A weekend in Santa Barbara, California
A long way to go for a weekend I hear you cry – and it is true. But if you are embarking on a California road trip, Santa Barbara is a great place to spend a couple of lazy days. With a wonderful backdrop of the Santa Ynez mountains and the magnificent Pacific Ocean shoreline, Santa Barbara in one pretty town and has the well-deserved title of ‘America’s Riviera’.
Situated just a 90-minute drive north of Los Angeles this pretty town offers some calm and tranquillity after the bustling LA beaches. The town boasts a great transport system including an Amtrak station, and is very bike friendly, so once you arrive you can park your car for a few days, which is a welcome respite from all the driving that is inevitable in California.
With a short stay of just 2 nights available I can recommend taking the pretty Trolley Bus tour for an informative ride that showcases the charms of the Santa Barbara area. A 90-minute ride on one of the iconic trolley buses will give you your bearings and the driver/guide always has some great stories to tell. You can hop on or off along the way, or just stay on board for the full tour.
After the tour head for Stearns Wharf where you can spend an enjoyable afternoon strolling amongst the speciality shops, admiring the views and making friends with the resident pelicans who like to strut their stuff along the boardwalk. Or make the most of the sandy beaches where you can watch (or take part) in paddle boarding, kayaking and surfing.
As evening falls you will find a great selection of restaurants, many specialising in locally caught seafood. We enjoyed a meal at Brophy Brothers, overlooking the harbour, where if you are lucky to get a table with a view you can enjoy the freshest clams, crab and shrimp.
As the sun sets everyone heads towards an area known as the Funk Zone, a district of converted warehouses where artists and artisans hang out and have their galleries. You will also find a selection of restaurants, bars and wineries participating in the Urban Wine Trail. This innovative trail takes you on a tour of tasting rooms, set up by the many local wineries and for a few dollars you can sample exceptional wines from the area. As night falls the air is filled with music and there is a real party atmosphere, as some of the larger establishments have live entertainment and the area throngs with people of all ages.
On the morning after the night before, with slightly sore heads, we explored the harbour area with its hundreds of fancy boats moored up and the ideal spot to enjoy a lazy Sunday brunch overlooking the water. Then we hopped onto bikes (provided by our hotel) and cycled along the bike friendly waterfront along the Cabrillo Bike Path, passing by three different beaches, and up the hill to Shoreline Park, where we had wonderful views of the town and the deep blue Pacific Ocean.
Sadly, you can’t fit everything into a short stay, but one other unmissable site is the famous Old Mission Santa Barbara. We had stopped by briefly on the Trolley Bus Tour but needed a bit more time to really explore this picturesque landmark. There are 21 Missions along the Californian coast, and Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful and the views at sunset are breath-taking.
Too soon we were moving on to our next destination – Palm Springs.
If you are tempted to a California road trip our partner American Sky has some varied itineraries.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends American Sky
- California Road Trip with American Sky – Palm Springs
- California Road Trip with American Sky – San Diego