A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles—along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway—laid-back Santa Barbara feels worlds away from the buzz of its big-city neighbour. Nicknamed The American Riviera, this city captivates visitors with its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, sparkling beaches, Santa Ynez Mountain views, effortlessly cool locals and surprisingly eclectic food scene.
Start with an oh-so-California breakfast bowl at Backyard Bowls—the pb + j is loaded with local berry preserves, peanut butter, banana and quinoa. After, visit the historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse and explore this pristine Spanish colonial-style building; climb the 85-foot clock tower for unbeatable views.
The Funk Zone Food & Photo Tour by Eat This, Shoot That! is a three-hour walk that takes visitors around the trendy Funk Zone. Knowledgeable guides bring you to the neighbourhood’s best eateries to sample true Santa Barbarian fare (the lobster bisque from Enterprise Fish Co. is a highlight) and offer detailed tips on how to take great food photos.
Stay in the Funk Zone and dine at The Lark. Its focus is on local ingredients from the Central Coast—try the Olive Oil Roasted Shishito Peppers. The Funk Zone is packed with winery tasting rooms, but, for something different, head to Test Pilot, a tiki-inspired cocktail bar.
Read more: Where to Eat in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone
Visit the nearby Santa Ynez Valley stopping first in Solvang, a quaint town established by Danish settlers in the 1900s. Admire the architecture and explore the shops brimming with wooden clogs and cuckoo clocks. Indulge at one of the authentic Danish bakeries—Olsen’s is known for its amazing Kringles (almond-filled pastry).
Despite its more than 120 wineries, the Santa Ynez Valley is still a somewhat under-the-radar wine region, but there’s plenty of world-class vintages to sample and sprawling vineyards to tour. Visit Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos, which is still run by the movie star’s family (Parker, who died in 2010, famously played Davy Crockett in the Disney series), to sample one of its Pinot Noirs.
Back in Santa Barbara, dine at Santo Mezcal, where chef Ricardo Garcia serves up contemporary Mexican fare that stays true to traditional flavours. The seafood-heavy menu includes dishes such as Pulpo a Las Brasas: octopus marinated in a rich adobo sauce.
Start your day with an exhilarating hike: Inspiration Point is relatively cruisey stroll and about-six-kilometre round trip. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with ocean and mountain views, as well as a great look at the city and the Channel Islands. Stop at Jeannine’s Restaurant and Bakery on your way back downtown for a decadent, and well-deserved, Belgian waffle.
Santa Barbara is loaded with shopping, and, while it’s worth strolling down State Street, a 10-block area packed with big-name chain stores, explore beyond this busy throughway to find the best boutiques. The Funk Zone features lots of local shops, including The Blue Door for vintage home decor and The Shopkeepers for unique artisan goods.
Read more: What to Do in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone
Toast the end of your trip with a sunset cruise onboard the Santa Barbara Sailing Center’s Double Dolphin. The two-hour cruise on the 50-foot catamaran takes you along the rugged coastline. Then, enjoy delicious fare served family-style on Smithy Kitchen + Bar’s dreamy patio, set among olive trees and cozy fireplaces.
[This story appears in the December 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine.]
Why You Should Visit Big Sur, California, in 2019
Nearly a kilometre of the Pacific Coast Highway was destroyed after a landslide in May 2017, making access to towns, such as Big Sur, difficult or, in some cases, impossible. In July 2018, after 14 months of work, the highway fully reopened and the area is welcoming visitors.