Make the Most of The West Coast
It wasn’t until the second time I went to Santa Barbara that I realised how many cool things there were to do there. I can’t believe that first time all I did was window shop downtown, and drink health smoothies from Blenders in the Grass, as fun as it was. Little did I know all that was round the corner if only I’d looked.
Santa Barbara is sometimes referred to as the American Riviera thanks to the guaranteed beautiful weather and the stunning coastal and mountain scenery. There are so many things to do in Santa Barbara – the wealth of art and culture, festivals and nightlife borne from the eclectic UCSB student population makes it a fun stop on your USA gap year trip.
I was back in Santa Barbara a few weeks ago on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, and although I was only there for 24 hours, I made sure I saw a lot more of the city.
1. Go hiking
Just an hour or so out of Santa Barbara and you can be in the Santa Ynez Mountains looking down on it all. Visit the Gaviota Pass Overlook Loop in the Gaviota State Park and walk the scenic ridges that end overlooking the Gaviota Tunnel – you can visit the hot springs along the way too. The Lizard’s Mouth route is another good route, finishing with beautiful views over Santa Barbara.
2. Visit a winery
Santa Barbara has so, so many wineries. New ones are popping up all the time meaning there’s always somewhere new to try. Head to the Anacapa Street and State Street, walk around there for five minutes and you’ll see at least five. I went to the Wine Collective for my first Santa Barbara winery experience and was treated to a luxury wine tasting, but you can just go over there yourself to enjoy a Pinot Grigio in the sunshine any day. The nearby Santa Barbara Winery and Municipal Winemakers looked pretty good too.
If you’re more of a beer monkey than wine connoisseur you’ll be pleased to know there are quite a few breweries in Santa Barbara too, best to schedule a few days there to check them all out.
3. Boat trip
You can take a sunset cruise with the Santa Barbara Sailing Centre from $27 per person. The views, the booze and the feeling of the wind in your hair as you go along make the trip well worth the dollars. Top tip for you, go on a Wednesday and you’ll see the locals at their weekly sail race competition.
4. Cycle or pedicab the beach
Depending on how lazy you’re feeling while you’re in Santa Barbara you can choose your transport to discover the length of the beautiful coastline. I took a pedicab (it’d been a long day) and enjoyed sitting back while my ‘cycler’ Dan told me stories of the local area and pointed out the most important sights and attractions.
If you do decide to cycle it yourself feel safe in the knowledge there are dedicated lanes for your two wheels, and they’re strictly adhered to!
5. Funk zone
The new ‘Funk Zone’ in Santa Barbara may have a questionably ‘90s name but it’s fast becoming the place for young people to hang out in the city. The area is home to artisan shops, art galleries, cool eateries, a craft distillery and award-winning microbreweries in aged warehouses.
6. Sea cave kayaking / paddle boarding
The Santa Barbarians are generally an active bunch – they need to be to burn off all those winery visits – and with a city with miles of coastline there’s the perfect excuse to get in the water as much as possible.
In Santa Barbara you can rent a paddleboard from $20 per hour as a student, and a surfboard for $10 per hour. Kayak rentals start from $10 per hour.
7. Shopping downtown
Even if you have no money and no camera walking through downtown Santa Barbara is a must, and a fun must at that. If you do happen to have money and a camera, you’re going to absolutely love it. Don’t miss the boutiques of La Arcada or the gourmet products of the Presidio District. If you need some fuel for your trip, I can vouch for the breakfast at Scarlett Begonia in Victoria Court.
8. The beach
From volleyball to surfing to sunbathing the Santa Barbara beaches have it all. Visit Butterfly Beach for the best sunsets, East Beach for the best activities and El Capitan Beach for the dolphins. Or if you just want to relax in the centre of all the action, there’s plenty of sunbathing space at the end of State Street.