7 Best Stops on the LA to Santa Barbara Drive

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by Maggie Turansky

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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 a great way to get a taste of the beauty of the region.

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 this 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!

Planning a LA to Santa Barbara Road Trip

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 deals for car hire as they aggregate prices across many companies.

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 Outdoorsy which offers a huge selection of choices.

The lovely Santa Barbara waterfront
The lovely Santa Barbara waterfront

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.

Keep this in mind and be prepared to add at least another fifteen to thirty minutes onto your drive, in general.

Lovely Santa Barbara
Lovely Santa Barbara

Best 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!

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 maybe grab a coffee before hitting the road further. If you’re looking for a great first stop, then Santa Monica is a great idea.

Iconic Santa Monica Pier
Iconic Santa Monica Pier

Getty Villa

Located in Pacific Palisades just south of Malibu, the Getty Villa is an excellent stop to make on any drive from LA to Santa Barbara 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 of 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.


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 surely 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 it’s made out to be.

Beautiful coastline in Malibu
Beautiful coastline in Malibu


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.

Potato Harbor in Channel Islands National Park
Potato Harbor in Channel Islands National Park


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 its 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 (or try surfing yourself!)

There are lots of cool shops to browse and some Spanish historical sites to visit while in Ventura so you’re sure to enjoy this beautiful city.

Ventura Beach Pier
Ventura Beach Pier


If you’re a bit sick of 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.

Thomas Aquinas Chapel in Ojai
Thomas Aquinas Chapel in Ojai


Heading back to the coast on this final stop on the Los Angeles to Santa Barbara drive is Carpinteria, a lovely small beach city located just about ten miles south of Santa Barbara proper.

This lovely town is absolutely beautiful and it is a bit more sleepy and laid back than its larger neighbour. So if you’re looking for something a bit quiet and peaceful before heading to vibrant Santa Barbara, then you’re sure to love Carpinteria.

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 Carpinteria 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 Carpinteria 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

Private Rental — Private rentals are a fantastic option if you’re looking for your own space. There are numerous properties available in Santa Barbara that can suit any taste or budget such as this beachside cottage or this modern condo.

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 of comfortable and clean rooms available, friendly staff and a fantastic location within easy distance of all Santa Barbara has to offer.

Cheshire Cat Inn – Perfect for those looking for a romantic stay, this adorable bed and breakfast is an excellent option. Centrally located, they have a range of cosy rooms to choose from and a great breakfast available in the mornings.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Santa Barbara!

Santa Barbara beach
Santa Barbara beach

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 you made any of these stops before? Let me know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie


  1. Oxnard is home to massive strawberry 🍓 fields & roadside stands.
    Just south & adjacent to Santa Monica is famous Muscle Beach! Quirky area to street entertainers also!
    Area also called the Gold Coast. Santa Barbara lovely but pricey.

  2. Great info! One tiny bit of constructive criticism- the spelling of Carpinteria is incorrect in the article (I had to learn it growing up in Santa Barbara so it’s ingrained in me now haha)! Otherwise, really wonderful piece with fantastic suggestions. 🙂


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