The California sun is a magnet to visitors not only from across the US but from the whole world and the west coast is among the most visited parts of the planet. The rugged, seismically active coastline is spectacularly beautiful and for many visitors the simple pleasures of sun, sand and surf are quite sufficient. However a Californian experience involves so much more and nowhere captures the unique blend of cultures quite like Santa Barbara.
This south-facing section of the coast overlooking the Channel Islands National Park has been dubbed “The American Riviera” and it is easy to see why. The weather is certainly what most people to consider as being ideal with almost year-round sunshine, warm temperatures and invitingly warm seas. Summer and autumn are the driest seasons but this is a place where bad weather is a rarity.
The inhabitants of this small city (90,000 residents) are justifiably proud of their history and the character of the architecture reflects the Spanish and Mexican influences and is usually referred to as “Californian Mission Style” with red tiled roofs and white walls. Although less than 100 miles from the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara seems to be worlds apart partly because of its relatively isolated location but mainly on account of its sophisticated sense of taste and style. Santa Barbara has a reputation of being a playground for the wealthy but is in fact perfectly accessible for all.
Getting To Santa Barbara
Getting there should present no problems and those preferring air travel will land at the Santa Barbara International Airport (code: SBA). There are regular flights from San Francisco, Phoenix and Seattle and a regular shuttle service from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). There are also good rail links and road users will find that US Highway 101 is the only major road link to the city. There should be no difficulty in getting around and car parking is widely available and inexpensive or free. Bus services are excellent and it is even possible to hire cycles. Taxis, on the other hand, can prove to be a rather expensive option.
Santa Barbara Beaches
This is, of course, a seaside resort and the sea and the beaches feature highly on most visitors’ lists. The most popular beach is the East Beach which is notable for its white sands and palm trees. Other beaches include the dog-friendly Arroyo Burro Beach (also known locally as Hendry’s Beach), Leadbetter Beach and the more isolated Butterfly Beach.
Santa Barbara Sports
Water sports such as surfing are always popular and it is also possible to try kayaking in the Channel Islands National Park situated a little way offshore to the south of Santa Barbara. These islands (San Miguel, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa) provide unique habitats for a range of rare flora and fauna. The more adventurous may wish to consider paragliding and lessons are available.
Getting around on foot is also popular. In Santa Barbara, there are wide well-maintained paths, pedestrian crossings and lots of people using them which is rare in California! Simply strolling around the city and taking in the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, buildings, parks, churches and harbour is lovely. The more energetic can head off into the surrounding hills to follow one of the designated hiking routes. Golfers are also well catered for with many private and public courses ranging from nine to eighteen hole courses including some of top international standard.
Santa Barbara Wharf and Harbour
Stearn’s Wharf was completed in 1872. It is a huge pier that stretched out into the sea. You can walk along it and take in view of the city behind you and the surrounding hills. The pier houses lots of shops and restaurants as well as a sea life centre. You can also take boat trips from the end of the wharf.
Next to the wharf is the harbour where hundreds of beautiful boats and yachts are moored. Along the harbours, far edge is jetty with two stories of bars and restaurants which specialise in fresh fish.
Santa Barbara Culture
There are several museums including the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History which, amongst its many exhibits, features a full-size skeleton of a blue whale. There are also museums of history and art. Those with an interest in architecture should certainly visit the Santa Barbara Mission which is a prime example of the Franciscan Spanish style, as is the imposing Santa Barbara Courthouse which, although a major visitor attraction, still functions as a working courthouse.
Santa Barbara Food and Wine
Santa Barbara is also famous for food and wine. This, of course, is wine country and many wineries also offer tasting sessions, in Santa barbara you almost have wine on tap. You can choose to partake in some of the organised tasting tours which include visits to various different wineries. If you don’t want to leave the town several of the wineries have set up their own tasting houses in the centre.
Santa Barbara Events
Santa Barbara also hosts some regular annual events such as the Santa Barbara Film Festival which takes place in February/March each year attracting major Hollywood players and film premieres. April is hone to the food and wine week. June sees the French Festival held over the Bastille day weekend and the major festival season occurs in July/August and is a celebration of the city’s cultural past. The annual Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood festival is in October.
Santa Barbara Shops
The upmarket qualities of Santa Barbara also extend to the many retail outlets and it is sometimes considered to be a shopper’s dream. State Street is 7 mile long road that starts at the Wharf and heads inland. This houses hundreds of shops, shopping centres, theatres and cinemas. Luckily there are plenty of bars and restaurants too so when you get tired you can refresh your self before you do more shopping! The “cheap and cheerful” goods often found in seaside resorts being replaced by designer and artisan products offering quality and exclusivity along with major outlets to make this a truly memorable shopping experience.
Santa Barbara Attractions
As you can see, there is a wide range of things to see and do in the town. These are top attractions;
- Santa Barbara Zoo
- Santa Barbara County Courthouse
- Wine Tasting
- State Street
- Shoreline Park
- Old Mission Santa Barbara
- Stearns Wharf
- Cold Spring Tavern
So this really is a place where the California dream mixes with old-world charm and elegance. This is California with a little added class!