I will let you in on a little secret. Though I haven’t seen all of California’s cities, I think I have already found my favorite one. It’s not San Francisco or Los Angeles, it’s also not San Diego. It’s actually Santa Barbara. And I will now tell you how to spend one day in Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara certainly is one of those places you instantly fall in love with. Due to its warm, Mediterranean climate, people just refer to it as American Riviera and paired with its Spanish-Colonial architecture you will definitely be in vacation mode shortly after you arrive.
It offers a bit of everything: beaches, mountains, vineyards, culture, art. So, it basically comes down to what you are looking for.
Your perfect day in Santa Barbara
If you only have one day in Santa Barbara, I recommend splitting the time between the downtown area and the ocean/water front (if you love the ocean as much as I do, if not I have more tips for other activities further down).
Discover the downtown area around State Street
State Street is the perfect starting point for one day in Santa Barbara. You can grab a bite and a coffee before heading off to enjoy the pretty facades and courtyards. There are plenty of boutiques, small shops and galleries to spend a fair bit of time. Everything is walkable and you should definitely do so to soak up the beautiful architecture.
Santa Barbara County Courthouse
If you are already downtown makes sure to stop by the County Courthouse. With its four-faced clock tower, the typical red tile roof and a huge garden area it is Spanish-Colonial architecture at its best. And in case you travel with kids, the grass area in the back is great to let them run around for a bit and give you a break.
Another gem in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara is the beautiful Granada Theatre. Due to its wide range of shows and artists it attracts a diverse audience. Besides regional productions, some national ones find their way into Granada Theatre and it goes to show how renowned it is in the region.
Walk around Presidio Neighborhood
Not far from downtown Santa Barbara the Presidio Neighborhood invites for a stroll with its unique Spanish-Colonial architecture and plenty of restaurants, shops and El Presidio State Historic Park with a museum. Once you have explored downtown, follow State Street down to the water.
Stearns Wharf and a stroll on the beach
I love the ocean. So, if I travel to a place with water nearby (lakes work well, too), you will definitely find me there at one point. Santa Barbara is heaven for everyone loving the ocean. We enjoyed walking along East beach for a bit before going back to Stearns Wharf another iconic location.
If you would like to walk for a bit longer, you can just keep walking (around 3 miles one way) till you get to the beautiful Butterfly Beach.
Have dinner at the Wharf or Funk Zone
After a day full of walking and fresh air, you will be hungry sooner rather than later. Luckily, you are already in the right spot. Have a traditional fish & chips right on Stearns Wharf or get into the zone at the Funk Zone. The name sums it up quite well, funky restaurants and bars, even small boutiques and a little art and culture scene. For more information about the restaurants and galleries have a look at www.funkzone.net
More to explore
If you happen to have more than one day in Santa Barbara, here are more places to explore. Because one thing is for certain, in this charming city you can fill a lot more days than just one.
Old Mission Santa Barbara
One of the most historic and stunning landmarks in Santa Barbara is the Old Mission. Check out the church, the on-site museum, colorful gardens and once again admire the beautiful Spanish-Colonial architecture.
Ganna Walska Lotuspark
If you are into botany the Ganna Walska Lotuspark just 5 miles out of Santa Barbara might be a good place for you. There are 25 parks filled with cacti, palm trees, ferns, lotuses, water lilies, some gardens even have a special theme.