- Rachael Bissig
Visiting Santa Barbara? Follow This local-approved Weekend Itinerary that Hits ALL the Marks!
Are you ready for a fall getaway before the hectic pace of the holidays sets in? Santa Barbara is the perfect spot. Although we have comfortable temperatures year-round, autumn offers more fog-free days, less crowded streets, and that great sweater-weather feel in the evenings. Even with social distancing guidelines, there is so much to see and do in Santa Barbara. Our three-day weekend plan begins with a Thursday night arrival. That way, you are set up to get the most out of your time in our “American Riviera.”
Check in to the elegant Hotel Californian, which is located right in the heart of Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. The eclectic district includes cafes, galleries, boutiques, and tasting rooms that reflect the Santa Barbara lifestyle. You’ll see bold graffiti murals and contemporary art pieces and watch surfboard shapers at work on their craft. You can also participate in the Urban Wine Trail, a self-guided tour of more than 20 tasting rooms representing Santa Barbara’s wine country, which winds through the Funk Zone. In order to increase safe social distancing during COVID, the city of Santa Barbara has closed some of the streets and parking lots in and around the Funk Zone to traffic.
After working up an appetite during your walk, it’s time for dinner at Arigato Sushi, Santa Barbara’s premier sushi restaurant. Be sure to try both their traditional and unusual sushi options. You’ll soon understand why this is one of the more popular dining spots in town — and it’s just a short walk back to your hotel after your meal.
Day One - Friday
After a relaxing sleep, give room service a call for some juice and coffee. Then take a refreshing dip in the hotel’s rooftop pool and enjoy stunning views of the ocean as you dry off on the deck.
Now that you are fully re-energized, it’s time to get the up-close-and-personal look at Santa Barbara that only a bike ride can provide. Jump on your complimentary bikes from Hotel Californian (subject to availability) and head north up State Street. Your first stop should be Renaud’s Bakery and Bistro. I recommend their deconstructed croissant sandwich, which includes scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese. Make sure to request that your croissant be warmed up and ask for a side of butter and jam. I know you’ll agree with me that Renaud’s croissants are even better than those in Paris. I’m not kidding!
Now you can work off those delicious calories with a quick bike ride to the nearby Diani Boutiqueto choose a gift for the in-laws and a swanky new outfit to wear for dinner tonight. Owner Caroline Diani, who was born in Kenya and grew up in England, fills her warm and welcoming shop with unique clothing, accessories, and treasures for the home.
Okay, enough shopping; it’s time to head to the beach! Pedal your bike to the Santa Barbara Sailing Center, located at the east end of Harbor Way. Stand-up paddleboard rentals there are only $18 an hour. You can launch directly from the center’s dock to explore the Harbor, Stearns Wharf, and West Beach. Did you bring a waterproof bag for your phone, or are you feeling lucky? Either way, you’ll get some great photo ops. You may even see some of my favorite harbor residents — the seals and sea lions!
After you get back your land legs, head over to Brophy Brosfor a beer and a bowl of clams on the patio, where you can enjoy an impressive view of the harbor. After lunch, take a stroll along the waterfront to browse the shops for souvenirs or watch the boats drifting in and out of the Channel. You might want to check out the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (open with limited hours during COVID), which offers fun, hands-on exhibits on nautical history.
Next, you’ll bike back toward the hotel. If all that biking and walking has made you hungry, you can grab an authentic Argentinian empanada at Buena Onda. Be sure to ask for the chimichurri sauce!
Now, it’s time to return those bikes and take a much-needed nap at the hotel. You need to be rested and ready for your dinner reservations at Loquita!
After your power nap, put on those new Diani outfits and head downstairs to the Margerum Tasting Room for an incredible flight of rosé and whites. Then steady yourself for the short walk to the fabulous Loquita restaurant, which offers the finest Spanish cuisine in Santa Barbara. I’d say that the best dish in town is Loquita’s carpaccio and tomato bread. My other favorites from the menu include the pulpo, coliflor, el bulli olive, and Manchego, but you absolutely must not leave Loquita without trying their Basque cheesecake and churros. Yum!
To walk off your incredible meal, take a stroll back up State Street to The Good Lion for a nightcap. Then it’s back to the hotel for some shut-eye; you’ll have another busy day tomorrow.
Day Two - Saturday
It’s Instagram Day!!
Pro tip! If COVID restrictions are not still in place, you have to try a Goat Yoga class on the Court of Califia at Hotel Californian. The 50-minute class — usually held every third Saturday morning — is designed for all skill levels, and all you need is a mat and a joyful attitude. The baby goats will do the rest! You’ll rule your Instagram feed if this fun class is on — trust me!
Whether you’ve had the fun and relaxation of Goat Yoga or not, you’ll get your Saturday off to a picture-perfect start with a walk up State Street to Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery. I love their Classic Benedict, which includes two poached eggs, Canadian bacon, and house-made Hollandaise sauce on an English muffin along with a side of fresh fruit or potatoes.
Now that you’re properly fortified, your next stop on the SB IG tour is the rainbow art installation at East Beach’s Cabrillo Park. Designed by artist and architect Herbert Bayer, the Chromatic Gate is a giant multi-colored arch. You’ll get some fantastic rainbow pics if you watch for clouds passing over the mountains to the east of the Chromatic Gate. And you’ll be able to say you’ve walked through a rainbow. No lie.
Speaking of art, Santa Barbara is an established art mecca. Even though our wine and cuisines have taken center stage in recent years, be sure to take advantage of your time here to visit the many galleries, sculptures, and installations throughout the city. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which is open for limited hours during COVID, houses more than 27,000 pieces, a collection of size and quality usually found in much larger cities.
Your next IG stop is McConnell’s for one of their legendary ice cream cones. Why not try their pumpkin pie flavor? ‘Tis the season!
Next, head over to pose on the Spanish steps next to Eureka Burgers. Each step features different vibrant Spanish tiles. Not far away is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, which has to be one of the most beautiful public buildings in the U.S. You’ll love taking pics that show off the building’s red-tile roof, white-washed exterior, and lush garden. And the best part? The clock tower offers an incredible 360-degree view of the ocean. If pandemic restrictions permit, a visit to the tower is free and open to the public.
Time’s a-wasting! Now you’re off to Bristol Farms, the gourmet grocery store chain, to pick up a picnic lunch of delicious cheeses, cold cuts, and a fresh baguette. (If you’d rather someone else do the shopping for you, you can call Santa Barbara Picnic Co., and they’ll take care of you.)
A picture-perfect spot for a picnic is the Mission Park Rose Garden. Adjacent to the Santa Barbara Mission, the garden has over 1,500 rose plants that bloom April through November and a large grassy area that’s a popular picnic spot. Even if you visit when the roses have been pruned, you’ll still enjoy the view of the beautiful Mission, which is called the “Queen” of California’s 21 historic mission buildings.
Your next stop is Stearns Wharf for strolling, browsing, people watching, and breathtaking views of Santa Barbara’s coastline. Take a break at Deep Sea Wine tasting room for some phenomenal wine and IG pics. Just a block away from the Wharf is Wheel Fun Rentals, where you can rent a surrey bike. Your friends will be so jealous when they see all the great pics you take along our famous coastal bike path.
Whew! It’s time to head back to the hotel for a nap! Then, to work up an appetite for dinner tonight, you can get your sweat on with an invigorating yoga class at Power of Your Om.
For dinner, head to the Santa Barbara Public Market for Sal de Mar at Corazon Concina or Thai coconut curry at Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar — or maybe both? During COVID, the market expanded its outdoor seating options, so you can watch the sunset as you finish your meal before heading back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. (Be sure to take one more IG pic of that gorgeous hotel room before lights out!)
Day Three - Sunday
You’ve been on the go all week, so request late checkout for this morning and, whenever you’re ready, order room service or stop at Jack’s Bagels on Milpas for a fresh bagel and a cup of coffee.
Santa Barbara offers some fantastic hiking opportunities. So, put on your hiking shoes and grab some water for a morning trek up to Inspiration Point or Tangerine Falls. The Inspiration Point hike is a moderate 3.5-mile round trip with an elevation gain of about 800 feet. The views are incredible at the top (hence the name), but be on the watch for fast mountain bikers! Tangerine Falls is also a 3.5-mile round trip. The trail includes some slippery rock-hopping, but if you’re not the faint-of-heart type, the views of the falls are well worth it.
After your hike, you’ll enjoy the luxury of a massage or spa treatment at Salt Caves, an incredible underground crystal salt cave that radiates a sense of calm and wellness. If COVID restrictions are in place, not to worry, Little Rainbow Foot Spa, on the corner of Haley and State Streets, is offering a selection of relaxing outdoor treatments that meet health guidelines.
Now that you’re all stress-free, it’s time to go back to your hotel to check out and head back home. But we know you’ll be back for more. Until next time!