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11 Stops To Make On Your San Francisco To Santa Barbara Drive
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11 Stops To Make On Your San Francisco To Santa Barbara Drive

This guide has all the stops you need to make when driving from the City by the Bay to the American Riviera.

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5 min read

August 18, 2021

They say it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey. Well, we’re talking Santa Barbara here, so it can’t not be about the destination. However, this particular drive from San Francisco to Santa Barbara is just as exciting as a trip can be, and the journey happens to be just as thrilling.

From parks and beaches to historical attractions, this guide has all the stops you need to make when driving from the City by the Bay to the American Riviera.

The Japanese Garden was designed by landscape architect, Nagao Sakurai of the Imperial Palace of Tokyo.

1. Japanese Garden in San Mateo 

The Japanese Garden in San Mateo Central Park is one of the most stunning ones in the Golden State and a must-see on any San Francisco to Santa Barbara road trip. This gorgeous place is stunning any time of the year, but it’s extra charming between late winter and early spring when cherry blossoms are in bloom. Featuring a tea house, granite pagoda, bamboo grove, and koi pond, the Japanese garden is a delight to visit for people of all ages. Fun fact—the garden was designed by Nagao Sakurai, who was once the chief gardener of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

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2. Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

No Golden State road trip is complete without a stop at one of California’s most mysterious attractions. Located in San Jose is the Winchester Mystery House, a tourist attraction with a ghostly history. Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, started building this haunted house in 1884—the construction was completed in 1922 after she passed away. Rumor has it that Sarah began adding rooms into the house to contain the spirits of her dead husband, son, and everyone who had fallen victim to her husband’s rifles. She believed that the more confusing the house was, the more confused the spirits would be. Sarah had construction workers create doors that open to walls, staircases that lead to nowhere, and a bunch of other oddities. 

3. First Mayor’s House in Salinas

The First Mayor’s House, also known as the Harvey-Baker House, is another attraction worth stopping by on your drive from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Once belonging to Mayor Isaac Harvey, the house is now the oldest building standing in Salinas serving as a history museum. When touring the house, visitors get acquainted with the history of Salinas and how it became the city it is today. Did we mention that this wonderful memory from the past is still mostly in its original form?

Mission San Miguel Arcángel was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was named to a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

4. Mission San Miguel Arcángel in San Miguel

Mission San Miguel Arcángel is a national and historic landmark that you just can’t miss. Named after Saint Michael the Archangel, the mission was founded by Franciscan Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen in 1797 and remains standing in its original state—even the frescoes of the mission are untouched. Make sure to add this beautiful Southern California mission to your itinerary on your road trip to Santa Barbara.

5. Pasolivo Ranch in Paso Robles

Ever wondered where some of California’s best extra virgin olive oils come from? Paso Robles, of course. That’s why a stop at Pasolivo ranch is a must while passing through Paso Robles on your drive to Santa Barbara. Tour the beautiful olive ranch and get to know how one of the top Central Coast olive oils is produced. The only downside to this stop is that tasting this high-quality EVOO will have you questioning the regular brands you buy from the supermarket (but we’re not really complaining). 

Bishop Peak is primarily composed of dacite. About 20 to 25 million years ago, magma welled up underneath a layer of softer rock and solidified.

6. Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo

Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo is one cool stop you have to make when driving Big Sur. The tallest of the Nine Sisters—a chain of picturesque mountains—this volcanic plug greets you to SLO as you drive down to the American Riviera. Bishop Peak gets its name thanks to its rocky, crown-like miter. Want to stretch your legs for a while when driving from San Francisco to Santa Barbara via Highway 1? and hike towards the peak of the mountain, where you’ll be exposed to gorgeous views of the city and the surrounding peaks. Trust us when we say that this hike is one of the most rewarding you’ll ever go on.

7. Pismo State Beach in Pismo Beach

We’ve established that cruising along the highway towards Santa Barbara is one of the most scenic drives people experience. What makes this drive a lot more fun and relaxing is a stop at Pismo State Beach. Here, you can just lay back and soak up the sun, take a stroll on the sandy beach, or even dip in the waters for a refreshing mind—whatever relaxes you more. As for those looking for something exciting to do, kayaking, surfboarding, kiteboarding, and clam digging are pretty popular here. Now you know why this place is a must-see California state beach.

With plenty of trails and shaded spots, Los Flores Ranch Park makes for an ideal setting for picnic and photography.

8. Los Flores Ranch Park in Santa Maria

Outdoor lovers, this stop is for you. Located in Santa Maria, the 1,778-acre Los Flores Ranch Park is all you need on your San Francisco to Santa Barbara road trip. This verdant destination is the optimum spot for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. Turn off your phone for a while and enjoy the natural beauty of Santa Maria.

9. Gallery Los Olivos in Los Olivos

Gallery Los Olivos is a local favorite spot for an art fix. Created by a group of local artists back in 1992, the art gallery attracts creators, experts, and visitors from all over the area. This unique locale showcases various collections of acrylics, oil paintings, watercolors, photography, jewelry, gourd art, and much more. Drop by the gallery on your way to Santa Barbara and enjoy the distinctive artwork on display. 

Located in Santa Barbara County, the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art collects, preserves, and exhibits the history and Danish culture of Solvang.

10. Elverhøj Museum of History and Art in Solvang

Santa Barbara is just minutes away—you’re almost there—but there are a couple of more stops you need to make. I mean, it would be a shame making it all the way to Santa Barbara and not visiting the city of Solvang; its Danish-style architecture can keep you around for hours. But if you’re short on time and still interested in this charming city, head straight to the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art. Learn about the history of Solvang and learn how the city managed to establish a European presence in sunny California. 

 11. Ostrichland in Solvang

There’s one more thing to do in Solvang that might have skipped your mind—feeding ostriches and emus. Yes, you heard that right. Ostrichland USA is considered to be a Central Coast landmark that makes for a fun final spot before reaching your final destination. Visit Solvang's favorite pets and feed them—we know you’ll return to visit your new friends in no time.

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