Once the sleepy stomping grounds of retirees, college kids, and the uber-famous who’d prefer to remain unnoticed, Santa Barbara has come into its own as a vibrant destination for good food and great wine, on top of ample opportunity for enjoying the outdoors. It’s a quick (and stunning) ride up the PCH from Los Angeles, though also easy enough to fly in and out of SBA and get around without a car of your own. Spend your days lounging on the beach or by the hotel pool or hiking in the Santa Barbara mountains and your nights walking the pier before dinner and realizing why so many who can choose to make Santa Barbara their second (or third, or fourth) home.
Where To Stay:
Much of Santa Barbara’s renaissance can be credited to the emergence of the Funk Zone, an artsy micro-neighborhood with a slight industrial vibe. At its heart is the Hotel Californian, a 121-room hotel with views of the Pacific, a Moroccan spa, a palm tree-shaded back patio, and a staff so eager to please they’ll charge your Tesla without asking. The just-opened Steward sits on five acres of lush land once owned by late 1800s horticulturist Joseph Sexton. 87 Southern European farmhouse-style suites are inspired by nature and invoke a Secret Garden feel; modern details mingle with an emphasis on sustainability. A night or two at the iconic San Ysidro Ranch, 22 minutes southeast of the city in the foothills of Montecito and nestled between the mountains and ocean. Thirty-eight bungalow-style cottages with private pools and sprawling lawns offer easy access to 17 miles of magnificent hiking trails through lavender, jasmine, orange blossoms and eucalyptus; when you’re back, enjoy a bottle of something special from one of the most extensive wine cellar collections in the United States.
Where To Eat:
Start the day with the Farmer’s Market Bowl and an oat milk latte on the shady patio of the Helena Avenue Bakery, an artisan bakery drawing from ingredients found along the Central Coast. Or pick up a packed lunch to-go for a hike or day at the beach. The Lark, in the former home of the Santa Barbara Fish Market, is named for the overnight train that once passed through town, and takes its design inspiration from there, too, with vintage train booths and lighting to match. The food is spectacular, and meant for sharing: locally-sourced takes on comfort food staples like roast chicken, cornbread and hand-cut pasta. Pull up a bar stool and ask for a glass of natural rosé at Broad Street Oyster, the Santa Barbara outpost of the Malibu favorite. Order a dozen on the half shell and make conversation with your neighbor—likely a friendly local eager to tell you his favorite secret beach spot.
Where To Drink:
Santa Barbara’s geography has made it one of the most interesting places along the west coast to produce wine: varied terrain and complex terroirs combine with coastal valleys delivering chilly ocean air. Across the street from the Hotel Californian, the Margerum Wine Company offers tastings of its renowned Rhone varietals, made from grapes grown both on its own nearby estate vineyard and sourced from other vineyards in and around Santa Barbara County. Part of the Hotel Californian, The Society: State & Mason pulls together bottles from area producers and pairs mini-lessons with sharable snacks. Tequila fanatics favor La Paloma Café, with specialty variations on the classic margarita (hibiscus, guava) and the namesake cocktail available by the pitcher.
Where To Shop:
Right in Santa Barbara, The Blue Door features three levels of vintage, midcentury, and modern furniture, décor, art, and lighting, both locally and international made and sourced by a variety of in-house curators. Finds might include a Spanish Colonial wrought iron chandelier, 1920s hand varve Italian Art Deco bookends, and modern bamboo dining chairs. On the way to Montecito, stop by Mate Gallery, tucked inside the Montecito Country Mart, a charming, wood-paneled den of New England style selling rare books, nautical artifacts, beach photos, and vintage OP shorts, among other maritime-inspired treasures.
What To Do:
The closet best beach option is Hendry’s Beach, one of Santa Barbara’s most picturesque, at the base of a bluff and just a 10-minute drive from town. For a more secluded spot, locals love Butterfly Beach in Montecito. Just be sure to BYO lunch and anything else you need for the day. For a more active outing, hikes abound: A great all-levels option is Inspiration Point, which offers stellar views of the city and the sea, and is kid- and dog-friendly besides. Save a morning, or more, for a visit to Lotusland, a nonprofit botanical garden founded in the 1940s by Polish opera singer Ganna Walksa containing 37 acres of collections of exotic plants from all over the world (be sure to book a docent-led tour in advance).