The 7 Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara, Wine-Soaked Sunsets Included

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It’s been called America’s Riviera because it’s as gorgeous and temperate as that famous stretch of European coast, except with the added value of celebrities (Brad Pitt, Oprah and Meghan and Harry have homes there). And things to do in Santa Barbara range from the expected (long beach walks, plentiful dining options and poolside naps) to the novel (strolling a whole neighborhood devoted to wine tasting). The town’s rolling mountains have long enticed visitors, as have the miles of gently sloping beaches. But there’s also plenty that’s new and exciting in this enclave where monied settlers’ descendants rub shoulders with UCSB coeds—and everyone finds time to stop for just a moment to appreciate the world-class pink-hued sunset.

The 10 Most Beautiful Places in California

1. Sleep In a Charming Hotel

Dana Dickey

At the Palihouse Santa Barbara, tucked amid homes in the historic Presidio neighborhood, each room is filled with antiques, Frette linens, pillowtop beds and custom upholstery; many rooms have fireplaces, balconies or private patios. Borrow a bike to explore the nearby downtown area, have a swim in the pool or just relax before a day of sightseeing with brunch in the courtyard. For a fee, you can bring your dog (no fee for children, though).
915 Garden St., Santa Barbara; 805-564-4700 or

Browse Boutique Hotels

Hideaway Santa Barbara


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The Drift Hotel


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Mason Beach Inn


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2. Walk Through Cali History

Old Mission Santa Barbara

Though it was founded in 1786, the Old Mission Santa Barbara is still a working mission with Franciscan friars in residence and an active parish and church. (The Franciscans built 21 missions in Cali, but this is an especially grand and scenic one worth visiting.) Sign up to have a friar give you a 90-minute tour of the grounds and buildings or stroll around on your own—there are 12 acres of manicured gardens and museums, as well as a cemetery and mausoleum. Take the time to see the state’s history of settlement by immigrants—it’s an especially meaningful reminder of California’s settlement by outsiders in today’s freighted political climate.
2201 Laguna St.; 805-682-4713 or

See Historic Sights

Santa Barbara Maritime Musum


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Santa Barbara Historical Museum

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El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park


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3. Stroll and Sip

Dana Dickey

The Funk Zone is a cluster of low-slung buildings around lower State and Montecito streets that, unlike so many spots in our California car culture, retains a sense of strollable discovery. Stop in at the open-air tiki bar named Test Pilot for a boozy slushy or a spicy margarita with Blano tequila, lemon juice, golden beet, ginger, honey, pineapple and citrus bitters that you can order in levels 1 (barely spicy) to 5 ("mouth on fire" spicy). Oh, and the mocktails were just voted best in town by Santa Barbara magazine.
211 Helena Ave.;

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Djinn at Hotel Californian

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The Good Lion

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4. Take a Wine Tour

George Rose/Getty Images

Dotted around the city and the countryside a half-hour outside town, the rolling hills of central Cali, like the Mediterranean coast before them, are set to work churning out world-class wine. Take a drive to Babcock Winery & Vineyards, visit the wine cave at Sunstone Winery or the Grassini Family Vineyards in Santa Ynez or just take it easy and stroll over to the Funk Zone to enjoy a seasonal tasting flight at the Pali Wine Co. wine garden.

Explore Local Wineries

Pali Wine Co.

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Sunstone Winery

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Grassini Family Vineyards

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5. Sunset Toast from City to Shore

BoatHouse Hendry's Beach

You can’t visit Santa Barbara without basking in the town’s famous afternoon pink glow on the mountains and the equally blush-toned sunset over the Pacific. The heated patio at the Boathouse is the place to be for your sunset toast, then settle in for a dinner of local rockfish ceviche with citrus and avocado followed by a spicy cioppino or, this being Cali, a spice-rubbed grilled slab of tofu with sticky rice.
2981 Cliff Dr., Santa Barbara; 805-898-2628 or

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Harbor Restaurant at Stearns Whark

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Kimpton Canary Santa Barbara

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Brophy Bros.

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6. Enjoy the Year-Round Sunshine

Santa Barbara Beach Yoga

All those sunset toasts need some soft activity to balance them out, and Santa Barbara's mild climate means you'll be able to feel the warm sun on your face year-round. On a recent visit, we were major fans of Santa Barbara Beach Yoga, a group class that meets daily on the sand at East Beach. (Private sessions are also available.) The class's gentle flow is tech-enabled—attendees wear wireless headphones so they can hear the instructor's directions set to relaxing music. Other not-too-grueling pursuits include renting an electric bike for a breezy surfside spree, a two-hour walking tour of heiress Madame Walska's Lotusland gardens or a stand-up paddleboard lesson at Paddle Sports Center.

Get into the Outdoors

Wheel Fun Rentals

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Paddle Sports Center

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7. Eat All the Fancy Food

Lindsay Pennington

All that fresh air builds up an appetite, so indulge in a hearty meal at Rare Society, the fine dining spot where succulent meats, sustainable seafood and flavor-packed vegetables are the fare, served in mod marble environs that call to mind midcentury Vegas glamour. Filet mignon come with your choice of sauces; order it with sides of wood-fired, za’tar-dusted broccolini on a bed of sumac yogurt and miso-glazed carrots. There’s more—enjoy seasonal vegetables and locally sourced fare served family style at the Lark, southeast Asian at Sama Sama and classic Italian meals (including indulgent desserts) at Toma Restaurant & Bar.
214 State St., 805-335-2088 or

Seek Out Exceptional Meals

The Lark

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Sama Sama

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Toma Restaurant & Bar

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