Santa Barbara is known for its harbor full of bobbing boats, its clean sand beaches, and dining for all tastes. Called the “American Riviera,” Santa Barbara is the perfect place to stay while driving up or down the coast of California. And it’s just a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles, which makes it an ideal getaway from the bustle of big city life. You can relax on the shore, rent a kayak, ride a bicycle along the paved waterfront path. There’s history here to explore, too.
Planning Your Seaside Adventures
The heart of Santa Barbara is the waterfront, ringed by gently rising foothills. While it’s a compact area, it offers so much to see and do, and of course you may want to spend time just relaxing on the beach or the grassy park areas.
I spent one day by the water and the next day in the town on a recent short visit. Here are some highlights I enjoyed.
The Fisherman’s Walk takes you past countless vessels. Santa Barbara developed due to its fishing industry. There’s even a “museum” of older fishing boats in the water. You’ll also find restaurants, a maritime museum, and kayaks for rent.
The wharf is a symbol of Santa Barbara. It’s suffered 4 major fires, one closing it for as long as 9 years. Every time, the city rebuilds and reopens the destroyed restaurants and shops. Today, the wharf thrives. You can walk here from the harbor or take the water taxi from Fisherman’s Walk.
It is a fully functioning courthouse, and it’s worth a tour to see its beauty. Built in 1929, its architecture is Spanish Colonial Revival. Artists copied tile patterns from Italy and Spain. The white adobe walls topped by red clay roofs sit amid lush gardens of palms and pines.
Tours are offered every day at 2:00 and weekdays at 10:30 for no charge. You meet in the mural room. Our docent Gerry told us about the history of the courthouse as we sat with the paintings of California history on the walls.
The remnants of the one of the 4 forts in early California history lie right off the main street through downtown. Wander around here and you may happen onto chickens in the “livestock” pen. Not much of the original fort survived, but it’s worth a look.
Santa Barbara caters to visitors and has a wealth of choices when it comes to a hotel. We stayed at the Mason Beach Inn and found it ideal as a base for exploring the city. It’s a short block from the water, on a quiet residential street. We loved walking the neighborhood and greeting people out with their pups.
We parked on arrival and walked everywhere from here – the harbor, Stearn’s Wharf, the Presidio, the Courthouse, and restaurants.
Where to Eat
Our favorite meal this visit was definitely the Enterprise Fish Company on State Street, just a short walk from the water. The building was once a commercial laundromat. The new owner bought a giant grill in Mexico, hauled it up here, and opened the restaurant. The crusted mahi mahi was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
Whether you are coming to Santa Barbara from across the ocean or from nearby cities, you will find this city a great place to relax, wander, and refresh.
How about you? Is there a place you love to visit where you can totally relax?
Disclosure: Exploring Our World was welcomed as a guest at the Mason Beach Inn. As always, all opinions are my own.