Santa Barbara

Stearn's Wharf, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a city and metropolitan area less than 100 miles from Los Angeles but vastly different in pace from its huge neighbor to the south. With a temperate climate and lush natural environs, the "Riviera of the West" is a pleasant day or weekend trip from LA, with its wide beaches, highly rated wineries, and a large variety of shopping and dining choices, that enables the town of just 90,000 residents to enjoy the sort of cultural and social amenities which are usually found only in much larger cities.


Although the common perception of Santa Barbara is as a playground for the rich and famous, the reality is that the average income within city limits is only slightly higher than California as a whole. Notable for its California Mission-style architecture (a long-standing local ordinance ensures that all commercial construction follows the Mission theme, which results in a plethora of red-tiled roofs and faux adobe supermarkets), local residents are intensely proud of their city's roots and traditions, and a number of hugely popular festivals throughout the year celebrate the many cultures found in the city. In addition, the city's large Latino population, concentrated in the east side of the city around Milpas Street, means there are a great many tacquerias and Mexican food restaurants to be found. Santa Barbara has also been influenced by Los Angeles' food-truck scene.


Santa Barbara Airport

The city of Santa Barbara is part of what's known as the South Coast, so named because the coastline between Point Conception and the city of Ventura faces more south than west. The road that serves as the city's nexus is State Street, which runs roughly north–south in and near downtown and east-west in the uptown area. It continues west as Hollister Avenue through Goleta. The area immediately to the east of lower State Street, between the waterfront and Highway 101, is known as the Funk Zone and features a more off-the-beaten-path experience that is still immediately adjacent to the downtown area. The Latino part of town is on the east side of the city and has its own main street, Milpas Street, which is almost a mile away from, but parallel to, State Street in and near downtown. Upper State Street connects to Highway 154, a state highway that connects Santa Barbara with Los Olivos and wine country.

Santa Barbara's downtown neighborhoods are generally working, middle- and upper-middle-class areas, while Montecito to the east of the city and Hope Ranch to the west are the city's wealthy enclaves, known as part-time hideouts for Hollywood celebrities and rich retirees.

  Santa Barbara Visitors Center, 1 Garden Street, downtown,  +1 805-965-3021. 9AM (10AM on Su) - 5PM (4PM Nov-Jan). Has information about Santa Barbara, including maps, pricing and hours of attractions, restaurant guides, bus and waterfront shuttle schedules.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 65 65 66 69 70 71 75 76 75 73 69 65
Nightly lows (°F) 46 48 50 52 55 58 60 60 60 56 50 47
Precipitation (in) 4.4 4.6 2.9 1.2 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.9 1.8 3.0

   Data from NOAA (1981-2010)

Get in

By plane

Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (IATA: SBA), located in Santa Barbara, near the neighboring town of Goleta, provides access to LAX through a shuttle service that flies between the two airports several times per day. There is also service to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver and other destinations. Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District's Route 11 bus links the airport with downtown Santa Barbara.

The airport can be pricey, and flight schedules limited; flying to Los Angeles (LAX) or Burbank (BUR) and driving the 100 miles to Santa Barbara may come out ahead on price, time, or both.

By train

Santa Barbara Train Station

Amtrak, housed in a historical landmark on lower State Street, provides service on both the Pacific Surfliner (San Luis Obispo to San Diego) and Coast Starlight (Seattle to Los Angeles). The ride is beautiful on its legs that are near the coast, but don't expect on-time service. If you take the train from Oakland and it's only one hour late, consider yourself lucky.

By bus

The Greyhound station is downtown, at 224 Chapala, near the Amtrak station. The Santa Barbara Airbus operates several times per day between Goleta, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria and LAX.

By car

There is only one major highway in and out of Santa Barbara: US 101, which is coterminous with Highway 1 for over 30 miles both north and south (well, east, but down the coast) of the city. From the 101, downtown Santa Barbara can be accessed via the Garden St. exit, while the beaches can be found off the Cabrillo Blvd. off ramp. Traffic patterns are the opposite from the famous Los Angeles grid lock, as the 101 can come to a grinding halt on Sunday afternoons.

State Route 154 is a secondary road that leads into the hills and eventually to Los Olivos and is accurately designated a "Scenic Highway" by the California Department of Transportation. However, it's probably less of a way to get into town and more of a road to take on a day trip from Santa Barbara.

Get around

The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (SBMTD) runs buses all over Santa Barbara proper, and neighboring Goleta and Montecito. Routes and fares are on their website.

The SBMTD also runs shuttle bus services along State St between downtown Sola St and the waterfront, and along the waterfront, leaving every 15 or 30 minutes between 9AM and 6PM (till 10PM F-Sa in summer). Fare is 25 to 50 cents; get a free shuttle transfer to switch between the two shuttles.

Taxis are extremely expensive.

Along the waterfront, many businesses offer bicycle or inline skate rentals for exploring the beach areas, and "rickshaw" taxis are also common.

Budget and Hertz car rental outlets are present at the airport terminal, and several other rental agencies are located in Santa Barbara.


Mission Santa Barbara
Mural Room of Santa Barbara County Courthouse


View north from the tower of the Santa Barbara Courthouse, showing red tile-roofed mission-style buildings and the mountains beyond

Although Santa Barbara is an atypical coastal town, it offers the typical Southern California variety of outdoor activities, from surfing to whale-watching.


Paseo Nuevo, near State Street
State Street

Santa Barbara is a shopping paradise. State Street alone offers more than a mile stretch of everything from trendy boutiques to popular chain stores like Restoration Hardware. El Paseo (812 State St., downtown) is an upscale mall that bills itself as "California's First Shopping Center," while lushly themed and nearby Paseo Nuevo (651 Paseo Nuevo) offers Nordstrom's, Macy's, and more than 50 specialty shops. Whatever you're looking for, you'll likely find it on State Street. There is plenty of parking downtown with the first 75 minutes free in most lots (except at the beach). A good bet is the parking structure on Ortega.


Santa Barbara does French-inspired California cuisine quite well. Locally sourced food is a point of pride for many chefs, who are able to draw from the bounty of fresh produce grown within a few hundreds miles of the city, as well as the fresh seafood that's pulled in from the ocean daily. The town's elevated cultural status attracts high-powered chefs from all over the world, and the selection and sheer variety of local fare is quite astonishing for a community of 90,000.

In addition, Santa Barbara's Mexican food ranks with any other town in California and the food truck scene born in L.A. has emerged in the city as well. Here are just a few of Santa Barbara's culinary choices:






In addition to Santa Barbara wine tasting, the region is also full of bars. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your preference), many of them cater to crowds of students from the nearby university. Thursday nights are the official college night of downtown bars at which time the drinks are particularly cheap. Really any bar on lower State Street is Fun on Thursday nights to relive those college days.


There are several good places to relax in Santa Barbara:


The local ice creams or blenders are great for the go or to relax on one of the state street benches.


Aerial photo of Santa Barbara, showing its position between the ocean and the mountains

Santa Barbara has a huge number of hotels and motels, ranging from Motel 6 to Fess Parker's astonishing Doubletree Resort. One thing you won't find here is dives. Prices are before tax; allow another 10% for tax.




Go next

Although Santa Barbara is somewhat geographically isolated, with only one major route in or out of the city, the surrounding area is rife with fascinating side-trips.

Santa Barbara Wine Country
Routes through Santa Barbara

San Luis Obispo Goleta  N  S  Montecito Los Angeles / Long Beach
Los Olivos Santa Ynez  W  E  END
San Luis Obispo Goleta  N  S  Carpinteria Los Angeles

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 31, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.