We just got back from a very quick and fun trip to Santa Barbara, CA and I thought I’d share a few of the places we enjoyed for anyone else that can use a little time at the beach.
Santa Barbara is so beautiful, has perfect weather and doesn’t seem as chaotic and overwhelming as other beach towns in California. There is just so much to do from hiking and outdoor sports to wine tasting or just spending an afternoon at the beach. We could have stayed for weeks without checking everything off our list.
Here are a few highlights:
Where to Stay.
When I started looking at hotels I was really shocked at how expensive it is to stay in Santa Barbara. It didn’t help that we were traveling in peak season (July) but I found very basic rooms ranging from $500-700 per night.
We wound up staying at the Hyatt Centric in Santa Barbara only because we were able to cash in on travel rewards to significantly reduce the cost of our rooms. We did enjoy the location of the hotel as you can walk right across the street to the beach. Otherwise, there isn’t much more to recommend this hotel and the price for the room was staggering.
A few neighboring hotels that are very close to the beach that looked nice from the exterior to check out are:
- The Inn at East Beach
- Santa Barbara Inn (right on the water and looks gorgeous from the outside)
- Hotel Milo
Where to Eat.
All of the food we had in Santa Barbara was excellent. We were spending the day traveling or coming from the beach with children, so everything we did was pretty casual and budget friendly, but still really good quality and delicious.
Paxti Pizza: We were really ravenous on our first day and wandering up State Street looking for a place to eat and everything was absolutely bursting with people until we noticed this little pizza place that was nearly empty. Not a good sign usually but we tried it anyway and I am so glad we did. My family shared a deep dish pizza that they enjoyed and I had a mediterranean flatbread piadina (“The Forager”) that was absolutely delicious.
Tyger Tyger/MonkeyShine/ Dart Coffee: There are three food options in one vibrant, tiny little spot. Dart Coffee which is just coffee and a tiny selection of pastries, Monkeyshine which is Asian inspired ice cream served in the cutest cones you will ever see or mini Chinese food boxes and Tyger Tyger which is southeastern Asian inspired food that smelled delicious. This is the most delightful food spot and definitely worth popping in to see the beautifully wallpapered ceiling filled with a million little paper lanterns. Sadly the machines were broken and we didn’t get to try Monkeyshine but I did have an excellent coffee at Dart.
*Directly across the street is a beautiful art studio with the loveliest Sunset Magazine worthy garden. On Saturday morning it is open to the public and they sell flowers and veggies grown in the garden. Definitely worth checking out if you can.
Los Agaves: This is contemporary Mexican food in a casual setting that was recommended by a local. When we arrived the line was out the door which is usually a pretty good sign. The portions of the food were very generous (I ordered side dishes for myself and our children that were plenty) and all four of us basically inhaled our food. This is a great spot.
Helena Avenue Bakery: I wanted to stop at this little shop on our way out of town for a quick bite as it looks so charming from the outside and the menu looked really promising. Once again the line was out the door and we must have waited 30 minutes just to order… this is not the right stop if you are in a hurry. We did get an excellent breakfast- I had the avocado toast, my husband tried an egg, bacon, greens and tomato sandwich on a homemade biscuit that he enjoyed and the girls shared a sticky bun that they gobbled up before I could get a fork in for a taste. The food was quite good but not sure if I would return based on that wait time to order.
Pickles & Swiss: This is a little sandwich shop right in the heart of the downtown shopping area that was really delicious. I found the portion sizes to be really generous and I think we could have easily shared two sandwiches between the four of us.
McConnell’s Ice Cream: This little shop reminded me of my favorite ice cream scoop shop ever, Jeni’s. Fortunately we do not have either of these ice cream shops in my area or I would be frequenting them far too often. McConnell’s has amazing ice cream in all sorts of creative and interesting flavors. I would absolutely stop in for a treat if you are passing through Santa Barbara. I had the Honey & Cornbread ice cream which was really amazing and we went back the second night and I had Lemon & Marionberry. So good! The kids were obsessed with the pink lemonade flavor. I can’t get that ice cream out of my head and you will probably find me shelling out the $9 a pint at Whole Foods very soon. (Tip: There are two locations on State Street- one right by the water and a second location much further down. We found much better service, shorter lines and double the flavor choices at the second location.)
What to Do.
We didn’t do a lot of planned activities in Santa Barbara because we really were looking to just go to the beach, wander around and relax.
Beach. We did spend a great day at the beach- we rented chairs and an umbrella right on the beach for $20 for the entire day. The water is beautiful, the sand so soft and our children had a fantastic time. You can walk down to Stearns Wharf for lovely views of the ocean- especially at Sunset. Our kids were quite cold so definitely pack sweatshirts or light jackets.
Mission Santa Barbara. If you are from California and have an elementary aged child, you might have done a mission project. Our 4th grader was assigned Mission Santa Barbara which was part of the reason for our visit. The Mission is pretty cool to check out and it has a beautiful park across the street for a picnic or to just let the kids run around and play.
Chromatic Gate Art Installation. This is a beautiful park right on the water that is perfect for Instagram worthy photos.
State Street. This is the downtown shopping area with tons of shops and little restaurants and such to wander in and out of. We didn’t spend a ton of time shopping on our trip but I wish I would have had a little more time to wander up State Street.
Rent a Bike/ Electric Car/Surrey. Most hotels will offer beach cruiser bikes to rent. We saw these little Moke electric cars that were fun to rent and cruise around downtown. They only go about 25 miles per hour so we drove around the waterfront, hit up a coffee shop and we were definitely done after the two hour rental time. The kids got a kick out of it and it was a fun way to spend the morning waiting for the fog to burn off and the sun to come out.
Solvang. There is so much more you can do in Santa Barbara but we chose to take one afternoon to visit Solvang, a charming little Dutch town about 45 minutes away from Santa Barbara. This is such a fun place to visit and reminded me a lot of Leavenworth, WA. The entire city of Solvang is in an old world Danish style with lots of windmills, bakeries and shops- not to mention wine tasting. We really enjoyed Solvang and I have four recommendations for you if you do decide to visit:
The Bread Shop. I am guessing you are discovering we are a family of carb lovers so when we walked past this little shop, I had to pop in. It is tiny but had the most beautiful pastries and snacks. We tried the cheese straws as a little snack (and they were delicious) and shared a smoked gouda stuffed pretzel that was amazing. It took all of my willpower to not buy one of everything. The gourmet loaves of bread would be a perfect treat for beach picnics.
Solvang Restaurant. We had to save room for the Aebleskivers at Solvang Restaurant. These are puffy little bites of pancake that are a classic Scandinavian breakfast item, covered in a delicious raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Seriously these are heaven. You can walk right up to the window and order three for $4 and you are in for such a treat.
Solvang Alisal Cottages. These little cottages are right downtown in Solvang and looked so charming! We came very close to cancelling our hotel in Santa Barbara to stay in these little cottages instead.
The Landsby. This hotel is modern and beautiful and I would have loved to stay the night. Sadly we did try to book a room but it was sold out.
Quicksilver Ranch. There are some little farms and ranches in the area that are perfect for families. We stopped at Quicksilver Ranch, just outside of town, which is a miniature horse ranch. You can wander the immaculate stables and see the adorable horses through fences. We had a few come up looking for attention and my children absolutely loved this place. It was completely free but you can leave donations inside boxes located in the stable.