The perfect itinerary for a day trip to Santa Barbara, CA. Discover what to do, where to eat, what order to do it all in, and more!
Santa Barbara...wow! Why on earth did it take me so long to visit? Though I didn't know many people who had explored Santa Barbara, the few that did raved about it. This destination had been on my list of places to visit for years, but I loved Napa Valley and San Diego/La Jolla so much it was hard to pass up a return trip to those places when I wasn't sure what to expect in Santa Barbara.
Well let me just tell you, my expectations were exceeded and both Jake and I left very impressed. I see this as a place we will revisit many times.
A big perk of Santa Barbara is you could easily add it as a day trip if you're spending time in LA or enjoying a relaxing retreat in neighboring Ojai.
Personally, I would recommend spending at least one night, better yet, two or three. Santa Barbara has an amazing selection of resorts with incredible pools and boutique hotels. Combine that with a variety of hiking paths, beaches, wineries in Los Olivos and Santa Ynez...you could absolutely extend a day trip to Santa Barbara to a four day vacation. This is a great place to bake in a few extra days to really enjoy the SoCal lifestyle.
If you're short on time, or you're like me on my first visit and not sure if it warrants several days, a Santa Barbara day trip is a great way to get your feet wet.
This Santa Barbara itinerary will give you a feel for this sunny destination and make sure you hit all the best spots. You'll spend time exploring downtown and State Street, bike down the boardwalk, explore the Funk Zone, and hit up some of my favorite coffee shops and restaurants.
Let's dive into the perfect day trip to Santa Barbara!
Arrive in Santa Barbara around 8:00 am
Wherever you're coming from, aim to arrive in Santa Barbara around 8:00 or 8:30 to ensure you have a full day of exploring. LA to Santa Barbara will take around 2 hours. Ojai to Santa Barbara will take around 45 minutes.
Coffee and Pastries
There are a number of quality coffee shops in Santa Barbara. In fact, my first blog post on Santa Barbara was my five favorite coffee shops. Stop at Handlebar Coffee Roasters for a local vibe and the perfect flat white.
Conveniently next door is an amazing little pastry shop, ALESSIA Pastisterrie and Cafe. Everything is good, especially the croissants. Mix and match sweet and savory and share. I recommend the ham and cheese croissant, pistachio cream, and chocolate. They also serve quiche, avocado toast, macarons, eclairs, and delicate cakes and pastires.
Another favorite coffee shop of mine is Caje Coffee Roasters. There are several locations, but 1316 State Street has the most adorable patio. Go simple with an americano or go for one of the fancy Instagrammable coffee drinks.
Morning Bike Ride
I hope you enjoyed your coffee break, because now we're going to get active. Santa Barbara is a bike friendly town. You'll notice right away all the people getting from point a to point b via two wheels. In fact, Handlebar Coffee Roasters is a bike themed coffee shop...if you didn't already guess from the name.
There are plenty of bike lanes and the traffic isn't crazy, making this a good place for a variety of skill levels.
I highly recommend joining a tour. You won't have to think about where you're going, your guide will give you some insights to the city and make sure you stop by the most popular spots. This 2.5 hour electric bike tour is the best of both worlds. You get to see the city without breaking a sweat. Book the private tour if you have two or more people. It's almost the same price as the group tour.
The guided tour is the way to go if it's been a while since you've been on a bike. It's nice to know someone is looking out for you and can help with any bike issues while also navigating the bike lanes and roads with minimal traffic.
You could also do your own thing if you'd rather go at your own pace. Wheel Fun Rentals has a location on Cabrillo Blvd (a great spot to start your bike ride along the ocean). 2 hours on a regular city bike or beach cruiser is about $25. A half day rental is $35. Use this self-guided tour map to help decide where to go and which streets to take.
If you follow the self-guided map, I would add biking east along E Cabrillo Blvd all the way to Butterfly beach. It's 15 minutes each way and offers some nice coastal views.
Stroll and shop State Street
You should finish your bike tour around lunch time. This is the perfect opportunity to walk up and down State Street and stop at any spots that looked interesting during your bike tour. There are a number of cute shops, boutiques, and coffee shops. This street has been pedestrianized due to COVID...I'm really hoping they keep it this way as it adds to the fun and really encourages people to stroll, bike, rollerblade, etc.
If you didn't stop at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse during your bike ride, do this now. You can climb to the top to enjoy views of Santa Barbara.
Either grab a light snack at one of these Santa Barbara coffee shops or take your pick from restaurants on State Street. Olio e Limone is an upscale Italian restaurant with a two-course prix-fix menu for lunch, Carlitos Café y Cantina serves classic Mexican and has a large patio, and Backyard Bowls serves fresh acai bowls.
If you feel like you're short on time during your day trip to Santa Barbara, you could skip lunch and order snacks and appetizers on our next stop.
Wine tasting in the funk zone
A day trip to Santa Barbara is not complete without a few wine tastings in the Funk Zone. This area has a distinct hipster/artistic vibe. It was once an industrial zone. Artists took over the abandoned warehouses and turned them into art studios and galleries.
The Funk Zone is part of the Urban Wine Trail and has over ten laidback tasting rooms to choose from. I love this area because it's small enough that nothing is more than a few minutes walk away. Those used to Napa Valley tasting fees will appreciate the $15 to $20 tasting fees here.
Pop into a few art galleries, enjoy one or two wine tastings, maybe add in a micro brewery for some variety, and enjoy the overall SoCal vibe.
This area also has some of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara, which we'll get into below.
There are a few websites I recommend checking out to help plan what tasting rooms and galleries you'd like to visit. This website is dedicated to the Funk Zone and has a map showing all the top restaurants, galleries, and tasting rooms. The Urban Wine Trail SB website has a section dedicated to Funk Zone tasting rooms and also has a map.
I recommend the below:
Funk Zone Tasting Rooms
Dinner in Montecito or downtown
This day trip to Santa Barbara itinerary has two options for dinner. If you're having a great time in the Funk Zone and want to hang in this area or wander back up State Street, you won't be short of options.
FUNK ZONE RESTAURANTS
- Lucky Penny - fantastic pizza.
- Loquita Santa Barbara - Spanish tapas in a fun atmosphere and a great patio.
- The Lark - family style shared plates, unique flavors.
- Hotel Californian - incredible aesthetics and a gorgeous Moroccan themed courtyard. This hotel has a couple restaurants. I recommend Djinn and Blackbird. Both spots offer tapas styled small plates. These were also the best cocktails on our trip...hands down...no competition.
Downtown Santa Barbara Restaurants (north of the Funk Zone)
- Jane - Upscale Californian fare. Ask to sit on the upstairs patio and try the chicken piccata, duck, clam linguini, and coconut cake.
- Bouchon Santa Barbara - Californian cuisine focused on local organic ingredients and a great local wine list. The atmosphere is cozy and the service is outstanding. We went here for Jake's birthday and were happy with that decision. The duck was incredible but skip the dessert...they weren't worth the calories as Prue would say from the Great British Baking show.
- Intermezzo by Wine Cask - modern American cuisine with a Mediterranian twist. This is a great place to share a bunch of small plates. Atmosphere is cozy and the courtyard/patio is lovely. If you're a burger person, you won't be disappointed with this one.
- Tondi Gelato - fantastic gelato...I prefered this to McConnell's.
- McConnell's Fine Ice Creams - personally (and Jake disagrees with me), I think McConnell's is overrated. It's good, but not worth the wait when there's a massive line out the door. It's an institution in Santa Barbara, so I feel obligated to include it.
Dinner in Montecito
The other option is to go to the hills of Montecito for a memorable (expensive) dinner with a view. Drive or take a 10 minute Uber to the hills of Montecito...where Oprah Winfrey and Harry and Megan live.
San Ysidro Ranch was ranked "America's Best Resort" by Travel and Leisure in 2010 and has become an institution in Santa Barbara/Montecito. It's well regarded and always recommended by locals.
Out of the three onsite restaurants, The Stonehouse is the one you want to make reservations for. It's beyond romantic and perfect for a memorable evening. Dine under twinkle lights on the terrace and enjoy gorgeous views. The food is outstanding and beautifully presented. Service is top notch. Expect an amazing experience all around. Save room for dessert and order the chocolate soufflé. If atmosphere is your thing, you won't be disappointed here.
Thinking of extending your day trip to Santa Barbara?
If you're not ready to leave...or you blow through this Santa Barbara itinerary...below are some additional options of things to do.
- Spend a half day exploring the wine region of Santa Barbara; Los Olivos and Santa Ynez.
- Take your pick from a handful of hikes - Rattlesnake Canyon and Inspiration Point are two popular options.
- Spend some time at the beach - I loved Butterly beach.
- Drive around Montecito.
- Enjoy sunset cocktails and a stroll around Rosewood Miramar (ultra bougie, yet gorgeous) and The Biltmore.
- Sunset and dinner at Hendry's Boathouse. There's always a wait since they don't take reservations, but it's right on the beach, so bring a towel to sit on to enjoy the scene.
- Visit Lotusland - a worthwhile botanical garden.
Check out these activities and tours:
I hope this day trip to Santa Barbara itinerary helps plan your trip. Don't be surprised if you end up deciding to extend your visit or plan a return trip for a three or four days. Sunny, mild weather, ocean views, hikes, beaches, and laidback wineries make this a great destination to enjoy the outdoors and have a relaxing getaway.