GUIDE TO SANTA BARBARA
Santa Barbara, California is a special place to me. It’s where I discovered who I am without any outside influence (hello, college), where Kenny and I met, fell in love, and shared our first home, and where the idea for my business was first born. Sandwiched between the ocean and the mountains, Santa Barbara is home to a lifestyle-driven culture that perfectly balances laid back simplicity, and intentional sophistication. In this post, I share all my favorite places to eat, shop, stay, walk and soak up the sun in Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is made up of many distinct neighborhoods each with their own vibes. I love Montecito for its quaint charm, independent boutiques and winding roads. You’re most likely to spot a celebrity in Montecito, either in the lower village or the upper village!
State Street makes for good shopping, but is often crowded with tourists.
The Riviera (where we lived) is residential, and a great part of town to walk through with stunning views of the city and ocean and beautiful homes. The steep hills will make this walk a good workout, but the glimpses of Santa Barbara in its entirety are well worth it!
The Mesa is the other elevated part of Santa Barbara with views of the ocean. We rented electric bikes to tour this residential part of town.
The Funk Zone is Santa Barbara’s art district and home to many local wineries and breweries, in addition to artists’ studios. Late on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll find this part of town buzzing with sun-tanned Santa Barbrians who came off the beach for a local beer and good times with friends.
Isla Vista is the town next to UCSB (my alma mater) that houses over 30 thousand 18-22 year olds in 1 square mile. Overpacked houses hang dangerously off of cliffs, with beach-side balconies packed with bikini-clad undergrads. A walk down the infamous Del Playa Road (known as “DP”) will show you front yard parties, abandoned couches, and how to ride a bike while also holding a surfboard. Speaking of bikes, be sure to look both ways! They don’t stop.
Santa Barbara has so much to experience, and is also only a short drive to beach towns Summerland and Carpinteria for beach access, and wine countries Los Olivos and Ojai.
The Kimpton Goodland. If there’s one hotel in Santa Barbara that perfectly captures the quintessential, whimsical, retro surf vibe that only locals get to experience in Santa Barbara, it’s The Goodland. This motel turned trendy hotel features an airstream parked out front, a pool (known for its bangin’ parties), and a cozy, roaring fireplace in the lobby. Be sure to eat and lounge at the indoor-outdoor Outpost for dinner while you’re there, and have a drink at Good Bar (they make a mean margarita — one of my faves from my drinking days!). Each room has a classic record player, and you can pick out records from a Vinyl closet in the lobby to take back to your room. One of the best things about The Goodland is that it’s one of the most affordable hotels in Santa Barbara!
The Ritz - Carlton Bacara. The Bacara has been one of my favorite spots for years. Their luxurious saltwater pool has a stunning view of the water, as this is one of the few hotels in Santa Barbara situated right on the beach.
Belmond El Encanto. We stayed at El Encanto on this most recent trip to Denver, and it was worth the splurge! This hotel is located on the Riviera, a block away from our first house, and features a stunning view of the town and the ocean. My favorite thing about staying at El Encanto was sipping coffee and enjoying this view each morning (but be sure to catch this view at night too, when the whole town is lit up!). The staff and service at El Encanto were both impeccable, which was another quality that made this stay feel like an intimate, secluded, retreat. The El Encanto has a shuttle that will take you around Santa Barbara, and they also make a ridiculously delicious Nutella and banana stuffed french toast.
The Four Seasons Montecito. I’ve never stayed at the Four Seasons in Montecito, but it’s situated on my favorite beach in Santa Barbara (more on this below!) and is in the quiet town of Montecito, which hosts a few great restaurants (more on this too!) and is very walkable.
Los Agaves. If you’re looking for authentic, fresh and delicious Mexican food, you can’t go wrong in Santa Barbara! It’s consistently delicious every single time we go, and their menu is large enough to make everyone in your group happy. I usually get the ceviche! They have a few locations: Goleta, De La Vina, and Milpas.
Mesa Verde. The black rice and avocado bowl I had at Mesa Verde was one of my favorite meals of the trip! This plant-based restaurant features a full vegan menu with ingredients sourced from local farms.
Oliver’s of Montecito. Oliver’s is a new addition to town, and also a fantastic plant-based option! I enjoyed herb roasted sweet potatoes, roasted garlic hummus, and a chopped salad on their dreamy patio and was perfectly satisfied!
The Lark. The Lark is a place that everyone who lives in and has travelled to Santa Barbara knows about, and chances are you’ll see someone famous there when you go. In the past, it hasn’t hit the spot for me, but we went again this trip and it was by far the best meal we enjoyed all week! The caramelized diver scallops, roasted California chicken, and ribeye were all to die for.
Backyard Bowls. One of the things I miss most about living in California is acai bowls. Acai bowls grew in popularity and are now available almost everywhere you go, but none are as good as the real deal. What I love about Backyard Bowls is that they use nut milk as the liquid base in most of their smoothies and bowls, which produces a creamy texture that isn’t overly sweet or fruit-juice dominant in flavor. Bonus: they make their own nut and seed milks in house (and they’re delicious).
If you’re looking for some seriously delicious grub (read: non-healthy alternatives), be sure to check out Gino’s for pizza, Nook at Lama Dog for hot pretzels, burgers, lobster mac ‘n cheese and more, and Bagel Cafe in Isla Vista for epic bagel sandwiches.
COFFEE, JUICE, TREATS + MORE
Handlebar Coffee. The best coffee in Santa Barbara is, without a doubt, Handlebar. They roast their beans in house, so their coffee is incredibly fresh. They have two locations: uptown and downtown, and both are fabulous. Expect to wait in line, as Handlebar is a favorite among local bikers, beach-goers and everyone in between. I love their downtown (original) location for it’s proximity and walkability to most things Santa Barbara, but their new uptown space is stunning!
Caje. Another one of my favorite coffee spots is Caje. Their Isla Vista location was a staple study spot for me throughout college (Kenny and I went on our first date here four years ago!), and they’re opening a new location near The Funk Zone soon!
Juice Ranch. If you’re looking for cold-pressed juice, nutritious snacks and treats, elixirs, or a grab ‘n go meal you know will be of the highest quality, Juice Ranch is your spot. My favorite is the Yoda juice, their house made bone broth, and their grab ‘n go salad. Juice Ranch is 100% organic and local, which makes their food extra special. They have a location downtown (right by Backyard Bowls), a location in Montecito, and a van that travels to private events and music festivals.
McConnell’s. McConnell’s ice cream in Santa Barbara is legitimately the only ice cream I’ll eat, not only because it’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had, but also because they produce their ice creams sustainably, responsibly, and with only real, whole food ingredients. They source local, grass-grazed cream, cage-free eggs, and never include stabilizers, preservatives or fillers. They’re constantly inventing new flavors to be served up alongside their classics. My favorites are dark chocolate chips with nibs, double peanut butter chip, and sea salt cream and cookies. Pro tip: get a salted chocolate chunk cookie on the side if you visit them in person, or pick up a pint at your local Whole Foods.
Lazy Acres. For local, organic grocery shopping, check out Lazy Acres!
Farmers’ Markets. Santa Barbara county holds a farmers’ market 7 days a week, all year round! One of the things I miss most living in Denver, is the ability to pick up local, organic, fresh produce any day of the week. My favorite markets are on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.
I’ve been sober for 2+ years since moving to Denver, and the imbibing scene in Santa Barbara still makes me want to take a sip!
Lama Dog + Topa Topa. These two adjoined spots in The Funk Zone are perfect for socializing on the weekends or celebrating happy hour. Lama Dog features a rotating list of local beers on tap, including Boochcraft, hard kombucha (my favorite!). Topa Topa is home to a local vendors market, so you can shop while you drink, and it’s dog friendly!
Institution Ale Co. This new spot on State Street was packed when we went! Their open, minimal vibe is perfect for meeting up with friends.
Good Bar. Like I said, Good Bar at The Goodland is one of my favorite spots in Santa Barbarba to unwind at the end of a long week. It’s intimate and bohemian, with a pool table, craft cocktails, and an outdoor patio you don’t want to miss.
Be sure to spend an afternoon in The Funk Zone, touring the countless wine tasting rooms and tap rooms featuring local creations!
Santa Barbara supports an outdoor lifestyle, as it’s located between the ocean and the mountains.
Santa Barbara is home to countless beaches. My favorites are Butterfly Beach in Montecito, Padarao Lane Beach in Carpinteria, and Hendry’s Beach (and the Mesa Stairs) in Santa Barbara.
A few of my favorite hikes are the 7 Falls Trail, the San Ysidro Trail, Inspiration Point, and Cold Springs Trail.
If you want to spend time outside, but not laying at the beach or actively hiking, you can visit Douglass Family Preserve, a nature preserve on a bluff that offers unobstructed panoramic views of the ocean, walking paths and steps down to the beach. You can also visit Lotus Land, the Botanic Garden or Butterfly Grove.
Have I sold you on Santa Barbara yet?! Here’s one last shot to convince you to travel to one of my very favorite places: The air is rich with salt water and a blooming floral scent. The sun soaked white stucco buildings and lush greenery are maintained with relaxed purpose. Easy wellness seeps from every corner of the town. People in Santa Barbara live to be happy. Not to work, to achieve or to hustle, although they do these things like the rest of us. They wake up every morning to do the things they love — surf before work, mountain bike after work, and spend time with the people they love. I hope you’ll visit this hidden gem of a town! If you’re traveling to Santa Barbara and want more insider tips, email me at email@example.com!