No visit to the Santa Ynez Valley would be complete without hopping into nearby Santa Barbara, CA for at least a short day trip. Just 40 minutes down Highway 154 from Buellton and 45 minutes from Solvang, Santa Barbara offers something for everyone in the family. From beaches to boats, food, and drink to history and more, Santa Barbara will wow you every step of the way!
Start the day with a leisurely drive through the stunning rolling hills of the Santa Ynez Valley into Santa Barbara itself. Because the Central California coastline and geography is so similar to the French Riviera, Santa Barbara is known as the American Riviera. Nearly all the city’s attractions are within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean, and you’ll never be far from the cooling ocean breezes. The city itself mixes casual and elegant, world class with eclectic, and historical with modern.
Enjoy breakfast and visit Stearns Wharf.
Head to 1017 State Street and the Lilac Patisserie Gluten Free Bakery & Café for a breakfast to remember. Only the freshest organic produce goes into the food at the Lilac Patisserie. They serve breakfast from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. every day, as well as lunch from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Their carry-out bakery, full of tasty treats like cheesecake, cookies, cupcakes, pastries, tarts, pies, and the most amazing gluten-free cakes is open 8:00 until 6:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:00 to 8:00 Friday through Sunday.
After fueling up on delicious food, the opportunities for adventure in Santa Barbara abound. Park your car and rent a bike at Wheel Fun near Stearns Wharf for the best way to see the town. Santa Barbara encourages environmentally-friendly transportation, so trolleys are also available. The city is also very pedestrian-friendly. Bike and walking paths are common, from the beach boardwalk to State Street and side streets.
Stearns Wharf is a must-see during your day trip to Santa Barbara. The historic pier features unparalleled views of Santa Barbara, the mountains, and the Pacific Ocean. Restaurants, shops, the Ty Warner Sea Center are some of the activities to enjoy on the Wharf, where State Street meets the ocean.
Enjoy the outdoors at the zoo and on the water.
From the Wharf, walk or ride a bike along the paths to the Santa Barbara Zoo, rated the best mid-sized zoo on the West Coast. The Zoo houses over 600 animals on 16 acres, with a train that circles the park. The Zoo is open daily from 10:00 until 5:00.
Beach lovers revel in the Santa Barbara offerings year-round, whether you love surfing, swimming, kayaking, or just enjoying the sun and sand. East Beach, just off the Wharf, has volleyball courts on the beach, and local surfers like the Point to the north and Rincon Beach to the south of town. Other favorite beaches include Leadbetter Beach, located between the Harbor and Shoreline Park, Carpinteria State Beach, and Santa Claus Lane Beach.
Get out on the water for a lunchtime cruise aboard the Double Dolphin, a 50-foot catamaran sailing from the Santa Barbara Sailing Center at the Harbor. The boat features 1,400 square feet of deck plus an expert crew, making it a comfortable, fun and safe experience for people of every age. Out on the harbor, you’ll see California sea lions, dolphins, and maybe even migrating gray whales! You will also see beautiful Santa Barbara, luxurious coastal homes, and the mountains as a backdrop.
See Santa Barbara from the sky.
If you would rather see Santa Barbara and the surrounding area from the air, take a 30- or 45-minute helicopter tour of the area. The skilled helicopter pilots will show you all the sights including the city, the harbor, and all the major landmarks. Your pilot will show you breathtaking views of the beaches, mountains, and the nearby Channel Islands during your tour. The helicopter pilots are even skilled at spotting whales and dolphins in the Harbor and educating guests about the history and points of interest in Santa Barbara County.
Visit Mission Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
Whether you see it from the sky or on foot, you must visit the Mission Santa Barbara, the iconic and most photographed mission in California. This beautiful Spanish mission is open seven days a week and features both self-guided and docent-led tours. Just one mile north of the Mission is the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, another must-see stop on your itinerary. The garden features native California plants in stunning landscape designs. Trails meander through the gardens, so you can take your time and visit at your own pace.
Stop for lunch at one of Santa Barbara’s tastiest restaurants.
By now, your appetite will have you ready to take in more of Santa Barbara’s famous cuisine. Scarlett Begonia, located at 11 West Victoria Street #10, serves organic, sustainable, innovative food with an ever-changing menu. Breakfast and lunch offerings are served from 9:00 until 2:00 Tuesday through Saturdays, and dinner menus begin at 4:00 p.m. Christa Fooks, the owner, claims to be a “professional food nerd.” Patio seating at Scarlett Begonia is even dog-friendly!
Another favorite lunch-into-dinner wine bar and cafe is Satellite SB at 1117 State Street inside the Impact Hub Building. Here, Drew Cuddy, founder and self-described “food and wine junkie” serves locally-sourced food and hand-selected local and international wines and beers. Satellite SB is open Monday through Saturday 11:00 until 10:00.
Find fun and exploration at Moxi Museum.
After a leisurely lunch, head to 125 State Street for some serious fun and exploration at the brand-new Moxi Museum of Exploration and Innovation. Open daily from 10:00 until 5:00 p.m., visitors should purchase timed-entry tickets in advance when possible. The Moxi challenges visitors to interact with exhibits, centered around arts, engineering, technology, math, and science.
The Moxi Innovation Workshop lets visitors design and test creations using an array of tools and technologies. Step outside to the Fantastic Forces Courtyard and learn about propulsion, gravity, and magnetism. Conduct your own test flights, launch an air rocket, or learn about magnetic fields. Exhibits and experiences change constantly, so this will be a place you will want to visit again and again.
Shop the Santa Barbara local markets.
Once a week, Santa Barbara hosts a Certified Organic Farmers Market. There are three locations: lower State Street between the 500 and 600 blocks on Tuesdays from 4:00 to 7:30 p.m.; E. Cota Street on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.; and in Montecito between the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Coast Village Rd. on Fridays from 8:00 to 11:15 a.m. Local organic farmers, dedicated to sustainable farming practices, bring their best produce to this enormous marketplace rain or shine.
Be sure to visit the SB Public Market at 38 West Victoria Street, at the intersection of Victoria Street and Chapala. SB Public market sits in the performing and cultural arts area of Santa Barbara and features a diverse group of merchants offering locally and regionally sourced wines, beers, and food all under one roof. The Market is open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m., Saturdays 8:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. and Sunday 8:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. However, the individual merchant hours may vary.
Relax and unwind after sunset with dinner followed by cocktails or local beer.
Once you are done with sun, sand, sightseeing, and shopping, the sun begins to set over the Pacific. Take a moment to relax and unwind. Now is the time when the city begins to flock to the numerous Santa Barbara evening dining and drinking establishments, many of which features the wines and beers born in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley.
For Spanish tapas or an amazing Sunday brunch menu, check out Loquita at 202 State Street in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone. Open for Sunday Brunch 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., and every night for dinner 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m., Loquita showcases traditional Spanish cooking with a variety of hot and cold tapas, paella, grilled meat, and wood-fired seafood. Executive Chef Peter Lee pairs the food with Spanish wines and a few select local wines that pair perfectly with his cuisine. Farmers’ market sangria, gin and tonics, Spanish vermouths, and hand-crafted cocktails round out the experience. Inside Loquita, the dining room is lively and exciting. Outside on the patio, diners enjoy a more romantic and quiet setting around the fireplace. A separate pintxos bar, Poquita, serves small snacks, cheeses, and charcuterie.
Up the road at The Good Lion, 1212 State Street, enjoy a modern, intimate fusion of South-West Europe, Mediterranean Africa and the “American Riviera” atmosphere of Santa Barbara. The Good Lion offers a rotating cocktail menu featuring the area’s best herbs, spices, produce, and fruit. They also offer local craft beers and natural wines. Neighboring restaurant Sama Sama offers Spanish tapas and small plates food to Good Lion visitors. The Good Lion is open nightly from 4:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. Reservations are recommended for parties of six or more.
For people who like craft beer, the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company at 137 Anacapa Street, Suite F, is the place to go. Father and son Jim and Jaime Dietenhofer started the brewery in 2010, naming it after the mountain they could see from their home in Los Olivos. The first taproom of the Figueroa Mountain Brewery opened in Buellton in the Santa Ynez Valley and has become one of the fastest growing craft brew companies in America. Enjoy either indoor or outdoor table seating, or grab a bottle or growler to-go. The Santa Barbara location partners with the Lucky Penny for delicious wood fired pizza delivery to the brewery.
A day trip to Santa Barbara is the perfect addition to your stay in a Santa Ynez vacation rental home. At just a 35-minute drive away through scenic mountains and vineyards, make a day of it. We hope you enjoy your visit.
Shaped like a dolphin as it faces the Southern California shoreline, Santa Cruz Island is part of the five-island group called the California Channel Islands National Park, and it lies just 19 miles off of the coast between Santa Barbara and Ventura. With its unique species and virtually untouched ecosystem, Santa Cruz Island is a microcosm of ancient California, allowing visitors the opportunity to travel back in time to experience what the coast might have been like before the introduction of exotic species.
California residents looking for a great food & wine experience are flocking to Los Alamos, located just 20 minutes northwest of the Santa Ynez Valley and 45 minutes from Santa Barbara. This quaint little town makes a perfect day trip for our guests at Santa Ynez Vacation Rentals. Those who enjoy a glass of wine or two may want to stop by the Bedford Winery in the Los Alamos area, and foodies will definitely want to visit Bell Street in downtown Los Alamos. This is where ample restaurants serving various delicious and delectable cuisines are located. Many visitors to Los Alamos find that all their culinary desires can be met without even having to leave the city.
Los Alamos, CA is a phenomenal, quaint little town…and don’t blink or you’ll miss it! Many people who visit Los Alamos say that it feels like they were dropped right into a movie set – bizarrely juxtaposing an old western and a biker down town. with just a touch of ghost town. Don’t blink or your miss the town, as it’s very small – but you don’t want to miss anything Los Alamos has to offer.
Bell Street Farm is the perfect lunchtime destination for a day trip. The cozy eatery features a fine selection of salads and sandwiches. For those who want to explore the beautiful vineyards and farmland which surrounds the restaurant, Bell Street Farm has a market in which one can assemble a picnic basket. The market also features gifts and merchandise from the best California has to offer.
Italian food lovers flock to Full of Life Flatbread. Visitors from all over the United States come to this restaurant for the delicious foods, all made with ingredients grown locally. Full of Life Flatbread is also well-known for its desserts, salads and appetizers. It serves as a meeting place for local chefs and winemakers. One of their specialties is take-home pizzas, which are made with organic ingredients.
Another fine restaurant, popular with both visitors to and locals of Los Alamos, is the Cafe Quackenbush. Run by a Swedish chef, the cafe is a favorite spot to grab a healthy breakfast, lunch or desert. The cafe also boasts a gallery, both of which are located in a former general store. Visitors to the cafe can sign a guest book which includes entries from people throughout world. (Actor Sean Connery has been known to eat at this cafe!) Patrons can enjoy a glass of wine with lunch or dessert. The ambiance of the cafe is rustic and antique.
One more place you absolutely must visit on your Los Alamos day trip is the 1880 Union Hotel. It’s a historical Old West landmark that ties right in with California wine country. The Union Hotel used to be an original Wells Fargo Stagecoach stop and telegraph office, and it has 14 unique rooms depicting the era it’s from. Stop in at the saloon to enjoy a cocktail, a local microbrew or local glass of wine.
If you’re planning to visit the Santa Ynez Valley and stay at one of our Santa Ynez vacation rental properties, we hope you can plan a day trip to quaint Los Alamos! And for tons of great information about the Los Alamos Valley, check out this great and informational website.
(For another day-trip idea while visiting the Valley, check out our article on Santa Cruz Island – A Day Trip.)