How to Spend a Weekend in Santa Barbara

I’m going to say it: Santa Barbara is the prettiest town in California.

I mean it.

I will shout it from mountaintops.

I realize this is a bold statement, there is certainly tough competition, but where else do you have this:


Santa Barbara Beach
By Damian Gadal

and this:


Santa Ynez Mountains
By SBA John Wiley

right next to each other? Few places, that’s the answer.

Santa Barbara has that je ne sais quoi that’s missing from other locales.

Admittedly, I’m a little biased having moved there at 18 for school (I’m a Gaucho for life).  Those were the impressionable years when I discovered who I was, what I wanted out of life, and, though majoring in Global Studies did not necessarily help me figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I learned exactly what I did NOT want to be (a greedy “bad guy” who ruins the ecosystem), and that had value enough for me.

So, when I visit, I want to maximize my time there.  If you’re the same way, here’s a great way to spend a weekend in Santa Barbara:

One could Wine Taste, shop in the myriad of retail establishments in Downtown Santa Barbara on State Street, tour the historic old Mission, or…

One could hike to Red Rock and jump off of it.

Red Rock Santa Barbara
By C O L I N

There are many awesome hikes in Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas, with natural rock water slides and waterfalls, but Red Rock in particular is a popular hike and hangout spot, especially on summer weekends.  To successfully spend a day there, follow these directions to the trailhead, pack supplies you intend to carry back out with you (no littering, please!), like plenty of water, snacks, proper footwear for hiking, and a bathing suit for swimming in the Santa Ynez River.

It’s a nice change of pace from a typical beach day, and gives you an opportunity to have a “local’s” experience.  If you go on a weekend in the spring/summer, you’ll probably be partying with college students.  If you go any other time of year, however, you just might have a more laid-back day.

Lastly, if you really just really want to get an adrenaline rush that may or may not end successfully, take a jump from the 40-foot cliffs into the pools below. Would I? Heck no, but it IS what Red Rock is sorta known for.

If hiking and jumping from cliffs is just not your thing, the Botanical Gardens are a nice, cheap alternative, that take less time out of the day, and are easy to get to from State Street.  Just head up past the Mission (there will be signs), and bring along your trusty camera.

You wouldn’t want to miss this:

Santa Barbara Flowers
Santa Barbara Flowers

No hiking boots needed.  You can even wear your flip flops – I did.

You don’t even have to work that hard to be a brilliant photographer here.  The landscape just poses for you:

Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens
Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens

If all else fails, just head to Butterfly Beach.

How to get there:

Santa Barbara is North of Los Angeles on the 101 North freeway.

Where to eat:


Cheap: Bagel Cafe in Isla Vista (best bagels EVER. I’m serious when I say I ate one every day of college)

Middle of the Road: Sambos (the mimosas and bloody marys are large) or Cajun Kitchen (both have locations in Goleta and Downtown)

Pretty Penny: Four Seasons Resort – The Biltmore Santa Barbara


Cheap: Kahuna Grill or Natural Cafe in Goleta, La Super Rica Downtown.

Middle of the Road: Woody’s BBQ in Goleta, Pascucci on State Street

Pretty Penny: Ca’ Dario Downtown (Italian food. Order the ravioli, trust me), or Miro in Goleta.

Where to stay:

Cheap: This is tricky, because there aren’t very good cheap options in Santa Barbara.  For the best value, stay in Goleta at Extended Stay America, The Ramada, or camp in Red Rock.

Expensive: Fess Parker Double Tree Resort (they allow dogs!), The Bacara Resort, or The Biltmore Santa Barbara

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    • says

      I think my interest in jumping off the cliff went away when I turned 22.  Something about getting older reminds me how important it is not to be an idiot…maturity? 

    • Ruth says

      There is so much to take advantage of in SB! You need to get back and enjoy how beautiful it really is. Isn’t too expensive either if you do your research, which it seems like you are! Great time to go is when it warms up a bit. My favorite time to go is June-September. Hiking is a great choice if you really want to see some beauty. Also a great place to stay is the Sandman Inn ( I’ve only had good experiences there and it is highly affordable too.

  1. says

    We’re heading to Solvang this weekend so some of these dining tips will be helpful on our way there.  Thanks!  I love that botanical garden picture.  We were near there recently visiting the mission but may now make a quick stop.  I can honestly say that’s the prettiest mission around.  As a San Diegan, I may have to disagree with you on the prettiest California town though =)

    • says

      Solvang is so cute! It’s such a nice drive up there from Santa Barbara, too.  Definitely go to Mortensen’s Danish Bakery in Solvang!  

      Also, I’d say San Diego is a close second 😉 

  2. says

    How did I not know it was so beautiful, wow. I have also heard San Diego is stunning but I haven’t spent any time in California at all.

  3. says

    I’ve never been to Santa Barbara but it does look heavenly. In fact, I can see myself enjoying myself and doing the SAME THING you are in the top photo, seriously.

    Safe travels,

  4. says

    Santa Barbara . . . I lived there for 30 years, only left when I’d attended every school I could (from 6th grade, through Brooks Institute) :) . . . still keep a few surfboards in Carp . . . :) Nice site here . . . Safe travels . . . Walk on . . .

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