I don’t know about you, but I’m always dreaming of a getaway, and typically, my daydreams involve fine wine, good food, great company, fresh air and maybe a plush robe. Not that you need an excuse for a vacation, but I can think of ten reasons to jet set to Santa Barbara right now. And surprisingly, one of them isn’t just because winter is upon us.
Words by Bryna Rudy, Trip Consultant
1. Canary Hotel
The only rooftop pool in Santa Barbara? Check. A glass of wine with check-in? Yes, please. Redesigned in 2012 to reflect its Moroccan roots, this stylish boutique hotel seamlessly combines Mediterranean hand painted tiles and vibrant textiles with Californian red-tiled roofs and palm trees. Winner of a 2015 Conde Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Award, this picture-perfect hotel in the heart of downtown is reason enough to visit Santa Barbara.
2. State Street
The best palm tree-lined street in the country is filled with shops, restaurants and bars. Discover hidden Paseos, experience the trendy and popular Funk Zone, take your pick of charming outdoor patios to enjoy a coffee, shop at the amazing boutiques, or follow this ‘red-brick road’ all the way to the beach.
3. The Wine Cask
According to owner Doug Margerum, “The unique, transverse nature of the valleys of Santa Barbara Wine Country provides a patchwork quilt of microclimates and terrains, resulting in one of the most diverse grape growing regions in the country.” This may be the place to find coveted single-vineyard Santa Barbara wines, but their innovative cuisine is no less outstanding than the wine list.
4. East Mountain Drive
Imagine winding along a gorgeous ridge with incredible vistas over the city and sea the entire way. Meet East Mountain Drive. While it seems as though every road in Santa Barbara offers buttery-smooth pavement and breathtaking views, this particular route deserves a shout-out. The jaw-dropping scenery makes this one of the prettiest rides in North America, with stunning panoramic views of private estates in the hills above and the glittering blue expanse of ocean below.
Temperatures in the 70s and 80s make for spectacular cycling weather and a great excuse to lounge by the rooftop pool or rent a paddle board at the beach. Speaking of the beach, Santa Barbara’s oceanfront is hard to beat. Lined by palm trees and the Cabrillo Bikeway, the miles of pristine sand are perfect for people watching, volleyball, and long evening walks. Plus you can also check out Stearns Wharf, offering the best views in Santa Barbara as well as many incredible shops and restaurants.
6. Santa Ynez Valley
Where there’s wine, there’s a way. A fan of red? The Pinot Noirs of the area are world-renowned. Prefer white? Give the Chardonnay a try at Sanford Winery. The historic town of Los Olivos awaits, ready to charm you with its tasting rooms, art galleries, upscale shops and laid-back locals. And cycling through the Santa Rita hills to get there is just the cherry on top.
7. Scenic Train Rides
Many of the beautiful views along this rural coastline are visible only from the train. Board the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner for a gorgeous ride from downtown Santa Barbara to Surf Beach, and along the way you’ll enjoy up-close views of the seabirds, dolphins, and surfers who inhabit this wonderful area. To get any closer, you’d have to be on a surfboard.
8. The Lark
Dine al fresco at The Lark, and enjoy course after course of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. One of Santa Barbara’s most highly acclaimed new restaurants, I promise you won’t leave hungry after a family style dinner with new friends. Don’t like Brussels sprouts? I’ll ask you again after you’ve tried them here.
10. Handlebar Coffee
Voted one of the World’s Best Coffee Shops and a favorite among our guide team, Handlebar Coffee Roasters began when two former professional cyclists shifted their focus, training and determination from racing to coffee. A visit to this warm cafe and world-class micro roaster in Santa Barbara’s “Gourmet Ghetto” is guaranteed to start your day on the right foot.
Bonus: Cycling (of course)
The University of California-Santa Barbara has so many bikes they’ve built a network of bike paths that include adorable mini roundabouts. It’s no wonder students here choose cycling as their primary mode of transportation, since every ride includes wind in your hair and sun on your face. Ride though affluent neighborhoods, pedal past vineyards and olive groves, and reward yourself with a well-deserved glass of vino. The views don’t disappoint. I promise. And whether you want to coast along the ocean and take photos or prefer to tackle the climb up Gibraltar Road, Santa Barbara has the perfect road for every type of rider.