Weekends Santa Barbara style are the way to go when you need a little getaway but don’t want to go far (at least if your home base is Orange County CA). Spending as much time as I do in California I have some favorite go-to locations for short overnight trips. San Diego is one for sure, but Santa Barbara is the other. What I love about Santa Barbara is…well….everything. But here’s the short list – my top 5 things to do in Santa Barbara!
Drink in the wine culture of Los Olivos. Only 45 minutes from Santa Barbara’s downtown, Los Olivos has endless tasting rooms, beautiful sweeping wineries along the winding way, rolling hills and forlorn trees set against mountain ranges that, well, kind of remind me of Tucson. I can totally dream about owning a small winery wedding venue near there someday. #californiadreaming. I don’t have a favorite tasting room, but the most recent visit took us to Refugio Ranch Winery where the pours were generous and the wine was worth drinking.
When you get tired of the wine tasting (as if), and you want to feed your belly, I have a killer Los Olivos burger recommendation for you. Because, burgers make everyone happy. So, go to Sides Hardware and Shoes. Yes, that is a restaurant. And yes, the burger is repeat-worthy. I dream about this burger. It’s the burger I compare all other burgers to. Why? Because it’s big, and juicy, and smothered in cheese and shallots and aioli and bacon. Ohhh so good. After, when you’re heading down the mountain, don’t drink and drive : ) but definitely enjoy the drive as you soak in the scenery from the passenger seat, cruising with the windows open or the top down. Stop and stretch your legs at another winery, or, if you’re like me, hop out for a photo of one of the many idyllic country scenes that abound around every curve.
Stroll State Street. If you haven’t had enough to eat at Sides, or if you’ve had too much, strolling Santa Barbara’s State Street is a sure way to burn off the calories. It goes on forever, and has endless restaurants to choose from along with both boutique and upscale chain shopping options. So walk up one side and eat and shop to your heart’s content, and then double back and hit the other side.
One of my favorite stops is the Finch & Fork at the Kimpton Hotel. Yes, it’s a hotel restaurant, but not in that “old school only option so we have to eat here” kind of way. It has a buzzy vibe and hands down the BEST ice cream dessert I’ve ever had – the Fire Roasted Milk Shake – basically a banana caramel smores-themed milkshake with a marshmallowey toasted meringue fluff on the top. It has layers and crunch and smooth sweetness that is worth cheating on my diet for. Just this once.
- Head to the Water. If you can’t find me on that rooftop bar, you’ll find me near the water. There are several hotels that have easy walking access to the coastline along the edge of downtown Santa Barbara. The water is more marina-like, and less “waves crashing” along this part of the coast, but Stearns Wharf has a fantastic pier that leads out over the water with some classic seafood restaurants and a unbeatable view at sunset. Take a walk to the end and watch the stand up paddle boarders and kayakers coast in and out on the gentle tide while the seagulls call overhead.
- Brunch like a Champ. Brunching is so ”in” and I’m so glad that it is. I mean, who wouldn’t want to sit out on a sun-drenched patio, drink champagne and eat coastal California cuisine while listening to live music? On this trip, we did a little morning walk along the water and took in some more ocean breezes and then strolled to the Californian Hotel’s Goat Tree Café where they were hosting a pop-up winemakers brunch on the terrace. This one featured Potek Winery and the brunch hit all the highmarks for a Sunday fun-day – delicious food, free-flowing wine and champagne and sunshine.
- Immerse yourself in history at the Santa Barbara Mission. The Catholic-raised history lover inside of me adores exploring churches. And cathedrals (see my blog post on Strasbourg Cathedral here). And chapels. And missions. I feel like these structures tell a story that goes deeper than just religious roots – they tell a story about people. A church is the dwelling, but the people who form the communities that worship at these churches made (and still make) up the layers that the cities of today are built upon. Church history is fraught with wars and bloodshed, and controversial in many ways, but undeniably linked to the story of us.