When you imagine paradise, it probably looks a lot like Santa Barbara. Tall palm trees and beautiful beaches only made more beautiful by the mountains that line the coast. And then there’s the perfect weather – warm days (but not too warm) and nights that are cool enough to need a jacket. I remember my first time driving down the PCH and arriving at this quintessential SoCal destination thinking … Is this place for real? Though I’ve been several times since, it never ceases to have the same affect. It’s magical, from the food to the wine to the scenery. If an escape from real life is what you need, you’re in good hands in Santa Barbara.
…where to chow down and then unbutton the top button
Foodie alert. This restaurant has the stuff your Instagram food pic dreams are made of. Combining industrial lighting with items you might find in a greenhouse, the atmosphere is happening and friendly. They had me the moment they delivered a bowl of popcorn (it was like crack … er, how addicting I imagine crack to be) to our table in lieu of the usual bread. Our waitress was amazing at providing recommendations – my favorite dish was the Salmon Crudo, followed by the Brussel Sprouts and Pork Belly with Blackberries.
In the mood for a late night? Start here. This small, tapas joint with dark lighting and a DJ will set the mood. Plus, it’s low maintenance – I got a reservation on a Thursday night last minute. It’s a no brainer to start with a cocktail – Holy Crop! if you’re a vodka lover like me or if Bourbon is your poison, try the Rattlesnake. The menu is chock full of all your faves – cheese, sliders and tuna tartare. I was enamored with the Lamburginis – lamb sliders with golden raisins & fresh mint. I could have had 15. Hey, better than having 15 cocktails.
This is a sweet little spot right downtown that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and most importantly, killer brunch and cocktails. The patio is the place to be, where you’ll be sipping an Organic Scarlett Peppernel (house-infused black pepper vodka, strawberry, mint, lime juice, and fever tree club soda) and enjoying the perfect Santa Barbara weather. Bonus: All the food looks like art, it’s so pretty!
One of the pioneers of Cal-French cuisine, bouchon is in a class of its own. Super popular, and always on any “best of” list, bouchon offers the finest in local, farm-fresh ingredients and regional wines. Expect a charming, French country atmosphere, complete with exceptional service and a lovely patio.
Pizza, artisanal beer, local wine, and cute, cozy digs. What could be better? Olio, sister restaurant to the fancier Olio e Limone, is the place to go if you want high-quality (seriously delicious) pie in a low-key, but somewhat upscale setting.
Located in the heart of Downtown, SB Public Market is essentially a gourmet pantry and eatery full of local, artisanal purveyors such as il Fustino Oils & Vinegars, Enjoy Cupcakes, Green Star Coffee, and I’a Fish Market. This is a great place to browse for a snack or a quick drink. Public Market also features a commissary kitchen with cooking classes and winemaker dinners.
… where to drink up and get down
The name pretty much says it all. If you look it up online, it says it’s a gay bar, but it’s equal opportunity … and the best place in town to dance. Jen and I discovered this gem with friends after a wedding and it was love at first sight. I mean, what’s not to love about cheesy disco lights, a slew of bachelorette parties and “bottle service?” Don’t judge us.
Ok, let’s class it up a bit. Situated next to The Lark, this little wine bar has a Parisian vibe, from the café tables to the brick walls to the enormous wooden wine rack behind the bar. The wine selection is vast, impeccable and interesting – the sommelier recommended a perfect Rosé for sipping on the patio. This spot is also great for a pre-or-post dinner wine tasting, but really, anytime is a good time to stop by.
Joe’s is an institution in Santa Barbara where it’s held down the party fort since 1928. This speakeasy serves up super stiff cocktails in a convivial setting with a pressed tin ceiling and comfy leather booths.
This is a great neighborhood bar, perfect to stumble into if you’re in the mood for cozy and casual. Elsie’s is a converted house that serves beer and wine only, and feels just the right amount of hipster-y.
…where to crash and get some R&R
California, here you come. Kimpton took over this former Holiday Inn and transformed it into the essence of SoCal life. There’s an Airstream parked out front, record players in each room and fire pits by the pool. Every detail put into this hotel was designed for relaxation and a good time. It’s not located downtown, but it’s a short, 10-minute drive. I loved the unpretentious vibe (not to mention the good price) and all the bonus activities: Sunday yoga by the pool, movies on the lawn and complimentary happy hour.
Another Kimpton recommendation, this is the yin to The Goodland’s yang. While The Goodland is a nod to old school surf culture, The Canary embodies California glamour by the beach. It’s posh, but approachable. Hand-painted tiles and beautiful four-poster beds are just some of the stand out details, while all that Santa Barbara has to offer is at your fingertips. Plus, they have a rooftop pool with a view that will make you cry. Tears of joy, of course.
Newly renovated, the Belmond El Encanto is the ultimate in luxury, with a price tag to match. We’ve never personally stayed here, but feel really good about giving it the thumbs up. Hidden away between the mountains and beach, the hotel combines Asian minimalist touches with laidback beach influences. The view is spectacular and if you don’t stay here, at least treat yourself to a drink on the patio. You deserve it.
Glamping in vintage airstreams near the ocean sounds about as retro cool and surfer chic as it gets and luckily, Autocamp Santa Barbara has facilitated this awesomeness for us. Located just off the Pacific Coast Highway, this little piece of RV heaven is a camp with 5 pimped out Airstreams to pick from.
There are so many good things about the Upham! Walking distance to State Street, this enchanting little inn makes you feel like you’re in the English Countryside. The staff is super friendly and helpful, and the rooms are a great size for the price.
JUST BOUGHT THESE PANTS
…where to nab the best threads
Mate Gallery is a quaint little gem where you’ll find all sorts of goodies – most of which have a maritime feel, perfect for a Santa Barbara memento. They sell vintage textiles, books, and artwork. The vibe is very New England meets California: classic, beachy, and nautical.
This State Street shop boasts chic pieces from designers like Raquel Allegra, Rag & Bone, Isabel Marant, and Iro.
In the heart of the Funk Zone, this store is full of vintage treasures, from furniture to art to clothing. The kind of place you could browse for hours. Everything is one-of-a-kind, just like you.
It’s the kind of place that’s full of things you just have to have. Cookbooks, clutches, candles, quotes, kids stuff – everything is just, well, cute. Word to the wise — don’t wander in if you’ve been wine tasting all day.
ANTS IN YOUR PANTS
…where to go when you can’t sit still
No need to go out to the vineyards to get the best wine Santa Barbara has to offer. Just take a trip on the Urban Wine Trail, the heart of the area fondly known as the Funk Zone located downtown. No need for reservations, plans or a driver – just pop in to tasting rooms at your leisure.
A trip to Santa Barbara isn’t complete without visiting the wineries and quaint downtown of Los Olivos. My go to — lounging on the lawn at Fess Parker and then heading to the Epiphany patio on the main drag and finishing with the wine/cupcake pairing at Saarloos + Sons.
TIP: Uber has a service called WINE, so you can create your own tour and still have a personal driver at an inexpensive cost. $35 per hour when you request WINE and $45 per hour when you request WINEXL.
If you’re up for some adventure in the Great Outdoors, Cachuma is a cool option. Located just 10 minutes down the road from Los Olivos, Cachuma is a beautiful campground surrounding a lake. We highly recommend stocking up on wine, marshmallows, and fresh provisions from Los Olivos General Store and spending a some time here in the fresh air and sunshine.
Santa Barbara offers some of the most pristine beaches in the country, and Hammonds Beach is a standout. Known as one of the favorite locals beaches, it doesn’t get too crowded, save for the surfers.