While I grew up in Santa Barbara and my parents still live there, I have not lived there in twenty years, now when I visit I feel like a tourist. However, since I am a local, I know many tips, so here is some tips to help you as you travel to Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Beaches
Santa Barbara has beautiful beaches, some quieter than others. The big beach is East Beach. This is a large beach that runs down the center of town. The Zoo is right across the street from it, many volleyball courts, a long walking path and bike path, and it ends at the pier, Stearns Wharf. The beach continues from the pier to the breakwater which is Santa Barbara’s Harbor. It is the center of everything and is across from many hotels. You can rent bikes and there are plenty of places to eat. You will have to pay for parking unless you get one of the hard coveted spots on Cabrillo Blvd. On Sundays there is a great art show that runs down Cabrillo, there is everything from fine art, to crafts and jewelry. Great place to get a souvenir. There is very little to no free parking on this day. Butterfly Beach is in Montecitto and is across from the famous Biltmore Hotel. This is one of the few west facing beaches so is a great place to see the sunset. Leadbetter beach is between the breakwater and the hill that goes up to Shoreline Park. There is a great restaurant there that you can either eat at or get food to go. There is a popular surfing spot at the point called Leadbetter Point and this beach is very popular with the locals. Hendry’s Beach, sometimes called “the Pit” with the official name of Arroyo Burro Beach, however, if you call by its official name, no one will ever know what you are talking about. This beach is very popular with the locals, is away from the tourist areas and is very dog friendly. There is good surfing here some times and you are likely to see dolphins. One of the best restaurants in town is located there as well, but it is pricey. Parking is free here. Lastly, Goleta Beach is the other main beach in Santa Barbara. Right next to UCSB, it is a huge beach with food and a restaurant. Very popular with the locals with many grills and picnic tables. Free parking here as well.
A note about tar. Of the shore from Santa Barbara there are natural tar seeps that cause black dobs on the beach. This is not from an oil spill but from nature. I would recommend either buying a cheap pair of beach shoes from Walgreen’s or CVS or go barefoot because it can be a mess on your feet. It is easy to get off if you choose to walk barefoot with most locals do. Olive oil and paper towels take care of the issue, but most locals swear by baby oil. The worse experience that I ever had was when I was kid and got tar in my very curly hair. Needless to say, I had to get a hair cut.
Santa Barbara Sights
Santa Barbara has a great amount to see. My favorites are the Zoo and the Mission. The Zoo is surprisingly good for the size of the town. It is right across the street from East Beach and many of the animals have a view of the ocean. Most noticeably the Giraffes. I prefer this Zoo to San Diego for seeing animals and getting around. If you have children, the train is a must.
Second is the Santa Barbara Mission, rich in history and still used as a Catholic Church. It is worth the money to go in and take a self guided tour. Beautiful inside and out and is home to many events.
Stearns Wharf is a great place to walk around, the shops are not good, but there are three restaurants and a couple of museums. If you eat, you can get your parking validated.
I enjoy walking around the breakwater and looking at the sail boats. You see every type of boat out there, from yachts to boats people live on to simple sail boats. The fishing industry is alive there as well. Try to get out on the water on one of the cruses, I like to go Whale watching because it gets you on the ocean so you get the views and you have a good chance to see whales in season. Be aware that you might get sea sick if you are prone to it. Santa Barbara Court House is also an interesting sight to see, you can take an elevator for free to the top of the clock tower for one of the best views in town. Santa Barbara Museum of Art is a nice small art museum and is worth a visit as well as the Natural History museum which was a childhood favorite. I have always enjoyed the botanical gardens in the spring.
Wine tasting in Santa Barbara
Recently Santa Barbara has gotten really into the Wine Tasting. A newer area between the 101 and East Beach is called “the funk zone” where many wineries have set up tasting rooms. In the funk zone, there are also newer restaurants and art galleries. The vineyards are in the Santa Ynez mountains and farther up the central coast. Santa Ynez is only about 45 minutes from Santa Barbara and there are many tours that go up there if you are not driving.
Shopping in Santa Barbara
Shopping in Santa Barbara has changed. It used to be all unique, but now all of the chains have moved in. State Street is the big shopping area. There is some unique shopping but most of it can be found in other malls as well. It still is fun to get coffee, lunch or dinner and walk around. The area is a big area for bars at night as well.
Eating and sleeping in Santa Barbara
I would recommend going to a site like trip adviser to find this. But a couple of things to note. Santa Barbara is very casual so you very rarely have to dress up and dressing up in Santa Barbara is still very casual. Mexican and fish are the specialties of the area and are even better together. Sleeping in Santa Barbara can be expensive, but driving in Santa Barbara is pretty easy with the 101 going right through it so do not be afraid to stay in either Goleta or Carpenteria. Avoid UCSB graduation and Fiesta if you do not like crowds and are on a budget.
Local Santa Barbara Secrets
If you are interested in Orchids, the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate is amazing. It is in Goleta so you will need a car, but is worth a drive out there. Just show up and there are plenty of orchid specialists who will help you and answer questions.
Fish House at Hendry’s Beach has the best outdoor beach eating experience. A great outdoor seating area and if the weather is bad an equally good indoor restaurant. It is my favorite breakfast place in town. It is expensive but worth it. This is also one of the most popular local beaches, expect to see surfers if the waves are good, dogs, and if you are lucky, dolphins.
Franceschi Park has the best views of Santa Barbara, a little hard to get to, but amazing views. Santa Barbara also has great locally grown fruit and vegetables. My two favorite places are Fairview Gardens and Lane Farms. Both are in Goleta but you can get there by bus. Many people think Uggs are from Australia, but in fact there are from Santa Barbara. Deckers makes Uggs, Teva as well as several other brands of shoes and they now have a store . Worth of visit but way out in Goleta.
Well that is my town that I grew up in. Please let me know if you have any questions.