Beach, lovely restaurants, peace and sun, Santa Barbara is the best place to start your holidays to relax before the road trip starts!
Santa Barbara is very quiet compared to bustling San Francisco and Los Angeles so the best place to stop for a few days if you want to sleep, chill out and enjoy local food before heading you to the big cities.
If you land at LAX, you can easily take the Santa Barbara Airbus, make sure you sit on the left as you will be able to admire the pacific ocean on the left.
Again, you can walk pretty much everywhere as it is really safe, even at night. Walking on my own, I never got worried and people were always friendly. The main street in SB is called State Street and leads to Stearns Wharf, where you have Santa Barbara Shellfish Co, the best…clam chowder! (yes, again! Once you taste it, you adopt it!). The line can be quite long but definitely worth it, and you can see the amazing sunset over the town.
You can also find another tasty clam chowder at Brophy Bros, a bit further on Stearns Wharf but I found it less tasty and the waitresses were less friendly that at SB Shellfish Co.
Back to breakfast, Americans are all crazy about açaí, a berry originally from Brazil which is supposed to be very healthy and full of antioxidants. Not only being one of the new superfoods, it’s also very tasty and some genius decided to create açaí bowl. The nicest one is at Backyard Bowls, at the end of State street. If you don’t manage to go in SB, they have a few in Cali and one in Los Angeles.
Enough about food, let’s go back to Stearn’s Wharf, the waterfront where you can not only enjoy a lovely view of the harbour but also the mountains. The beach is nice but even in August, still a bit chilly to get in. Best to go for a walk after dinner in the evening or read a book on the beach, while watching kids play in the sand, locals playing beach volley or people training.
On State Street, you also have Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara’s biggest shopping square made of Spanish colonial style shops and terraces with big brands such as Nordstrom, Macy’s, Sephora and Victoria’s Secret but also local brands.
The Old mission Santa Barbara is also definitely worth the $6-visit. Be careful though as it closes around 4:30pm. It is a Spanish mission founded by the Franciscans in the 18th century to convert the local Native Americans and thus, full of history. The neighbourhood is also very nice with huge mansions overlooking the ocean.
For a short day-trip in the surrounding area, go to Butterfly beach in Montecito, which is apparently full of celebrities. From State Street, you can take Bus 20 Carpinteria and get off at Coast Village & Coast Village Circle. However, before boarding the bus, make sure you have the exact amount of cash, $1.75 as drivers cannot give change and buses come every 30 minutes. Of course, I didn’t know this and couldn’t do much with my $10 bill…
When you get off, you can start with brunch at Jeannine’s Bakery & Restaurant where the banana French toast is out of this world and Jeannine, the owner a charismatic and friendly lady that locals seem to adore.
After a heavy brunch, time to head out to Butterfly beach to rest during your food coma. You will need to go through a small tunnel and walk down Butterfly lane with interesting houses (see below, this guy had hundreds of statues of pigs outside his house!)
Buses stop running quite early so best to hop onto an Uber to go back to State Street. One of the nicest places for dinner, recommended by locals is Arigato Sushi, quite pricey but very tasty. In general, restaurants close quite early, around 10pm so best to go for dinner early.
I unfortunately didn’t have to visit other surrounding local communities but Goleta and Summerland are also full of charm for a day trip with the Goleta butterfly grove.
Close to Santa Barbara, you also have the Channel Islands that are apparently worth the visit. My colleagues recommended two companies: Santa Barbara Adventure Company for kayaking, stand up paddle and surf lessons or Santa Barbara Sailing Centre to take sailing lessons, join a cruise or go whale watching.
Now you’re fully rested, time to move onto the next city, Los Angeles, the city of Angels!