Santa Barbara, also named The American Riviera, is a small coastal city nestled between the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The city features Mediterranean-style buildings, perfect weather year round, treasured landmarks, and dreamy lush gardens. I promise you, you will want to add this one to your bucket list! Once you visit Santa Barbara, you’ll never want to return home! And I have the perfect Santa Barbara weekend guide for you to reference when when you do decide to visit!
The Perfect Santa Barbara Weekend Guide
WHEN TO GO
There is no wrong time to visit Santa Barbara, it pretty much has perfect weather all year round! However, spring and fall see a lot less crowds, which means lower hotel rates and less photobombs! Summer is also a great option if you don’t mind the crowds and if rates aren’t a concern, but you should know that the temperature only increase by a few degrees when compared to spring and fall. And lastly, winter has an average of 5 rainy days per month but still manages to stay in the high 60s, so definitely don’t rule out winter if that’s when you’re available to travel. Regardless of when you visit, make sure to always carry a light jacket because the nights are usually chilly, even during summer!
Read this blog post next: Best Stops to Make Along the California Coast
WHAT TO DO
STROLL THROUGH A GARDEN
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a living museum of California native plants! It is absolutely stunning, you could be strolling through a desert plant area and then switch to a forest within a few minutes. But the meadow was my absolute favorite!
Lotusland is recognized as one of the ten best gardens in the country! An opera singer purchased the estate in 1941 and spent 43 years creating this beautiful garden that holds a spectacular collection of exotic plants. It reminds me of Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, Morocco. I wouldn’t miss this one for the world!
*make reservations beforehand, they have limited availability and tend to sell out
Casa Del Herrero
Casa de Herrero is both a garden and a historical house. When you visit you will be transported back to the 1920s to appreciate the Spanish revival architecture and Moorish-inspired gardens.
*you will also need reservations for this garden
VISIT A HISTORIC SITE
El Presidio De Santa Barbara
In the heart of the modern-day city of Santa Barbara, you will find this military outpost built by the Spanish in the 1780s. It’s quite the experience to step into history while being surrounded by trendy cafes and modern buildings.
Old Mission Santa Barbara
Another building that takes us back in time, this mission was built in 1786 by the Spanish Franciscans under the guidance of Friars. The Mission has artwork, artifacts, and multiple lush gardens that you can explore. Or, you can simply pose in front of the mission for a beautiful picture!
SHOP AND DINE
State Street is a palm tree lined street in downtown Santa Barbara with tons of dining options, cafes, boutique shops, galleries, and name-brand stores. You could easily spend a whole day here jumping from shop to shop!
Paseo Nuevo is one of the most aesthetically pleasing shopping malls I’ve ever visited! It is right on State Street and it is the perfect destination for an outdoor shopping experience. It also has the cutest tiled staircase that has been featured on tons of Instagram posts, making it the perfect Instagrammable place!
La Arcada Courtyard
This quaint shopping and dining square is a substitute for the larger malls. La Arcada Plaza is a unique space that offers cozier retail and dining experiences and features tile-line walkways, fountains, sidewalk cafes, and a captivating courtyard.
HIT THE BEACH
Hands down my favorite beach in Santa Barbara and a favorite for locals, too! Butterfly Beach is located in the laid-back village of Montecito and it is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. The beach is lined with palm trees and its unique east-west orientation makes for spectacular sunrises and sunsets! I can’t stop daydreaming of this magical place!
1000 Steps Beach
This beach can be found below homes that sit high on a bluff! It’s called 1000 steps beach but it actually only has about 150 steps that lead down to the shore. It’s perfect for tide pooling and beach walking!
East Beach and West Beach are only divided by the pier, Stearns Wharf, but together make up the main shoreline that is firstly seen upon entering the city. These two beaches are also a great option if you want to stay within the downtown/center area.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Santa Barbara Courthouse + Gardens
Ahhhh! This dreamy location was one of my absolute favorites! The Santa Barbara Courthouse features a clock tower that is open to the public – you can climb to its balcony and catch some beautiful views of the city! You can also take a stroll through their lush gardens or have a picnic in their large open grass area. Still can’t get over this one!
Stearns Wharf is a tourist attraction where you can book fun water activities like a cruise or a para sailing tour, and you can also find ocean front restaurants. At the very least, buy some ice cream or some fresh fruit and take a walk down the pier!
Douglas Family Preserve
This preserve is a massive open space with cliffside ocean views! This property spans 70 acres and it has a walking trail that loops the entire perimeter. You can go for a casual walk, hike through the interior trails, go whale and dolphin watching, or you can just sit back and watch hang gliders launch into the air.
Shoreline park is a large linear grass area along the shoreline bluffs, which overlook the ocean. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a warm drink and catch a sunset.
Check out more places to visit in California: 16 Places You Have to Visit in California
WHERE TO EAT
The interior of this cafe is pink and that’s all that needs to be said! Haha! Kidding! The Andersen’s is a Danish Restaurant and Bakery serving some delicious pastries and European cuisine. It’s super yummy!
Helena Avenue Bakery
This homestyle artisan bakery serves yummy sandwiches, soups, salads, and house-baked bread and pastries using high quality ingredients. It’s the perfect little stop for breakfast.
This award-winning Mexican restaurant offers bold flavors of Mexico, and authentic dining experience, and high quality ingredients. The restaurant is family owned and operated and it is considered one of Yelp’s top 5 restaurants in Santa Barbara!
The Santa Barbara Public Market is an indoor food hall with locally sourced food and drink options! It has a dynamic vibe and it is the perfect spot for a quick lunch bite!
The best wood-fired pizza in Santa Barbara can be found over at Lucky Penny! Head over to their picnic patio to enjoy some pizza, handmade treats, locally sourced garden fresh salads, or maybe a glass of wine. Fun fact, the building’s exterior is actually covered with over 150,000 pennies, hence the name, Lucky Penny.
This all vegan restaurant will literally turn meat-lovers into plant lovers! Every single dish is mouthwatering! Not to mention, all of their produce is locally sourced and highest in quality!
Follow me on Instagram to view my Santa Barbara story highlight where I share behind the scenes and tons of other SB content!
Cellphone Service: whether you’re driving over from San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego, cell phone service can get a little patchy on the way due to all of the surrounding mountains. Make sure you download offline maps or any other travel resources beforehand!
Follow CDC Guidelines: please wear a mask in public and maintain your distance! Whether you believe these guidelines to be helpful or not, they will keep us moving forward toward more normalcy and allow us to keep traveling and exploring new places…which is what we want, right?
Sunscreen: Santa Barbara sees over 300 days of sunshine and clear skies so don’t forget to bring sunscreen!
Budget: Santa Barbara is a wealthy city and is generally pretty expensive. You can still work with a budget but just be prepared with some extra spending money.