24 Hours in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, just an hour and a half drive north of Los Angeles, is a picturesque beach town with incredible character, history, and old-world charm.  It is glamorous, quaint, classic, quirky, and everything in between…and did I mention beautiful?  Even though the city is just a few hours away from home, it took me twenty-five years to really experience it, and I am so glad that I did!

Getting There

Our weekend started with an easy train ride from San Diego to Santa Barbara – a 4-hour journey.  It was a stress-free way of traveling without worrying about traffic or weather.

Santa Barbara Train

Where to Stay

We stayed at The Four Seasons Resort at the Biltmore and loved it.  It is beautiful, grand, luxurious, and has an air of old-Hollywood charm about it.  It is across the street from Butterfly beach, and as such has incredible ocean views, with beautifully landscaped grounds.

Four Seasons Santa Barbara

If we were to do it over again, we would have preferred to stay at the Belmond El Encanto.  The Four Seasons is located on the south side of town, about a 15 minute drive away from the shopping streets, great restaurants, and main activities that Santa Barbara has to offer.  It is relaxing and pleasant in part because it feels a bit more isolated – but it is not quite as convenient when you don’t have a car!  Belmond El Encanto is a short walk away from shopping, restaurants, and the Santa Barbara Mission – but interesting enough feels much more remote given its location on the hill overlooking the city.  The hotel itself is “Spanish Colonial Revival meets Craftsman” – and is absolutely breathtaking.

Where to Eat

For breakfast, a trip to Backyard Bowls is a must.  Backyard Bowls is a healthy breakfast chain serving a variety of Acai and Pitaya bowls, and they do not disappoint!  The restaurant itself does not have the best ambiance – it reminds me of a Jamba Juice – but it is just a short walk away from the beach (and Stearns Wharf), a great place to take your food to go with a blanket for a picnic!  Another great breakfast spot is Belmond El Encanto.  Eat on the outdoor patio overlooking the coast for one of the most beautiful breakfasts in the city (photo below)!

El Encanto

For lunch, we thoroughly enjoyed Bella Vista at the Four Seasons.  It’s pricey – but a beautiful venue overlooking Butterfly Beach with a fantastic appetizer menu.  A must-try is the sweet potato fries – they were incredible!  C’est Cheese is another great lunch option.  Part cheese shop, part restaurant, you will find every type of comfort food here!  Be wary of the cheese and charcuterie platter though – we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t pick which cheeses we wanted to try (their board is a pre-set board) when there were so many that looked delicious!

For dinner, we highly recommend Bouchon on West Victoria Street.  It’s a cozy, cute restaurant – and has been voted one of the most romantic restaurants in the country!  There are plenty of great menu options – from fish to steak to yummy salads.

No vacation review would be complete without a thorough directory of the city’s best sweets and treats!  If you are a coffee lover, then Handlebar Coffee is a must try.

McConnell’s Ice Cream is headquartered in Santa Barbara – and their ice cream shop on State Street does not disappoint!

McConnells

Ice Cream

Lastly, the Patisserie, also on State Street, is a gluten-free treat sanctuary.  I was overwhelmed by the amount of delicious options on display here – from gluten free cookie dough cheesecake to lemon bars and more!

Patisserie

What to Do

During our short time in Santa Barbara, we loved exploring the great shops and restaurants on State Street.  It’s a high-end shopping area with GREAT window shopping and is incredibly pedestrian-friendly!  We also loved the “Red Tile Walking Tour” (link here) as it gave us the opportunity to see some of Santa Barbara’s historically significant sites.  The Santa Barbara Mission is a must-see – and in large part because of the incredible views, walking paths, and trails surrounding it!  We enjoyed walking from State Street to the Mission and to Belmond El Encanto.  It was a challenging hike (largely uphill) but with gorgeous views and quiet streets.

Red Tile Walking Tour

If you are looking for souvenirs, check out the Santa Barbara Souvenir Company!  It’s a little way off the beaten path from the center of town – but well worth it for unique gifts, cards, ornaments, etc.

And last but not least, you cannot miss Butterfly Beach.  It is a beautiful snapshot of the California coast – and was the perfect way of ending our weekend trip in Santa Barbara.

Beach


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