My husband introduced me to Santa Barbara over 25 years ago as a place he loved as a child, frequenting on summer vacations, and later as a teenager, attending high school in nearby Carpinteria. Immediately I understood the allure, and we return yearly, making it a summer tradition for our own family, spending time in this area of the world known as the American Riviera. I have written extensively about Santa Barbara and environs over the years, and I thought it would be fun to incorporate some of my older posts into a comprehensive Santa Barbara Guide, compiling over 20 years of research. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it! File this post away in your Travel File, and let me know if I missed any of YOUR favorites. xoM
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK
I start the guide off with Loquita because it happens to be my favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara, and therefore a must-try. Located downtown on State Street in an area called the Funk Zone, Loquita serves authentic Spanish food using locally sourced produce, seafood and meats. The price point is higher than many of the casual Funk Zone eateries, but the food and cocktails are top notch and the setting exquisite. Ask for a table on the charming patio, and settle in with a Costa Blanca Gin and Tonic, with kaffir lime infused gin, tonic, and blood orange. Next, order the Jamón Ibérico with Pan de Tomate and the El Bullí Olive, an homage to the world-famous El Bullí. Next, order some sangria and tapas for the table, like the Pulpo, the Coliflor and the Brusela. A paella for the table and some churros for dessert are also a must. 202 State St. www.loquitasb.com
The Plow & Angel at San Ysidro Ranch
San Ysidro Ranch is known as the luxury hotel and resort where countless celebrities have honeymooned, most notably JFK and Jackie. However, it was originally a working ranch and citrus orchard. In fact, one of the two hotel restaurants, The Stonehouse, is so-called because of the stone house that was built as a packing plant for the citrus. The Stonehouse is considered the “fancier” of the two restaurants, but for many reasons I prefer the more casual Plow & Angel. In the summer, I enjoy sitting outside under the loquat trees on the pebble stone terrace, and in the wintertime, I love sitting indoors by the fire. In either case, order a fantastic bottle of California wine (think Paul Lato), and savor the Tortilla Soup, the Ranch Macaroni and Cheese, and the Beer Battered Pacific Halibut and Chips. Live a little…you won’t regret it. 900 San Ysidro Ln, Montecito. www.sanysidroranch.com
Bettina is one of the more recent openings in the Montecito Country Mart and features wood-fired pizzas prepared by New York transplants, Brendan Smith and Rachel Greenspan. The pizza crust is made from perfectly charred sourdough, and the menu reflects the outstanding seasonal local produce. I am a sucker for the Summer Peach, with mozzarella, fontina, roasted poblano peppers, spring onion, ricotta salata and oregano. During COVID, Bettina is open for take out only, but the dining room is charming. I love to settle in to a booth, ordering an aperitivo, like the La Sirena (elderflower, Sirene bitter, prosecco and mint) and tuck into some Cacio e Pepe Arancini with Calabrian chiles. 1014 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara. www.bettinapizzeria.com
I include Via Vai in this Santa Barbara Guide because my kids would disown me if I didn’t. This restaurant has been such a big part of our lives as we have spent countless evenings on their patio gazing at the beauty of Montecito Peak and enjoying their wood-fired pizzas and tasty pastas. Via Vai is also our go-to for ordering out, especially for a large group. Via Vai’s food is consistent and their menu straightforward, with plates like Chicken Paillard, Fettuccine alla Bolognese and Calamari Fritti. We love to order an Insalata Cappuccina for the table, a head of butter lettuce stuffed with diced tomatoes, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses. Kids order the pizza, a favorite being the Salsiccia made with a delicious house made pork sausage, and I love the spaghetti with fresh seafood and shellfish in a spicy tomato broth. For a more intimate dining experience, you can cross the street to try their sister restaurant, Pane e Vino. 1483 E Valley Rd #20, Montecito.
The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach
Part of the allure of The Boathouse is the setting right on the beach. We love to go at sunset or after have arrived from the airport. They have a nice wine list showcasing many of the local wines and a raw bar with local uni, so trust me, there is a lot to love. Don’t miss the Dragonette Rosé with the Scallop Crudo and Uni, the Asparagus with Fried Egg and the Cioppino. 2981 Cliff Dr, Santa Barbara. www.boathousesb.com
Others Worth Mentioning…
Other notable restaurants include: Brophy Brother’s located in the harbor because it is an institution and delightful to be there at sunset watching the urchin boats arrive unloading their daily catch. Oliver’s in Montecito for the gorgeous patio and innovative vegan fare, like the Artichoke “Crab” Cakes and Kung Pao Cauliflower. Bibi Ji for fabulous Indian food and because anything associated with superstar winemaker Rajat Parr is notable. Merci Montecito in the Montecito Country Mart because it is the perfect place to pick up a picnic for the beach or the vineyards…call ahead to order the ham sandwich with a side of kale avocado salad and the gazpacho because they sell out quickly.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH – THINGS TO DO
It may sound dorky, but taking a Segway tour is one of the best ways to see Santa Barbara. Segway of Santa Barbara has a variety of tours, most notably the Mission Tour and the Old Santa Barbara Tour. Trust me on this one. www.segwayofsb.com
The Santa Barbara Sailing Center offers private charters with a captain, multi-day and hourly, as well as public tours for whale watching, sunset, and coastal cruises on their 50-foot catamaran, the Double Dolphin, that comfortably fits 49 people. They have also added Sipping on the Sea every third Thursday of the month where you can enjoy tastings from local wineries and breweries along with a brief tutorial by the winery/brewery representative. www.sbsail.com
Hike the Hills
There is no end to the number of wonderful hikes in the Santa Barbara area, and I feel that this is one of the unique aspects that distinguishes Santa Barbara from places like San Diego and the Newport Coast. Pick up a copy of this book on day hikes around Santa Barbara from Amazon and plan a hike to give yourself a break from the beach. A few years ago I wrote this post about hiking the trails around Montecito and thought it would be a great addition to this Santa Barbara Guide.
Explore Channel Islands National Park
One of California’s 9 national parks, the Channel Islands National Park, is just off the coast of Santa Barbara, and is often an overlooked treasure when visiting the area. Our family loves to book tours through Island Packers for a full day of ocean kayaking, hiking and picnicking. There is a lot of wildlife to see, from the lively dolphins that jump the wake of the ferry, to the occasional whale sighting, to the Channel Island foxes, for which there is a unique one one each island. www.islandpackers.com
Summerland Beach Rides
Charlie at Summerland Beach Rides can take you down along Summerland Beach for morning, afternoon or sunset beach rides as long as the tide is low. If not, a horseback ride along the hills is pretty glorious as well. The horses are calm and know the drill…ask to ride Sprinkles. www.summerlandbeachrides.com
Santa Ynez Wine Country
The wine country around Santa Barbara produces some of my favorite PInot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs in the world, and there are many ways you can sample them. The drive to the wine country is only 45 minutes, and I have written extensively about our visits in the past to places like Happy Canyon, Refugio Ranch, Presqu’ile, and the Santa Ynez Valley Part 1 and Part 2. (My Santa Ynez posts are several years old, and sadly many of the places and people are no longer around…however, there is a rumor that Mattei’s Tavern was purchased by Thomas Keller who plans to open a restaurant there, and the cabins on the grounds will be an Auberge resort…can you imagine!!!).
If you don’t have time to drive to the wine country, you are in luck because in the last few years, many wineries have opened tasting rooms right in Santa Barbara near or on State Street or in the Funk Zone. Read about some of my favorites in this post I wrote on the Funk Zone.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel
Belmond El Encanto
The Belmond El Encanto is a glorious property located high in the hills of the Santa Barbara Riviera. The views are stunning and the recently remodeled 92 California bungalows are exquisite. Even if you opt to stay elsewhere, it is worth swinging by the property for a drink at The Lounge or dinner on the terrace at The Dining Room. www.belmond.com
San Ysidro Ranch
San Ysidro Ranch is one of the most spectacular hotels in the US, if not in the world. After closing for remodeling due to the devastating mud slides in January of 2018, SYR is back better than ever. There are 42 “California-style” cottages of painted white board and batten siding and wood shake roofs. The interiors are super cozy with fireplaces, Persian rugs, radiant heating in the bathroom floors. The bedding on the four poster beds is so comfortable that you can buy the whole set to replicate at home. www.sanysidroranch.com
Simpson House Inn
While I have never stayed at the Simpson House Inn, it comes highly touted by Andrew Harper Travel, so I think it would be worth checking out. Simpson House Inn is a restored 1874 Victorian Estate Home functioning as a bed and breakfast of 15 rooms on a quiet street a few blocks from bustling State Street. It is important to note that the Simpson House Inn is adult only. www.simpsonhouseinn.com
Four Seasons Biltmore
The Four Season Biltmore is the Grand Dame of the hotel scene in Santa Barbara. Built in the 19th century as a private estate, the Four Seasons is elegance epitomized with 206 rooms spread among 22 immaculately landscaped acres. During COVID, owner Ty Warner closed the storied resort with plans to renovate and open in fall of 2021. I am waiting with bated breath. www.fourseasons.com
All photos by Marci Symington for TEXAZTASTE.com.