Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is a 2-hour drive north of Los Angeles and is bordered by the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Referred to as “The American Riviera”, Santa Barbara is known for its great beaches, majestic mountains, and mild temperature; all of which make Santa Barbara a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts and healthy travelers.
Most tourists will gather on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara for the shopping and nightlife, but we’ll explore some adventurous alternatives to keep you from getting sucked into the tourist trap.
How to Get to Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara doesn’t have a large airport and is a ~2 hour drive away from the LAX, the closest major airport, but the extra travel will be worth it. In fact, part of the appeal to Santa Barbara is that it isn’t easy to get to.
Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) – it’s small, but the airport does have regional flights on major carriers to 7 major cities (mostly on the west coast). My recommendation is to look for connecting flights that’ll get you directly into Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) and it’ll save you a long, track congested car ride from Los Angeles.
If you don’t see any options or you prefer the ride, renting a car from Los Angeles AIrport (LAX) or Orange County Airport and driving is another option. Depending on the time of day the traffic can be tough so plan accordingly, but it should take a little over 2 hours to get from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara.
Where you stay and what you want to do will determine whether you need a car, but Uber, Lyft and public transportation all provide great options if you don’t want to rent a car. Personally, we always have our own transportation to get outside the city to hike, run and bike. We also check out the nearby vineyards which we find having a car to be convenient.
If you want to be car free – rent a bike! There are plenty of great bike trails and lanes to make bike transportation an option.
When To Visit
Santa Barbara’s mild year-round temperature makes this a truly four-season escape, however each season has its own character so plan accordingly.
December – February / Early March – Santa Barbara winters are wet. Santa Barbara gets roughly 75% of it’s annual rainfall between December and early March, however that’s still only 4 inches per month (less than most US cities) and very hit or miss. The average highs in the winter are in the mid-60s and the lows are mid 40s. Not great for sunbathing, but excellent for hiking, biking and running! Bonus – winter in Santa Barbara also means the Gray Whale migration, which lasts from December to April.
Summer – Peak season in Santa Barbara is summer which also means crowds of vacationers packed on the trails, beaches and restaurants. The temperature stays mild due to the ocean and there is virtually no rain between April and November.
Late March – May & September – November – Fringe months are the best time to visit (in my opinion). You’ll benefit from the amazing weather, but you won’t be battling the crowds. Fall is also harvest at the nearby vineyards and farms for an added bonus.
What’s Near Santa Barbara
While Santa Barbara has enough to do to keep you busy all week, there are many great activities and destinations only a short car ride away.
Solvang, CA – This tiny town, a 45 minute car ride away from Santa Barbara, looks and feels like a Danish Village. Really. Located in the Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang is a great hub for vineyard and winery tours in the region. There are also plenty of local wine tasting rooms in the downtown area so you never have to leave. Solvang can get a little touristy so I recommend going early in the morning and planning to leave the downtown area by lunchtime, whether headed out to the vineyards or back to Santa Barbara.
University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB) – One of the area’s major employers is UCSB in Goleta, a short drive from Santa Barbara. The university sits right on the coast and has a cool vibe of student surfers and skateboarders. One of our favorite walking and running places is the trails along the coast leading out to campus point. Trust me, you won’t regret an early morning walk or run along the coast overlooking the ocean.
Santa Barbara Wine Region – The Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria Valley are both a short drive, 45 minutes and an 1 hour and 15 minutes respectively, are great regions for exploring the region’s many wines. Santa Ynez is the larger and closer of the two, which is why it would be my recommendation, but Santa Maria Valley offers plenty of fun, too.
Channel Islands National Park – Known as the America’s Galapagos Islands, the 5 islands located off the coast of Southern California are rich in wildlife and beauty. The islands are an incredible for kayak and hiking adventures.
Fitness Activities Near Santa Barbara
Hiking Trails in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara has no shortage of amazing hiking trails near the water and also up in the mountains. Check out the websites below for some great recommendations.
Bicycling in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara has some great paths along the water for flat and scenic bike rides for the whole family. Personally, my favorite is the Cabrillo Bike Path that runs along the ocean, but check out the links below for additional bicycle suggestions.
Running in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara has perfect running weather, beautiful scenery and a great running community which makes it a wonderful place to hike the road (or trails!). Check out the links below for some great spots. I personally love running along the coast near UCSB. Not the hardest ~3 mile trail, but you won’t mind. I promise.
- Santa Barbara Running Company has a great community page which a listing of places to run in and around SB.
- Along the water near the wharf – Cabrillo Bike Path is also a great place to run along the coast.
- UCSB trail This is the run I referenced above (my favorite). I usually start from the other side (Isla Vista) and head out to Campus Point and back.
- Butterfly Beach area
- Competitor Magazine Article
Kayak / Paddle Board / Surf in Santa Barbara
Be sure to take advantage of the wonderful water activities in Santa Barbara. Check out the outfitters linked below (no affiliation) for some great rentals, tours and lessons.
Healthy Food Santa Barbara
The Natural Café – $$
- Multiple Locations
- The Natural Café is a moderately priced quick serve restaurant with 9 locations. This is a great spot for vegetarian – they have a section of the menu dedicated to vegetarian entrees. Meals average around $9/$10
Backyard Bowls – $
- 331 Motor Way Santa Barbara, CA 93101
3849 State St. Santa Barbara, CA 93105
5668 Calle Real Goleta, CA 93117
- This is your spot for acai bowls, hot porridges and smoothies. Their Santa Barbara location has a great spot near State Street and close to the ocean. It doesn’t look like much from the outside (a little hard to spot), but you’ll be glad you found it once you taste the food.
- Multiple Locations
- 7 locations around Santa Barbara mean you’re not too far from a delicious Blenders’ Smoothie, Juice or Acai Bowl.
- 2981 Cliff Dr Santa Barbara, CA 93109
- Boathouse and Hendry’s Beach is my personal favorite for eating on the water. I highly recommend coming from the sunset and staying for dinner. One of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen from a restaurant. Also, you can’t go wrong with the seafood.
- 1260 Channel Drive Santa Barbara CA 93108
- Bella Vista for brunch is both a meal and an event. The view from the patio overlooks Butterfly Beach and one of the most unobstructed views of the water. It typically wouldn’t fall under the category of health restaurants, but their brunch has plenty of healthy options for even the pickiest eaters – just be careful not to overeat.