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Top 11 Reasons to Visit Santa Barbara Now

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.

Roubina Al Abashian


5 min read

April 26, 2024

Santa Barbara—the city where land meets the ocean—is one of those picture-postcard places you need to experience firsthand. Nicknamed “The American Riviera” for good reason, the coastal town has a lot to offer to everyone. Whether you’re a city dweller or a nature lover, you’re bound to fall in love with this place. And if you’re still wondering why you should visit Santa Barbara ASAP, here are a few to convince you. 

These are the reasons you want to visit Santa Barbara ASAP

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!

For nature lovers

1. Swimming and Sunbathing

This Central Coast city is known for its year-round sunshine, and you know what that calls for? A day at the beach. Luckily, you have plenty to choose from. West Beach, for example, is every tourist’s first choice, despite being one of the smallest ones. Extending west from Stearns Wharf, this is where Santa Barbara’s New Year’s and Fourth of July Fireworks shows take place. To the east of Stearns Wharf, you’ll find another spot—East Beach—which happens to be the longest stretch of shoreline in the entire city. And for those looking for dog-friendly beaches, head straight to Hendry’s Beach. This Santa Barbara must-see is where your pup can splash around leash-free.

2. Surfing and Paddleboarding

Whether you’re a pro or just starting out, Santa Barbara’s beaches provide exactly what you’re looking for. Beginners learn to ride the waves at Leadbetter, where they’ll find all the help needed. But, if you already know how to shoot the curl, make your way to Gaviota State Park or Jalama Beaches to enjoy the untamed waves. 

Not a fan of surfing but still want something fun to do? Consider standup paddleboarding. The cool thing about this sport is that you can do it wherever there’s water, which translates to all of Santa Barbara.

3. Kayaking

What better way to get acquainted with the Pacific than paddling into the depths of the ocean? That’s why kayaking is extremely popular here—almost every Santa Barbara sightseeing itinerary involves this activity. Explore the rich marine life, enjoy the spectacular coastline, and put in your daily workout all at once. For the best views, start your journey at Stearns Wharf and from there, move across the extended shoreline.

4. Sailing

If kayaking is too much work for you, opt for an option that requires less work and more relaxing—we’re talking about sailing, of course. Nothing beats sailing on a warm summer weekend, especially during sunset. You won’t have trouble taking up this hobby either; there are plenty of experienced sailors willing to pass on their knowledge. The best spot to start your journey is at the harbor. Head towards the scenic coastline and try to spot all the Santa Barbara tourist attractions from afar. 

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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