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The Santa Barbara Neighborhoods You Should Know About
Real Estate

The Santa Barbara Neighborhoods You Should Know About

Who wouldn’t love living in a place where your biggest concern is whether you’re catching the biggest wave or the most perfect sunset?


5 min read

August 01, 2021

“I love the warm, cream color of the Spanish-style houses and the red of their tile roofs, and the brightness of round oranges set against the dark-green, shiny leaves of citrus trees” -Julia Child

If the greatest chef loved the natural beauty and culinary bounty of the American Riviera so much, chances are you will too. And we’re really not being presumptuous by saying that either—who wouldn’t love living in a place where your biggest concern is whether you’re catching the biggest wave or the most perfect sunset that day?

Apart from being one of the Golden State’s most luxurious cities, Santa Barbara is also wildly diverse. Everyone from college students, retirees, big families, and even your neighbor’s dog can find a place to call home here. To save you all the figuring out, we’ve compiled a list of the very best Santa Barbara neighborhoods. We don’t need kudos, just an invitation to your housewarming party. 

The Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara

Nestled between the Pacific and the Santa Ynez mountains, Downtown Santa Barbara's natural beauty and historic buildings attract people from all over.

Downtown Santa Barbara 

You probably know that all of Santa Barbara is beautiful, so much so that closing your eyes and pointing at a map is as good a guide as any. But if you're an outgoing go-getter with a knack for shopping, Downtown Santa Barbara is the place for you. The eight-or-so blocks that make up this district are like a pedestrian treasure chest—the more you walk, the more you discover. Many of Santa Barbara's most famous museums and historical sites are located here too; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara Courthouse, the Clock Tower, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, and so on. There's even a museum dedicated to the largest doll and teddy bear collection in the U.S. Susan Quinlan Doll and Teddy Bear Museum sure is an acquired taste, but if you like tea and toys, make sure to pay them a visit.

For those who like to indulge in a little retail therapy, Santa Barbara's downtown area is the shopping mecca of the Central Coast. Surf shops, antique stores, home improvement, gardening goods, and specialty boutiques are all conveniently located on State Street. Stroll through Paseo Nuevo, a beautiful outdoor shopping mall, and explore a blend of local favorites and namesake brands.

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Isla Vista, Santa Barbara 

Deem yourself an adventurer? Check out Isla Vista (IV for short), a neighborhood renowned for its love of coffee, delicious eateries, and partying till the break of dawn. Another plus side; it's right next to the beach.

While house parties are the unofficial main attraction of Isla Vista, there are a bunch of other fun things to do too. You’ll love having a picnic at Anisq'Oyo' Park, watching a performance at Isla Vista Theater, and, of course, hitting the beach at the base of Del Playa Drive—you better get your bike ready, too.

Restaurants in IV cater mainly to a population of students. By saying this, we don't mean you'll be denied food if you're not working on getting your degree. But what we do mean is there’s a lot of food, great value, and fast; just don't expect white tablecloths and sommeliers. Head to Woodstock’s for the cheesiest pizza ever or scarf down a giant burrito at Freebirds. And if you feel the need for a little perking up after all that eating, there's plenty of places to get a cup of joe.

The high 2.5-mile Mesa, named after the Spanish phrase meaning "flat-topped table," is perched immediately above the ocean.

Mesa, Santa Barbara 

Not very far from Downtown Santa Barbara yet worlds away, Mesa oozes with easy-going coastal vibes; the neighborhood is located on the bluffs above the beach after all. This is where you come to bask in the views, munch on good eats, and read a book with the waves as your background music.

If you want to get a true feel of what Mesa has to offer, its main attraction is definitely location, location, location. The neighborhood is situated on a flat mesa above the rest of Santa Barbara—in order to see what the views are, head to Shoreline Park and wait till the sun goes down. Better yet, plan a picnic during golden hour and you’ll be exposed to one of the best vistas on the Central Coast. 

In the mood for food? There are a handful of tasty eateries tucked in Mesa. Rose Cafe, for instance, is a delicious Mexican restaurant with breakfast items served all day. Or alternatively, go green at Mesa Verde, an eatery boasting vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes. 

San Roque is where a lot of Santa Barbara local families live. There are great schools, fun shops and delicious restaurants sprinkled in the area.

San Roque, Santa Barbara 

If there's one thing that should be clear about Santa Barbara by now, it's that the city is diverse enough to accommodate lifestyles ranging from "outgoing college student/party animal" to "family of four looking to settle down somewhere nice." San Roque definitely belongs to the latter category. Although every convenience is nearby, this area is nevertheless far enough away to avoid the congestion of downtown. Excellent schools are abundant in this neighborhood, along with a plethora of entertaining stores and delectable eateries dispersed all throughout.

And while there aren't too many natural wonders or museums in San Roque, the easily accessible hiking trails make it very easy to stay active and healthy. Grassy parks clothe the whole neighborhood, making for plenty of room for the little ones to run around. And in terms of food, San Roque boasts everything from old school steakhouses, French breakfast nooks to sushi joints—you won't go hungry here.

The Oak Park area, much like West Downtown, is an area containing older homes that are gradually being replaced with apartments.

Oak Park, Santa Barbara 

Much like West Downtown, the Oak Park area is a delightful mixture of vintage houses, cottages, Victorian abodes, and smaller-scale apartment buildings. The main draw of this neighborhood is definitely Oak Park, a 17-acre family-friendly park running along Mission Creek. This place is a picnic mecca, with grassy areas shaded by mature oak and sycamores—your afternoon will be well spent. In addition to sprouting greenery, there are two public tennis courts, two playgrounds, a raised wooden platform used as a stage or dancefloor, and horseshoe pits. 

The most popular place to stay in Santa Barbara is the neighborhood of West Beach, with its many ocean view restaurants, shops, and shoreline.

West Beach, Santa Barbara 

Commonly referred to as the Ambassador area, West Beach can be summed up in two phrases—Spanish-style buildings and oceanside fun. These two merge together to create a picturesque area tailored for young professionals, and a vintage, historic feel reminiscent of Santa Barbara's olden days. Approximately half of West Beach is taken over by Santa Barbara City College. Situated on a 74-acre bluff, this campus overlooks the harbor and the Pacific—had we known the views were this magnificent, we would have chosen to attend this community college

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