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Santa Barbara, California

Great Destination:

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Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Much of the movie, “Sideways” (2004), was shot in the Santa Barbara wine country.
  • Kinko’s launched its business at UC in Santa Barbara, in a corner of a taco stand (1970).
  • When Flying A Studio opened (1910) in Santa Barbara, it was the world’s largest film studio.
  • The original Motel 6, opened in 1962, still operates in Santa Barbara.
  • Charlie Chaplin built the Montecito Inn (1928) to accommodate movie personnel.

‘American Riviera’

Santa Barbara, on California’s central coast, is a well-known and popular destination in part because well-known, popular (and wealthy) people go there. The people, in this instance, are often movie stars who find the small city a highly desirable retreat at a useful distance from Hollywood.

In fact, Santa Barbara was Hollywood for the silents: California’s first major studio, the Flying A Studio, opened here in 1910 and produced more than a thousand films before shutting down 10 years later. By then, the stars had discovered the features that today’s not-so-famous and not-so-rich like about the city, too: mountains, a watery playground and near-perfect weather.

Santa Barbara, which promotes itself as the American Riviera, nestles in the foothills of the Santa Ynez range and has miles and miles of mostly south-facing (and hence, somewhat sheltered) Pacific Coast beaches.

Besides, it was — and remains — a strikingly handsome metropolis. That is no accident. From the early 20th century, Santa Barbara’s planners enforced architectural standards meant to ensure the city maintained an aesthetic appropriate to its history and its geography. The resulting look points strongly to the city’s Spanish colonial past, but the style also embodies Portuguese, Moorish and American Indian influences. Key features are white stucco buildings, red tile roofs, courtyards and the wrought iron ornamentation seen on windows, staircases and so forth.

Given its well-to-do clientele, some of whom have second homes in town, Santa Barbara also has more than its share of fine dining establishments, high-end shops and posh accommodations. On the other hand, tourists don’t have to be wealthy to choose Santa Barbara.

The city is in the kind of setting that almost predetermined it would be a laid-back sort of place. No one need wear designer clothes and drive a Ferrari to take advantage of the beaches and the mountains, or to appreciate the forest of distinctive red-tiled buildings and stroll beneath towering palm trees. Moreover, this is the town where Motel 6 was born and where folks argue about which joint makes the best tacos!

Things to do for Venturers

  • Strap on your backpack and hike into the nearby Los Padres National Forest. It extends for nearly 2 million acres.
  • Look for bald eagles at the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area.
  • Buy a fresh ostrich egg at Ostrichland U.S.A. in Bueliton, after you look at the ostriches, of course. One ostrich egg is equal to 18 to 24 chicken eggs, so you’ll need to invite several people for breakfast.
  • Rent a kayak and paddle the Santa Barbara coast. Or join a group kayaking excursion around the Channel Islands, about 20 miles offshore.
  • Plan a road trip built around sites used for the movie, “Sideways.”
  • Go surfing, or kiteboarding, or scuba diving. The facilities are here; make your choice.

Things to do for Centrics

  • You don’t even have to leave the city. Follow the designated Urban Wine Trail. If you would rather get out into the country, other trails take you farther afield.
  • Pet, or at least touch, a shark, a sea cucumber or a starfish at the Ty Warner Sea Center.
  • Go to the top of the 80-foot courthouse tower for a sweeping view of the city, and possibly for sightings as far away as the Channel Islands. Photograph red tile roofs to your heart’s content.
  • Join a two-hour Saturday or Sunday tour offered by the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara to gain insights into the city’s architectural history and some of its secrets. If you cannot make one of those dates, follow the self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour.
  • Between December and February, take a whale watching excursion by catamaran. You may see orcas, porpoises and sea lions as well the the gray whales.
  • Be festive in Santa Barbara. The Old Spanish Days-Fiesta occurs in August, whereas the Harbor and Seafood Festival is set for October.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Go to the beach. Get lunch from a taco stand.
  • Love roses? Head a few miles out of town to the Rose Story Farm in Carpinteria. Reserve a tour of the 15 acres of flowers and enjoy an alfresco lunch on site, too.
  • Of course, you will see the “queen of the missions,” one of 21 missions established by the Spanish throughout California. Mission Santa Barbara (built 1786) is particularly noted for its beauty. Also, visit El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, home to the last of a string of fortresses (from about 1782), also established by the Spanish.
  • Shop for gently worn designer clothes at The Rack at Music Academy of the West.
  • Sleep where the stars have slept. For example, Clark Gable stayed at several establishments: Alisal Guest Ranch, El Encanto Hotel and Garden Villas, Historic Santa Maria Inn, Hotel Santa Barbara. The Historic Santa Maria Inn goes back a ways; Rudolph Valentino also stayed there.
  • Choose a fine seafood restaurant for at least one dinner. On the other hand, this restaurant choice does not have to be all that ritzy to deliver the goods fresh from the ocean.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit Santa Barbara at