This guide details things to do in Santa Barbara CA is part of our travel inspiration series of articles. Discover what makes locations like Santa Barbara special and why you should consider visiting them if you’re a travel and or wine enthusiast.
The Charm of Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara was on my bucket list long before I was of drinking age, so it’s not just the wine that lured me there during a recent road trip North on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Stories from family members and friends as I grew up helped to engrain this city in the back of my mind. Stories of a seaside town done up in Mediterranean architecture, beset beneath mountain peaks and sunsets pultruding through sailboat masts. Tales of elaborate hiking trails leading to beautiful plateaus with gorgeous vistas across rolling hills. Ending the day with stops at legendary dockside seafood restaurants.
In short, it was the sea, the mountains and the food that lured me to Santa Barbara, and this nautical vibe backed by mountain peaks to the East is one of the most unique in the United States. If you take the mountains out of the equation, downtown Santa Barbara — with its alcoves, terrace eateries and “speak easy” enclaves — in my mind almost feels like a cross between Newport, Rhode Island and Delray Beach, FL.
Yes, my friends, it’s the charm of Santa Barbara that stood out most to me, and it’s something you need to experience for yourself the next time you decide to visit Southern California’s coastline.
Brophy Bros. has earned a reputation for harboring perhaps the most delicious oyster shooter in the world. I’ve had my fair share of this unique and delicious aphrodisiac concoction in the past, so after hearing that Brophy’s is credited with having THE best, you better believe it was the first restaurant I decided to visit.
Located conveniently in the heart of the Santa Barbara Wharf scene, with stunning views of both the harbor and mountain backdrop, the setting here in and of itself is enough to captivate your senses. Add a little vodka, fresh oyster, horseradish, grated Parmesan, cocktail sauce, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce to a shot glass and pretty soon you’ll be in for sensory overload. This was confirmed when I sampled the oyster shooter pictured above.
While the Oyster Shooter is good enough to fill up on by itself, we recommend you sample the menu. The seafood at Brophy Bros. is exemplary of the culinary scene in the area. It doesn’t get much fresher.
Santa Barbara offers one of the most unique wine routes in the world. The Urban Wine Trail isn’t your typical vineyard hop. It’s an urban route comprised of 26 different tasting rooms, owned and operated by wineries with vineyards in the San Ynez Valley and San Rafeal, among some other lesser known growing regions within the county.
The Urban Wine Trail is for the most part concentrated within two special areas — The Funk Zone and the Presidio Neighborhood. Both of these downtown locations are within just a few blocks of each other, so there’s no need to worry about driving or walking long distance to taste your way around the town.
Wine enthusiasts can expect to taste a wide array of varietals and wine styles from innovative Vintners from a range of backgrounds. From Australian producers concocting delicious Grenache Blanc to American producers experimenting with Southern Rhone (GSM) blends, there’s something for everyone.
The best part? The climate and Terroir that is Santa Barbara County is incredibly conducive to producing world-class wines made of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and many, many others.
Santa Barbara County officials recommend parking downtown for the day (only $9 to park for a the full day), as many travelers tend to enjoy the wine so much they end up buying bottles from the tasting rooms along the trail. Having a car with you makes for a great storage spot. Just remember to pace yourself, drink water and don’t overdo your tour. Spread it out over a few days and be safe. The vibe here is incredibly relaxed, so there’s no need to rush.
Take a look at the Urban Wine Trail here and plan your route on your next visit.
The Hiking in Santa Barbara
So if we haven’t already sold you on visiting SB, adventure enthusiasts and active travelers will no doubt enjoy the hiking scene throughout the county. Santa Barbara frequently touts itself (and has actually trademarked itself) as “The American Riviera.”
It’s the Mediterranean vibe (thanks to a Spanish-colonial history) that permeates the city — which has more of a small town feel to it — that helps gives it this designation. Venture a bit outside of the city into the landscape, and you’ll feel like you’re navigating some ancient coastal hillside in Spain.
The nice thing about hiking within Santa Barbara is that it has it all. From the Los Padres National Forest to the San Ynez Mountain Range, you have a diverse assortment of hikes and vistas of the Pacific to traverse. Trail difficulties vary, luckily Visit Santa Barbara was kind enough to craft a list of their 8 most recommended hiking trails. Check them out and decide which trails work best for you and or your group.
The Beaches and Watersports
Last but not least, we can’t forget to encourage you to savor the sea herself. From miles of beaches to sailing, fishing, surfing, scuba diving (yes I said it), whale watching, island hopping, paddle boarding and kayaking — it’s literally impossible to be bored here if you’re an outdoor enthusiast. Here are some of the most recommended waterfront actives to indulge in.
Active travelers can rejoice when they arrive in Santa Barbara at the plethora of active activities available to you.
Beach lover? The question isn’t whether or not you can visit the beach (which I might remind you is accessible year-round), it’s how to decide which beach or beaches to visit. The beauty of one always just seems to be outmatched by another. Take a look at 7 of the best beaches to visit around Santa Barbara.
Did we forget to mention that Santa Barbara is also a golfers paradise? Whoops. Yeah, there’s that too. From links and Par 4s that ride North to South along the coast, golf enthusiasts are advised to sample the region’s courses.
Have We Given You Enough Reasons to Visit Santa Barbara?
I sure as hell hope so! After our visit I can say without hesitation that it’s most definitely a place I need to return to. In summary, Santa Barbara is the perfect seaside town and romantic getaway for travelers who enjoy seafood, have a sense of adventure and also a palate that’s content with fine (but affordable) wine.
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Tell us in the comments what your favorite things to do in Santa Barbara are, and if you’re researching a trip, please don’t hesitate to ask us any questions!