5 Reasons You’ll Fall in Love with Santa Barbara, the American Riviera

Where to go in Santa Barbara
Image via Visit Santa Barbara/Jay Sinclair

Here’s why Santa Barbara is about to become your go-to California weekend getaway. 

Affectionately known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is a traveler’s delight. It’s easy to navigate and perfectly situated between the beach and mountains with ocean views galore. Don’t forget about wine country, horse country, sailing, surfing, Spanish colonial architecture, historic hotels, and those charming red tile roofs perfectly contrasted against white stucco walls. An oceanfront city, Santa Barbara is quite a beauty. Toss in an au courent farm-to-table dining scene – there is much to love about this historic small-ish town that is anything but sleepy.

Voted “30 Best Small Cities in America” in Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards, here are five reasons why Santa Barbara might just grab hold of your heart and not let go. (Sorry, San Francisco!)

1. Dog & Horse-Friendly Beautiful Beaches

What to do in Santa Barbara
Image via Visit Santa Barbara/Jay Sinclair

With miles of golden sand and endless ocean views, no wonder Santa Barbara was voted “Best Beach Town” by Sunset magazine in 2015. It definitely doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of outfitters who will help you up on a horse to ride off into the sandy beach for sunset. A local’s favorite is dog-friendly Butterfly Beach in Montecito. Or head over to Arroyo Burro Beach and keep your eyes on the water for breaching whales and jumping dolphins.

And if horses aren’t your thing, stay beachfront at Bacara Resort & Spa. Nestled between the Gaviota Coast and Santa Ynez Mountains, stroll along its Cliff Walk to the waterline and along the nature loop to its picnic area. Join in Bacara’s oceanfront yoga and a fit tour for a land or ocean adventure with onsite lessons and rentals.

2. An Urban Wine Trail in a Historic Downtown

Where to shop in Santa Barbara
Image via Visit Santa Barbara/Mark Weber

Santa Barbara’s relaxed beach vibe makes its way into its wine scene in its historic urban wine trail. There’s nothing stuffy going on here. You’ll sip, swirl, and taste some local favorite varietals while rubbing elbows with friendly locals who know the winemaker by her first name. Tasting rooms are charming with stucco walls, winding narrow pathways, red brick tiles, and bursts of color from magenta bougainvillea. Head to Margerum and try one of their organic wines from its La Encantada Vineyards. Margerum’s elegant French-style whites and reds are so drinkable all day long. But pace yourself. And leave a few tasting rooms to try when you come back. There are more than thirty after all.

3. Stunning Historic Hotels

Where to go in Santa Barbara
image via Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

If you love Spanish colonial-style architecture, you’ll never want to leave Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. Just opposite Montecito’s Butterfly Beach, it’s an iconic hotel that gives you the feeling you’re walking through a 22-acre botanical garden with colorful tile fountains and majestic palm trees. At night, Ty Lounge transforms into a magical throwback to the 1920s with Moroccan carpets and massive glass chandeliers where you can dine on Spanish tapas by candlelight or next to the fire on its ocean view patio.

4. Surfing, Sailing, and SUP

Rincon Point in Santa Barbara
Image via Visit Santa Barbara/Mark Weber

You are going to get wet in Santa Barbara. There’s no other way around it and soon you’ll have sun-kissed skin and hair. The Santa Barbara Adventure Company is your gateway to ocean adventures and The Channel Islands. SUP, kayak through ocean caves or take a surf lesson. And there’s no better way to see the coastline than from a mile out to sea on a sailboat. The Santa Barbara Sailing Center has boats for rent and experienced captains for hire.

5. Car-Free Collaborations

What to do in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara’s “Car Free-dom” initiative makes leaving your keys behind easier than ever. Just pick up the Car Free map that lays out bike paths, electric shuttle services bus lines, and the famous Red Tile Walking tour that winds you through the most beautiful points of interest downtown. Amtrack Pacific Surfliner provides service from San Diego and San Luis Obispo, where you’ll arrive in a beautifully restored historic train station. Bring your bike onboard and you’re good to go. Also, it pays to go car-less. Between train discounts and hotels offering car-free packages with complimentary pick-up from the train station, free use of electric bikes, and other incentives, Santa Barbara makes it worth your while.

And if you absolutely, can’t leave the car at home and you drive an electric vehicle, the eco-award-winning Santa Barbara Ramada has a (guilt-free) electric charging station.

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Donna Sozio

Author, journalist and publishing consultant, Donna Sozio has been featured in 200+ media outlets including the Tyra Banks Show, Early Show, Fox News, Good Day LA, Seventeen Magazine, Yahoo! Personals, Match.com, Lavalife.com, EcoSalon.com, OrganicAuthority.com and many more. Her books The Man Whisperer (Adams Media) and Never Trust a Man in Alligator Loafers (Kensington) were Amazon.com bestsellers, had TV/Film options and were translated into German, Portuguese and Czech.