Downtown Santa Barbara is a beautiful coastal destination along California’s Pacific Coast Highway and has something to offer visitors of all ages. My sister and I recently took a road trip up the coast from San Diego to Santa Barbara on our way to see Big Sur, and decided to add 1 day here to our itinerary to break up the drive.
We spent 24 hours in downtown SB strolling the palm tree-lined sidewalks, shopping the local boutiques, and discovering some incredible fish tacos and cocktails.
Below I’m sharing some options for the best day trip itinerary for your next visit to Santa Barbara, California. Whether you’re just stopping by for 1 day while driving PCH or are planning to stay a while, SB has something for everyone!
Santa Barbara Day Trip Itinerary
- Getting to Santa Barbara, California
- Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
- The Best Day Trip Itinerary for your Next Visit to Santa Barbara, California
Getting to Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is located along the coast of Central California, just a 2-hour drive north of Los Angeles and a 4-hour drive from San Diego. Visiting SB is as easy as taking a road trip up Highway 1, which is a beautiful drive in itself!
Another option if you’re traveling from California is to take the train. Amtrak has super affordable round-trip tickets available departing from all over the state. (And better yet, you’ll get to skip the traffic!)
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Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
If you’re looking for the best hotel option in Santa Barbara, look no further than the Hotel Californian. Not only is it in the perfect location (in the heart of downtown and only steps away from the beach!), but this design-centered, 5-star property features a rooftop pool with 360° views, 3 restaurants, and a Moroccan-inspired spa, among its other amenities.
Santa Barbara also has plenty of AirBnbs and more budget-friendly options available located all over town. During our visit we opted to stay at the Agave Inn in uptown SB.
You can browse more Santa Barbara accommodation options here.
The Best Day Trip Itinerary for your Next Visit to Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara has a lot to offer, so below I’m sharing all the best options for how to spend the day to help you create your own itinerary for your next trip!
Explore “The Funk Zone” in Downtown Santa Barbara
The Funk Zone is the heart of downtown SB and consists of several blocks between the ocean and Highway 1. This part of Santa Barbara is home to lots of shopping, wineries, restaurants, and museums.
You can easily spend the morning/afternoon here browsing through shops and art galleries, or hopping around to different wineries for wine tasting!
You can learn more about The Funk Zone and check out upcoming events here.
Grab Lunch on the Pier in Stearns Wharf
Stearns Wharf is located in the harbor and is home to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Here you can also find waterfront restaurants, wine tasting, and shopping.
We stopped at Longboards Grill for lunch and grabbed some fish tacos while watching the boats pass by.
Some other great dining options in Stearns Wharf are:
- The Harbor Restaurant for steaks, seafood & fine wine
- Char West for fish and chips & char-burgers
- Moby Dick Restaurant & Santa Barbara Shellfish Company for local seafood specialties
Make it a Beach Day
Spend the afternoon lounging at any one of Santa Barbara’s beautiful beaches!
Some of the most popular beaches in SB are:
- East Beach – usually the least crowded
- Hendry’s Beach (also known as Arroyo Burro Beach Park)
- Leadbetter Beach – usually the most crowded
Wine Tasting Tours
Santa Barbara is home to the renowned Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail – consisting of over 30 wineries stretching across several neighborhoods in the downtown area.
You can explore the different wineries and check out a map of the trail here.
Catch the Sunset at Mesa Lane Beach
You really can’t go wrong with watching the sunset anywhere in Santa Barbara, but we stopped by Mesa Lane Beach during our trip for the views.
Mesa Lane Beach (also known as Mesa Lane Steps) is located just 3 miles away from downtown SB and is accessible during low tides. Here you can find a long picturesque staircase that zig-zags down to the coast, as well as another unique sight on the beach – some inverted trees that have fallen over the bluff.
Dinner on State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara
After the sunset we decided to head back to State Street in downtown Santa Barbara for dinner. We opted for Santo Mezcal after reviewing their selection of fish tacos and margarita options, and after having it pass the vibe check on Yelp.
Santo Mezcal is located in The Funk Zone and offers modern Mexican cuisine and craft cocktails. We tried the blood orange and blackberry margaritas, and shared the salmon and octopus tacos – and everything was *chefs kiss*.
More highly-rated dinner options in downtown Santa Barbara are:
- The Black Sheep for Asian fusion & cocktails
- Mizza for pizza & Italian
- Bouchon for French cuisine
- Satellite for vegan and vegetarian cuisine & wine
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Have you been able to visit Santa Barbara? Share your own experiences and recommendations with me in the comments below!
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