Explore Santa Barbara
Tucked between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara features the best of both worlds when it comes to outdoor adventure. Water lovers can enjoy the beaches and some of the most scenic islands in California just a short boat ride away. Hikers will find endless trails in the Los Padres National Forest with towering views of the Pacific. Add world-class wineries, fine dining, spas, manicured gardens, and the beautiful Mediterranean-style architecture of the city, and you’ll understand why Santa Barbara is so beloved.
If you’re looking for fresh seafood, head to Stearns Wharf in the early morning hours to wait for the fishing boats to unload their catch. You can buy straight from the boats and take your fish home with you on ice—it’s cheaper, fresher and way more fun. Although the pier (home to California’s oldest working wharf) offers wine tasting, a touch aquarium for kids and lots of shopping and dining options, avoid it after mid-morning—it tends to become a bit of a tourist trap as the day goes on.
Old Mission Santa Barbara
The late 18th-century Old Mission Santa Barbara gave more than just its name to the city. You can see its lush courtyard, tiled roof and shaded arches reflected in buildings all over Santa Barbara. But the mission is a beautiful, historical destination on its own, with a solemn cemetery and chapel as well as exhibition about its construction and life within its walls.
Santa Barbara Botanical Garden
If you’re the type of person who finds peace in nature, the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden should be on your itinerary. This garden, which focuses on California native plants, is unlike any we’ve been to before. Even the Redwood Section, where redwood trees were planted beginning in 1930, looks as though the trees are organically growing there. Throughout the mile-long walkway, there are plenty of spots for visitors to sit and reflect.
Polish opera singer and garden enthusiast Ganna Walska built up the tropical and subtropical gardens at Lotusland over four decades. Today, you can explore the multiculturally themed gardens with two-hour guided tours that’ll take you through everything from a silvery-blue forest to a prehistoric-looking cycad garden.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
State Street’s Santa Barbara Museum of Art just recently began a massive five-year renovation and expansion project, which has considerably cut down on the works on display. But what’s there—a mix of rotation exhibitions and highlights of the permanent collection hevay on Impressionism and Southern California abstraction—is still worth exploring, especially since the museum has halved its admission fees in the meantime.