When it comes to finding the quintessential day or weekend trip from Los Angeles, you cannot go wrong with a Santa Barbara day trip. Perched on the cusp of Southern California and the Central Coast region, Santa Barbara has long been a haven for couples looking for a romantic city break or young people looking to have a great party in a beautiful setting. However, planning the perfect weekend break or Santa Barbara day trip can be a difficult task as there is so much this small but historic city has to offer.
While this bustling university town might seem sleepy on the surface, there is enough to do here to occupy any personality type — whether you are embarking on a day trip to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles, are including it as a stop on a PCH road trip, or are visiting for a relaxing weekend getaway.
When to Visit Santa Barbara
One of the wonderful things that Santa Barbara has going for it is the fact that the weather is close to perfect year-round. Therefore, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Santa Barbara, especially if you’re only interested in taking advantage of the world-class shopping or fantastic wine tasting opportunities this city has to offer.
Blessed with perennial mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine, the weather varies little between seasons. However, depending on the activities you’re interested in doing during your one day in Santa Barbara, then there are some seasons that are better for you.
Summer is the most popular season to visit and while the majority of the university students have gone home for the season, the city comes alive with eager day-trippers and city breakers. Daily high temperatures will range from 72°F (22°C) in June to 77°F (25°C) in August with very little chance of rain.
Summer is the ideal season to visit Santa Barbara if you’re interested in taking advantage of the myriad watersports available in the area. Water temperatures are about the warmest they will be making it the ideal time to surfing, kayaking, or paddle boarding.
If you want to go on a Santa Barbara day trip when all of the students are in town, the tourist crowds have depleted somewhat, but the temperatures (both air and water!) are as warm as they will be all year, then you can’t go wrong with visiting in September to November. High temperatures average from 70-76°F (21-26°C) with very little chance of rain.
However, we are talking about a lovely seaside area in Southern California so you really cannot go wrong with visiting Santa Barbara in winter or spring. If you’re not interested in many watersports (or don’t mind chilly water!), then this is arguably the best time to visit this beautiful city as long as you pack appropriately.
Temperatures aren’t as high in spring and winter as they are in summer or autumn, however, don’t expect to have to brave some frigid sub-zero climate either. Daily highs in spring and winter average about 65-70°F (18-21°C) with plenty of sunshine to make sure you won’t have to deal with a rainy day.
All in all, it doesn’t matter what time of year you decide to spend one, two, or even three days in Santa Barbara as each season is absolutely gorgeous in this beautiful coastal city.
One Day in Santa Barbara Itinerary
While visitors could easily spend more than one day in Santa Barbara and not get bored (particularly if you make some stops along the drive from LA to Santa Barbara), it is also a fantastic place to take a day trip or overnight stop on a Highway 1 road trip. So if you’re wondering what to do on a day trip to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles or elsewhere in Southern California or the Central Coast, then this is an excellent starting point.
Though the city is somewhat easy to get around on foot, you will likely find it easier to have your own vehicle while you’re visiting Santa Barbara. If you need to hire a car while in Santa Barbara, we recommend browsing RentalCars.com to find the best deals. This platform aggregates all of the best prices across all available companies to ensure that you don’t overpay on a car rental.
Morning – Explore the Funk Zone & Get on the Water
If you arrive the night before or get an early start to get to Santa Barbara, there are a few great activities that you can occupy your morning with. Take the edge off of your day and begin with at one of Santa Barbara’s many coffee shops. There are numerous hip and cool cafes in the downtown area known as the Funk Zone where you can get a killer espresso drink along with a regular cup of drip coffee.
After coffee, take the time to go from a leisurely stroll along Santa Barbara’s main beach. Start from the harbour and lazily stroll along the lovely palm tree-lined path, past the iconic Stearns Wharf (Santa Barbara’s pier) and enjoy the beautiful expanse of soft, white sand.
If you’re not keen to walk around the city, it can be a great idea to rent a bicycle for your Santa Barbara day trip. There are multiple bike-hire places scattered throughout the downtown and beach areas and the city itself is flat and very cycle-friendly.
Late morning is the perfect time to get started in an active sport. Whether that be a surf lesson, a kayak trip, renting a stand-up paddleboard or going for a hike, there are numerous opportunities to get active in the great outdoors during your one day in Santa Barbara itinerary.
Afternoon – Lunch, State Street & the Santa Barbara Mission
After you’ve worked up an appetite being active during your morning, it’s time to take it a little bit easy in your afternoon in Santa Barbara.
Take the time to enjoy some lunch at one of Santa Barbara’s world-renowned eateries. You can get food from virtually any cuisine in this Californian city, however, the Mexican food is really something special.
After lunch, take the time to stroll down State Street in the Funk Zone area of downtown. This is the main drag in Santa Barbara and is filled with many interesting shops, bars, restaurants and cafes.
If shopping doesn’t particularly interest you and you would prefer to learn more about Santa Barbara’s history and culture during your day trip, then why not visit some of the city’s numerous historic sites.
The Santa Barbara Mission is located in the downtown area and easy to reach from State Street. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful missions in all of California and is open daily for self-guided tours.
Another area of interest in the downtown area is the historic Santa Barbara Courthouse. Still in operation today, this building is open for tours and is an excellent example of Spanish-Moorish architecture.
Evening – Santa Barbara’s Food & Wine Scene
After such an active morning and afternoon, it’s time to treat yourself with some wine tasting. Santa Barbara is surrounded by some of the best wine country in California and is absolutely filled with tasting rooms scattered throughout the city.
The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trails consists of 28 wineries located in different neighbourhoods throughout the city — the highest concentration of which are located in the trendy Funk Zone. An excellent way to spend an evening is hopping between wineries and trying all of the fantastic wines produced in the region.
Most of the tasting rooms are within easy walking distance from each other and it doesn’t matter where you start, however, we would recommend trying to hit the Deep Sea tasting room, which has an excellent location on Stearns Wharf, at sunset. They have a beautiful rooftop terrace and a wonderful $15 tasting flight making it a perfect place to start an evening.
Though there are close to 30 wineries to choose from in Santa Barbara and it is impossible to hit all of them during a Santa Barbara day trip, another we would recommend visiting is the quirky Area 5.1 tasting room. This place has a number of blended wines on offer and their basic tasting flight starts at $14 with very generous pours.
If you want to hit as many wineries as possible but don’t want to get completely plastered, most wineries will allow you to share one tasting flight between two people. This will not only allow you to try more wines but will also save you money.
If you’re more interested in having a guide and learning about Santa Barbara’s great gastronomic scene along with sampling some local wines and spirits, then this guided Funk Zone food & photo tour is a great choice for you! It includes a number of stops at local eateries and tasting rooms and has food and drink included in the price.
Round off your evening in Santa Barbara again by enjoying some of the city’s gastronomic delights. After all, all that wine is bound to have made you hungry!
Have Two or Three Days in Santa Barbara?
If you’re keen to spend a weekend or two to three days in Santa Barbara rather than just a day trip to the city, there are multiple ways you could occupy your time.
For instance, if you have more time and want to experience more of the thriving gastronomic scene in Santa Barbara, then it can be very worth going on a food tour to find the best spots.
If you’ve exhausted all of the wineries in the Urban Wine Trails during your first day in the city, you can spend one of your two days in Santa Barbara taking a day trip to all of the vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. You could either self-drive here or take an organised tour — like this tour on Viator or this tour on GetYourGuide. The latter might be a better option as then you won’t have to worry about drinking and getting back behind the wheel. Alternatively, if you know which wineries you’d like to visit and don’t need a guide, this wine shuttle is an excellent option.
If wine isn’t specifically your thing, or you’ve spent days one and two drinking wine and are spending three days in Santa Barbara, then you might be happy to know that the city also has a hopping (pun intended!) craft beer scene.
If you’d rather set your sites on Santa Barbara’s fantastic food scene, then there are also a number of great food tours of the city that will suit your fancy. This downtown food tour includes all food and beverage tastings plus an additional tasting of local beer or wine all with a knowledgeable local guide.
If you want to get more active during your two or three days in Santa Barbara, you can spend one day on the water and another in the mountains. The glory of this beautiful city is that you could go surfing in the morning and hiking in the afternoon and still have time to go wine tasting in the evening, making it truly a paradise for sun seekers and outdoor lovers.
Santa Barbara Restaurants
Santa Barbara has a thriving food scene and you really can’t go wrong with any eatery you happen to pop into off the street. However, if you need a few recommendations, be sure to check out these places.
La Super Rica Taqueria – Once considered to serve the best Mexican food in the United States, this unassuming taco shop is an excellent choice for a quick lunch or an affordable dinner. They serve a range of tacos and other Mexican favourites and it is sure to satisfy.
Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen – A student favourite located right on State Street, this place is an excellent choice if you’re craving a great beer and a fantastic burger. With over 30 local craft beers on tap and an extensive and creative menu, they also have excellent happy hour deals.
Stella Mare’s Bistro – If you’re looking for something a little more high-end when on your Santa Barbara day trip, then this French bistro is the place to go. They have a wide menu that will suit any taste and use the freshest fish and local meats for their dishes.
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
If you’re looking to spend the night or two to three days in Santa Barbara, then you’re going to need a place to stay. Luckily for you, Santa Barbara is an incredibly popular place to visit and there are myriad accommodation options to suit any taste or budget. If you’re wondering where to stay, take a look at our recommendations:
The Presidio Hotel – This boutique hotel in downtown Santa Barbara is the perfect place to rest your head for a weekend away. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available, a friendly staff, and an excellent location to ensure you have the best stay possible. 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
Private Rental — If you want to have the privacy of your own apartment, then a private rental is an excellent option for you. There are numerous properties available in Santa Barbara that can suit any taste or budget such as this modern condo in the centre of the city or this beautiful beach cottage. Click here to see the best private rentals in Santa Barbara!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Santa Barbara!
Going on a Santa Barbara day trip from Los Angeles or as part of a California road trip is one of the best decisions you could make. Though there is certainly enough to keep you occupied and give you a taste of the city in one day, you could easily spend two or three days in Santa Barbara and not get bored.
Have you visited Santa Barbara? Are you planning to? Let us know in the comments!