How to Take a Santa Barbara Trip - for a Day or a Weekend

Santa Barbara
••• Red Tile Rooftops of Santa Barbara. By Alan Tsai / Getty Images

If you're thinking about making a trip to Santa Barbara, you're going to one of California's oldest, most historic and most beautiful towns. The town's south-facing coastline gives it a "banana belt" climate that's more moderate and sunnier than most California coastal cities.

Red-tiled roofs, warm-colored plaster walls, arched facades and enclosed garden courtyards characterize the local architecture.

In the early 1900s, more than 1,200 movies were made in Santa Barbara during a 10-year span, and the town was a favorite spot for legendary film stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin. Today's stars still plan a Santa Barbara trip for an easy getaway, and so can you.

Is a Santa Barbara Trip a Good Idea for You?

Santa Barbara is a good place for going to the beach, romantic escapes and relaxing weekends.

  • Families enjoy walking or biking along the waterfront, going to the beach and visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center.
  • History-lovers will find that Santa Barbara is one of California's oldest cities, with its Spanish mission and military Presidio still standing.
  • For those who like to shop, State Street is one of the state's great shopping streets, with lots of local boutiques and the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center.
  • If you live in LA and are sick and tired of traffic, Santa Barbara may not be your best choice for a relaxing weekend or day trip. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Highway 101 can look an awful lot like the 405 at rush hour.

    Best Time to Go

    Thanks to its protected, south-facing location, Santa Barbara has some of California's best weather any time of year. Nevertheless, it's more likely to be rainy here in winter than at other times of the year.

    Santa Barbara gets even more crowded in summer. Local hotels fill up around UCSB's orientation, homecoming and graduation.

    Fun Things to Do in Santa Barbara

    Top Things to Do: For a quick peek at the most popular and fun things to do, check the guide to Things to Do in Santa Barbara.

    The Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show is held every Sunday along Cabrillo Blvd. The quality of goods is high, the vendors friendly and the people-watching excellent.  It also happens on Saturdays of major holiday weekends.

    State Street Shopping: Follow State Street away from the waterfront, and you'll find a lively street scene with good shopping, dining, and people-watching.

    Rent Some Wheels: It's easy to find places for renting skates, bicycles, and surrey bikes - and everyone loves taking them along the waterfront.

    Mission Santa Barbara: One of California's oldest and most authentic Spanish missions, this is a good place to get a look at the state's history.

    Side Trips and Nearby Towns

    Ventura is the jumping-off spot for trips to the Channel Islands, but it also has a lovely harbor and charming downtown.

    Santa Ynez Valley and Solvang: Solvang offers Danish-style ambiance and a charming downtown full of shops of every kind. The surrounding valley and the town of Los Olivos are great places for a drive.

    Cold Spring Tavern: People have been coming to this former stagecoach stop since long before I first discovered it in the early 1990s - and it's still a fun place for Sunday brunch or lunch.

    Take CA 154 north toward the mountains. When the road begins to level off, watch for a small sign on the right side of the road. If you cross the beautiful San Marcos Bridge, you've gone just a little too far. While the tavern hasn't changed much, its clientele has. You'll find everyone here from bikers to stock brokers.

    Channel Islands National Park encompasses the islands you'll see offshore. They're each unique and home to many species found nowhere else.

    Annual Events You Should Know About

    Even if you don't have a student in school here, you may want to check the university calendar so you can avoid crowds during their big events.

    You may want to plan your Santa Barbara trip to attend a special event. Some of the most popular annual events include: 

    • Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration: The town celebrates the year's longest day with a parade and festival. To make it easier for everyone to attend, they often hold the event on the weekend closest to June 21.

    • California Wine Festival held in July. California wine tasting at it's best, with local cheeses, artisan bread, olive oils and more.

    • Old Spanish Days Fiesta: This August event celebrates Santa Barbara's origins as a Spanish mission and fort. 

    • Epicure.SB  held in October. A month long culinary celebration that includes art, food, and music.

    Tips for a Happy Santa Barbara Trip

    Santa Barbara's hotels get filled to capacity almost every weekend. If you show up without reservations, you'll wish you hadn't.

    Parking in Santa Barbara can be a hassle. Leave your vehicle parked at your hotel and take the Downtown-Waterfront Shuttle that runs along State Street and the Waterfront instead.

    Isn't It Romantic?

    The glitterati has been going on romantic getaways to Santa Barbara since the early twentieth century, on and off screen. It's got plenty of places for a romantic stroll or a candlelight dinner - and you can't beat the secluded cottages at ​San Ysidro Ranch for a little private tryst.

    Where to Stay

    You know how to book a hotel online, but there are a few things you need to know about Santa Barbara before you do that. They're all in the guide to Finding a Place to Stay in Santa Barbara.

    Where is Santa Barbara?

    Santa Barbara is located 95 miles from Los Angeles, 219 miles from San Diego, 420 miles from Sacramento and 337 miles from San Francisco.

    Take the Train Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner Line stops in Santa Barbara.

    If you're coming from LAX airport, you can take the Santa Barbara Airbus.