Thanks to its location between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is a great weekend getaway destination for folks all up and down the Pacific Coast. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back break from hectic city life or you want some sunshine and moderate temperatures during cold seasons at home, this sunny coastal California town is a great choice for a few days away from it all. With this Santa Barbara trip planner, you can make your weekend one to remember.
Choosing the Season
Santa Barbara brands itself as the American Riviera, and in many ways, this is an apt comparison. Rocky shores and mountains make Santa Barbara feel a bit more like a Mediterranean hamlet than the typical California beach town. The weather is generally mild, with only a few cloudy or rainy days a year. In general, the slate of activities available in Santa Barbara stays pretty constant year-round. The Pacific is still pretty chilly here, even during the hot summer season, so swimming in the ocean isn’t likely to be comfortable for most people, especially if you don’t have a wetsuit. That all means that Santa Barbara can be a good choice for a last-minute getaway, but if you’re planning ahead and you know you want sunny, warm weather, aim for late summer.
Springtime in Santa Barbara
Earlier in spring is a great time to visit. Temperatures are mild and crowds are sparse. Spring in Santa Barbara means orchids, lots of them. If you’re planning on visiting this coastal paradise in March, be sure to check out the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. Enjoy the aromas of thousands of gorgeous flowers. Looking for something more active? Hike the California Orchid Trail for more adventure. Head to the fair with kids if you’re visiting towards the end of April.
Summertime in Santa Barbara
Summer is usually hot and sunny, and this weather can extend well into fall on a good year.
If you can thread the needle between peak tourism in July and kids going back to school in August, you may get perfect weather and less crowding from other tourists. There’s plenty to see and do this time of year. Check out the Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show, a year-round event that picks up in the summer.
Fall in Santa Barbara
From late August to early December, Santa Barbara comes alive with tons of things to do. This means the crowds come with them. If you’re looking to avoid large crowds, don’t visit in the fall. This time of year is ideal for enjoying gorgeous sunsets and incredible fall colors. If you like to cook, get a rental with a kitchen and head to the Saturday Fishermen’s Market to find awesome deals on fresh seafood.
Winter in Santa Barbara
Winter and early spring are usually the coldest and rainiest months, though this is relative to the warm, sunny temperatures that are the norm. That being said, winter can be a great time to visit to avoid large crowds. Look for great deals on rentals throughout the winter season. In general, Santa Barbara has sun about two thirds of the year, and that doesn’t change in the winter. You can still enjoy the beach, but maybe don’t plan on swimming a whole lot.
What to Do in Santa Barbara
The city offers a wide range of things to do. Looking for adventure? Go play outside and interact a bit with nature. Want something a little more relaxing and low-key? Book a spa day or go for a quiet stroll. Continue reading to learn more about some of the options you’ll have in Santa Barbara.
The ocean is one of the main attractions in Santa Barbara. From stand-up paddleboarding to whale watching nearly all year round, visitors who want to be near the water have plenty of options for fun in the sun. Take a paddleboard or kayak tour and enjoy the great outdoors. Thanks to its proximity to the Channel Islands Marine Preserve, Santa Barbara is also one of the top spots on the coast for scuba diving. Plunge into the ocean on an underwater excursion with Dive Santa Barbara. Fishing, horseback riding, golf, and hiking opportunities are also available if you’re more interested in spending time inland rather than on the water.
Dive into History and Science
Santa Barbara is also home to a number of interesting historic attractions, including the Mission Santa Barbara, which dates back to the 1700s and is the perfect representation of California’s Spanish colonial past. The Native American tribes who lived here well before the Spaniards have also established a local tourist foothold with the Chumash Casino Resort, which offers not only gaming but also concerts, comedy, and a host of other entertainment options. If you’re planning to be in the area and are looking for some nightlife or evening entertainment, the casino may be the perfect option. You might even want to plan your Santa Barbara weekend around a favorite performer’s show date at the casino. Just make sure your rental home is close enough to the casino that you’ll feel comfortable driving back after the show is over.
The coastal town is also home to a ton of great museums. Check out Santa Barbara Historical Museum and learn about the city’s evolution. Bring the kids and learn about science at Moxi. Explore the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and learn about all the marine life that inhabits the coast.
Relaxing Things to Do
Not everyone who travels to Santa Barbara is going to be eager to head out on a boat or go for a rigorous mountain hike. If you’re more of a spas-and-fancy-dinners type of traveler, you’ll still have plenty of options. In particular, the Santa Barbara wine country offers visitors plenty of chances to taste local wines and stroll through scenic vineyards, many of which are so beautiful that they’re ideal places for proposals. The winery options in this part of California are just as romantic as they are in the state’s more famous wine regions. Head over to Presqu’ile for some tasty reds. And check out Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards for some sensational chardonnay.
The Santa Barbara area is also home to a number of spa facilities where you can get treatments like massages if you want to really unwind. Many of these spas are located within high-end resorts in the area, though you generally don’t need to actually be a hotel guest to book services at these spas. That means you can enjoy the freedom of a rental house while also enjoying some resort amenities on your own terms.
Find out about even more relaxing options in this guide to enjoying your Santa Barbara getaway. Taking this trip with your sweetheart? Get some fun date ideas from this article about how to take it all in on your Santa Barbara romantic getaway.
Dining in Santa Barbara
The local beauty and historic significance of Santa Barbara have made this a destination for the rich and famous, which means there’s no shortage of high-end restaurant options available for those who want a fine dining experience. In addition to local wines, many of the restaurants in the area also feature beers from local breweries and tons of farm-to-table ingredients, offering visitors a fantastic way to connect with the local culture through their taste buds.
Eating out isn’t your only option for a good meal, especially if you’re trying to watch your budget. Though Santa Barbara is often more of an expensive travel destination, you can make it more affordable by opting to prepare a picnic in your rental home’s kitchen and eat it in one of the many beautiful outdoor spots in the area, like Butterfly Beach or the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
Downtown Santa Barbara
Downtown is where you go when you want a touch of everything. From museums to spas, this several block radius is loaded with all kinds of fun for you on your trip. Look for luxurious condos in this area. As mentioned above, winter is a good time to snag a deal in this part of the city.
Favorite local spots: When it comes to coffee, you can’t beat Dune Coffee Roasters. If your rental has a coffee pot, grab some of the local grounds to go. Dinner happens at Jane. This restaurant is pure California and ready to blow you away. We love to recommend the Grilled Salmon on Cedar and the Grilled Napa Valley Lamb Chops. When you’re ready for a night cap, head over to The Good Lion.
While technically not inside of the Santa Barbara city limits, Carpinteria is a town to find a bargain on your rental. Choose from modest apartments to full blown mansions on the water in this adjacent coastal town.
Favorite local spots: For breakfast, grab a cup of fresh coffee and a bagel from Jack’s Bistro. Get reservations at Zookers for a constantly changing menu. And your night cap needs can be satisfied at Corktree Cellars. For something lighter, order up a California 75 made with citrus, gin, and a touch of bubbly.
For tons of adventure and nightlife, post up right next door to UCSB and enjoy the action. Enjoy close proximity to coffee shops, great dive bars, and tons of greasy spoon-type restaurants. This area is geared toward the collegiate crowds, and has a ton to offer. This is the place to look for amazing offers year round if you’re okay with a rowdier feel from your neighbors.
Favorite local spots: Ready to be impressed by how gorgeous your coffee is? Check out Cajé Coffee for some truly incredible morning caffeine. Super Cucas is serving up some lunchtime Tex-Mex goodness. Lab Social is the place to be for tasty cocktails before last call.
Ready to Plan Your Weekend Getaway?
From the beach to the spa and everything in between, this coastal gem has something for everyone. Looking for other great weekend getaways in Southern California? Check out this guide to the top 5 weekend getaways in SoCo; Santa Barbara is obviously one of them! Ready to start planning your Santa Barbara getaway today? Then get over to VacationRenter and find the perfect spot to shack up for your stay!