HOW TO SPEND 24 HOURS IN SANTA BARBARA
by Trina Hendry
My first introduction to Santa Barbara was in 1984 when its namesake soap opera began airing. As I lived vicariously through the Capwell family dramas, I remember thinking that this postcard-perfect place in California was somewhere I wanted to live one day. Fast forward a couple of decades and, while I don't actually live in Santa Barbara, but rather two hours down the coast in my own little paradise called Los Angeles, I have been fortunate enough to visit the city numerous times. It is one of my favorite weekend getaways, and I have even been known to make the drive for a day trip from time to time.
Tucked neatly between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is one jewel of a city. Often referred to as the "American Riviera," its Mediterranean climate, wide open beaches, and relaxed yet vibrant cultural scene, makes it pretty much the perfect place to vacation. It is certainly our favorite "riviera" to visit!
If you're like us and you're obsessed with wine (and food), Santa Barbara is a serious wine destination rivalling Napa and Sonoma, with its proximity to the Santa Ynez Valley, where numerous microclimates are producing very distinctive grape varietals and world-class wines. With wine comes a passion for food, a passion that is pleasantly obvious in the city's vast selection of top-notch restaurants and dining options. And then there are the museums, the pier, the beaches, the Mission, and so much more to explore.
Whether you're in town for a few days, or just passing through, it is pure magic all the time. Here is how to make the most of 24 perfect (and tasty) hours...Each spot is Hello California approved, and we guarantee you won't want to leave.
Aim to start your day by 10am at the very latest. Forego breakfast at your hotel and head over to Helena Avenue Bakery for coffee and hand-crafted pastries, or if you're super peckish, one of their famous egg sandwiches (our personal favorite is the Egg & Cheddar Biscuit Sandwich). Located in the Funk Zone in the historic Castagnola warehouse at the corner of Helena Avenue and Yanonali Street, this hidden gem is worth the wait in line, which builds early on the weekends.
Once fuelled up for the day, stroll over to the new Moxi, the Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation on State Street for a few hours of discovery and pure fun. Explore three floors of highly interactive exhibits organized around seven themes that all relate to science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Back to school has never been so much fun! If museums aren't your thing, a walk around the Harbour or shopping (and ice creaming at McConnell's) along State Street might tickle your fancy.
For lunch, let's taco 'bout Mony's Mexican Food for a minute. Hands down, this is some of the yummiest mole (and tacos) in town. Get in line (this place is so good there are continuous lineups), order a few tacos, or even a burrito, and a bottle of Mexican Coke, and snag a seat outside. The beach is also a short walk away if you'd prefer to picnic instead. Oh, and you must try their signature pistachio and avocado salsas, which are part of their famous salsa bar. Ole!
You can't be in Santa Barbara and not go wine tasting! Hello! However, there's no need to trek all the way to wine country,. The Urban Wine Trail offers visitors a unique opportunity to sip and sample Santa Barbara County's finest wines via a network of tasting rooms located throughout downtown Santa Barbara. Many of the rooms are located in the Funk Zone, making it easy to go from one to the other, and popping into boutique art galleries along the way. A favorite stop of ours is the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. You will have noticed it during breakfast, as it is located beside Helena Avenue Bakery. This tasting room features a selection of the region's best local wineries, including Sea Smoke, Fess Parker, Brewer Clifton and Notary Public.
If wine tasting isn't your thing, you can extend your Mexican lunch on the Taco Trail, which offers plenty of authentic options along Milpas and State Streets.
Late Afternoon / Early Evening
After a day of wining, dining and walking, it's time to check into your hotel, if you haven't done so already. Some of our favorite places to stay include Hotel Milo, Kimpton Canary Santa Barbara, The Fess Parker, The Goodland (see our review here), and the brand new Hotel Californian. Wherever you stay, be sure to wash away the (un)stress of the day with their Happy Hour specials.
The Funk Zone's Loquita showcases the traditional cooking methods of Spain, using locally sourced produce, meats and seafood to create hot and cold tapas, wood-fired seafood, grilled meats and three types of paella (our personal fave is the Verduras). A separate pintxos bar named Poquita serves small snacks, charcuterie and cheeses. The Mediterranean vibe is alive and well here and regardless of whether you choose to dine in the lively dining room or by a fireplace on the cozy patio, you will feel like you in a place that is perfectly international and Californian at the same time.
Paying homage to the other side of the world, Sama Sama on State Street serves Southeast Asian cuisine inspired by the offerings of local farms. Think Crispy Duck Salad, Smoked Octopus Ceviche, Nasi Goreng Jawa, and Fried Branzino, all perfect for sharing.
The Santa Barbara Mission was established on the Feast of Saint Barbara, December 4, 1786, and was the tenth of 21 California Missions to be founded by the Spanish Franciscans. More than 200 years later, the Mission continues to be the chief cultural and historic landmark in the city of Santa Barbara. Home to a community of Franciscan friars, a beautiful church with a large and active parish; a museum and gift shop; a cemetery and mausoleum; and twelve acres of beautifully landscaped gardens to explore via self-guided and docent-guided tours.
As you say farewell to this magnificent city, and make your way home via plane, train or automobile, the stay would not be complete without a stop at Metropulos Fine Food Merchant for the best grab-and-go sandwiches.