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Travel News Why Santa Barbara Belongs on Your Bucket List

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Why Santa Barbara Belongs on Your Bucket List

If you've found yourself California dreaming, you've come to the right place. Santa Barbara is the perfect destination if you're into luxe living, family-owned wineries, breathtaking beaches, and small picturesque towns that'll charm you the second you arrive.

Best things to do in Santa Barbara:

  • Take in the beautiful views
  • Roller blade along the beach
  • Spot seals off of Stearns Wharf
  • Stay in a beachside resort
  • Visit a local winery in the mountains surrounding Santa Barbara

When I booked a last-minute ticket on the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, I wasn’t expecting to roll into a dreamy little beach town where I’d fall head over heels in love. But California, true to form, is full of surprises.

Below, I’ll discuss some of the many reasons that Santa Barbara should be added to your bucket list.

##The Beauty of Santa Barbara [Santa Barbara]( is a glittering seaside oasis that looks like it dropped straight out of Mediterranean design heaven. The town’s Old World architecture nurses strong ties to its colonial Spanish roots, and every stucco building–except for the Nantucket-esque little pier called Stearns Wharf–is painted some variant of a golden-white hue and crowned with red terra-cotta roof tiles. Bougainvillea climbs up every corner, blooming in bright pink and red clouds, and patterned Spanish tiles make every staircase a colorful affair. And if you’re not already starry-eyed and sighing from the visuals, just take a deep breath: the entire town is jasmine-scented thanks to the ubiquity of this fragrant vine.
##Beach Town Vibes Though Santa Barbara’s beauty is unparalleled, its vibe is second to none. A California beach town through and through, Santa Barbara is extremely laid back–and yet it maintains a refined air that can sustain an earned nickname like “The American Riviera.” Upscale but not uppity, the town is the perfect retreat for those who like to maintain an air of elegance as they unwind.
##Things to Do in [Santa Barbara]( Enveloped in wine regions on one side and wide open ocean on the other, Santa Barbara has plenty of things to do. Foodies and adventurers alike can find their bliss here, as can luxury travelers and those who simply want a relaxing getaway. A small, hip region of the downtown area–dubbed The Funk Zone–is home to a concentrated selection of local wineries and breweries offering daily tours and nightly tastings. Doing a wine-bar crawl with stops at some of Santa Barbara’s best restaurants is a great way to spend an evening (or two). (Or three.)
In addition to shops and restaurants, State Street also houses a smattering of beautiful old theaters, so don’t be hesitant to catch a flick, even if it means putting your al fresco lifestyle on hold for a few hours. With a glinting night sky painted overhead, the Arlington Theatre is a real stunner, made to feel like an outdoor plaza in some breezy Mediterranean village. Paddle boards and kayaks are available for rent on the expansive yet uncrowded West Beach, where of course you can also bask in the sun or join locals in a rousing game of sand volleyball. Look for seals playing in the surf as you enjoy the sight of sailboats cruising in and out of the harbor.
For animal lovers, the famous Santa Barbara Zoo is just up the coast. Santa Barbara is also a hotspot for whale watching, with boat trips departing daily from the harbor in season.
Even if staying on dry land is more your speed, you’ll still feel a little kick of adventure as you spot one of the “Tsunami Danger Zone” signs along the shore!
##Golden Hour in Santa Barbara At golden hour, with the Pacific Ocean sparkling like a sea of diamonds and the Santa Ynez Mountains hazy in the distance, with fan palms swaying and a cotton-candy sunset imminent, the whole shebang seems surreal, like a movie set–nothing so beautiful could possibly be real. And yet Santa Barbara is the kind of place where magic seems to dance just out of reach, the kind of place that adds a whimsical glow to everything mundane–an idyllic backdrop for you to fall in love for the first time, or fall in love again, or simply be reminded of all the beautiful things life has to offer.
##Seeing and Staying in Santa Barbara Though it’s an upscale destination, there are some [cheap hotels]( in Santa Barbara. Quaint hotels line Cabrillo Boulevard, Santa Barbara’s beachfront drag, while trendy restaurants and bars populate every inch of real estate along State Street, the main road that cuts through the center of town. (State Street transforms into Stearns Wharf as it reaches the coast.) When researching where to stay in Santa Barbara, if you want to be in the middle of the action with easy access to much of Santa Barbara’s beauty on foot, look for hotels as close as possible to the intersection of those two streets. The streets of Santa Barbara beg to be walked, run, biked, or roller bladed, and the whole town seems to comply. Ambling along the boardwalk and out onto the pier is a daily necessity in Santa Barbara, much like brunching in New York City or donut-hunting in Los Angeles. I’m now convinced I hadn’t really lived until I experienced a leisurely golden-hour stroll along this scenic coastal route. Stearns Wharf is the long wooden pier that divides the town, a landmark and symbol of Santa Barbara. Cars are allowed on the pier but there’s also a large walkway that will deliver you to the small collection of restaurants and specialty shops at the end of the pier. Fair warning: cute little Great Pacific Ice Cream Co is tempting but ridiculously expensive.
##Getting to Santa Barbara There are no Santa Barbara airlines, but there is an airport located close to Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA) is a small public airport just 8 miles from downtown. Or, you can fly into Los Angeles and take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train to Santa Barbara for an enchanting and scenic ride. Use Skyscanner’s Flight Search tool to find the cheapest airfare into Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. Search for cheap flights to Santa Barbara
##Santa Barbara Belongs on Your Bucket List It’s too well known to be considered a hidden gem, but Santa Barbara definitely flies under the radar for what an alluring reverie it is. The saying goes that beautiful things don’t ask for attention, and that’s certainly the case with sleepy little Santa Barbara, in all its understated beach-town-paradise glory. As you depart Santa Barbara and enter back into reality, you truly may start to wonder to yourself: was all of that just a blissful, surreal, breathtakingly beautiful dream?                  

About the Author


Skye Sherman // Skye Sherman

Skye is a private pilot, scuba diver, and travel writer who is passionate about exploring the globe. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @skyesherman