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Places to Visit in Santa Barbara California on the American Rivera

Updated on March 3, 2015

View From Santa Barbara Courthouse

Looking toward the Santa Ynez mountains, view from the Santa Barbara courthouse tower.
Looking toward the Santa Ynez mountains, view from the Santa Barbara courthouse tower. | Source

Location and History

Santa Barbara is located in the Central Coast area of California, north of Los Angeles and south of San Francisco. Visitors can drive to Santa Barbara on the beautiful coastal highway 101, or by Amtrak or arrive at the small airport. The city is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and there is a great view of the Channel Islands located 20 miles offshore. Santa Barbara is also bordered by the Santa Ynez Mountains. To the south are the communities of Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria, and to the north is Goleta, which all have their own distinctive character. Summer temperatures in the area average in the 80-64 range with lots of sunshine.

The area was inhabited by the Chumash Native Americans long before the Spanish exporers "discovered" the area around 1600. Portuguese explorer Cabrillo who sailed for the king of Spain is credited for naming the area Santa Barbara. Spanish rule ended when Mexico won its independence. The Mission Santa Barbara was established by a Catholic Franciscan order and the church was dedicated in 1786. Then under the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo in 1848, Santa Barbara was under American rule. A land surveyor named Salisbury was hired to lay out streets for the town, but he did a poor job of aligning them. After a destructive earthquake in 1925, Santa Barbara took on the look of a Spanish town with red tiled roofs, white walls, Spanish tile and small courtyards. This style of architecture dominates most of the downtown area today.

The Beach Area

Santa Barbara Yacht Club area.
Santa Barbara Yacht Club area. | Source

Along the Waterfront

The waterfront beach area of Santa Barbara is several blocks South of Hwy 101. Cabrillo Blvd makes an arc around the harbor, and it is an area of constant activity.Most tours and activities originate from this area. On the north side of Cabrillo there is a variety of hotels, condos and restaurants, and on the south of Cabrillo is an expansive park that has pay parking, restrooms, a skate park, volleyball courts and a wide walking and biking path. Tall palms that were planted in the 1920s form an impressive line. There is swimming in designated areas. Sterns Wharf is near the center of the area, an old wooden wharf that has several seafood restaurants, a couple of souvenir shops and fishing at the end of the wharf. There are several shops north of the park for renting bicycles.

Most of the hotels in this area are fairly expensive, as are the motels and cottages for rent. An alternative is that there are two state beach parks for camping in the area. One to the north of Santa Barbara and one in Carpinteria to the south.

Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara is the 10th in a series of California missions established along the California coastline.
Mission Santa Barbara is the 10th in a series of California missions established along the California coastline. | Source

Mission Santa Barbara

A visit to the Mission Santa Barbara is a must. The mission was dedicated on Dec. 4th in 1786, which is the feast day for Saint Barbara. The mission sits high on a hill and provides an excellent view of the city and ocean below. In front of the mission is a wonderful rose garden and amazing chalk art in a designated area.. Inside the mission is a museum tour which can be docent or self guided. The courtyard is interesting and during the first part of the tour there is a video that explains the history of the church and many of the objects and art works displayed inside the museum and the church. Three masses are held inside the church on Sundays, and a daily mass M-F at 7:30 am. A walled cemetery next to the church is also interesting to view the dates and inscriptions on the crypts and tombstones. A well stocked gift shop has a number of books on Santa Barbara as well as religious and artistic items.

State Street

Shopping and dining on State Street.
Shopping and dining on State Street. | Source

State Street is Main Street

State Street is home to a number of all types of restaurants and shopping. Whether it is having a Starbucks drink while people watching or sidewalk dining, or shopping or movie or museum going, State Street is the area. Lower State Street closest to the beach area tends to feature, small cafes and bars. Middle State Street offers shopping in local and chain stores, and upper State Street offers art, designer home decor, jewelry, clothing, book stores and wonderful restaurants. (There are also a number of tiny corner neighborhood restaurants scattered throughout Santa Barbara.) We enjoyed the Italian fare at Aldo's on State Street and Carlitto's on State Street. We also enjoyed breakfast and lunch at a tiny cafe named You be the Judge, aptly named since it borders the courthouse.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse


Santa Barbara County Courthouse

According to Santa Barbara residents, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is the second most photographed place in California, second only to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco California. Both the interior and exterior of the building are beautiful. Colorful Mexican tiles grace the stairways and floors. Painted ceilings and open beams and murals are wonderful. Mission style carved benches line the hallways. The tower offers excellent views of all sides of the city, and the clock/chime room can be viewed. The sunken garden area is used for showing films during the summer and other entertainments. Docent tours are available, or just walking through the halls and grounds is an experience.

Other Things to Do

Beside the museum at the mission, Santa Barbara has an art museum, a museum of natural history, a historical museum, and a botanical garden. Depending on the amount of time for a visit, the Danish town of Solvang, and the ranching town of Los Olivos are about 40 miles from downtown Santa Barbara. There are a number of nurseries and groves. Town events include the Dog Parade down State Street and Fiesta time in August. We enjoyed attending a Greek Festival in Oak Park, and visiting local farmer's markets. While not inexpensive, Santa Barbara is one of America's most beautiful cities.

Travel to Santa Barbara


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    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 3 years ago

      Thank you. I hope they get some rain in that area soon.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have seen quite a bit of California. I had relatives in the L.A. area, and drove the coast down to see them several times. Santa Barbara is easily one of my favorite places in California...easily. :) Nice job on this travel article.

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 3 years ago

      Ohh We have been to Vancouver and Whistler several times and love it. So many beautiful places so little time and money! Dang

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 3 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      I've heard the name "Santa Barbara" a lot over the years and felt sort of mysteriously romantically-linked to it-- your lovely descriptions, beautiful photos and personal mentions brought that to mind again. We are having a very gloomy, cold, sleety day here and this was exactly the sort of pick-up I needed! Thank you!

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Nice travelogue. I feel I know Santa Barbara, a bit, from reading all of Sue Grafton's books - called Santa Teresa, there, of course. Thanks for sharing the real thing!


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