What To Do & Where To Eat in Santa Barbara
It’s been a hot minute since I traveled to California, which is really a shame since it’s a quick direct flight for me and it immediately feels like I’m in some far away vacation land. Well, that’s pretty much exactly what it is. Especially Santa Barbara. I hadn’t spent much time in Santa Barbara before this trip and now I’m wondering why it hasn’t been a normal yearly occurrence for me. This sleepy little ocean town has become a bustling area to try amazing food, sip on about a million glasses of wine, and take in the sea breeze as you dip your toes in the water. It’s just simply lovely.
And one of the best parts about being in Santa Barbara is that you can make your way into Santa Ynez Valley. I went to Santa Ynez Valley last year and absolutely fell in love with the area and this time around it was even more beautiful because of all the rain they have been getting recently. The rolling hills of the valley were so incredibly green and everywhere you turn there is another beautiful vineyard. It really is a breathtaking area. And since I didn’t check out the tiny town of Los Alamos when I was in SYV the year before, we decided to stay at the newly renovated Skyview Motel. You can see this iconic roadside motel from the highway and from downtown Los Alamos since it’s perched on a hillside overlooking wine country. And the motel itself includes a beautiful restauant, pool and the cutest rooms – many that include their own patio with personal firepit. I was welcomed by a cute cat each morning who loved our patio furniture as it’s bed. Since it wasn’t warm enough to hang out by the pool while we were there, we enjoyed some cocktails at the restaurant before making our way into town to try even more wine!
When you are in Los Alamos, you have a full block of restaurants, bakeries and tasting rooms to check out, so you can rent a bike from the Skyview Motel and bike into town for a buzzed and full afternoon. We first stopped in at Casa Dumetz for a wine tasting, a really really delicious wine tasting. I’m not huge in to wine or really even know what I like, but I know I enjoyed every single one of these wines. Casa Dumetz makes highly acclaimed reds and whites with premiere fruit grown exclusively in Santa Barbara County vineyards and the wine tasting room shows how much love goes into each one of these bottles.
And after you try the wine tasting, you can wander next door to Valle Fresh to enjoy some tacos and tapas while you check out all the beers and ciders in Babi’s Beer Emporium. All three spots are owned by chief winemaker Sonja Magdevski to ensure that everyone in your group is happy and satisfied. We ordered a carrot appetizer to get in some extra veggies on our trip, then we loaded up with delicious tacos. It was incredibly easy to eat gluten free here since all the taco shells are made in-house with corn. Everything was so fresh and delicious! We really loved this spot.
Then for our first dinner in Santa Ynez Valley, we made our way to Solvang (where I stayed last time) to the restaurant First & Oak. This restaurant is located inside the Mirabelle Inn and is considered one of the best spots in Santa Ynez Valley since it includes some of the most fresh local ingredients. First & Oak includes many small plates so you can try a ton of different things on their menu, and they recommend creating your own tasting menu to ensure you get the full experience. We ended up both trying a four-course tasting menu and I think three would have been a better idea because we were STUFFED. So so stuffed. I tried the lobster bisque, halibut, pork risotto and white chocolate meringue. Everything was fantastic and the server was so helpful making sure everything we ordered was gluten free! And if you are wine tasting during the day, the owners of First & Oak also own Coquelicot Estate Vineyard in Los Olivos, which is just a quick drive away from Solvang.
Another meal we had in Los Alamos while we stayed there was at Pico at the Los Alamos General Store. This restaurant is a beautiful spot that serves farm-to-table upscale comfort food. The restaurant also shares their building with local Lumen Wines where you can try all their wines in their tasting room. We tried the mushroom salad, brussels sprouts and short rib, and everything was so fresh and served up beautifully.
And before we left, we ended up eating at Plenty on Bell a couple of times for breakfast! We loved this spot and everything we tasted was cooked to perfection. I ordered the short rib hash and the short ribs and potatoes were both crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Many people also recommended Bob’s Well Bread Bakery but I didn’t see too many gluten free options on the menu so we stuck with Plenty instead. But if you don’t eat gluten free, I heard Bob’s is fantastic!
Then once we had our fill of the countryside, we made our way back to Santa Barbara to see all it has to offer. We were lucky enough to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara and soak up this absolutely stunning property. This was my first time staying at a Ritz-Carlton resort and it completely lived up to its name. Not only was the staff incredibly attentive and helpful at every turn, but the property itself was perfection. There was always something to do, something to see, and some sort of drink to indulge in. The oceanfront property includes 2 miles of beach to walk on, a nature walk to take your dogs on (yes, it’s dog-friendly!), and they have beautiful pools, hot tubs, and fun games like bag toss and ladders throughout every corner. We spent almost an entire day on the property just having cocktails and playing games. There was really no point in leaving!
Two things I can’t recommend enough is eating at Angel Oak for Sunday brunch AND checking out the Club Lounge on the property. While we ate at Angel Oak for brunch, we were able to sit on the patio overlooking the ocean while professional whale watchers looked on for any signs of whales swimming by. We sadly didn’t get to see any whales ourselves but many people talked about the whales they had seen earlier. I ordered the cobb crab salad when we ate here and it was AMAZING! I hate salads but I ate every bite of this one.
But if you don’t get to see any whales, not to worry, the Club Lounge will keep you happy and entertained. The Club Lounge is very exclusive since they only let about 30-35 rooms enjoy the services that the Club has to offer. In the Club, you’ll have a personal concierge to help you with anything you need whether you need a glass of wine or champagne or a house-made latte. Then you also have a ton of amazing snacks to choose from, including gluten free snacks and treats. I spent so much time in this lounge working on my computer, enjoying breakfast, and getting some snacks to take on the go. It was such an amazing spot to relax and unwind while catching up on work. I loved it so so much!
Then for our first dinner in Santa Barbara, we headed to Les Marchands Restaurant and Wine Shop. This spot was named “Wine Bar of the Year since it is led by a world-class team of certified sommeliers and wine profressionals. You’ll also find more than 400 selections of wine at this spot. So if you’re a wine lover, this is definitely your spot! I found it a tad more challenging to find gluten free items here since many of their entrees are pasta or include wheat, but we still enjoyed a fantastic waygu steak while we were there!
Then for our last full day in Santa Barbara, we finally took a break from all the wine and got to moving. We wandered around Stearns Wharf & Harbor to see all the shops, then we walked down by the ocean, then finally made our way to state street and into Salt. In downtown you would never know that you can find the largest Himalayan salt cave in North America. I always see people with Himalayan salt lamps next to their bed and I never really knew why, but I found out in my own salt session that Himalayan salt has a ton of different benefits like supporting respiratory health, promoting sinus health, preventing muscle cramps, and promotes bone strength, along with a ton of other benefits. And while you’re in the Salt Cave, you can simply enjoy a 45-minute meditation session or you can always book a treatment such as a massage, scrub or a Nexneuro vibration treatment. It’s all very earthy and crunchy, and I love it. It was a great way to break up the day and do something a little different.
Then after we meditated, we went straight to Tyger Tyger. Curry is a dish I could eat for every single meal and I talk about it quite frequently. So when my friend found out I was heading to SB, she said I absolutely HAD to eat at Tyger Tyger and order the pork curry. And HOT DAMN I’m so glad I listened to her because it was lifechanging curry. Not just good or great or amazing. It was LIFECHANGING. We also tried the Malayasian Curried Cauliflower and I almost licked my plate. I couldn’t get enough of this spot. Everything on their menu is marked gluten free and/or vegan, which makes it extremely easy to order. And it’s so unique compared any other spots because within the location, you’ll also find Dart Coffee and Monkey Shine ice cream. And the ice cream has an Asian flair to eat because you’ll find selections like Black Sesame and Mango Sticky Rice soft serve with fruity and crunchy toppings to sprinkle all over.
And for my last meal in Santa Barbara, my friend took me to LoQuita to enjoy some traditional cooking methods of Spain. I’ve never been to Spain but now it’s at the top of my list after experiencing LoQuita. This meal was absolutely fantastic, I can’t say enough about it. Everything was so incredibly fresh and flavorful. Like OMG flavorful. We enjoyed the Jamón tasting, the oyster mushrooms, cauliflower, spanish tortilla, and FANTASTIC chorizo paella. If you are ever in Santa Barbara, this spot is a complete must!!
I hope this post gives you some inspiration to create your own Santa Barbara trip in the future! I can’t say enough about Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Valley. They are both amazing places to visit that aren’t overwhelmed by traffic and people. It’s just a great place to get away, relax and enjoy all that California has to offer. And now I’m already planning my next trip back so I can check out even more restaurants when I’m there! Be sure to read below because I have even more recommendations for when you are there!
Quick Summary of my SYV & SB Trip Favorites:
- Valle Fresh in Los Alamos
- First & Oak in Solvang
- Pico at the Los Alamos General Store in Los Alamos
- Plenty on Bell in Los Alamos
- Angel Oak at the Ritz-Carlton
- Les Marchands Restaurant and Wine Shop in Santa Barbara
- Tyger Tyger in Santa Barbara
- LoQuita in Santa Barbara
And if you’re staying for more than just a few days, here are even more restaurant recommendations –
- Lilac Patisserie
- ParadICE Hawaiian Shave Ice
- The Lark
- The Lucky Penny for gluten free pizza
- The Honey B
- Santa Barbara Public Market
- Ty Lounge at Four Seasons Resort in Montecito – official drink of Santa Barbara
And there are also about a million things to do while you’re in Santa Barbara –
- Go to Stearns Wharf & Harbor
- Check out The Funk Zone – one of the cutest areas in Santa Barbara with lots of shops, restaurants and wine tasting rooms. It reminds me of RiNo in Denver because it’s filled with old warehouses and manufacturing plants with a ton of artists’ studios and galleries, breweries and other shops. It’s a total different feel from everything else you find in Santa Barbara
- Go on the Urban Wine Trail – more than 2 dozen wine tasting rooms all within blocks of downtown, which means you don’t have to drive into the valley and you can ditch your car and walk to almost any of them without worrying about how you will get home once you enjoy a few too many tastings. Here are just some of the tasting rooms you can check out –
- Kunin Wines
- Santa Barbara Wine Collective
- The Valley Project
- Riverbench Santa Barbara
- Wineries of the Presidio Neighborhood
- Go to the Farmers Market! It’s held almost every day in a different spot so you can always get the freshest ingredients, no matter what day it is.
- Check out Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
- Take a City Tour of Santa Barbara on the SB Trolley
- Rent a bike, roller blades, coupe, or a surrey with Wheel Fun Rentals to easily get around town
- Go kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding with Paddle Sports Center
- Go hiking nearby
- Carpinteria Bluffs
- Inspiration Point
- Arroyo Burro Beach to Goleta
- Lizard’s Mouth
- Refugio to El Capitan
- Bill Wallace Trail
- Gaviota Peak
- Gaviota Wind Caves
- Go to Montecito for some fancy shopping
- Wander down State Street for cool stores and shops
This trip was hosted by Visit Santa Ynez Valley and Visit Santa Barbara, but all opinions are my own!
Oh, Hi! I’m Juli.
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16 thoughts on “What To Do & Where To Eat in Santa Barbara”
I’m visiting Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Valley next week so thank you for all the recommendations! Beautiful photos too!
yay perfect timing!!
Finally planning my trip to Santa Ynez Valley! In terms of which little town to stay in, do you recommend Los Alamos or Solvang? I know they’re very close, but looking for the best spot with things to do in town and walk ability. Thank you!
I’m so jealous after reading this post… looks amazing!!
it’s such an amazing place!
Thanks for this update on SB! I may be there next week to try some of those places. We liked Lark last time. Did you get over to Lilac Patisserie yourself? It is amazing! I’d never before seen a GF bakery as refined as it is — you’d never know it was GF.
that’s what i’ve heard, but i didn’t end up going. i’m often so stuffed from meals like the ones i shared above, that i don’t even crave any baked goods so it never sounded good while i was there. but i will definitely hit it up first thing next time i’m in town. i’ve heard such great things!
OMG, I’m starving! I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal in Santa Barbara. Great post – thank you! Time to plan a visit….
the food is so damn fresh there! love it!
Such a great post for Santa Barbara! For all the dog lovers and owners/ there is amazing off leash dog beach 10 minutes from the Ritz called Hendrys. It’s so much fun to watch all the dogs run around on the beach – even if you don’t have one!!!!
that’s so good to know!! i’ve always wanted to take jackson to a beach dog park. that’s so so fun!
PLENTY ON BELL!!! so fabulous, my daughter and I went here on our trip to SB.
such an awesome spot!
Just booked Angel Oak for brunch and then heading up to Los Alamos in a deluxe room at Skyview Motel for our wedding anniversary! Thanks so much for the inspiration!
yayyyyyy!! hope you LOVE it!!
I am a livaboard in Santa Barbara for the past two years. I strongly suggest the Pacific Crest Hotel on Corona del Mar as an affordable, but very nice mid-scaled option. Check out their website at http://www.PacificCrestHotel.com. East Beach Tacos on Milpass Street is a must and Brophy Brothers at the Harbor is a great choice too. ParidIce Shaved Ice is a definite favorite! Lots of museums to visit, including the art museum, the Carriage Museum, and the Maritime Museum in the Harbor. Whale watching, sailing lessons, and paddle boarding are fun things to do, too.