Known as the “American Riviera, Santa Barbara is the quintessential Californian beach city. Offering breathtaking ocean views contoured by tall skinny palm trees, and the Santa Ynez mountains creating a dramatic backdrop, Santa Barbara is not only one of the most beautiful places in California, but for sure in the world. Perfectly located in the southern part of California’s Central Coast, nestled between the Santa Ynez mountains and Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara sits at the intersection of classic and modern, which makes it such a desirable place for any generation, satisfying even the pickiest traveler.
Far but close enough from the hustle and bustle of the busy L.A., (which is only about 100 miles away), Santa Barbara manages to keep its characteristic chilled vibe intact, while up-and-coming neighborhoods like the Funk Zone. A migration of young crowds and students make the town cooler and more vibrant than ever. So why would you go to Santa Barbara only for a day/ or two when there is so much to see and experience? Maybe you’re on a business trip, or on a California road trip, and you just wanna do a quick stop in Santa Barbara before heading somewhere else. Or maybe you’re a lucky CA resident, living in one of the towns nearby. Whatever the reason is, here is a quick guide for a day/ or two trip to Santa Barbara.
Start with the Old Mission
Known as “Queen of the Missions”, the Santa Barbara Mission was founded by the Spanish Franciscans on December 4, 1786, being the 10th in the mission chain of the original 21. It is the only mission continuously operated by the Franciscans since its opening. Based on the form of a Roman Ionic temple, framed by the Mission Rose Garden in the foreground and the beautiful Moorish fountain at the entrance, the Neoclassical architecture of the mission is one of the most sophisticated missions of the original 21. Explore the incredible gardens and its museum loaded with 17th-century art, artifacts and re-creations of various objects from different times from California’s history, (like for example the Mission’s living quarters and kitchen, complete with an original adobe wall). End your visit with a tour of the Mission’s cemetery and mausoleum for more historical context and before you leave, stop by the Gift Shop for some souvenirs. Enduring over two centuries of history and change, the mission is still an active parish church and a poignant cultural symbol of Santa Barbara which you don’t wanna miss.
Guided tours are not available due to Covid-19, but self-guided tours are now open Mon -Sat from 9:30am -4:00pm and Sun 11:00am – 4:00pm. The Mission Gift Shop, parking lot, and restrooms are open 7 days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information check out their website: http://www.santabarbaramission.org
Next, head Downtown and visit Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Designed by William Mooser III in the Spanish-Colonial style and completed in 1929, the still-functioning Courthouse is an architectural masterpiece. It occupies an entire square block on Anacapa Street, surrounded by lavish greenery, lawns and Sunken gardens where many weddings take place. The impressive 80 foot clock tower “El Mirador” at the entrance sets the scene for what’s on the other side of the building. The interior includes hand-painted ceilings, giant murals including a Spanish Mural Room, rare art, and more. The iconic landmark has been recognized by many as the best example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture anywhere – the style that defined Santa Barbara after the 1925 earthquake.
Go on a self-guided tour using your cell phone and explore one of the most beautiful government buildings in America. For more information check out their website: https://sbcourthouse.org/
Cross Anacapa Street you’ll find another impressive building – the Public Library
This is the second library in the entire Santa Barbara, containing about 290,086 volumes. Hard to believe the elegant Spanish-Colonial construction is a public library. Only in Santa Barbara. Check out their website before you head there for the hours of operations and to learn more about their programs and events: https://www.santabarbaraca.gov/gov/depts/lib/default.asp
Around the corner, (on the famous State Street) you’ll find Santa Santa Barbara Museum of Art, (which reopened on August 15 after 1 year and a half break due to Covid-19).
At this point head down State Street and explore by foot the many unique shops loaded with art, beautiful boutiques, stuck on souvenirs, and have a bite to one of the many incredible eateries. Just take in all the pretty downtown Santa Barbara has to offer, including the live musicians performing on State Street.
For the shopping enthusiasts – make Sure to check out El Paseo & La Arcada Plaza for the best shopping experience.
Keep going down on State Street, towards the ocean. At the end of State Street you’ll find Stearns Wharf – one of Santa Barbara’s most renowned landmarks and California’s oldest working wharf. Stroll along the Wharf’s famous boardwalk; (if you want you can bring your car with you), have dinner with a view at one of the restaurants on the Wharf, (or facing the Wharf from Blue Water Grill – in the picture below), enjoy that killing sunset with a glass of wine, and call it a day.