The City of Santa Barbara is also known as the “American Riviera” because its climate and geography is so similar to the French and Italian Rivieras. Located along the beautiful Central California Coast, Santa Barbara is the gateway to the many wineries, tasting rooms, equestrian activities and scenery of the Santa Barbara region. In the city, most of the attractions are within walking distance of a beach. The Santa Barbara tasting rooms are unique and eclectic, a mix of casual and elegant. Visitors to the city have a vast selection of world-class shopping, entertainment and restaurants. Start or end your wine tasting vacation in Santa Barbara for the perfect exclamation point to your trip.

Weather & Geography of Santa Barbara

View on Santa Barbara from the pier

Santa Barbara lies on the longest east-west trending section of coastline on the West Coast. Approximately 88,000 people call Santa Barbara home and  enjoy the region’s Mediterranean climate.  Because the city is near the ocean, onshore breezes keep the temperatures moderate, with warm winters and cool summers compared to places farther inland. Santa Barbara lies between the steep Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, providing million-dollar views in every direction. Beyond the mountains lies the Los Padres National Forest.

Snow occasionally falls in the Santa Ynez Mountains, but only a few flurries have been recorded in the city itself since 1939. A particularly beautiful area of town has sunrise to sunset views looking south toward the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands. Whale migration sightings occur every year. The city is popular with tourists and resort visitors. There are five colleges in the city, and also an extensive finance and technology business base.  Santa Barbara has its own airport, city busy system and Amtrak routes. U.S. Route 101, the scenic California Coast road, runs through Santa Barbara linking the Central Coast region to Los Angeles in the south and San Francisco in the north.

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History of Santa Barbara

Old Mission Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara began as Mission Santa Barbara, founded December 4, 1786 – the feast day of Saint Barbara. The second president and founder of the California Mission Chain dedicated it, and it was known as the “Queen of the Missions.” It continues as an actively used church, and sits on high ground approximately two miles inland from the harbor. The mission is a National Historic Landmark. The Presidio of Santa Barbara is a Spanish military installation and chapel originally built in 1782. It was central to the town’s early development and is an icon of the city’s original colonial roots. The Presidio grew into Our Lady of Sorrows Church in 1855. Both are still standing. The church was rebuilt in 1929 and remains one of the most beautiful churches in California.

The Rafael Gonzalez adobe house was the residence of the alcalde of Santa Barbara in the 1820s, and is designated a National Historic Landmark. The first City hall was located in De La Guerra Plaza, which still the city’s administration. Other designated historical landmarks in Santa Barbara include the Burton Mound which is thought to be the Chumash Indian village of Syuiton, the Covarrubias Adobe house built in 1817, the Hastings Adobe built in 1854 partially from materials recovered from the wreck of the S.S. Winfield Scott, and the Hill-Carrillo Adobe home built in 1825.

Thanks to its climate and views, Santa Barbara became the winter home for the giants of post-Civil War America. Resorts and grand estates sprung up throughout and near the city. The city adopted the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture in 1925 after an earthquake destroyed much of the downtown business district. Homes in the city are predominately of the California bungalow style, built in the early decades of the 20th century. Many Victorian homes decorate the upper east side of town, and Spanish style homes grace estates nearby town. The city has ordinances prohibiting billboards and closely regulates outdoor advertising, which makes the city remarkably clear of visual advertising clutter.

Tourist Attractions in Santa Barbara

Tourist attractions in Santa Barbara have marked it as a leader in the hospitality industry. Tourism brings over $1 billion to the local economy every year. In fact, the chain Motel 6 began in Santa Barbara in 1962. Santa Barbara hosts the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the 2,000-seat Arlington Theater. The Granada Theater, the tallest building in downtown, was originally built in 1924. The Santa Barbara Bowl is a 4,500-seat amphitheater nestled in a picturesque canyon northwest of town.

Santa Barbara is a mecca for classical music lovers, and features a symphony orchestra, an opera company and many non-profit classical music groups. The Music Academy of the West is located in the Montecito area of town and hosts an annual music festival every summer. August sees the annual Fiesta, hosted by the Native Daughters/Native Sons of the Golden West. It originally started in the 1920s as a tourist attraction to draw business to the town. Flower Girls and Las Senoritas are featured at the Fiesta as they participate in the various parades of the Fiesta.

Ty Warner Sea Center Aquarium - Photo by Heather PhysiocThe annual Santa Barbara French Festival takes place Bastille Day weekend in July. This is the largest French Festival in the western United States. The West Beach Music and Arts Festival is a fun three-day event in the West Beach area of downtown Santa Barbara. This festival brings together national acts and local artisans alike. The Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show is a 40-plus year institution near Stearns Wharf and along the beach every Sunday year round. It attracts thousands each year and features arts and crafts made by people in Santa Barbara County.

More recently, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has occurred in late January, drawing 50,000 attendees. The Festival hosts film premiers, international films, celebrities and panels, and runs for 10 days.

Even larger is the annual Summer Solstice Parade, bringing in up to 100,000 people. It is colorful and themed with no written messages or banners with words allowed. Parties and street events take place throughout parade weekend, which is the first weekend after the summer solstice.

Surfing is an integral part of Santa Barbara’s cultural history. Bruce Brown and his cult classic The Endless Summer put surfing on the map, and it screened often around town. Several surfing legends and icons call Santa Barbara home. Local surfers frequent the Point to the north, or Rincon to the south of town. Companies in the area feature outings for coastal kayaking, boating to the Channel Islands, wine tours, surf lessons, bike tours, hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, paragliding and a host of other thrilling adventures.

Surfers Sunset Oceanside Pier Beach San Diego California USA

Many artists call Santa Barbara home, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art houses a significant permanent collection. There are numerous other art venues from the University Art Museum on the UC Santa Barbara Campus to various private art galleries.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is located near the Santa Barbara Mission. The museum offers indoor and outdoor exhibits and a state-of-the-art planetarium. Santa Barbara has a Historical Museum, a Maritime Museum, the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, Lotusland and Casa del Herrero. Other tourist-centered attractions include Stearns Wharf, otherwise known as “The Pier,” located adjacent to Santa Barbara Harbor. It features shops, restaurants and the Ty Warner Sea Center Aquarium.

Many of the rich and famous call the Santa Barbara area home, thanks to its amenities, climate and laid back atmosphere. Though Hollywood and Los Angeles are famous for the television and movie industries, during the silent film era the largest movie studio in the world was Flying A Studios located in Santa Barbara. The 2009 film It’s Complicated was set in Santa Barbara. Grammy nominated pop star Katy Perry grew up here, and filmed her music video “Teenage Dream” in the city. Truly there is something for everyone in Santa Barbara today.

Visiting Santa Barbara

If you are planning to visit Santa Barbara, California – just a short drive from the Santa Ynez Valley, view photos and video tours of vacation rental homes in the Santa Ynez Valley, as well as read reviews of the properties and make a reservation.

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