Your picture perfect weekend, planned.
Day 1: Finding the right hotel
Santa Barbara is in no short supply of beautiful hotels, offering quite the range of prices and even styles of stay.
My recommendation: La Playa Inn
For under $200 a night, this Mediterranean inspired hotel is perfect for a weekend away. Only blocks from the beach and the heart of downtown, with beautiful decor and complimentary grab-and-go breakfast, La Playa Inn is a gem!
Hotel Milo Santa Barbara: Right along the water, this hotel looks directly onto West Beach giving you the ultimate beach vacation! Hotel Milo has simple, sweet decor with lots of greenery mixed in.
Mar Monte Hotel: This Hyatt Hotel is stunning. Thoughtfully designed in every way including location; sitting across from the ocean and a little out of the way from main street for a more upscale relaxation.
Enjoy breakfast at La Playa Inn, taking your morning slow as you enjoy a croissant, yogurt and a coffee on your balcony, patio or in the courtyard. Walk down to the beach and take a stroll before the afternoon crowds arrive. Only a few blocks away, you reach your day's first activity: bike rentals!
Bike Riding, But Touristy
Santa Barbara has many bike rental shops, so no matter who you're traveling with or what your biking style may be — you're in luck. You have the option of electric bikes, beach cruisers, tandem bikes or what I tried, the surrey cycle. Much easier to use than a tandem bike, and it holds more of your friends with a four person option! There is a bike path starting at the Wheel Fun Rentals bike shop, down to the beach, and takes you along the coast to the beautiful bird conservatory.
Once you've put the pedal to the metal and returned the bike rentals, walk down to the Santa Barbara Harbor and put your name in for lunch at Brophy Bro's right on the docks (odds are there will be about an hour wait). Conveniently, next door is the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum where you can pass the time and learn about the local history and trade routes of California's coast. There's a lot to see in this two story museum, so you can spend an hour without being bored; but unless you're passionate about history/the sea I don't think you'd be too sad if your beeper goes off early.
Fish & Chips at the Harbor
You can actually go fishing, or find fresh fish at Brophy Bro's Clam Bar and Restaurant. This tourist trap is so good, I don't mind that it's for tourists. A majority of the seating is outdoors, which is perfect as it faces the harbor for fantastic views and people-watching while you eat. I highly recommend the fish & chips, the clam chowder and taking advantage of the free bread basket (after biking, you will be hungry!)
Here's where you *cheers* to the perfect start to your trip!
After the lunchtime re-fresh, you'll be ready to head into the open waters as you hop into a kayak and paddle out through the harbor! The Paddle Sports Center is right around the corner, and sets you up with all you need for a fun and safe kayaking adventure. They have changing rooms and lockers so you won't need to carry everything with you, and don't worry about the walk back to the hotel — La Playa Inn (and a warm shower) is just down the street.
A full day of exploring Santa Barbara is not complete without exploring the many restaurants and shops of Old Town! With a large stretch of 'pedestrian only' streets, Santa Barbara creates a welcoming downtown community where you can grab a drink and keep walking, or sit down in the middle of the action.
Shaker Mill: Insta-ready with fantastic cocktails! Housed in the same space as a Cuban restaurant and a local tap house for options.
The Sandbar: High energy people, Mexican food and a good margarita? A total treat.
If you're on your way back from Old Town, land at Test Pilot for tropical vibes, thoughtful decor and an array of delicious tiki-themed cocktails.
State Street is brimming with fantastic restaurants, or 'Funk Zone' is only blocks away if you're looking for more wining and less dining. *wink*
If you're ready to really eat:
The Goat Tree: (pictured) Housed inside Hotel Californian, The Goat Tree is a beautiful indoor/outdoor space with large windows, beautiful lighting and most of all: good food! You cannot go wrong here; even simple things like their hummus plate hit the spot.
Loquita: If you're even thinking of tapas or incredible paella — this is where you should end up. With Spanish wines, locally sourced protein, and sangria by the pitcher, Loquita has it all.
Finney's Crafthouse: If you're looking for classic American food and friendly servers this is your place! Lots of twenty-something energy, beer on tap and classic wings.
Day 2: Coffee on State Street
After grabbing your morning pastry at La Playa Inn, head down to State Street Coffee and put in your order (highly recommend an iced chai). This coffee spot is all about location as you can sip and stroll down along the beach or sit outside and watch the waves.
Wander the Wharf
Proudly self-proclaimed, "Santa Barbara's #1 Attraction" Sterns Wharf is one of those touristy things you just do. A great place to walk about and stop in at the tourist shops, or get ice cream (warning it's $8) just because you're there. Fun restaurants, local fishermen and crab catchers line the Wharf as you make your way to the end. An attraction with history, Sterns Wharf has survived it all and is the classic Santa Barbara vacation picture backdrop.
City Hall & Old Mission Santa Barbara
Both of these beautiful and historic locations are worth making a point to see. City Hall (pictured) is gorgeous, with intricate Spanish architecture, large lawns and tropical landscaping. If you wanted to picnic somewhere besides the beach this is the place!
Old Mission Santa Barbara has so much history and is a working mission so you can attend mass there on Sundays (outdoor during Covid). Tickets to tour the inside of the mission, the garden, and other grounds are $15 and if you have not been to a mission before, this is a good one to see. Well-kept and with the times, as they acknowledge the Spanish conquering of indigenous peoples and their religions. Beautiful inside and out, the mission offers a lot of photo opportunities and an appreciation for the Spanish style.
The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden is a breath of fresh air! Gorgeous grounds that you could spend an entire day exploring, this is an oasis in the midst of the city. Walk the incredible five-miles of native California landscape, with fields of California Poppy, Redwood trees and all types of flora and fauna. There are garden mazes, striking views and towering stone steps.
Top Tip: Bring a student ID for a $10 ticket instead of the $16 adult ticket.