If you’re road-tripping up the California coast or simply looking for a great weekend trip from Los Angeles, embarking on an LA to Santa Barbara drive is never a bad idea. As one of the most scenic trips in Southern California, the drive isn’t a long one but there are a few interesting stops along the way that can be worth exploring.
If you’re planning a California coastal road trip, road tripping to Big Sur or simply trying to explore the wonders that lie between these two southern California cities, you’re sure to enjoy all of the fantastic stops there are on the Los Angeles to Santa Barbara drive. From charming coastal towns to hip inland enclaves to fascinating museums, you’re sure to enjoy the drive up to Santa Barbara as just much as you’ll enjoy your time in the city!
So if you’re about to embark on a weekend in Santa Barbara from LA and want to spice up what may otherwise be a bit of a humdrum drive, then look no further. There is a surprising amount to see and do on the drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara that you will relish in the fact of starting your vacation as soon as you hit the road!
Planning an LA to Santa Barbara Drive
Before I jump into all of the fantastic stops on the Los Angeles to Santa Barbara drive, let’s cover a few things that you need to know before hitting the road. First off, which route you plan to take.
If you want to best views and experience of this iconic road trip, then make sure to take California Highway 1 from Los Angeles, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway.
This is a highway and not an interstate or freeway so it may not be as quick as taking another route, however, it is absolutely gorgeous and you’re sure to enjoy the beautiful scenery. It’s also worth noting that the majority of the stops on this list are directly off of the PCH, making it the most enjoyable and logical route to take when driving to Santa Barbara from LA.
Alternatively, you could take the main freeway to Santa Barbara, the US-101. The 101 route is faster if there is no traffic (a note on that in just a minute), however, the majority of it until you reach Ventura is through the sprawling suburbia of the San Fernando Valley and there is nothing all the interesting to see (unless you’re keen on experiencing the true home of the “valley girl”). If you’re not interested in the stops closer to LA, then you can take the entire route along the 101, however, if you want better scenery, then take the PCH.
The last thing that you should consider is the traffic. LA is a city known for its terrible traffic and you never really realise just how bad it is until you spend a bit of time there. If you can, make sure to time your drive during off-peak hours. Leave after around 10 AM and before about 4 PM to beat a major rush out of the city unless you want to spend the majority of your time on the LA to Santa Barbara drive stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
If you need to rent a car prior to driving to Santa Barbara then I recommend searching on Rentalcars.com to find the best deal for car hire as they aggregate prices across all the major providers.
Alternatively, if you’re embarking on a longer trip from LA to San Francisco or even all the way up to Seattle and prefer a campervan or RV, then I suggest browsing on Outdoorsy which offers a huge selection of choices.
How Far is LA to Santa Barbara?
The distance from LA to Santa Barbara is about 95 miles (152 kilometres) and would only take you 1.5 hours long the 101 highway if you don’t make any stops along the way.
If you take the more scenic PCH route for the drive, expect it to take closer to two hours without traffic. It’s worth noting that, unless you try to do the drive really early in the morning or late at night, then it’s highly likely that you’re going to experience at least some kind of traffic on this drive. Keep this in mind and be prepared to add at least another fifteen to thirty minutes onto your drive, in general.
Stops on the LA to Santa Barbara Drive
And now, without further ado, it’s time to get into the best stops on the drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara!
First off on the LA to Santa Barbara drives comes Santa Monica. Though technically still very much Los Angeles, stopping in Santa Monica can be a great idea before hitting the road properly for Santa Barbara. Known for its iconic pier which consists of a Ferris wheel, a small roller coaster and other carnival games, Santa Monica has a lot to offer all ages and it’s very much worth exploring.
Another main highlight of Santa Monica is its beach. A popular beach for Angelenos to visit when the sun is out and the days are warm (so most days in Los Angeles), it’s particularly nice in the morning to take in before the crowds have descended upon it.
There are also lots of cool shops and cafes to browse in Santa Monica and it can be a cool area to explore and may grab a coffee before hitting the road further. If you’re looking for a great first stop, then Santa Monica is a great idea.
Located in Pacific Palisades just south of Malibu, the Getty Villa is an excellent stop to make on any drive from Santa Barbara to LA or vice versa. Not to be confused with the much bigger Getty Center in Brentwood, the Getty Villa is a much smaller museum that is located in an absolutely beautiful setting and is filled with interesting artefacts.
As a former home of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, the Getty Villa is home to tens of thousands Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities that date from about 6500 BCE to 400 CE. The museum also has some absolutely beautiful gardens and grounds that are worth enjoying, as well. Modelled off of the Villa of Papyri at Herculaneum, this villa is really something interesting and is very much worth a stop.
So if you’re looking for a cultural and historical stop on the LA to Santa Barbara drive, then make sure to make a stop at the Getty Villa.
A bit on the road north from the Getty Villa lies Malibu, the iconic Southern California seaside town known for its gorgeous beaches, dramatic scenery and multi-million dollar celebrity homes. Malibu is absolutely beautiful and it is very much worth exploring and taking in the scenery.
Pull over and make sure to walk along the beach, take advantage of the many vista points you will sure see along the way, and make sure to visit Zuma Beach, one of my personal favourite beaches in the area.
Malibu is an iconic place to visit and enjoy when driving up to Santa Barbara and it is absolutely as beautiful as its made out to be.
Just a bit north of Malibu and exiting Los Angeles county and entering Ventura County lies the lovely coastal city of Oxnard. This city is not often visited by tourists for some reason and this is a real shame. Boasting beautiful beaches, wonderful scenery and a classic Southern California Vibe, Oxnard makes for an excellent stop on the drive from Santa Barbara to LA or vice versa.
Oxnard itself boasts beautiful beaches and lovely coastal areas, however, if you have some time, it is also a great jumping-off point to explore the Channel Islands National Park where you can get a ferry from the Channel Islands Harbor in order to visit.
If you’d rather stay in the city itself, take the time to wander through the main town, enjoy the beautiful beaches and just take in the cool vibes of this underrated Southern Californian city.
If you’re after the quintessential Southern California surfer town, then you’re sure to love visiting Ventura. Located just a bit further north from Oxnard, Ventura is an iconic surf city and is famous for it’s beautiful beach and laid back energy.
The main street is filled with cool shops, cafes, restaurants and bars that are worth browsing and checking out. Walk along the main Ventura Beach and enjoy the Pacific winds and sea air. Stroll up the classic pier and watch the surfers catch some incredible waves.
There are lots of cool shops to browse and been some Spanish historical sites to visit while in Ventura so you’re sure to enjoy this beautiful city.
If you’re a bit sick seaside towns and cities, then it’s time to take a little bit of a detour inland to the beautiful town of Ojai. Pronounced Oh-HI, this city is an artist’s haven and it is a popular retreat for people looking for an escape from Los Angeles.
Situated in the lovely Los Padres National Forest, there is a lot of Spanish history that is worth exploring, plenty of art galleries, tons of cool restaurants and lots of other cool stuff that makes Ojai a really great stop to take on a Los Angeles to Santa Barbara road trip.
If you’re not the one driving, there are also plenty of wine tasting rooms for nearby vineyards so you can take the time to sip a glass of a local red, white or rose. There’s lots of local produce to enjoy including olive oil and other handmade local products.
All in all, if you’re looking for something a little bit different from the Pacific Coast but are still interested in a great stop on a scenic route from LA to Santa Barbara, then make sure to make a stop in Ojai.
Heading back to the coast on this final stop on the Los Angeles to Santa Barbara drive is Carpenteria, a lovely small beach city located just about ten miles south of Santa Barbara proper. This lovely town is absolutely beautiful and it a bit more sleepy and laid back than its larger neighbour. So fi you’re looking for something a bit quiet and peaceful before heading to vibrant Santa Barbara, then you’re sure to love Carpenteria.
Take the time to walk along the beautiful beach, browse some of the shops or pop into a cafe in the main town and enjoy the local energy. If you’re interested in taking in more beautiful views, then make sure to head to the Carpenteria Bluffs Nature Preserve in order to view the dramatic cliffs as they cascade into the Pacific.
Though it’s only a stone’s throw from Santa Barbara, make sure to take the time to stop in Carpenteria before making it to the city, there is no doubt you will love this beautiful stop to round out your road trip!
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
Once you’ve arrived in Santa Barbara, you’re going to need to find a great place to stay! There are lots of accommodation options to choose from in Santa Barbara and if you’re looking for the perfect place to stay, then make sure to browse through these top suggestions:
Airbnb — Airbnb is a fantastic option if you’re looking for your own apartment or if you would like to save some cash by staying in a room in a local’s home. There are numerous properties available in Santa Barbara that can suit any taste or budget such as this secluded studio with panoramic views or luxury private room near the beach. Click here to see the best Airbnbs in Santa Barbara!
The Presidio Hotel – If you’d rather rest your head at a quaint hotel, then this boutique gem in the downtown area is a fantastic option. They have a range comfortable and clean rooms available, a friendly staff and a fantastic location within easy distance of all Santa Barbara has to offer. Click here to see their latest prices
Cheshire Cat Inn — This quaint bed and breakfast in a great location is the perfect place to stay for a romantic weekend away in Santa Barbara. They have a wonderful staff, a range of cosy and clean rooms available, and a fantastic breakfast is included in the room rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Santa Barbara!
Where to Stay in Los Angeles
Before taking off on your LA to Santa Barbara drive, you likely need to find a great accomodation option in the City of Angels, as well. There are lots of different hotels and such to choose from so if you’re wondering where to stay in LA, have a look at these suggestions:
Airbnb — If you’re looking for your own private place or room in Los Angeles, then Airbnb is a fantastic option. There are countless properties available on the platform — like this chic studio with a pool and hot tub in Venice Beach — including both entire apartments and private rooms in local’s homes. Click here to browse more LA Airbnbs
Hollywood Inn Suites Hotel — Located, as the name may suggest, in the middle of Hollywood, this is a great hotel for those looking for a central place to stay in the City of Angels. There are a number of great rooms to choose from, a helpful staff and even an inviting swimming pool to splash around in. Click here to see their latest prices
The NoMad Los Angeles — If you’re seeking a luxury hotel in LA, then this downtown gem is a great option. Located in the centre of the city, they have a number of chic rooms available, an ultra-cool vibe, a swimming pool that boasts amazing views of the city and a helpful staff to ensure you have a great stay. Click here to see their latest prices
Freehand Los Angeles — If you’re trying to stick to a tight budget in Los Angeles, then this hostel is a fantastic option. Situated in downtown LA, they offer both dorm and private rooms available and a number of other great facilities. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Los Angeles!
Planning the perfect LA to Santa Barbara drive is not a hard task. In fact, the only difficult thing to do is to figure out which of these fantastic stops you want to take!
Are you planning on driving from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara? Have any you made any of these stops before? Let me know in the comments!