Let me preface this article to say that if you can arrange to have more than one day in Santa Barbara, you should most definitely jump on it. Known as The American Riviera, you no doubt already know that Santa Barbara is where many of Hollywood’s most famous people live. Surprisingly though, despite the moniker, it’s not just for the wealthy and offers a wide-array of activities to please every type of traveller.
On a recent press trip with Visit California, our group found itself with one day in Santa Barbara and a little free time between activities. With some good luck, and good planning, it turned into a perfect day. This is an itinerary I would follow to the letter when I return, so if you find yourself with one day in Santa Barbara, and want to soak up as much of it as you can, then this plan is for you!
From Sunrise to Sunset – One Day in Santa Barbara
Start the Day off Right
The Hilton Santa Barbara might just have the best views in Santa Barbara with the ocean in front of it and the Santa Ynez Mountains running behind it. It’s an ideal place to start and end your day.
But first sustenance. You will not regret ordering the Croque Madame at The Roundhouse restaurant. Made with brioche, ham, eggs, gruyere cheese and bechamel sauce, it’s wonderfully decadent. You have lots of walking ahead of you, so dig in.
Head to The Santa Barbara Courthouse
I can’t tell you how many times we heard from locals that the Santa Barbara Courthouse was a must-do, and frankly I trust the locals in any destination I visit. They definitely weren’t wrong on this.
We were advised that we should take the elevator to the top, but we opted for the stairs and I’m so glad we did. The detail within, from stained glass to iron work, to the most stunning courtroom you’ve ever seen, are worth your time.
Head to State Street
Once you’ve got a lay of the land at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, head west on East Anapamu St and hang a left at the Old Navy on State Street. I imagine there’s good shopping the other way as well, but this is leading somewhere and we only have one day people. Stick with me.
While you might think the American Riviera is out of your reach financially, it’s actually filled with a ton of unique, non-chain, affordable stores. My favourite find was Renaissance, an international consignment shop. Filled with Chanel, Louis, and Gucci, it’s a great place to go treasure hunting. I still have regrets about leaving a pair of Louboutin’s behind.
Eat This, Shoot That
Your walk along State Street is heading for The Funk Zone, one of Santa Barbara’s up and coming neighbourhoods. Head to Enterprise Fish Co. where you’ll meet up with a guide from Eat This, Shoot That (make reservations ahead of time).
This tour lasts roughly three hours and is a delicious mix of food, spirits and history. You can read about Eat This Shoot That in more detail here.
Two Options to End Your Perfect Day In Santa Barbara
Okay, you’re spent. You’ve walked off several meals, but you’re time here is limited so you have to dig deep and push through. You can do it. Before you move on to evening activities you need a little time to recharge, so I’m going to give you two choices here.
Option #1 to Recharge
Visit Salt on State Street. It’s hard to believe that the largest underground crystal salt cave in North America is found in the middle of a shopping mecca, but there it is, and I can’t argue with the relaxing properties found within.
Relax in an anti-gravity chair in the salt cave for a 45 minute session and leave recharged and ready to take on the evening’s activities.
Option #2 to Recharge
Head back to the Hilton Santa Barbara and get some pool time in.
Now that you’ve caught your breath it’s time to decide what you’d like to do for the evening.
Option #1 Evening Activity
Book a sunset cruise with Santa Barbara Sailing from the Santa Barbara Harbour, and an easy 15 minute walk from the Hilton.
A leisurely sail around the harbour is the perfect way to end your day in Santa Barbara. Keep your eyes peeled for California sea lions, dolphins, and whales. We were lucky to see both sea lions and a whale while we were out. Word to the wise: Bring a sweater. It can get quite chilly on the water. When your two hour cruise is over, head over to Smithy (where you’ve made a reservation because you’re no fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants traveller).
Option #2 Evening Activity
Maybe you want to linger a little longer at the pool, or explore State Street a bit more before you head out for the evening. Enjoy it, it’s your perfect day after all. You will need to eat dinner though, and Santa Barbara’s culinary scene is on point. If you’re looking for a laid back vibe with exceptional food then you really can’t miss Santo Mezcal.
I highly recommend you make reservations here well in advance. Along with Smithy, Santo Mezcal is definitely one of Santa Barbara’s most popular restaurants if the full house at both establishments was any indication. My top recos at Santo Mezcal is the Ahi Tuna Ceviche, the Ceviche Verde, and the Con Toffee De Caramelo for dessert. The Hibiscus Margarita is a must, and I had the special that night of steak and lobster, so if it’s on the menu when you visit, I can’t say enough good things about it. Santo Mezcal is definitely a restaurant you’ll think about long after the meal is over.
Collapse Happy and Sated Into Your Comfy Bed
There, you did it! You enjoyed a full, well-rounded day in Santa Barbara and you deserve nothing more than to collapse into your cozy bed and start dreaming about your return trip back.
Totally agree, you really can’t go wrong with anything on this list! I recently visited Santa Barbara and found the weather as close to perfect as you can get. It really makes you want to spend as much time outside as possible – which is what I did.
If you are looking for bike rentals to cruise the coast I would suggest Cal Coast Adventures (www.calcoastadventures.com), as they offer tons of biking options. Beach cruisers to mountain bikes – they really have it all!
Another bucketlist item I was able to check off was learning to surf with Santa Barbara Surf School (www.santabarbarasurfschool.com). The instructors were so knowledgeable about ocean life and safety and I stood up on my first wave.
It was an experience I’ll never forget. Can’t wait to make my way back to Santa Barbara!