Hey guys, Andrew here! As Erin might say, “I’M SO EXCITED” about this topic. If you haven’t noticed, she says that A LOT. Not only is Santa Barbara a very special place for her and I, but it’s also where I lived for five years. Throughout my time there, and especially since, I’ve been lucky enough to check out a ton of really cool spots. Although I could go on forever about Santa Barbara, I’ll spare you and narrow it down to some of our favorites that we visit regularly. So, let’s get right into it; here are the best places to eat, drink, hike, and stay in Santa Barbara!
Whether you’re looking for the perfect date spot with a view or the best tacos in town, I’ve got you covered here. These are some of my favorite eateries in SB:
La Super-Rica Taqueria – Let’s talk about tacos first. This small hole-in-the-wall has some of the best tacos you’ll find in Southern California. Sure, you might have to wait in a line that wraps around the shack but I promise you, it’s worth it!
The Lark – This place is right in the middle of the Funk Zone and a great restaurant to hit up after some day drinking at the breweries and wine tasting rooms. I love the fresh ingredients and the unique and seasonal menu.
Stonehouse Restaurant – I love this place. Not only do you get a five star experience at one of the most amazing resorts in the country (check below for San Ysidro Ranch), but you’ll also get a killer view from the Montecito hills that overlooks the coastline. Since the resort is typically only open to guests staying at the property, this is a great excuse to check out the grounds. Once you’re done with dinner, head downstairs to the bar at Plow & Angel. It has an awesome ambiance that reminds me of an old English underground tavern. Yeah, I’m not really sure what that means either but it’s pretty cool.
Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach – Okay, I’m a little biased here because this is where I took Erin and our families to dinner right after we got engaged. That being said, it’s a relaxed and upbeat restaurant right on the beach, just outside all the madness of Downtown SB and reminds me a lot of Duke’s in Malibu! This is also Erin’s favorite!
Padaro Beach Grill – Although it’s a bit outside of SB in Carpenteria, it has a super laid back and fun atmosphere. Grab some burgers and brews, sit back and enjoy the ocean view!
Oliver’s – I’m not vegan but this place has some of the best vegan food I’ve ever had. It’s also a really cool date night spot with a nice outdoor setup under string lights.
Cold Springs Tavern – It’s perched up in the Santa Ynez Mountains and has some awesome tri-tip. The cabin feel is very similar to the Old Place Restaurant in Malibu and also has some fun live music outside on weekends.
Best Pizza: Lucky Penny, Bettina, and Olio Pizzeria – I really couldn’t choose one here because they’re all delicious and offer something a little different. Lucky Penny has the same owners as The Lark and is also a perfect spot after getting a bit tipsy in the Funk Zone. I absolutely love good pizza dough and Bettina has some of the best I’ve ever had. Olio Pizzeria has a really nice ambiance, especially for a hot date.
Other Great Options – Loquita, Los Agaves, Barbareno, Freebird’s (what kind of Gaucho would I be if I didn’t mention the best nachos in America!?)
Place I Want To Eat – Flor De Maiz
Bars & Brews
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Santa Barbara has countless wine tasting rooms, bars, and breweries. Whether it was a Thursday college night during my younger years or a Saturday evening when it seems like the entire town is out, I’ve always had a blast at the bars on State Street. In this section, I decided to share some of my favorites that are away from the main strip.
Santo Mezcal – This could easily be in my Eats section but my experience here was while out having some drinks with friends. I’m a bit of a mezcal aficionado and I LOVE their cocktails! Totally worth trying out.
Pearl Social – I was disappointed to hear that Les Merchands, a wine shop at this location, was closing down. Fortunately, the cocktail bar Pearl Social opened up and its actually an even cooler place to grab a drink.
The Good Lion – Actually, this place IS on State Street but it’s not the typical State Street bar. The cool vibe and great drinks make this a great place to start your afternoon.
Test Pilot – Considering how much I love Hawaiian shirts, I can never get enough of a Tiki Bar. As it’s probably the only tiki bar in town (that I know of), I definitely recommend Test Pilot if you’re looking for tasty craft cocktails.
Funk Zone Wineries – There are a ton of great spots including some I won’t list here. A few of my favorites are Santa Barbara Wine Collective, Santa Barbara Winery, Corks n’ Crowns, Margerum, and Pali Wine Co.
Breweries – My top choices are Topa Topa Brewing, Telegraph Brewing, Figueroa Mountain Brewing, Third Window Brewing, and Night Lizard Brewing.
Place I Want To Drink – Lab Social
I’m going to break down some of the best SB hotels by tier. It would be unfair to compare all hotels to the most luxurious in the area. Here are some great places to stay at different price points:
San Ysidro Ranch – SYR is easily one of the most amazing resorts we’ve ever been to. It’s definitely the best hotel in Santa Barbara! This is saying a lot considering that we LOVE staying at the Bacara. Imagine a 5-star resort in the middle of the French countryside, except perched up on a hill with ocean views. That’s San Ysidro Ranch. We didn’t stay here but we did take a tour of the grounds when we were deciding on wedding venues. As Erin mentioned in one of our Tipsy Tuesdays, this is the cheapest, quickest, and best way to check out the resort (other than dining at the fantastic Stonehouse Restaurant).
Bacara (Ritz Carlton) – As some of you may already know, we’ve stayed here several times over the years. It’s definitely a really special place for Erin and I, especially considering that it’s where I proposed to her. I used to run some of my 12 milers around the Bacara and could never get over the amazing views from atop of the bluffs overlooking the ocean. I always knew I wanted to propose there. Aside from the stunning views it offers some awesome Spanish architecture and we’ll never forget spending time with our families there after the proposal. Their restaurant, Angel Oak, and the pool share the same ridiculous views. Similar to SYR, you’ll feel like you’re getting away from everything when you stay here.
Ojai Valley Inn – Alright, so this one is cheating a bit because it’s not in Santa Barbara. BUT it’s not too far away and it has a really similar SB feel. From the restaurants to the ice cream and coffee shops to the golf and the pool, this place has it all for a great weekend escape. You truly feel relaxed and removed from it all.
Montecito Inn – Has a great Spanish vibe and is right in the heart of Montecito, just outside Downtown SB. Price-wise, this is a hit or miss – wait for the right night to grab a great rate.
Kimpton Goodland – This is another place just outside of SB in Goleta. We stayed at the same location before Kimpton bought it out but it’s definitely a budget friendly hotel, trendy, and a good bang for your buck if you’re not looking for all the bells and whistles.
Place I Want To Check Out – Kimpton Canary
I’ve heard Santa Barbara be considered the “American Riviera,” and it truly does have its similarities to the French and Italian rivieras. One of my favorite things to do when we’re on vacation, especially when we were in France and Italy, is to sit back and relax at a cafe with a cup of coffee and pastry in hand. Whether it’s a bakery attached to a wine tasting room or a hipster coffee stop, SB has their own versions of a place to take a step back and enjoy the moment. Some of my favorites are,
Helena Avenue Bakery – Love this place! It shares an open concept space with the Santa Barbara Wine Collective, bakes an awesome rye bread, and is easily my favorite place to grab some coffee in town.
Handlebar Coffee Roasters – I’ve only had the Cortado from here but it was fantastic. I really liked the vibe at this coffee shop. It’s so close to State Street that you can take it to-go for a nice stroll through downtown.
Low Pigeon Coffee Roasters – Small coffee shop at The Mill but their coffee is on point!
Place I Want To Try – Renaud’s Patisserie
Hikes & Walks
I truly feel that Santa Barbara has some of the BEST hikes around. The town sits between the beach and mountains so you get some of the most amazing views you could ever see. Here are some of my favorite places:
Ellwood Mesa/Butterfly Preserve – I spent five years running on these bluffs almost every day and it’s still my favorite place to slog around for a couple miles.
More Mesa – See Ellwood Mesa.
Gaviota Hot Springs – Speaks for itself.
Those Views Though…
Rocky Pine Ridge
Place I Want To Hike – The Coastal Vista Trail
Where To Get Touristy
The Funk Zone – Mentioned this above but it’s worth checking out.
Presidio Neighborhood – If you want to check out some more wineries and breweries, this is another great area.
Santa Barbara Public Market – Cool place to go for some more good eats.
The Mill – Has an array of merchants, especially for drinks.
Beaches – Just go to literally any beach in Santa Barbara and it’ll be a blast.
Paseo Nuevo / State Street / Stearn’s Wharf – Totally lives up to touristy but you might as well.
And there you have it, you’re now set for your next Santa Barbara vacation! Again, these are just some of the best places so if you want any other recommendations, let us know! If you’re interested in some more travel tips, check out the one we posted about Bora Bora.