Nestled between the stunning Santa Ynez mountains, and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is a city with much natural beauty. Here, you’ll find a fascinating example of 18th century religious architecture at Mission Santa Barbara, where you can also get a guided tour, or stroll the gardens and cemetery. Next, stop by the colonial Spanish building of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and admire 360° views from the top of the tower. Afterwards, stroll through Shoreline Park, take the kids to Santa Barbara Zoo, or see the botanical gardens at Lotusland.
If you want to be near to all the best facilities, the best area to stay in Santa Barbara is the downtown area close to West Beach, where you can take a relaxing swim. You’ll be within easy walking distance of attractions like Stearns Wharf, a charming wooden pier with ice cream shops, seafood restaurants and the Natural History Museum. You’ll also be able to walk to the lively State Street with its boutiques and cafes. Or, how about booking a boat tour from the harbour? Lastly, you’ll be well connected in this area with transport links such as the Santa Barbara train station nearby.
West Beach, the best area to stay in Santa Barbara
As soon as you get to Santa Barbara the first thing you will want to do is find the closest beach to the downtown area, which happens to be the conveniently located West Beach. This waterfront is bounded by West Cabrillo Boulevard, which is a wonderful promenade that has tonnes of shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels and is a particularly busy place when it is sunset. West Beach is a clean and tidy sandy beach that offers good swimming as well as some water activities with one of the iconic images of the city being right by you, which is Stearns Wharf. The wharf gives you excellent vista of your surroundings and is home to dozens of shops, restaurants and arcades with many people using it for fishing or romantic walks too.
The wharf also hosts the Natural History Museum and is where you will find many exhibit halls that display many things to do with natural history with one of the best preserved Blue Whale skeletons in the world. Other things to note is the harbour, where there is always activity going on from cruise ships to little fishing boats and is home to some of the best seafood restaurants in the city.
From the harbour, it is possible to book an excursion on a boat trip that will take you to see marine life or to see the coastline that surrounds the city. Another attraction close by is the Reagan Ranch Centre Exhibit Gallery, which features original Reagan Ranch artefacts and about his accomplishments as a president. There are plenty of department stores along State Street, which runs right into the main downtown area and there are great selections of restaurants, pubs, clubs and hotels to check out on the street.
The district is delightful for just strolling aimlessly and you will notice many Spanish Colonial Revival family houses and buildings as well as a few other examples of different styles with the majority found along the waterfront. As it is a busy area, the place is well connected with frequent buses and many taxis and is one of the safest neighbourhoods in Santa Barbara.
Other areas to stay in
Rest of the beaches area
Just to the east of West Beach is East Beach, which is one of the most popular beaches in the city and this is down to the striking white sand that sits in front of the Caribbean look-a-like palm trees that wouldn’t be out of place on a postcard. East Beach has a good amount of hotels, shops, restaurants and pubs to choose from as well as hiring water sports equipment like surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, parasailing and much more. If you want beaches that are less crowded then head to Leadbetter Beach or Hendry’s Beach, which are close by to the main town beaches but offer a little more escapism. Both have a good amount of shops, dining places and bars though not as wide a variety as those found by West and East Beach. All of the beaches are generally clean with good swimming and surfing to be had and are safe with good public transport connections to all parts of Santa Barbara and therefore are good places to stay in.
Rest of the downtown area
The rest of the downtown area is mainly focused over the other side of the 101 highway, between W Carrillo Street and W Haley Street, which is a busy public transport hub with brilliant connections all around the city. This area is an ideal place to stay in due to the amount of attractions that are close by like the Historical Museum, Museum of Art, Botanic Gardens, the Zoo and many art galleries. The Santa Barbara Mission is another major highlight of the area as it is one of the finest examples of Spanish architecture, which is highly-praised by the locals. State Street, which starts by West Beach, comes all the way into the centre and further inland and is a shopping paradise with this stretch of it being home to the biggest department stores, which includes El Paseo and Paseo Nuevo. State Street, Chapala Street and W Carrillo Street are spoilt for hotels, restaurants, pubs and clubs with some on Chapala Street having hotel rooms with sea views.