“I need a vacation.” – all of us.
Vacations just can’t come sooner or more often can they? In a society dedicated to “the hustle” Angelenos are an especially unfortunate fortunate bunch. Being a resident in an urban destination has it perks – weather, beaches, limitless amounts of activities – but everyone can agree that no matter where you live, sometimes you just need to get the hell outta town. When you’re feeling like you need a mini-break from all the LA-ness or life’s general mundane monotony, it’s likely you do as all urban city dwellers do: you plan a weekend getaway. In LA we have several alternative destinations to choose from, but Santa Barbara has always been an escape favored by locals – and non-locals for that matter. If palm trees, calm oceans, Spanish style architecture, and crisp, salty Central Coast air beckons you, here’s how to make the most out of a few days in Santa Barbara.
WHERE TO STAY.
Santa Barbara is fortunately a destination that can cater to almost any budget. I don’t recommend you go there intending to spend no money, that could end poorly, but whether you’ve got cash to blow or you’ve got just a few hundred to spend, Santa Barbara can accommodate you.
BELMOND EL ENCANTO // Boutique Baller Status
I don’t think I’d quite known luxury until I’d met the Belmond El Encanto. It may have genuinely been love at first sight, but the attention to detail and personal touches is astounding, and the service is simply unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. But of course, as with anything beyond f*cking fantastic in this life, luxury like this comes at a price. Off season and during the week you have a better chance at snagging better deals, but five stars is five stars. And sadly after experiencing five stars, going forward nothing compares! But, if you cannot stay at the hotel, I highly recommend at least coming through to enjoy a meal or cocktail on their gorgeous open air patio. The stunning view of the ocean and Santa Barbara below is enough to take your breath away.
FOUR SEASONS BILTMORE // Big Name Baller Status
Picture a chic hotel right on the beach in Cannes paired with upscale Spanish style architecture and voila, you’ve got the Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara. Once you’ve picked your jaw up from the floor, a meal on the patio at Tydes or at the very least a cocktail at their aquarium bar is an absolute requirement. Only guests (and members) are allowed in, so that’s reason enough for me to suggest spending a weekend here. Off season (which is now) rooms can be as low as $300 a night, so I’m just sayin’, that prime location and all its amenities is priceless!
THE CANARY // Boutique Meets Big Name
Perhaps you’re feeling a bit more adventurous than lazy, but perhaps you’d like to like to have your cake and eat it too? The Canary is located in the heart of downtown and is within walking distance to just about everything including State Street, the Funk Zone, and much more. The Canary is no resort, but what they lack in monogrammed pillows they make up for in seriously comfortable beds, a hot chocolate bar, a free wine hour, and a rooftop pool with a view.
THE UPHAM // Cute, Quiet + Historically Quaint
Let’s just start with, “The Upham Hotel (located downtown) is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California, built in 1871.” It’s safe to say The Upham is not the kind of “old” that is creepy and borderline off-putting, this is the kind of “old” that is respectable and undoubtedly charming. All of the rooms have original legacy-embracing aspects all the while boasting modern updates and amenities. In true bed + breakfast form, The Upham offers guests free continental breakfast, wine and cheese in the afternoon, and my favorite: oreos and milk in the evenings.
THE LEMON TREE // Modern + Affordable
The Lemon Tree is the perfect spot to book a room if you’re in need of something affordable without having to completely sacrifice all vacation luxuries – namely great decor, a bar, and a big pool to lounge beside. If you’re just taking the weekend to go to a concert at the Bowl, or your wine tasting for a day, the Lemon Tree is the perfect place to stay without having to worry. Insiders secret: when booking be sure to request one of the newly renovated rooms. Just trust me!
WHERE TO DINE.
The Santa Barbara food game just keeps getting stronger and stronger with each new year. With that said though, patronage to what is classic and quintessential in terms of dining around this beachside city remains high. Wether it’s white table cloths or plastic knives and forks you seek, in Santa Barbara all of your wildest dining dreams can come true.
THE LARK // Hip Urban Eatery
Located in the heart of the vibrant arts district dubbed the Funk Zone, The Lark prides themselves on being a great community joint invested in working with locally sourced and responsibly grown ingredients. The space itself is comprised of reclaimed wood and metal materials, giving it that urban rustic feel we all seem to adore and gravitate towards. With a constant rotation of seasonal ingredients the menu is consistently guaranteed to lure in guests seeking fresh California-inspired dishes.
BROPHY BROS. // Charming, Seafood Centric, + My Personal Favorite Restaurant.
It is true. Brophy Bros. is my absolute personal favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara. There have been many a weekends in the past few years I’ve driven up the 101 to spend the afternoon hanging out on the deck, peeling shrimp, and drinking wine. Brophy Bros is a more casual laid back spot located right in a boat harbor, and it is the spot in town to go if you’ve found yourself with a seafood craving. Fair warning however, this place is P O P U L A R. Come at off times, make a reservation, or prepare to wait. And always request seating on the top deck – it makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
BARBAREÑO // Cool California Bistro
Barbareño as they say “celebrates California’s Central Coast” through their cuisine, their space, and their spirit. The spirit of Santa Barbara is undoubtedly visible in the crafting of the menu where items like the Eggamuffins, and the Santa Maria BBQ are stand out dishes and not to be missed. There’s something young, eager, and yet incredibly masterful about Barbareño, and what has resulted from that has given them the opportunity to be one of the city’s most beloved up-and-coming rustic California restaurants. Tip: the bread served before dinner is the warmest most delicious bread you’ll ever have, try not to fill up on it.
TUPELO JUNCTION CAFE // Laid-back Breakfast Joint
Tupelo Junction falls right in line with the more quirky, “chill”, artsy side of Santa Barbara, what you might not guess however from the outside looking in is that the offer hands down the best breakfast in town. Located right in the middle of the State Street shopping district, Tupelo Junction has been fueling diners up on Southern inspired dishes for years. Mimosas come in mason jars, the coffee served is strong, and if you fail to order the apple beignets or the pumpkin oatmeal waffle you might regret it. (Definitely will regret it.)
LA SUPER RICA TAQUERIA // Old School, Cheap, + Julia Child Approved
It wouldn’t be a true California getaway without getting some authentic Mexican food, and if you happen to be on vacation in Santa Barbara you’re going to La Super Rica. Opened in 1996, this Santa Barbara special has been serving affordable classics like tacos, tamales, and more for TWENTY years. Outside of their teal colored casual cool vibe and their outstanding handmade tortillas, La Super Rica also happens to be known for being one of Julia Child’s all time favorite restaurants. Ohhh the irony.
// HONORABLE MENTIONS //
Ca’dario (get the bolognese, it will change your life) // Olio Pizzeria (’nuff said in the title) // Olio Crudo Bar (lighter fish fare) // Julienne (A very well respected SB fav) // Opal (SB classic) // Zaytoon (my favorite patio + Middle Eastern food spot) // Wildwood Kitchen (hot new BBQ joint, chef from Julienne)
WHAT TO DO.
Besides the obvious options of going to the beach, hangin’ by the pool, or going to the zoo, here’s a few things to do that are activities you can truly only experience within the Santa Barbara borders.
PLAN A VISIT TO LOTUSLAND // Private Botanical Garden
Lotusland is an incredible public garden located in the private neighborhood of Montecito – more importantly, the neighborhood where Oprah lives. The garden is open February 17 – November 15 and visiting the estate will require reservations. Tour of Ms. Ganna Waleska’s incredible property are small and last about 1.5 hours – long enough so you may learn the history behind Lotusland see all of its beautiful botanical works of art.
TAKE A DRIVE TO LOS OLIVOS // Wine Tasting
Wine tasting in the Central Coast is an absolute must, some of the states best wine comes from vineyards in the Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez Valley, and a great place to get a taste is in a little town called Los Olivos. There’s a quaint downtown drag with restaurants and tasting rooms making it a great place to get started. Should you decide to venture into the vineyards, there are several wonderful wineries to choose from [check out Visit Santa Ynez’s website to get a better idea!]
TAKE A HELICOPTER TOUR OVER SANTA BARBARA // For the Adventurous Type
Oh yes, yes you can, and yes you can probably afford it! Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours offers a few flight options ranging from a 20 minute “city” ride for $150 per person to a 50 minute “luxury tour” for $400 per person that will fly you over valley vineyards, the Santa Barbara coastline, and even right over Neverland Ranch. After having done a 20 minute ride myself, I can with confidence say it’s a once in a lifetime worthwhile experience.
WALK OR BIKE AROUND DOWNTOWN // State Street + The Funk Zone
Downtown Santa Barbara is full of life and activity, and whether you’re getting some serious shopping done on State Street or taking part in the Urban Wine Trail, galleries and boutiques in the Funk Zone, there will be zero chance of boredom. Should you find yourself wandering around State St, be sure to stop in Plum Goods for Santa Barbara related knick nacks and gifts – I absolutely adore this little shop. When you make it to the Funk Zone (which you can walk to from State Street) be sure you stop for tastings at Potek Winery and The Valley Project; they are THE best tasting rooms, such a blast to simply hang around. And of course the wines aren’t too shabby neither.
WHALE WATCHING // Nature Lovers
Directly off the Santa Barbara coast you can take a ride on the Condor Express to see REAL, live, wild sea creatures – all year round. There are of course seasons for sea life migration, but on one of these tours you have the opportunity to see dolphins, grey whales, humpback whales, and if you’re lucky, blue whales.
For a more in depth look in to Santa Barbara, head over to VISIT SANTA BARBARA for more!!!
“Soooo… what makes you a Santa Barbara authority?” you may wonder. Besides the obvious, “because I have a blog and can just declare things” route, I’ve been traveling to Santa Barbara almost yearly for the better part of my life; at least the last 17 years of it. Since having become a Southern California resident in 2007 I’ve made the 90 minute drive to heaven quite frequently, even if just to spend an afternoon. Santa Barbara has forever felt like “vacation” and never like just another city in California to admire and pass through. It’s the kind of place you go to and have a hard time leaving, and with every new visit you can experience all new things.
This past week I had the pleasure of experiencing a multitude of new facets to Santa Barbara I’d yet to become familiar with, if I wasn’t an honorary Santa Barbarian before this trip, I most certainly feel like I’m one now! Huge special thanks to Visit Santa Barbara for hosting me on such an incredible escape.