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  • Writer's pictureWanderlust Mike

Discovering the Charm of Santa Barbara, California: A Comprehensive Guide

Santa Barbara, California, is one of our favorite retreats! We often spend an extended weekend there, or sometimes we simply stop by during a road trip. We love it so much, in fact, that it's become a potential retirement location.

santa barbara
State Street

santa barbara map
Santa Barbara Points of Interest

The native Chumash people were the first to settle this area. Santa Barbara was the name later given to the channel between the mainland and channel islands by Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602. The first permanent European residents were Spanish missionaries and soldiers who arrived in 1782. Modern day Santa Barbara was incorporated in 1850.

We usually find lodging along the waterfront, which is on Cabrillo Boulevard. Our favorite thus far is Harbor View Inn. Santa Barbara Harbor is a great place to visit! We love the Maritime Museum with a rich history dating back to the native Chumash, through helmet diving and commercial fisheries, to surfing and environmental conservation. We enjoy the views of the marina and mountains as we dine al fresco at Breakwater Restaurant. And if you're at the harbor on Saturday morning you can witness the fish market as well.

dive helmet
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

Stearns Wharf is another favorite! The Sea Center exhibits marine animals from local Santa Barbara waters. There are also many restaurants and shops on the pier. A favorite shop of ours is Nature's Own, which carries a large collection of seashells. The views from the end of the wharf are wonderful as well. And if you're lucky, through an opening near the end of the pier you can spot sea lions resting on the pilings below!

If you're interested in wild birds, the Andree Clark Bird Refuge is a great place to spot them. All of the beaches in Santa Barbara are great, but if you want to hang out with the locals and maybe even catch a little sand volleyball you should check out East Beach.


State Street in downtown Santa Barbara, California, is the main shopping and dining district. From Cabrillo Boulevard near the ocean to Sola Street, you'll find shops, restaurants, theaters, bars, clubs and grocery stores.

It's pedestrian, child, and dog friendly. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic they closed the street to automobile traffic to allow for outdoor dining. They've kept much of State St permanently closed to through traffic today!

The shops and dining here are some of the best we've ever seen! A favorite restaurant of ours is Goat Tree, where we enjoy outdoor dining under the shade of the date palm trees. But you can find Mexican, Italian, Danish, French, Japanese, Thai, Indian and Californian cuisine along State Street. And we recently discovered Lokum, which makes delicious baklavas and custom, flavorful Turkish delights!

MOXI interactive museum is great for kids! Catch a movie in the historic, Spanish mission-style Arlington Theatre. And experience live comedy, Broadway, dance, and classical music at Granada Theatre.

Try to catch our favorite handcrafted, vegan chocolate makers, Menchaca Chocolates, Sundays at the Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show on the corner of State Street and Cabrillo Blvd!

chocolate bars
Menchaca Chocolate bars


The Santa Barbara Mission, founded in 1786, is one of the nicest we've seen in California. It includes a museum, gift shop, cemetery and mausoleum, several gardens, and is home to a community of Franciscan Friars as well.

You can also tour the beautiful Casa del Herrero, an 11-acre Spanish revival architecture estate built in the 1920s. You can attend a guided tour of the home and its beautiful Moorish-inspired gardens.

The large, historic 1929 Spanish-Moorish architecture of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and grounds are magnificent! The park in back is a great place to have a picnic or just sit and enjoy a good book.

casa del herrero grounds
Casa del Herrero gardens

santa barbara county courthouse
Santa Barbara County Courthouse


We're always up for a local farmers market, and the Downtown Santa Barbara Market at 119 E. Cota Street every Saturday from 8:30 am to 1 pm is exceptional! Tons of fresh produce, flowers, baked goods, honey, juices, and nuts. We make the rounds and put together a delicious, locally sourced breakfast when we're there. And one of our favorite items is the delicious seasoned pistachios from the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company!

farmers market lavender
Lavender for sale at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market

The Santa Barbara Natural History Museum is a great place to learn about native wildlife, both past and present. In fact, their Prehistoric Forest includes some life-sized dinosaurs! You'll also enjoy exploring Mammal Hall, Bird Hall, learning about the native Chumash Life, and gazing at the stars in the Gladwin Planetarium. They also have a native woodland loop trail on the property which strolls along a creek bed and amongst the oak trees.

dinosaur tyrannosaurus rex
Prehistoric Forest at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

oak woodland
Woodland Loop Trail - Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

We love the beautiful Central California weather of Santa Barbara, coupled with the small town feel. It's also close to the small Danish-themed town of Solvang and the wine country of Paso Robles as well. If you want a relaxing California getaway, we can truly recommend our beloved Santa Barbara.

santa barbara coast ice plant


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