Santa Barbara – Top Things to See in The American Riviera

(*Tips for Santa Barbara – when we can travel again)

Santa Barbara is often referred to as the American Riviera so I had high expectations for our visit. Santa Barbara is a picturesque coastal town with rich history and Spanish colonial roots. American cities rarely remind me of Europe, as the the architecture is relatively recent, but Santa Barbara did surprise me with beautiful Spanish styled architecture. Along with historical buildings, the city has done a great job building similar styled houses around the city that represent the Spanish and Mexican history of Santa Barbara.

Things to Do in Santa Barbara

The best way to get the most out of your visit in Santa Barbara is by walking through one of the city’s main streets, State Street, filled with shops, restaurants and bars.

Santa Barbara State Street
Fiesta Five Theater Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara State Street

Santa Barbara Courthouse

Located at 1100 Anacapa Street, The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a beautiful Spanish colonial style building built in 1929.

This beautiful sight is also a popular wedding venue and I can clearly see why! Beautiful facades, arches, mosaics, and gardens make this a perfect spot for photographs, picnics, and more.

Santa Barbara Courthouse

Old Mission Santa Barbara

One the top sights of the city is the Old Mission of Santa Barbara which is located on the hills few miles from downtown. This mission was constructed back in 1786 and is surrounded by Mission Historical Park with a beautiful rose garden, which makes it the perfect spot for a picnic. Lay out your picnic blanket and enjoy the views of the Mission.

Santa Barbara Old Mission

Butterfly Beach

Like any Californian coastal town, Santa Barbara also offers beautiful sunsets from many of its’ beaches. We came down to Butterfly Beach to enjoy the sunset before heading to dinner in nearby Montecito. Butterfly Beach has some great views of the coast, with gorgeous houses along the palmtree lined promenades.

Butterfly Beach Montecito

Santa Barbara Murals

Besides cool Spanish styled architecture and historical buildings, Santa Barbara also offers street art in many corners of the city. Good places to spot murals is on the side streets of State Street and east of downtown.

Murals in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Restaurants

This city has great restaurants for every taste. While there were so many to choose from, we decided to have lunch at Goat Tree restaurant on State Street. The mediterranean inspired menu offers delicious dishes like this baby kale caesar.

The downtown area also has several Mexican restaurants like Corazon Cocina and the Super-Rica Taqueria.

Dinner at Montecito – Montecito Restaurants

I must admit I had never even heard of Montecito, but as it was just a few minutes drive from Santa Barbara we thought of giving it a go. We quickly noticed that the neighborhood is full of glorious mansions, many of which are guarded by high walls. No wonder several celebrities live in the area including Ellen, Oprah and Ariana Grande to name a few!

Even though Montecito didn’t offer us much to see, we were surprised by the number of restaurants on the sophisticated main street. It took us a while to choose one but we ended up at Coast and Olive which had only opened a few weeks earlier. The food and service were outstanding. We had the seared salmon and filet mignon along with some wine and cocktails and highly recommend those two dishes.

State Street Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Stearns Wharf

One of the main attractions of the city is its’ iconic wooden wharf that was built in 1872. It’s the longest deep water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco and the oldest working wharf in California. The wharf has many souvenir shops, restaurants and wine tasting rooms where you can taste the best wines of the area.

West Beach Santa Barbara
West Beach Santa Barbara Wharf

Great Coffee and Art Galleries

A few blocks east from busy State Street you will find this cute little cafe called Dart Coffee. This place is hard to miss with so many lanterns hanging off the wall. We got coffee and donuts to go. While drinking our coffee, we explored the surrounding area that is home to several murals and art galleries like Santa Barbara Funk Factory.

Dart Coffee Santa Barbara
Funk Factory Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Hotels

The only minus of this beautiful city is probably the relatively expensive hotel rates, but if you book well in advance and outside of the busiest tourist season, you will probably find something affordable.

We stayed at Inn by the Harbor near Downtown Santa Barbara. The hotel was conveniently located close to the main beach. Our days were filled with activity so we didn’t spend much time at the hotel but I did enjoy the beautiful garden located in the courtyard. Overall I think this hotel was good value in great location.

Inn by the Harbor Santa Barbara

Final Thoughts

Santa Barbara is a great weekend getaway destination or place to stop by when driving along Pacific Coast Highway. Even though the city has a lot to see, it’s easy to visit multiple sites as everything is pretty much within walking distance. I highly recommend making a short trip to Montecito to enjoy its’ high end restaurants, boutiques, and leafy roads.

Have you been to Santa Barbara? What did you like/not like about the city? Let me know in comments!

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Santa Barbara One Day Itinerary