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California Coastal Spotlight: Downtown Santa Barbara

California Coastal Spotlight: Downtown Santa Barbara

Ready to experience the American Riviera? Add these things to your Santa Barbara itinerary and devote a day to explore the downtown.


5 min read

April 18, 2024

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains—and only a day trip from Los AngelesDowntown Santa Barbara’s natural beauty and historic architecture promise a scenic rendezvous on the Central Coast. With a year-round Mediterranean climate, amazing shopping, culinary wonders, renowned architecture, and authentic sense of place, Downtown Santa Barbara is a memorable spot that’ll enchant just about anyone who wanders through. 

Ready to experience the American Riviera? Add these things to your Santa Barbara itinerary and devote (at least) a day to strictly exploring this charming downtown. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes—you’re going to do a lot of walking around.

All the things to do in Downtown Santa Barbara 

Located in Downtown Santa Barbara, the Granada is home to eight resident companies and is a venue for regional and national touring productions.

Attend an Event at the Santa Barbara Granada Theatre

A local landmark for almost a century, the Santa Barbara Granada Theatre is one of the Central Coast’s premier performing arts venues. From orchestras and concerts to musicals and plays, there’s almost always something happening at this historic place. If you can’t find an event to your taste, you can also watch movies at this awesome Downtown Santa Barbara spot—happy viewing!

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Tour the Historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse 

You’ll find the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on any getaway guide to Santa Barbara. One of the country’s most beautiful public buildings, the Spanish Colonial-style, fully operational courthouse is an iconic landmark with gorgeous details you should definitely check out. Go on a self-guided tour for a visual history lesson from the elaborate murals and ornate chandeliers. Don’t forget to climb to the top of the clock tower for incredible 360-degree views of Downtown Santa Barbara and beyond.

Taste an amazing array of handcrafted culinary delights at the Santa Barbara Public Market, whether you’re in the mood for sweet or savory.

Enjoy Amazing Cuisine at the Santa Barbara Public Market

At the Santa Barbara Public Market, you’ll find a tempting selection of artisanal food and drinks to please any palate. Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Italian, American, and more cuisines can be found at this culinary hotspot in Downtown Santa Barbara—both indoor and outdoor seating is available. Indulge in sushi, try the falafel, and follow it up with deliciously creamy ice cream—because why not? Jokes aside, have a slice of pizza from Ca’Dario on our behalf, will you?

Visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Get your much-needed dose of artistic inspiration by visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. You’ll have the pleasure of viewing thousands of works of art spanning almost five thousand years of human creativity—this includes the largest collection of Monet paintings on the West Coast. Besides the impressive permanent collection, you’ll also find rotating exhibitions of various themes at this Downtown Santa Barbara museum. In other words, prepare to be awestruck whether you’re an avid art fan or not. 

There’s no denying that Santa Barbara’s skyline of white stucco walls and red-tiled roofs provides the city with a striking backdrop of charm.

Go on a Self-Guided Red Tile Walking Tour

If you like fresh air and don’t mind a bit of walking, you should definitely explore Downtown Santa Barbara on foot. The Red Tile Walking Tour includes 17 stops and 22 structures to discover, many of which have interesting historic backgrounds and cultural significance. Learn about museums, theaters, and hidden passageways, and take pictures to your heart’s content. By the end of this tour, you’ll be a true Downtown Santa Barbara aficionado through and through.

Have an Authentic Lebanese Dinner at Zaytoon

Zaytoon is a Santa Barbara restaurant that has been serving authentic and high-quality Lebanese cuisine since 2005. You’re bound to be starving after you’re done exploring the charming streets of Downtown Santa Barbara on foot. Head over to Canon Perdido Street for hummus, sambousek, and kebabs—we’re drooling just thinking about it all.

Paseo Nuevo is a picturesque Spanish-style open-air shopping center located in the heart of the affluent Santa Barbara downtown district.

Shop Along State Street

Downtown Santa Barbara shopping is best done along State Street, one of the main thoroughfares of the district. Surf shops, antique stores, home goods, and specialty boutiques line this Santa Barbara main street. For a more traditional shopping experience, head over to Paseo Nuevo, an outdoor mall and one of Santa Barbara’s premier shopping destinations. Make sure to pick up souvenirs for the family as well!

Stay at the Kimpton Canary Hotel

Besides featuring some of the city’s best food, shopping, and attractions, Downtown Santa Barbara also boasts world-class hotels. From luxury to budget-conscious, historic to modern, Downtown Santa Barbara hotels are impressive, to say the least. But perhaps one of the most famous ones is Kimpton Canary Hotel. The deluxe boutique hotel with old-world charm is within a few minutes of the most famous landmarks in the downtown area—experiencing this is an absolute delight.

If you want to watch boats coming and going from the harbor or play volleyball and rollerblade, then come to West Beach.

Venture Out to West Beach

Would it even be a complete Santa Barbara getaway guide if it didn’t include at least one beach? Absolutely not. A few steps away from the “official” grounds of Downtown Santa Barbara is one of the county’s best beaches: West Beach. While swimming isn’t advised here due to the shore’s close proximity to the harbor, there are plenty of other things to do here. Some of the popular beach-day activities to enjoy here include volleyball, kayaking, and boating.

Named after its builder John P. Stearns, the wharf served the passenger and freight shipping needs of the south coast for over a quarter century.

Stroll Along Stearns Wharf

Adjacent to the sands of West Beach is Stearns Wharf, the longest deep-water wharf between San Pedro and San Francisco. One of the most iconic landmarks of Downtown Santa Barbara, this pier is a must-see and a pleasure to walk along at sunset. Make sure to visit at least once and check out all the dining and shopping spots lining the pier. You’ll find souvenir stores, fresh seafood, ice cream, and more at this spot. And make sure to take a moment to enjoy panoramic views of the ocean and beyond.

Eat Fresh Oysters Right at the Very End of It

The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is a famous restaurant with local history that goes back to the 1980s. Located at the far end of the Stearns Wharf, this casual Santa Barbara restaurant serves the freshest seasonal seafood with ocean views, an outdoor patio, and a side of cool Central Coast breeze. After strolling the length of the pier, do stop by this casual eatery for a satisfying dinner. We won’t recommend a specific dish because everything on the menu is incredibly delicious and pleases all seafood lovers.

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