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Pocket Guide: Santa Barbara

Sandwiched between the Santa Ynez Valley Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the palm-lined city of Santa Barbara is a popular tourist resort on the central Californian coast. It’s known as the American Riviera thanks to its temperate climate, Mediterranean atmosphere and striking Spanish colonial architecture.

Embrace Santa Barbara’s European Heritage

The Spanish settled in Santa Barbara during the 1600s. It lies a hundred miles north of LA and 325 miles south of San Francisco, and is a popular stop on Highway 101. Santa Barbara attracts a thriving young crowd thanks to its five colleges and universities and popular surf beaches.

What to See in Santa Barbara

Get your bearings of the city at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, an imposing Spanish red-tiled building which offers sweeping views of the city from the open-air observation tower.

Wander along the esplanade or hang out at volleyball courts and beach cafes on Butterfly Beach or East Beach. Explore the city’s long history at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, tucked away in a beautiful cloistered courtyard, or enjoy famous artworks by Matisse and Monet as well as 20th century American artists at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

A highlight of a visit to Santa Barbara is the Mission Santa Barbara, the cream-and-pink church known as the Queen of the Missions, which is perched on a hilltop a mile from downtown.

Families will love meeting the giraffes and elephants at Santa Barbara Zoo, while teenagers can drool over vintage boards in the Santa Barbara Surf Museum at the bottom of Helena Street.

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara

There's certainly no shortage of accommodation in Santa Barbara. From hacienda-style villas, chic boutique hotels to luxury resorts, this beachside city is renowned for its quality of hotels, even on the lower scale of the budget. Head to the Mesa district for a hip beach vibe, or the upscale Riviera, a hillside area with views of the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Barbara’s Beach Scene

Santa Barbara is famous for its beaches with dazzlingly white sands, swaying palm trees and and rolling white surf. Surfing is a big deal here and Santa Barbara has some of the best surf beaches along the western coast. But if you’d rather just sit back and watch the ocean, enjoy lunch at Stearns Wharf, which has gift shops and boutiques, bars and waterfront restaurants with fabulous views of the Pacific.

Shopping and Dining in Santa Barbara

Shopping is a major pastime in Santa Barbara and State Steet is the city’s main shopping hub. Head to the historic State Street Plaza, a pedestrianised shopping street downtown with a wonderfully diverse collection of shops and boutiques. After a day of exploring, dine out on fresh Californian cuisine, or the finest fish tacos outside of Mexico. Finish off the night with an urban wine trail, tasting Californian wines in wine bars around downtown.

Expedia offers an extensive range of accommodation in Santa Barbara from cheap motels, Spanish colonial villas to swanky beachfront resorts. Use Expedia’s search tools to find the best deals for your Santa Barbara stay.