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Santa Barbara County has long drawn millions of visitors each year—and it’s easy to see why. Home to scenic, laid-back coastal cities replete with alfresco activities, the beautiful region offers an array of tantalizing and entertaining pastimes, from lounging on the picturesque beaches of Santa Barbara, to wandering through the “Danish Capital of the World” in Solvang, to tasting craft beer in Buellton, to savoring mouthwatering barbecue in Santa Maria.
The city of Santa Barbara—and the county seat—offers a trifecta of history, dining, and outdoor fun. Take in Spanish architecture at the Old Mission Santa Barbara, discover more than 3.5 million specimens (and the Central Coast’s only planetarium) at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, and admire ancient and contemporary artworks at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. In downtown, State Street boasts a booming craft-cocktail scene and world-class restaurants serving up everything from fresh seafood to French cuisine. The trendy, revamped Funk Zone is another popular spot for tourists and locals alike, with its 20-plus urban wineries, breweries, and distilleries.
Santa Barbara County visitors can also get a taste of the region in the Santa Ynez Valley, which has quickly become one of California’s premier wine destinations, specializing in Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and several Rhône and Italian varietals. Los Olivos, Lompoc, and Santa Maria (the largest city in the county) are other enticing destinations for wine aficionados. In addition to acclaimed vinos, these three towns are home to shops, landmarks, and trails that are worth checking out.
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Plenty of adventure awaits for outdoor enthusiasts, too. Go on a challenging hike (and enjoy breathtaking views) in the mountains rising above Goleta, watch for whales from the bluffs of the Channel Islands, go skydiving over the wildflowers in Lompoc, and get up-close-and-personal with ostriches in Buellton.
And for those who just want to kick back and unwind, the small town of Carpinteria offers charming eateries and pristine, white-sand beaches that encourage nothing but utter relaxation.
Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…
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