Travel Guide: Santa Barbara

Picture an idyllic city full of white stucco buildings, red tile roofs, the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains.  There are palm trees and bougainvillea everywhere you turn and the ocean breeze keeps the Summer temps mild.  Sounds like heaven, right?  That is probably because for so many Santa Barbara IS heaven…a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of LA life.  The American Riviera, as it’s commonly known, is just 95 miles north of LA making it an easy escape for Angelenos and those visiting Southern California.

Where to Stay

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We stayed in Goleta, just 10 minutes North of Santa Barbara at The Kimpton Goodland (now known as The Leta), the perfect spot if you are traveling with kids!  The Leta has a very 1960s surf culture vibe complete with macrame curtains, surfboards suspended from the ceiling, and plenty of old beach photos adorning the walls.  The property is actually an old motel that has been renovated to offer all comforts of home including a mini fridge and record player in the rooms.  We stayed on the first floor, close to the pool and were even lucky enough to get a large patio that gave us 2 very comfy chairs (where we sipped cocktails each night).  The pool is the highlight of the hotel placed right smack in the middle of the property with easy access to the lobby and all the guest rooms.  Bonus: There is a game room behind the Front Desk with access from the lobby or Good Bar that features a pool table and TV, in case you want to catch a game.

If you are looking for a boutique, luxury experience in the heart of Santa Barbara’s Theater District and short walk to shopping, dining, and the famed Stearn’s Wharf then don’t miss The Kimpton Canary.  The Canary is a beautiful Spanish meets Mission style hotel with a rooftop pool and deck plenty of views from every room. Book a suite with a Juliet balcony to enjoy the beautiful Santa Barbara hillside views and fresh ocean air.  The Canary, like all Kimpton properties, offers guests piping hot coffee in the morning and a choice of beer or their house wine (it’s AMAZING!) during social hour.    Hotel Californian is a stunning Moorish style hotel located just a block from the beach an area of town known as the Funk Zone. Hotel Californian greets guests with it’s crisp white stucco and cool black & white detail…plus it takes up 3 huge city blocks!  The Californian also features a rooftop pool, multiple restaurants plus my favorite tasting room, Margerum.

If romance and classic Santa Barbara vibes are more your speed book a room at The Belmond El Encanto (I stayed here years ago for a friend’s wedding and it is magical), the Four Seasons Biltmore or the newly reopened Rosewood Miramar Beach.

If you don’t mind being a bit North of the action book a suite at the gorgeous, oceanfront Ritz Carlton Bacara.  The views are spectacular, the service is unmatched, and the food is *Chef’s Kiss*!  We stayed in a suite overlooking the pool and enjoyed Concierge Lounge access which offers 5 services daily including breakfast, high tea, and dessert/cordials.

Where to Eat

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I feel like I might just need a separate post to highlight all the incredible food my sweet town has to offer but for now here are few can’t miss meals…

A lunch stop at Satellite on State Street is a do not miss for their refreshing spritzes and healthy, vegetarian options like the gigantic bean salad, fresh hummus and crudite, and the yoga pants salad.  So fresh and so delicious. They have also begun tasting dinners  and present a unique themed menu (all vegan) paired with all natural wines…heaven!

If you are looking for a dining experience that will blow you away then do not miss Finch & Fork  (we actually ate here twice while in Santa Barbara)!  Located inside the Kimpton Canary and offering a comfortable, casual elegance that is synonymous with Santa Barbara. The first night we shared Summer squash with za’atar, feta & mint, broccolini with a vegan cream sauce, oysters (yum!), shrimp croquettes, a Mexican style street corn, and rainbow trout with green goddess and warm grains…are you hungry yet?.  Every single thing that came out was better than the last, I am not quite sure how that is even possible!  Chris had a Duckhunter Old Fashioned make from duck fat washed bourbon and I sipped on an Aperol Spritz redoux that included an Aperol foam.  There was beautiful wine paired with the fish and our dessert was brought out with an accompanying port. The second night we decided to sit at the bar and order some Happy Hour snacks while we watch some pre-season football.  The oysters and shrimp croquettes were a must again and we tried the crab dip with house made chips (wow!). Finch & Fork was perfect for each meal/experience and I cannot recommend it enough.

While in the Funk Zone exploring the shops and tasting rooms we popped into Goat Tree at Hotel California for a late lunch.  Our timing was perfect as Happy Hour just begins daily at 3pm.  We each ordered a glass of Sanford rosé plus the charcuterie & cheese board and hummus to share, the portions were incredible (especially for Happy Hour pricing) and the wine was so refreshing.  If you are in the mood for a dessert don’t miss their pastries and macrons!

For a quick lunch while exploring everything Santa Barbara has to offer I love Panino’s (there is one in Goleta, right across the street from Leta and one in Downtown Santa Barbara near the Historic Presidio).  Chris first introduced me to their sandwiches last Summer while we were in Los Olivos and we made a point of stopping in again this year.  Chris tried the chicken curry sandwich and I opted for the Cobb Salad which was filled with fresh proscuitto, turkey, avocado and Gorganzola cheese…so good! My new fave is the GF bread and a simple turkey & avocado sandwich.

You can’t go wrong with a meal at any of Acme Hospitality group restaurants but Loquita was an absolute favorite for tapas and delightful Spanish wines.  We sat on the patio and enjoyed octopus, Brussels with pickled dates, and croquettes de pollo…I’m still drooling.

Oh! Do not, I mean DO NOT miss Barbareño for amazing farm to table cuisine inspired to by local flavors of the Central Coast.  The smoked. Santa Maria style Wagyu beef is a winner every time.  And if you are looking for an equally beautiful meal in the heart of the Theater District grab a table at Jane.  A Santa Barbara staple, Jane offers a glorious menu of fresh fish, incredible duck and the most decadent coconut cake you will ever taste.

Looking for more faves? Don’t miss Bouchon Santa Barbara for the most exquisite dinner experience of fresh fare and local wines.  Scarlett Begonia is a fave for yummy weekend brunch and quite, intimate dinners (including Fried Chicken Wednesday and BBQ Friday). Blue Owl offers yummy sandwich and salad options, Southcoast is a local favorite deli, and pizza from Gino’s with a bottle of wine is a must!

When I was in High School my grandpa loved to take us to lunch at Longboard’s Grill on Stearn’s Wharf.  We would sit outside, enjoy the views, listen to the seagulls, and have clam chowder, fish & chips, or a burger.  Longboard’s is still an institution (as are Moby Dick’s, The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, and The Harbor Restaurant) worth checking out.

Grab an oat milk latte and fresh, hot almond croissant from Dune Coffee Roasters and say thank you later 🙂

Also, don’t miss one of the many local taco shops like Lilly’s Taqueria or Mony’s for authentic tacos and burritos…perfect for a day at the beach!

What to Do

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If you are like me and love wine plan to spend an afternoon in The Funk Zone making your way through the dozens of tasting rooms.  Margerum has long been a favorite for their refreshing rosé but after spending some time at the tasting room I now love their red blends and even their amaro (amaro is an herb forward after dinner degestif).  After you finish a tasting grab a bottle of your favorite and make your way to their patio for a relaxing afternoon.  Also, don’t miss a stop into Municipal Winemakers and if you feel inspired join their wine club, cleverly known as Club Awesome!

On the subject of wine…here are a few other favorite spots for sipping: Jamie Slone Wine, Melville, Area 51, and J Wilkes

If you like you wine with a side of stunning views consider ending the day (sunset is the best time!) with a flight at the Deep Sea Tasting Room located on Stearn’s Wharf. Climb the stairs on the south side to the second level where you will more than likely be greeted with unbelievable views of the coast and two of the sweetest winery pups, Ringo & Rolo.  Grab your glasses and head to the patio to watch the sunset…and don’t forget a jacket, it cools off quickly on the water!

Speaking of Stearn’s Wharf…save some time for a little kitsch and pop into some of the souvenir shops, have your tarot cards red, stock up on candy, or hop on one of the harbor tour boats that depart from the wharf.  The Santa Barbara Natural History Museum Sea Center is also located on the Wharf and gives visitors the opportunity to really interact with the ocean plus you may even get to touch a shark!

As a little girl I loved visiting the Santa Barbara Zoo.  Not only were there so many amazing animals to watch and learn about but the zoo is located on the grounds of an old mansion making it extra magical.  There are over 500 animals at the zoo which sprawls over 30 acres (my personal favorites were always the elephants) plus a train to transport you around the grounds.  This is an absolute do not miss for families or kids at heart.

Another favorite spot of mine as a child was the Santa Barbara Mission located on the top of a hill overlooking the city.  I can still remember exactly how the mission smells (old oak and incense) as you walk into it and that smell alone can instantly take me back.  The courtyard and the church have long been my favorite spots for the sheer beauty and history.  There are both self guided and docent lead tours daily.

The best way to see Santa Barbara is from the water.  A sunset cruise aboard the Double Dolphin Is a must, pack a sweater, and order a bottle of wine.  If a more intimate experience is what you crave book a private sunset sail  at Santa Barbara Sailing and enjoy all of Santa Barbara’s stunning beauty from the bow of your very own sailboat. 

If taking in the scenery from the back of a horse is more your idea of perfection book a private horseback ride at Circle Bar B Ranch, located 20 minutes north at Refugio Rd.  The ride starts with a slow climb through the canyon before a steep climb to picturesque views of the Santa Barbara coastline.

If you are looking for more personalized recommendations please feel free to email me: and be sure to check out Visit Santa Barbara’s website for travel tips, weekend itineraries and more information.

XO, Niki


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