The American Riviera

CITY GUIDE: Santa Barbara

 

Ahhh, Santa Barbara, my birthplace, my frequent home; it is truly the American Riviera. A great climate and gorgeous vistas make it pretty, and the relaxed pace of a small city make it enjoyable.  The Santa Ynez Mountains rise to 4000' behind town, framing this city of 100,000, and providing great hiking and mountain biking.  The Channel Islands, home to awesome cold-water diving, lie offshore with the Santa Barbara Channel in between.  The ocean is fertile here with lots of upwelling, and the fish, dolphins and whales that follow.  If you like it wet, the surfing is good at Rincon Point and Leadbetter Beach, closer to town.

They used to say, "Santa Barbara is a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to eat there."  Well, things have changed.  There are great drinking establishments on State Street, the main drag, and in the Funk Zone.  The Funk Zone used to be the hub of the local fish industry, and then became slightly grimy light industrial. It still retains its authentic feel, but there are tasting rooms galore, and good beer and food options.  My second job in the wine industry was as a cellar hand at Santa Barbara Winery, working for the legendary Bruce McGuire.  It's still a fun place to visit.  Be sure to check out one of the awesome views on the Eastside of town, or stretch the legs for a good hike into the Los Padres National Forest.  Your choice, but regardless, you'll finish with a smile.

EXPLORE:

State Street- SB's main shopping street.
Stearns Wharf- Touristy spot, but nice to smell the sea.  Good views of the coastline.
Funk Zone- The heart of new SB.
Courthouse Tower view- Go to the top for a 360 view.  Check out the murals too.
Courthouse Sunken Gardens- Shady place to read a book.
De la Guerra Plaza- Quiet spot in downtown.
Mission Rose Garden- Great spot to picnic.
Eucalyptus Hill viewpoint
Coronada Circle view
Franceschi Park view

La Arcada Courtyard - Spanish-style courtyard with a creepy bronze statue of an old man with a balloon.
Butterfly Beach- Nice beach.
East Beach- Nice, quiet place to start a seaside walk along Cabrillo Blvd.
Cold Springs Trailhead- Nice hike to the top of Montecito Peak.
Romero Canyon Trailhead- Park here for a loop hike to the Romero Saddle.
Lotusland- Appointment-only old estate gardens.
Presidio- Oldest part of SB.
Hendry's Beach- Good place to take the dog for a walk.
El Capitan Canyon- Stay in a canvas tent or wooden cabin at our favorite glamping spot.
Santa Barbara Bowl- Great outdoor concert venue, not too big, but great sound.
Zodo's- Bowling alley and craft beer bar.
Channel Islands Surfboards- Beautiful sticks, some designed by legend Al Merrick.
Rincon Point- World famous surfing spot.

HUNGRY:

Los Agaves Restaurant- Great burritos, seafood and salsas.
Los Arroyos Montecito- The best chile relleno burrito around, and delicious margaritas.
La Super-Rica Taqueria- The first authentic taqueria in SB.  Very popular, but the tamales with epazote cream are delicious.
C'est Cheese- Great spot for lunch- soups, sandwiches and salads.
Lucky Penny- Good pizzas, al fresco.
Sama Sama Kitchen- Tasty Indonesian-ish small plates and cocktails. 
SB Farmer's Market- Every Saturday 0830-1300.
Tri-County Produce Co- Good spot for fresh veggies and fruit.  Some wine too.
Whole Foods Market- Great place to pick up stuff for a gourmet picnic.
Mesa Verde Restaurant- Great vegan/vegetarian option.

THIRSTY:

Handlebar Coffee Roasters- Best coffee in town.
The Mill- Slake your thirst at Third Window Brewing or Potek Winery.
Topa Topa taproom- Opening soon- Ventura's best brewery is opening a Santa Barbara location.
Lama Dog Taproom + Bottle Shop
Santa Barbara Winery- 
Hey, I used to work here!  Old school wine tasting spot.
Grassini Family Vineyards- Quaint tasting room with nice wines from Happy Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant
Margerum Wine Company- 
A nice, bright spot for wine tasting.
Three Pickles- The Pickle Room is a great spot for an unfussy cocktail.
Honor Bar- Nice martinis and good artichoke dip.  Great service.
Joe's Cafe- The strongest drinks in town.  Hell, strongest drinks I've had at a bar.  Great spot to pre-party.  Old school vibe.
The Good Lion- Nice cocktail spot before dinner at Sama Sama or a show at the Granada Theater.
Harry's Plaza Cafe- Old school place with stiff martinis.