My husband and I had an amazing time on our Santa Barbara vacation. While we used to live in Oakland and have visited Lake Tahoe, Oceanside, Anza Borrego Park, and Huntington we weren’t familiar with Santa Barbara. We had no idea the city had so many things to offer but are happy we got to find out. Here’s the ultimate guide to planning a Santa Barbara vacation.
How to Get to Santa Barbara
When planning your Santa Barbara vacation it’s important to know Santa Barbara only has a small regional airport. This means you most likely won’t be able to find a direct flight if your coming from Miami like we did or anywhere else on the East Coast. An alternative is to get a direct flight into LAX and then make the 2-hour drive.
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How to Get Around on Your Santa Barbara Vacation
We made the mistake of not renting a car in Santa Barbara and ended up with a huge Lyft bill. While our hotel was a short drive from Santa Barbara airport it was a $25 Lyft ride to go pretty much everywhere else. Since we left the hotel quite often these added up quickly. The hotel also offered bicycles to rent as there was a nearby park.
Where to Stay on Your Santa Barbara Vacation
My husband and I were celebrating our 6-year wedding anniversary so we were looking for a really nice hotel. We couldn’t have made a better choice than The Ritz Carlton Bacara. Just ten minutes from the airport and on the coast we were blessed with beautiful ocean views. The Bacara Spa was the best spa experience I’ve had and brunch and dinner at Angel Oak was to die for. If you’re looking for a luxury hotel on your Santa Barbara vacation there isn’t a better option. Read my full review here.
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What to Do on Your Santa Barbara Vacation
Go Horseback Riding on the Beach
Santa Barbara is the perfect place to go horseback riding on the beach. We went with Los Padres Outfitters for a sunset ride. If you’re into celebrity sightings this beach is lined with celebrity homes like Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis. While we didn’t see them our guide said they often do on these tours and they are both very friendly.
Go Whale Watching on Your Santa Barbara Vacation
Did you know you can go whale watching in Santa Barbara? Not only can you go but there are seven different types of whales that migrate through Santa Barbara. We booked a trip through Condor Express where you can also spot dolphins, sea lions and seals. Unfortunately the day we were scheduled for our tour there was extremely poor weather and our tour was cancelled. They immediately offered us a tour on a different day but it was our last day in Santa Barbara. I recommend booking your whale watching tour on your first day so you have the opportunity for a second day if cancelled for weather.
Visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
We really enjoyed our visit to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Here you can see a ton of California native plants. We especially loved the California poppies and redwoods section of the gardens. You can also visit the cactus display or be entranced by the sounds of the various running streams. We were able to see tons of wildlife as well including gorgeous butterflies and a few rabbits!
Enjoy a Picnic by Santa Barbara Picnic Co
If you’re planning your Santa Barbara vacation with your significant other you must enjoy a picnic by Santa Barbara Picnic Co. We had the most romantic picnic in the Island View Garden at the Botanic Garden overlooking the Channel Islands. Santa Barbara Picnic Co has a list of pre-approved locations they can set up but you can also request additional locations or have them set-up at a private event.
Go Wine Tasting
If you’re into wine you’ll have plenty of options for wine tasting on your Santa Barbara vacation. Enjoy the Urban Wine Trail which has over 27 wineries and is a self-guided trail. We chose to explore the tasting rooms in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone which has 15 of the 27 tasting rooms. Our favorite was Santa Barbara winery but Sea Deep Wines had the best view!
Santa Barbara Courthouse
Why would you want to visit the courthouse on your Santa Barbara vacation? The courthouse in Santa Barbara is gorgeous! While it’s still an active courthouse with trials going on in it’s definitely a tourist attraction as well. There are even free daily tours put on by the courthouse where you can learn about its history. If you’re looking for a beautiful courthouse to tie the knot this is definitely it! Not only is the courthouse beautiful but so are the views you can get of Santa Barbara from the rooftop.
Experience a Salt Cave Session
If you’re looking to relax on your Santa Barbara vacation you can obviously check out one of the many spas. However, if you’re looking for a unique experience enjoy a session at the Salt Caves. The salt caves is a meditation cave made completely out of salt. I mean every wall, the ceiling and the floor is just salt. In the room there reclining chairs that you can lay on with blankets to cover yourself. You can also sit or lay in the salt to get even better benefits.
Rent a Moke
If you want a unique way to get around Santa Barbara for a few hours, rent a Moke. We rented one and drove up and down the coast enjoying the breeze.
Where to Eat on Your Santa Barbara Vacation
Did you know that the Egg McMuffin and ranch were both created in Santa Barbara? You can try the sophisticated version of both at Barbanero. We’ve literally never eaten so much on vacation but we quickly learned Santa Barbara has some of the best restaurants in the world. Not only was the food beyond delicious we had amazing service all around. Check out my list of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara.
We absolutely loved our time in Santa Barbara and hope to return with our kids. Cheers to planning your own Santa Barbara vacation! If you found this article helpful please share it!