What to do in Santa Barbara

If you've heard that Santa Barbara is called the American Riviera, you might be having visions of the rich and famous, swaying palm trees, and opulent homes along the hillsides. And sure, you might spot a celebrity here, but their presence is low-key compared to Santa Barbara's natural stars: the coast, the mountains, and the locally produced food and wine.

The pace here is pleasantly slow, with many opportunities to explore on foot and bike. Electric shuttles run along State Street—the shopping, dining, and holiday-parade heart of the city—and along the waterfront to the Santa Barbara Zoo for just a quarter. You can ride or bus to mountain trails, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Mission Santa Barbara, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. An urban wine trail in the area known as the Funk Zone, between the highway and the waterfront, boasts a series of winery tasting rooms. And there's lots of rolling and strolling along the beach bike path, which will give you views of weekend art fairs, beach volleyball games, kayakers and sailboats setting off from the harbor, and, on a clear day, the Channel Islands.

Residents are the active sort, with organized races and open-water swims happening weekly in the summer, cycling clubs meeting up on the weekends, and surf sessions happening at any given moment. Santa Barbara is also known for exuberant festivals, particularly the Summer Solstice and August's Old Spanish Days (known locally as "Fiesta"), when colorful parades are followed by all-day celebrations at area parks. There's glitz here if you want it—particularly in neighboring Montecito—but much of Santa Barbara's beauty is free to anyone who steps outside. (And unlike in some towns farther south, that beauty is 100 percent natural.)

Compare Rates to Santa Barbara

Traveler Reviews of Santa Barbara

David rates Santa Barbara
As good as it gets.
Submitted on