- Distance from San Francisco: 95 miles
- Best time: May to September
- Best for: RomanticFood and WineBeaches
It's only a 90-minute drive, but Santa Barbara feels worlds away from L.A. That's what makes it the perfect escape for couples—and why it's so often front and center for weddings. It's the jewel of the Central Coast, with lovely beaches, clean air, and gorgeous vistas. You can spend most of your time outside and even have a perfect car-free weekend if you take the train, rely on the electric shuttles, or even bike everywhere. The Santa Ynez Valley influence is seen everywhere, from great wine tasting rooms to wine country cuisine. Hotels are stylish, comfortable, and relaxing—you may not even want to leave some (and don't have to). Leave the stress south on the 101: These are a few of our favorite spots for a fun, casual romantic getaway. – By Lesley Balla
Santa Barbara Cheat Sheet
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1The traffic may have been a bit sticky on the way up—there always seems to be construction on the 101—but the Urban Wine Trail is tailor-made to help you unwind. The fifteen tasting rooms are all within walking distance of one other or an easy cab or pedi-cab ride away. A couple of our favorites include Au Bon Climat, Margerum, and Kunin. Most charge $5-$15 for a tasting, usually for five to eight tastes.
2Keep the wine theme for dinner and hit the Wine Cask attached to the Margerum tasting room (Doug Margerum is a co-owner). On a beautiful night, you can't beat the courtyard patio. For something more intimate, tuck into a booth in the main dining room. The food is super seasonal and wine-centric, with favorites like a spring vegetable salad with rose vinaigrette, risotto with clams and shaved chorizo, and grilled New York strip.
3Time to make your way back to the hotel. If you're staying in town, stroll along State Street and take in the sights and sounds of the charming town. Between UCSB co-eds and tourists, things really start to pick up on weekends. If you need to grab a cab, they're easily accessible.
1Start the day right with a healthy breakfast from Backyard Bowls, a local joint that specializes in acai bowls—the superfood serves as a base topped with anything from Strauss organic yogurt to fresh local berries—and breakfast bowls made with grains like quinoa. They are satisfying and fortifying, perfect fuel for a day of biking.
2You'll be biking or kayaking around all afternoon, so you'll need picnic supplies for later. Hit the weekly farmer's market at Santa Barbara and Cota streets. Lazy Acres Market is chock-full of organic salads, cheeses, fruits, and sandwiches. Panino is another great spot for sandwiches and salads.
3To rent bikes, Wheel Fun Rentals has everything from road bikes, cruisers, and tandems to two-person surreys. Start at the end of State Street and the pier and ride along the bike path at the beach. Stop for lunch at Shoreline Park, a long narrow park on bluffs overlooking the ocean; Butterfly Beach, just across from the Biltmore in Montecito; or the Mission Rose Garden, a large grassy park across from the Mission.
4If you'd rather take to the water, rent kayaks and paddle along the shore. The Santa Barbara Sailing Center has rentals, maps, and guided tours.
5After a full day of sun and activity, unwind back in town with cocktails and a casual seafood dinner at The Hungry Cat. The fresh fruit cocktails and chilled seafood platters are a must. Or dine at Bouchon for upscale, Santa Barbara-style wine country fare.
6An after-dinner stroll around downtown might land you at McConnell's for a scoop of locally made, wholesome, delicious ice cream in tempting flavors like summer peach, island coconut, and salted caramel chip.
1Head back down to the beach for breakfast in the sand at Shoreline Beach Café. Don't miss the Mexican-inflected dishes like grilled shrimp omelet with salsa and chilaquiles. Check out the weekly arts and crafts show that takes up a few blocks along Cabrillo Boulevard.
2Wander through the outdoor paseos, beautifully landscaped plazas, and brick-lined sidewalks around downtown. There is a great selection of major retailers like Nordstrom, unique local specialty shops and art galleries, and major attractions like the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the historic courthouse.
3Hop on one of the electric shuttles—only 50 cents a ride—and head back toward the water. No visit to SB would be complete without lunch at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. on the pier. It may look touristy with all those people gawking at massive tanks of crabs and sea urchin, but it's a locals' spot. Share a crab, have some chowder, and discuss who's going to drive home and who gets to nap in the car on the ride back. Or, if you've taken the train, just sit back and enjoy another glass of wine.
Where to Stay
Situated right downtown, each of the sixteen rooms at the Presidio Motel (rooms from $199/night) has been thoughtfully renovated with minimal style and uniquely hip graphics. There are complimentary bike cruisers for guests to use during their stays, and it's just a few blocks from the electric shuttle stop. Stop by The Supply Room, a small shop in the lobby, for limited production and handmade gifts, many by local artisans.
The lovely Canary Hotel (rooms from $315/night) is the only full-service hotel in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. The semi-exotic décor—Moroccan rugs, African masks, dark wood floors, and sea-grass color schemes—combined with homey touches like yoga mats and binoculars to use around town make for a perfect stay. Check out the sixth-floor, guests-only rooftop pool and lounge.
When to Go
Santa Barbara is truly a year-round city, but with its balmy days and cool nights, summer is the most glorious time to be in and around the area. Of course, that also means it's the busiest time. There a lot of free concerts and events throughout the summer, and most any day May through August calls for beach time, bike rides, and water sports like kayaking. If you head into the mountains or wine country, be aware that temperatures can rise ten to twenty degrees, so plan accordingly.
Fall is also beautiful, after Labor Day through November. The temperatures are slightly cooler, but you'll still have warm, sunny days.
How to Get There
By Train: The Pacific Surfliner is a great way to get to Santa Barbara, making for a perfect car-free getaway. There are five trains daily from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, with two continuing to San Luis Obispo. The Santa Barbara station is an easy walk or 25-cent shuttle ride from most of the hotels and sights along State Street.
By Car: The fastest and most direct route to Santa Barbara is U.S. 101, which runs right through town. It takes about ninety minutes, or a little longer, depending on traffic. Weekend traffic is highest, especially if there's construction somewhere along the route.