Sandwiched between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is a popular tourist destination on the Pacific Coast Highway. With over 300 days of sunshine each year and a warm Mediterranean climate, Santa Barbara is often called the American Riviera.
Santa Barbara attracts everyone from laid-back surfers and the young, vibrant student crowd to the well-heeled traveller and celebrity set.
The wide boulevards are lined with palms, quaint red-roofed homes and boutique hotels in old haciendas. Wander along the waterfront between Butterfly Beach and the Santa Barbara’s East and West Beaches.
Say hello to the Masai giraffes at Santa Barbara Zoo, renowned as one of the best small zoos in the US, before stopping off for a lunch on Stearns Wharf, the city's historic wooden pier lined with seafood restaurants and waterfront bars.
Take an afternoon to head north of downtown to one of the city's most iconic sights, the Mission Santa Barbara. This imposing pink-and-white church built by Spanish missionaries dates back to the 18th century and has a mission-era museum, a sacred garden and a Chumash art gallery.
Another highlight is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, a stunning Spanish Revival building with a museum and an 85-foot watch tower with sweeping views of the city and the ocean.
Thanks to its year-round temperate climate, Santa Barbara is very much an outdoor city and the many city parks, like the beachfront Chase Palm Park, encourages a healthy lifestyle. Head south to Carpinteria, a sleepy beach town famous for its world-class surf beaches. Or go west to Goleta, home of the University of California's Santa Barbara campus, and the city's airport.
Santa Barbara's famed celebrity set lives in the stylish beachfront suburb of Montecito, where you’ll see gated estates, hip neighbourhood restaurants, and the quirky Lotusland botanical gardens, once owned by Madame Ganna Walska, an eccentric Polish opera singer. Book ahead and take a guided tour around these fascinating gardens which include over 900 rare cycads, fruit orchards and a life-size topiary zoo.
Santa Barbara County is an easy region to explore. It has a reliable bus network across the city and to the beaches, as well as out to the suburbs. Or hop on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner train, a coastal service which heads to Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley, known as Santa Barbara wine country.
After a day of exploring Santa Barbara's old missions, art galleries and designer shopping malls, or hanging out on the beach, head downtown to State Street and the many SoCal bars and restaurants.
Santa Barbara is an ideal destination for a few days en route along the scenic Californian coast, or to use as a base for a longer stay exploring the wine country and mountain region. Santa Barbara has a wide variety of accommodation, ranging from budget hotels and inns to swanky five-star beach resorts.