12 Best Hotels in Santa Barbara, United States - May 2019
Simpson House Inn
Spanish Garden Inn
Belmond El Encanto
Cheshire Cat Inn
Belmond El Encanto
Santa Barbara Inn
Blue Sands Inn
Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara
Harbor View Inn
Simpson House Inn Santa Barbara
Your Travel Guide to Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara may be a little out of the way, but it has all for which California is famous: sun, sand, and surf--so much so, that people have coined it, “The American Riviera”. Not too far inland, you have scenic mountains and the expansive Los Padres National Forest nearby. There are historical sites dating back 300 years! You can also get views of flora and fauna of California that are hard to get anywhere else, in the various nature reserves, museums, and gardens.
What are the Must-Do-s and See-s of Santa Barbara?
Old Mission Santa Barbara and Mission Canyon
The Santa Barbara Mission was founded in 1786 by Spanish Franciscans. It continues to be used to this very day--you can participate in the services, and ring the bells in the mission! Take a tour of the mission--it’s especially worthwhile to see La Huerta at Old Mission: a sort of protected botanical gardens, which provided the mission with fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as ornamental utilitarian plants. The hotels Sandpiper Lodge and the Lemon Tree Inn are located nearby.
Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Another taste of Santa Barbara history includes the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. It is housed in adobes dating from 1817 and 1836, and features artifacts from the indigenous Chumash tribe, the Spanish conquistadors, and the American settlers.
El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park is a fortress that was built in 1782, and is presently preserved as a 5.5 acre park. You can take a tour of two of the original buildings, and visit the Presidio gardens.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is divided into two parts: the Museum of Natural History is further inland, near the Mission Santa Barbara. It features 3.5 million specimens of mammals, birds, and marine life, geology and paleontology exhibits, and a planetarium and observatory.
Stearns Wharf, Sea Center, Cruises
The Stearns Wharf is a nice stop along the way, with restaurants, specialty shops (offering wine tasting, toys and gifts, and jewelry), and even special events at certain times of the year.
If you’re with children, Chase Palm Park has an interesting playground, lighthouse, and other activities. As you continue on Cabrillo Boulevard, you’ll reach the Andree Clark Bird Refuge. When at the beach, you have a choice of going swimming, paddleboarding, surfing, or sailing. The Harbor View Inn of Santa Barbara and the Hotel Californian are superb hotels in the area of Stearns Wharf.
On Stearns Wharf, you’ll find the other branch of the Museum of Natural History: the Sea Center, featuring unique close encounters with marine life. The Museum and the Sea Center are “hands-on” museums: for example, the Museum of Natural History has star gazing every Saturday night, and the Sea Center gives you the opportunity to pet a shark, a sea anemone, jellyfish, or manta ray! It also teaches about the tools that professional oceanographers use for making observations.
Stearns Wharf offers lots of opportunities for scenic cruises or boat rentals. Celebration Cruises offers a number of sunset cruises and excursions for watching whales, sea lions, and dolphins. Check out their “Lil Toot” water taxi, that takes you on 15-minute narrated cruises around Santa Barbara Bay.
Santa Barbara Botanical Garden
The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden is also quite worth a visit: It is a 78-acre expanse, specializing in local California plants, along its several trails: the Arroyo (Spanish for “creek”) section, displaying plants that require constant moisture, the Campbell Trail of evergreen shrubs, the Canyon Section, the Desert Section, and even a Redwood Forest--something for which California is famous!
Elings Park, Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, Douglas Family Preserve
There is a stretch of nice parks and beach in Santa Barbara, the largest of which is Elings Park. It has facilities for various sports, hiking trails, operating remote control cars and airplanes, paragliding and hang gliding, and much more.
The Douglas Family Preserve is a 70-acre green space that allows opportunities for hiking, bike riding, and viewing wildlife. There even is a section where you can go hang gliding! The landscape includes areas of woodland, scrub, creek, and grassland.
The Arroyo Burro Beach is beachfront property next to the Douglas Family Preserve, with areas for you to go swimming, surfing, horseback riding, birdwatching, or just to enjoy the scenic view while picnicking.
The Santa Barbara Waterfront is something that you must experience, either by biking, walking, or just for taking a few stunning photographs. If you’re a biking enthusiast, the Cabrillo Bike Path on Cabrillo Boulevard runs along three beaches You can first start at Shoreline Park, and then proceed down 1000 Steps Beach (which are really only 150 steps!) to Leadbetter Beach.
Santa Barbara Zoo and Andree Clark Bird Refuge
The Santa Barbara Zoo houses 146 species of animals in 30 acres, and has a number of attractions, such as animal feedings, behind-the-scenes experiences, and opportunities to learn about conservation efforts and preserving endangered species. There are special programs for children, and other programs designed for seniors!
As we mentioned, there is the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, a 42-acre open area, with a 29-acre lake with three islands in the middle. It is forbidden to boat or fish in the area, and feeding the wildlife is also a no-no--but it’s a great area for walking or bike riding, taking an opportunity to observe some of the 200 species of birds that reside in the area over the course of the year.
Santa Barbara County Courthouse
At first, you wouldn’t think that a courthouse would be a building of historical significance, much less as a tourist attraction. Yet, the architecture and artwork that has been invested in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse has earned it the status of a historical landmark. It was built in 1929, on the site of a former courthouse that existed there from 1872. It really consists of four buildings, including the Jail Wing (which is really the County District Attorney’s office), the Hall of Records Building, the Anacapa Wing, and the Figueroa Wing. It is suggested to check out the Mural Room, as well as the Clock Gallery, with a ceiling that is adorned with the constellations of the night sky! The lawns and garden are frequently used for concerts and festivals.
Getting To and Around Santa Barbara
From Santa Barbara Municipal Airport
Santa Barbara has its own airport, slightly north along the coast, and gets traffic from the major cities in the area: Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and more. If flying directly to Santa Barbara is a bit of a hassle, try flying to Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Denver, and taking another flight to Santa Barbara.
If you fly into Los Angeles, it will be a 1.5 hour drive to Santa Barbara.
Traveling in Santa Barbara
Within Santa Barbara, there are Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District ( = MTD) buses. Another option are downtown and waterfront shuttles, going between points such as State Street in Santa Barbara’s downtown, to the Santa Barbara Zoo and Santa Barbara Harbor.