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Santa Barbara County: Experience the American Riviera
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Santa Barbara County: Experience the American Riviera

Santa Barbara County is home to scenic, laid-back coastal cities replete with alfresco activities, entertaining pastimes, and local eateries

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5 min read

June 10, 2022

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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 savoring mouthwatering barbecue in Santa Maria.

Even though Santa Barbra, the city, is the first to come to mind when visiting the area, visitors can also get a taste of the region in the Santa Ynez, Montecito, Los Olivos, Lompoc, Carpinteria, and Santa Maria (the largest city in the county). These are the towns where you’ll find the best landmarks, shops, and trails for an unforgettable Santa Barbara experience. 

These Are the Cities You Have to Visit in Santa Barbara County

Old Mission Santa Barbara is often referred to as “the Queen of The Missions”, and is the only mission with twin bell towers.

Santa Barbara

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 Museum of Natural History, and admire ancient and contemporary artworks at the Santa Barbara Museum of Artor visit one of the city’s many awesome museums. Around downtown, State Street boasts a booming craft-cocktail scene and the best Santa Barbara restaurants, serving up everything from fresh seafood to French cuisine. The trendy, revamped Funk Zone Santa Barbara is another popular spot for tourists and locals alike, with its 20-plus urban wineries, breweries, and distilleries.

Finding Solvang’s four windmills is not a difficult mission, but it is fun nevertheless.

Solvang

“The Danish Capital of America”, Solvang, is a can’t-miss stop during any Santa Barbara County visit — the charming city will spoil you for choice. Of all the things you should do on your visit to Solvang, checking out the striking architecture, eating aebleskiver at one of the authentic Danish bakeries, and attending a festival should be top priorities. Take the 3-mile walking tour of the charming city, starting at the city square, where you’ll see a replica of Denmark’s famous “Little Mermaid” statue. From the city square, move towards the city, and try to find the town’s trademark windmills, quaint shops, historic landmarks, and awesome restaurants. Make sure to set a few hours aside for your visit to the Danish village, because you will want to see it all.

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Santa Ynez

No trip to Santa Barbara, California is complete without a stop at the county’s own wine country. Seated in the middle of rolling hills and valleys, the beautiful city of Santa Ynez offers you natural sights you can’t find anywhere else in Santa Barbara, Ca. Yes, the vineyards are many, and they will take your breath away, but there’s a lot more to do in Santa Ynez that are not necessarily vineyard-focused. After you settle into one of the most luxurious Santa Barbara hotels in Santa Ynez, start your trip with stops at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum and Parks-Janeway Carriage House, where you’ll have a better understanding of the area’s history. Next, hike the trails of the 5,896-acre Sedgwick Reserve, which honors the agricultural legacy of the Santa Ynez Valley. Don’t leave the area before going on a hot-air balloon ride atop the city’s vineyards.

Butterfly Beach is where locals head in search of much-needed serenity and quiet.

Montecito

Weekends in Santa Barbara take on a whole new meaning when you include a visit to Montecito in your itinerary. The luxurious city is a Santa Barbara gem, where many celebrities reside or at least spend holidays in. If you’re in awe of SoCal’s pristine beaches, wait till you see the ones conveniently located in Montecino. If you want to find the best waves to ride in the city, head to Shark’s Cove and Hammonds Reef and join your fellow surf fanatics for an unforgettable experience. If you’d rather head somewhere calmer to try and even out your tan lines, then go for Butterfly Beach. After your well-deserved fun in the sun, head to the world-class restaurants spread all across the city, for a memorable dining experience. Don’t forget to walk around town, to admire the nature and affluent mansions around you.

Lompoc’s flower fields add to the charm of the small city.

Lompoc

Do you love experiencing life in the slow lane? Santa Barbara County’s Lompoc is the perfect place to do so. Surrounded by hillsides and flowers, this small town is ideal for a rural escape. The number one thing to do and see while in Lompoc, is visiting Old Town Lompoc. Here, artisan boutiques, beautiful architecture, colorful murals, historic gems, and awesome local restaurants come together to give you a one-of-a-kind experience. Lompoc is also home to the best-preserved Southern California mission, La Purisima Mission, which is now a state historic park, with ten of its original buildings still standing. The best part about Lompoc is that, compared to its surroundings, it’s considered to be reasonably affordable. And even though the city does not sit directly on the beach, the best Santa Barbara beaches are a short driving distance away.

Good food and picturesque vineyards are what Santa Maria is famous for.

Santa Maria

Santa Maria is the Barbecue Capital of California. Some would even say that the smell of grilled meat would guide you into the city. Even though you’ll want to spend all of your time trying each one of the city’s renowned restaurants, there’s much more to the city than food. In between meals hike the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, which starts at Los Olivos and ends in Santa Maria, giving you access to many of the area’s premium vineyards. Don’t let the city’s many vineyards stop you from visiting Santa Maria with the family — the city is packed with family-friendly attractions. Watch as your kids explore the world around them through hands-on activities at the Santa Maria Discovery Museum, and scream your lungs out with the family at Boomers Santa Maria, one of the best amusement parks in the state. And for all those who prefer camping in Santa Barbara over staying at luxurious hotels, Horseshoe Springs Campground in Los Padres National Forest is the best treat you can give yourself for after-dark relaxation.

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