A timeless classic travel destination, Santa Barbara, California, is the place to vacation no matter the time of year!
Adored for its appealing Mediterranean climate, stunning historic architecture, and beachside attractions, Santa Barbara is ideal for anyone and everyone. Whether you’re a history buff or an outdoor enthusiast, you can guarantee this city has something fascinating to explore and experience.
The beach is by far the most favored landmark features of Santa Barbara. It is where locals and tourists come to surf the waves and lay down a towel to soak in the sun’s rays for a much-needed tan.
Wine is one of California’s most touted attributes, and you can get a taste of the phenomenal collections in Santa Barbara’s many different local wineries. Outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers can take their pick of kayaking the ocean, hiking along the coastline, and strolling among botanical gardens. Plus, snorkeling in the abundant waters of the nearby Channel Islands National Park.
There is so much waiting to be explored, but first you must decide where to stay in Santa Barbara,. This list compiles the top recommended areas to stay when visiting Santa Barbara based on what you desire for your trip. From a relaxing and peaceful getaway in nature to a buzzing reset filled with socialization in the city’s heart!
1. East Beach Area
Boasting the best stretch of beach for your stay in Santa Barbara, East Beach is ideal for first-time visitors, families, and those looking for a quieter area. It is separated from West Beach by Stearns Wharf. It encompasses a larger portion of the beach than West Beach, reaching from the wharf to Andree Clark Bird Refuge.
Near the best of the city, including downtown, the beach, and the famous Santa Barbara Zoo, East Beach promotes access to the top things to do in Santa Barbara. And from your stay in East Beach, you can savor fun activities like surfing, biking, suntanning, and stand-up paddleboarding. The East Beach Volleyball Courts are famous in the area, where competitive beach players and beginners are frequently seen playing.
The Bellosguardo Mansion is an iconic landmark at East End, overlooking the ocean from atop the bluff. The historic landmark has been gradually opened to the public for tours after the property, owned by reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark, was donated upon her death.
2. West Beach Area
By far the most popular area to stay in Santa Barbara, West Beach is more touristy and upbeat than East Beach. If you’re looking for fun and activity, West Beach is where you should stay!
With Stearns Wharf on one end and Santa Barbara Harbor on the other, West Beach is conveniently located by the Funk Zone, the beach, and downtown. Like East Beach, there is easy access to beachside activities like swimming, tanning, and surfing. A bike path also runs along the coast for a refreshing ride to soak in the salty breeze, breathtaking scenery, and lively atmosphere.
The Museum of Natural History Sea Center is a favored attraction at West Beach. The center allows visitors to get up close and personal with marine animals sourced from the Santa Barbara Channel. Guests can learn about the species that call the area home. On the harbor, is the touted Brophy Bros., a local seafood and clam bar with signature Bloody Marys, fresh seafood-based selections, and a bustling harborside atmosphere.
For architecture admirers, history buffs, and first-time visitors, staying downtown is recommended!
Full of rich history, downtown is flooded with stunning historic Spanish architecture. The town was founded in 1782 by the Spanish, and the influence of its establishment spread across the area’s design. One of the prime examples of such is the 18th-century Old Mission Santa Barbara, one of the top attractions in the city. It is also the only California mission designed with twin bell towers.
After an earthquake rocked the area in 1925, much of the area’s structures had to be rebuilt. To remember its founding, downtown was re-established with its iconic Santa Barbara style, which intertwines Mission Revival, Mediterranean Revival, and Spanish Colonial Revival architectural design.
Within downtown is the micro-neighborhood of Haley Corridor. This bustling area is stylish, teeming with modern breweries, bars, wineries, and restaurants. And within the heart of downtown are iconic attractions, including the Santa Barbara Public Market, the Santa Barbara Courthouse, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
4. Funk Zone
The Funk Zone neighborhood acts as the industrial, culture, arts, and business district of Santa Barbara. The Funk Zone spans over ten blocks from Montecito Street to Cabrillo Boulevard and between Garden Street and State Street.
Full of vibrancy, the Funk Zone is where you want to experience Santa Barbara like a local. There are numerous upscale art galleries, elegant wine-tasting rooms, trendy boutiques, established restaurants, and buzzing breweries. Throughout the neighborhood are eye-catching murals, perfect for taking pictures to remember your trip!
One of the top attractions in the Funk Zone is the family-friendly MOXI, the Wolf Museum of Exploration & Innovation. The contemporary museum has intricate interactive exhibits devoted to exploring the arts, technology, and science.
The Funk Zone is also a part of the renowned Urban Wine Trail, which includes over twenty wineries. The wine trail expands across two distinct neighborhoods with a dedicated map to decide the next course of action for your following winery stop!
The luxurious part of Santa Barbara where celebrities call home, Montecito is where glam and glitter meet for a chic stay!
Around five miles from downtown, Montecito is a beachside community with exclusive spas and resorts, trendy coffee shops, and upscale shops. As Montecito is beachside, options are available for exploring the beach, though just as popular as biking and walking along the pier and coast. Plus, hiking options, including the Cold Spring Trail, are available for scenic and rewarding views of the area.
If you want to splurge on your trip to Santa Barbara, Montecito is the place to do it! First, savor some high-end retail therapy on the strip of Coast Village Road. Then, tour historical attractions such as the Casa del Herrero, a 1925 Spanish Revival mansion, and the Montecito Inn, established by Charlie Chaplin in 1928. Or stroll through the Lotusland botanical garden for a romantic and serene getaway during your trip.
Inside Santa Barbara County but about nine miles west of the city, Goleta is where the University of California at Santa Barbara calls home. Goleta exudes a charming local ambiance that is welcoming and with more affordable prices than areas centered around downtown Santa Barbara. For those desiring to experience Santa Barbara like a local, Goleta is the perfect place to do it!
Nicknamed “The Good Land”, Goleta was termed such thanks to its naturally fertile soil, appealing climate, and beautiful scenery of the Pacific Ocean. It is conveniently located within minutes of the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport and the Amtrak train station.
Join the locals at Hollister Brewing Co. for a fresh brew and great vibes. Head to a local farmer’s market for fresh produce, tasty delicacies, and sweet pastries. Go paddleboarding, swimming, or suntanning at Goleta Beach, or join fellow surfers at the Campus Point surf break to catch a wave. The options are endless in Goleta!