I have visited Santa Barbara several times. It is definitely one of the best cities in California to visit and spend time. It has a great beach, boat harbors and a pier known as Stearns Wharf where you will find several eating and drinking options.
The area just east of the beach and between Route 101, split by railroad tracks, is the “Funk Zone”. This area, which was once industrial, is being re-developed with attractive shops, restaurants and businesses like surfboard shops and artists. It is also home to the city’s Urban Wine Trail with more than 15 tasting rooms.
I did stop in and see the new Riviera Beach House (formerly Hotel Indigo) at 121 State St. It had just opened and is a colorful, contemporary hotel that is attractive and well-designed. I would definitely stay there on my next trip. You are close to the beach and a short walk to the main shopping and restaurant district.
Other hotels getting good reviews include the Hotel Milo, The Goodland, The Spanish Garden Inn, the Agave Inn and the Kimpton Canary. The Harbor Inn has 17 rooms and is a block from West Beach. The Hotel Californian is an elegant property on the water and has a popular restaurant, Black Bird.
Downtown Santa Barbara is very attractive and is a great walking destination. There are many shops, restaurants and galleries.
Bouchon is a downtown restaurant that comes highly recommended by local friends. It is at 9 West Victoria Street and features locally sourced ingredients and local Santa Barbara wines. Chicago friends just got back and thought it was one of their best meals ever!
Other articles including the New York Times, recommend La Super-Rica Taqueria at 622 N. Milpas for great fish tacos and Jeannine’s for breakfast. Also just read about The Lark for locally sourced, seasonal ingredients that includes a large communal table. Sunset Magazine loves Ca’ Dario at 37 E. Victoria and D’Angelo Bread at 25 W. Gutierrez for coffee, breakfast and brunch. Brophy Brothers is known for its fresh seafood along the Santa Barbara Harbor. Scarlett Begonia is also recommended at 11 E. Victoria. Food and Wine Magazine likes the Taqueria el Bajio at 129 N. Milpas St.
Also getting good press is Loquita for authentic Spanish tapas and dishes and Satellite, a casual restaurant, wine bar and wine shop. Renaud’s Bistro is an excellent French cafe and bakery. Breakfast Culture Club is also great for coffee near the beach. The same company as Loquita and The Lark also has Helena Avenue Bakery, a “homestyle artisan bakery and kitchen offering rustic, organic breads, handmade seasonal pastries, scratch made breakfast fare, gourmet sandwiches on freshly baked bread and seasonal salads.” A casual spot on the beach is the Shoreline Beach Cafe open since 1997.
Make sure to see the Old Mission Santa Barbara. This is a beautiful spot. It was the 10th California Mission and was completed in 1786, two years after the death of Padre Junipero Serra, who founded the first nine Missions. It was Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, his successor, who raised the cross and made the first converts. The chapel and grounds are lovely.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art: I was invited to attend a private tour of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art which is in the heart of downtown. I saw two great photography shows and another show as part of the Pacific Standard Time show that was organized by the Getty and was being shown in venues all over Southern California. It is an excellent museum and well worth the visit.
It was founded in 1941 and has strengths in Ancient Art, Asian Art, French and English 19th and early 20th Century Art, 19th and early 20th Century American Art, International Modernism and works on Paper, Photography and Contemporary Art. It is located at 1130 State Street.
Opened in 1918, the vintage El Encanto resort, now an Belmond property (Orient Express), has undergone an extensive seven-year renovation and is getting good press as a great place to stay with beautiful grounds and wonderful panoramic views of the city and ocean.
I am also excited to hear that there is now the Santa Barbara Public Market at 38 W. Victoria. It has a focus on local farms and artisanal ingredients. You will find purveyors of coffee, seafood, ice cream, cupcakes, meats, breads, wine, beer and much more. They also offer special events, cooking classes and wine events.