Santa Barbara is one of the most interesting destinations to visit on the California coast. It is a typical seaside resort with beautiful beaches, palm trees, and its characteristic marina, but the charm of this town goes far beyond the classic seaside attractions.
Here you’ll also find a lot of history and architecture, with many historic Spanish Colonial buildings emerging on the rolling hills of the Pacific coast. Let’s go find out what to do in Santa Barbara and what are the places to visit.
- Things to See in Santa Barbara: The Main Attractions
- Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
- If you are looking for an itinerary…
Things to See in Santa Barbara: The Main Attractions
Santa Barbara is a small city, but as is the case when you visit any tourist destination, you need to plan well and know exactly what you want to see and visit. Here is our list:
1. The pier on the waterfront in Santa Barbara
Stearns Wharf, located on the beautiful palm-lined promenade of Santa Barbara (ideal for an afternoon stroll), is the oldest wooden pier in the state of California (dating back to 1872).
Here, in addition to a beautiful view of the ocean, you will find several restaurants and shops. I suggest that you stop to eat at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. Do not be discouraged by the long lines at the entrance. The giant crabs served here will be a reward that will make it worth the wait!
If you aren’t too full and tired after your meal, you can also drop in at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, where you can see real whale skeletons!
2. State Street
If you’re looking for a bit of nightlife, you may be disappointed that the oceanfront becomes almost deserted at nightfall. The reason is that young people and anyone who wants to have fun flock to State Street, the city’s main artery, where bars, shops, restaurants, and nightclubs abound.
State Street is a charming and well-kept street and it’s a nice place to take a walk even during the day.
Would you like a suggestion for a place to eat in Santa Barbara?
Tupelo Junction serves excellent local cuisine that you can enjoy as you sit at sidewalk tables. Update: The bar has closed and reopened in Newport Beach.
3. County Courthouse
This is a beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival style building, still in operation (even if it was built in 1929) and defined by Charles Moore as “the most magnificent Spanish Colonial Revival structure ever built”. Inside you will find many things to see, including murals, tiles, elegant furniture, and several references to the style of the ancient missions with bright and vibrant colors.
Take a nice guided tour (it’s free!) and don’t miss the chance to climb to the top of the clock tower (El Mirador) to admire one of the most beautiful views of Santa Barbara.
4. El Presidio de Santa Barbara
Like many other cities on the California coast, Santa Barbara was originally a mission, the remains of which are still preserved in El Presidio de Santa Barbara, where you can also visit the halls of El Cuartel, a fortress that is also one of the oldest buildings in California.
The garrison is part of a complex of fortresses built by the Spanish on California’s coast in 1782. Visiting El Presidio can be an interesting experience especially because of its historical significance.
5. Santa Barbara Mission: The queen of all missions
The historic Santa Barbara Mission is part of the Camino Real and is one of the most beautiful sacred buildings on the California coast. The mission dates back to 1786, but the Catholic Church, with its majestic double-bell facade, was built in 1820 and is still the most visited mission in California.
The church always holds religious services and in the adjoining building, there is a very interesting museum where you can learn more about the history of the relationship between the Franciscan friars and the Native Americans through historical artifacts and sacred and secular objects from that time period.
6. Museums of Santa Barbara
Two particularly interesting museums in Santa Barbara are the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. I recommend that lovers of art history visit the first museum, which has ancient Greek and Egyptian sculptures and two remarkable collections (one dedicated to the Impressionists and the other to American painters). The second museum houses artifacts of Native Americans, scale models of various animal species, as well as skeletons of rare or extinct animals.
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
I would recommend Encina Lodge & Suites, which is part of the Best Western chain, for the excellent service I have experienced, as well as great value and amenities. It is not centrally located, but still in a good area. It only takes a 5-minute drive to reach the center of town or the waterfront. Alternatively, the link below has a complete list of hotels in the city:
If you are looking for an itinerary…
Are you looking for something more? Are you seeking a nice itinerary for a trip on the coast that includes Santa Barbara? Then take a look at this itinerary from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.