Vacations are the stuff of summer, aren’t they? Something in the air seeps through open windows and under our skin, inciting the itch to go. When it’s not possible to swing a glamorous getaway, short trips can be just the right breath of adventure. Darling readers, before the summer is up, pack your bags and spend a weekend in Santa Barbara.
Travel writer Pico lyer once said that the only reason he doesn’t call Santa Barbara paradise is because he calls it home. Santa Barbara is indeed idyllic. White stucco and red tile roofs stand out among palm and eucalyptus trees. Purple foothills nudge the city against the Pacific. It’s a sensory-rich place, home to smoky tacos, dusty succulents, and stinging wave breaks. Locals insist there’s nowhere like it, and they’re not far off. It’s both sophisticated and a little sleepy, a Southern California beach town dashed with European flair.
You could spend weeks poking around Santa Barbara’s charming corners, but if you only have a weekend, here’s your itinerary:
Drive along the coast to take in Highway 101’s ocean view and vintage feel. Whether you come from the north or the south, the stretch of coast that bookends the city hints at a younger California. Once you arrive, catch an outdoor movie at the Courthouse’s Sunken Gardens. The historic Courthouse merits a visit any day, but lounging on its lawn beneath an old Hitchcock film makes this activity a must-do. Movie showings are free and begin at 8:30 pm. Bring finger food, cozy sweatshirts, and a group-sized blanket.
1100 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 805.962.6464
Rise and shine with a bike ride to the farmers market. The market is held in a downtown parking lot and comprises a colorful mash-up of flowers, fruit samples, and street artists. Don’t leave without trying the herb cheese or picking up a bunch of sweet carrots.
Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. 200 E. Cota St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 805.962.5354
If you’re not full from sampling farmers market fare, head across the street to The French Press. Arguably the best—you guessed it—French-pressed coffee in town, this café is a friendly, modern space. Most of its regulars walk or bike there, and customers are apt to camp out for hours on the open patio. The coffee is top notch and the baristas are hospitable.
528 Cota St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 805.963.2721
In the afternoon, get into the wild with a hike to Inspiration Point. This intermediate hike is fairly short (3.5 miles round trip), but it’s steep. The trail leads into Santa Barbara’s foothills and ends with an unrivaled view of the city. You’ll get a workout on the climb and will be rewarded with a panoramic view of downtown, the coastline, and—on a clear day—the Channel Islands. Head out in late afternoon to catch a sunset from the peak.
Trailhead: Tunnel Rd. and Mission Rd., Santa Barbara, CA 93190
For dinner, grab the best tacos in town at Lily’s Taquería. Lily’s is a little-known taco shop tucked in downtown’s far end. The food is cheap and unfussy: you pick a meat and they serve it wrapped in corn tortillas on paper plates. Stay away from choices like “lengua” and “cabeza” (yes, that means “tongue” and “brain”) and be sure to dress up your tacos with fresh onions, cilantro, and pico de gallo from the salsa bar.
310 Chapala St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 805.966.9180
If you’re of age, wine or beer taste at Municipal Winemakers or Figueroa Brewing Co., respectively. Both are located in Santa Barbara’s “Funk Zone,” which is predictably packed on the weekend. Locals and tourists swarm the eclectic neighborhood for its outdoor eating and local wine and craft beer.
Municipal Winemakers: 22 Anacapa St. Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 805.931-6864 // Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.: 137 Anacapa St. Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 805.694.2255
Santa Barbara is known for Mexican-inspired flavors, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t stop for breakfast at Renaud’s Patisserie. Owned by a French pastry chef, Renaud’s croissants are what Paris must taste like. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but the almond croissants and brioche french toast are a last-meal-on-earth kind of food. Linger at a small outdoor table under the jacaranda trees while you eat.
1324 State St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 805.892.2800
In the heat of the day, get out in the water with a kayak. You can rent by the hour from Santa Barbara Sailing Center. Paddle through sailboats and catamarans, underneath the city pier, and out to the buoys. Kayaking is the best way to see the Santa Barbara waterfront, and the mountain backdrop isn’t bad, either.
133 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93109. 805.962.2826
In the late afternoon, wander State Street. This main street bisects the town and is home to some of the most popular shopping and eating. State Street also showcases Santa Barbara’s distinctive Spanish architecture. Poke around the hidden alleys and courtyards, or claim a sidewalk bench to enjoy the best people watching the city can offer.
Conclude the weekend with another round of Mexican food, this time from Los Agaves. Since opening several years ago, Los Agaves has won over Santa Barbara’s selective locals. Order at the counter and then do your best to hunt down a table…the restaurant is notoriously busy. Large portions and delicious burritos, guacamole salsa, and enchiladas make up for the crowds.
600 N. Milpas St., Santa Barbara, CA 93103. 805.564.2626
Photo by Rebecca Wolseley