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Top 11 Reasons to Visit Santa Barbara Now
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Top 11 Reasons to Visit Santa Barbara Now

Whether you’re a city dweller or a nature lover, you’re bound to fall in love with the American Riviera.

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5 min read

July 28, 2021

If you live in Santa Barbara, we're 100 percent sure that you have a favorite beach. No matter where you go, don't forget the sunscreen!

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When kayaking in Santa Barbara, you’ll often get a natural show that include migrating gray and humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, and starfish.
There's no experience quite like whale watching; it's a beautiful display of power and grace in the afternoon light.

5. Whale Watching

As if there weren’t enough reasons to visit Santa Barbara, whale watching tops every tourist’s to-do list. More than a dozen species of whales and dolphins pass through the Santa Barbara Channel during the year. Pods of colossal blue whales—the biggest mammal on earth—swim the waters of Santa Barbara. Have the ultimate whale watching and dining experience in the American Riviera with Condor Express—now that’s a day ‘whale’ spent. 

6. Hiking

Hikers know that there are more than enough places to visit in Santa Barbara for a decent trek. One of the obvious answers is the Santa Ynez Mountains, which create a beautiful backdrop for the coastal city. The mountains are rich with hiking trails for all skill levels. Outdoor lovers get to enjoy the spectacular views of the city and the ocean—the higher you climb, the more rewarding the views become. As for those looking for shorter hikes, Santa Barbara has more than enough oceanside trails and downtown strolls that’ll expose you to other activities; perhaps even hidden gems?

Architect Charles Willard Moore called the Santa Barbara County Courthouse the "grandest Spanish Colonial Revival structure ever built."

For city dwellers

7. Historic Landmarks

The American Riviera has a rich history waiting to be discovered. And where else to get your first history lesson than from the queen herself, Old Mission Santa Barbara? This Spanish mission is one of the most iconic relics from the 18th century. With its twin bell towers and breathtaking architecture, the mission has earned the title of one of the best things to see in Santa Barbara. Visitors come here to check out the nine-room museum full of historical artwork, enjoy an afternoon at the lush gardens, and pay respects at the cemetery and mausoleum. 

Another historic landmark to visit is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. The Spanish Colonial Revival-style building has rooms covered in kaleidoscopic tiles—the murals have a way of enchanting visitors. And the coolest part of the courthouse? The clock tower offers a spectacular panorama of the city and the mountains.

The Arlington Theatre is a historic landmark with seating for over 2,000 guests and is home to first-run films, live performances, and film festivals.

8. Theaters

Dying to get a dose of art? Add the Arlington Theatre to your itinerary. Originally constructed to be a movie theater in 1931, the theatre now hosts the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Upon visiting the theater, you’ll be sitting under a starry skied ceiling surrounded by Spanish village decor that reflects the city’s history. If Arlington isn’t your cup of tea, head to the New Vic to watch a performance by the Ensemble Theatre Company. This place used to be a church back in the day and was transformed into a state-of-the-art venue in 2013. The New Vic features classic plays as well as modern works—buy a couple of tickets to see one for yourself.

9. Museums

One of Santa Barbara’s main tourist attractions is the Museum of Natural History. Built in 1916, the museum displays every aspect of nature from mammals, birds, and marine life to paleontology, astronomy, geology, and anthropology—it also houses the Central Coast’s only planetarium. Another spot people love to visit in Santa Barbara is the Museum of Art. Located in the historic downtown, the museum contains some of the most important artworks ever created, including works by legendary French impressionist Monet. 

Santa Barbara is Southern California’s ocean air gateway to the Central Coast and is home to some of the best produce and seafood on the planet.

10. Restaurants

Who wouldn’t want a fine dining experience in Santa Barbara? Your options are basically infinite, and settling on one might be difficult. Toma Restaurant and Bar is a great choice if you’re craving Italian, Mediterranean, and seafood. Try the out-of-this-world tuna cones and gnocchi with shrimp—it’ll blow your mind. Brophy Bros is another seafood restaurant that promises a one-of-a-kind experience. Get ready to take in the scenic views of the harbor, ocean, and mountains as you indulge in mouthwatering dishes—give their seafood pasta and seabass a try. 

11. Shopping

Shopping in Santa Barbara is inevitable—it’s one of the most exciting, relaxing, and simultaneously stressful things you’d do on a vacation. Shopaholics must make their way to State Street first, because shopping here isn’t just limited to buying things; it’s basically sightseeing in Santa Barbara. The street is lined with cafes, restaurants, surf shops, and of course, some of the best stores in town. 

If you’re not exactly done, head over to Arlington and De La Guerra Plazas for more retail therapy. And for those looking to buy souvenirs, go straight to Stearns Wharf or Santa Barbara Harbor, where you’ll find cute memorabilia to take back home.

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