery, and relax Santa Barbara-style. Santa Barbara enjoys a pleasant Mediterranean climate that is generally mild and sunny all 12 months of the year, with relatively stable temperatures; there is no real “off-season.”
Touring Santa Barbara
The self-guided Red Tile Walking
Tour, which is bounded by Victoria, Chapala, Ortega and Santa Barbara streets, touches many of the city's landmarks. Of special interest is the
County Courthouse (1100 Anacapa Street), an architectural masterpiece completed in 1929. The Spanish-Moorish structure features tropical gardens and lush lawns. In addition, historic adobes and
El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park (123 E. Canon Perdido Street; 805-966-9719) are snapshot-worthy. Hop aboard the
Downtown Waterfront Trolley, which cruises the length of the Red Tile district for just 25 cents, or rent a whimsical quadricycle on State Street or Cabrillo Blvd.
Keeping children happily occupied is easy in Santa Barbara. You can choose from the Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens (500 Ninos Drive; 805-963-5339), with sea lions, elephants, giraffes and more; the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol Rd.; 805-682-4711); and Kid's World (Alameda Park, Micheltorena and Garden streets), a community-designed, community-build playground. Santa Barbara's historic Stearns Wharf features the Sea Center (Stearns Wharf; 805-962-0885), with live displays and touch tanks.
Santa Barbara just wouldn't be Santa Barbara without the beach and the ocean. Thanks to the temperate climate, you can enjoy the outdoors most of the year. Its a great feeling to think about the rest of the country in the dead of winter, while you're playing on the beach in shorts, T-shirts and bathing suites. East Beach (E. Cabrillo Blvd) is the large stretch of sand along Chase Palm Park to the east of Stearns Wharf. It's often acclaimed in various magazines as one of the best beaches in the nation. There are places for picnics, volleyball, showers, a playground and a beach side grill. West Beach (W. Cabrillo Blvd) is directly west of Stearns Wharf and also next to the Santa Barbara Harbor. You can rent a kayak just a block from here on State Street and spend the day paddling the coast. There are nearby playgrounds and a kids swimming pool during the summer. Leadbetter Beach (Shoreline Dr at Loma Alta Dr) is a fantastic family beach just west of the Santa Barbara Harbor. The waves are usually calm, there are great picnic facilities with barbeques in addition to restrooms and showers. The center piece of this beach is the Shoreline Beach Cafe where you can sit at tables with your toes in the sand! Butterfly Beach (in nearby Montecito at Olive Mill Rd) lies across the street from the posh Biltmore Hotel. If you're hoping to run into celebrities, you have a fairly good chance here and we recommend you do your best to leave them alone! There are no facilities here, but it is a nice beach for swimming and sunbathing and at low tide you can take a great walk to East Beach
Less than an hour from Santa Barbara, in the Santa Ynez Valley, lies Santa Barbara’s wine country. For a great introduction to wine tasting in this area, view the Santa Barbara Winery Guide (Santa Ynez Valley), Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail (Santa Barbara) and Santa Barbara Wine Tours
For activity of a more participatory kind, hiking and bike trail maps are available at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (1 Garden Street; 805-965-3021). Bikes and in-line skates are available for rent at Beach Rentals (22 State Street; 805-966-6733). If you’d rather travel by four-legged friend, call the people at Circle Bar B Riding Stables who arrange all kinds of rides, including sunset and sunrise, English- or Western-style excursions. You can hit the seas with Sunset Kidd Sailing Charters (at the breakwater; 805-962-8222), which offers day tours, seasonal whale watches, and Sunset Cruises on a 41-foot Morgan. The Condor (board at Sea Landing at the harbor, 888-77WHALE or 805-882-0088), operated through the Natural History Museum, is an 88-foot boat that offers educational trips with knowledgeable volunteers (during the months of February, March and April only). For the more adventurous, Truth Aquatics (Sea Landing at the harbor; 805-962-1127) offers Channel Island trips including kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving and hiking. The easiest way to Kayak in Santa Barbara is to go to Santa Barbara Adventure Company or, Captain Jacks Santa Barbara Tours or Paddle Sports of Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara hosts a variety of restaurant and dining options to please your palate. From the exotic to the ordinary, a large selection of cuisines cater to every taste.
Seafood lovers should be sure to stop at Brophy Bros (Breakwater at the Harbor;
805-966-4418) and dine on the balcony overlooking the Santa Barbara
Harbor. Cajun cuisine connoisseurs might look no further than The Palace
(8 East Cota St; 805-963-5000). The award for finest Sushi on
State Street might have to go to Arigato (1225 State St;
805-965-6074). Inexpensive, stunning decor and incredible edible Italian
lunch and dinners is just the beginning of the story about Santa Barbara's very own Pascucci (729
State St; 805-963-8123).
Santa Barbara’s shopping is excellent and State Street is considered the main shopping area. There are specialty stores and boutiques in historic El Paseo (State Street, above De La Guerra Street) and La Arcada (State Street, above Figuroa Street) and the beautiful modern mall Paseo Nuevo (State Street at De La Guerra Street) which includes Nordstom’s and Macy’s. Minutes further north is La Cumbre Plaza (Highway 101 north, turn left at La Cumbre Rd) is anchored by Robinsons-May and Sears. 15 minutes north of downtown Santa Barbara is the Camino Real Marketplace (Highway 101 north, turn left at Storke Rd) which is anchored by Costco, Home Depot, Staples and CompuUSA. If you don't mind driving 45 minutes south of Santa Barbara to the city of Camarillo, you will find the largest mall in our area: the Camarillo Premium Outlets with acres and acres of every store imaginable.
A Perfect Day in Santa Barbara
Start your day with breakfast at one of the restaurants on the beach or at Stearns Wharf, overlooking the ocean. Visit the Sea Center, then rent a bike or rollerblades or just take a stroll along the waterfront. You can visit the zoo or stop in at the historic Biltmore (now the Four Seasons Biltmore). Walk or take the trolley along State Street, browsing the shops, restaurants, and historic buildings at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, and the Courthouse. After lunch, visit the natural history museum and the Old Mission, then travel on up to the Botanical Garden. Return to Stearns Wharf in time for sunset, then spend the evening dining, enjoying live music, or taking another stroll along the beach in the beautiful night air.
Several thousand years ago the Chumash Indians settled here. In the 1500s the Spanish explored the region, but they didn’t settle until 1782. Forty years later this land became part of Mexico when it won independence from Spain. The 1848 discovery of gold in California brought thousands of settlers, and by 1850 the American flag flew over Santa Barbara. In the 1870s Santa Barbara became a haven for health-seekers and tourists.