How to Plan a Perfect Day Trip to Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is one of the west coast’s most beautiful and lively coastal cities, and as a California native, it’s a place I never get sick of visiting. The downtown area boasts gorgeous architecture (including many historical buildings) in a stunning location, and is known for having great entertainment, restaurants, and bars.
As you continue to explore beyond downtown, you’ll find picturesque natural scenery, as well as many top-tier wineries. If you’re planning on taking a day trip to Santa Barbara, this guide includes a full Santa Barbara itinerary and everything you need to know for your visit!
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Is a Day in Santa Barbara Enough?
You can absolutely see a lot of Santa Barbara in a day.
Since so many of the most notable sights are within the downtown area, it’s easy to check off a lot of must-see spots during a day trip, including Stearns Wharf, The Funk Zone, the historic Santa Barbara Courthouse, the Botanic Garden, and Old Mission Santa Barbara.
One thing to note is that you won’t have much time to spend at the beach if you’re only doing a day trip to the city.
You can definitely check out East Beach and West Beach (on either side of Stearns Wharf), but you won’t have the time to stop by some of the more peaceful beaches away from the Downtown Santa Barbara area.
There are also a lot of excellent hikes around Santa Barbara, and unfortunately, you won’t be able to do one of these hikes and see all that the downtown area has to offer in just one day.
If you’re able to extend your stay in Santa Barbara, I’d highly recommend adding a hike or two to your Santa Barbara itinerary (you’ll find recommendations below).
P.S. if you have a couple of days, we have an entire other guide to spending 2 days in Santa Barbara, which you’ll probably want to read.
How to Spend One Day in Santa Barbara: A Complete Guide
You’ll start your day in the Downtown Santa Barbara area, grabbing something to eat and checking out some of the most iconic sights in Santa Barbara.
After lunch, you’ll make your way a little bit outside of downtown to a botanic garden, and then return to The Funk Zone for dinner and drinks.
Breakfast in Santa Barbara
First things first: kick off your Santa Barbara day trip with some breakfast! Here are a few breakfast options in Santa Barbara:
- Jeannine’s at the Shore: There are a few locations around the Santa Barbara area, but head to the location at one State Street, which is right across the street from the beach. The menu offers a variety of classic breakfast options, including benedicts, egg dishes, French toasts, and more. For those taking the train, this spot is also just a couple blocks away from the Amtrak station!
- Chad’s: This is another excellent beachside option that offers breakfast sandwiches, burritos, pancakes, omelets, benedicts, and plenty more. If you’re up for it, try their mimosa flight!
- Santa Barbara Roasting Company: If you’re looking for more of a grab-and-go situation, check out this coffee shop. They offer a variety of baked goods and coffee and tea drinks, as well as some more quick breakfast options (like bagel sandwiches and avocado toast).
Walk Down Stearns Wharf & Stop by the Beach
A visit to Stearns Wharf is one of the more touristy things to do in Santa Barbara, but the views of the coast can’t be beat!
This wharf was built in 1872, and at the time was the longest deep-water wharf located on the California coast between San Pedro and San Francisco. You can skip the shops and restaurants, but go for a stroll, snap some photos, and enjoy the surroundings!
After Stearns Wharf, head on down to West Beach for a quick stroll along the water. If you’d prefer to stay off the sand, there is also a walking path that parallels West Cabrillo Boulevard. Turn around once you get to the parking lot on the western side of the beach, and make your way to the next stop!
Santa Barbara County Courthouse
After Stearns Wharf, you’ll make your way to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, which is about a mile and a half away.
If you traveled to Santa Barbara by car, I’d recommend driving to the courthouse, as you’ll need your car to get to the next couple of stops after lunch. Don’t worry – you’ll have more opportunities to explore by foot later!
If you don’t have a car, you can either call a rideshare, walk, or bike. If you choose to walk or bike, I’d recommend following State Street all the way down.
This palm tree-lined street is the central hub of Downtown Santa Barbara. It’s home to many popular restaurants and shops, and the architecture is absolutely beautiful.
The historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a must-see if you’re doing Santa Barbara in one day. This Spanish-Colonial style landmark was built in 1929, and features large murals and gorgeous tilework.
At the time of writing this article, the interior of the courthouse is closed to the public, and the free docent-led tours are paused – check the website for the most up-to-date information.
If the interior is open when you visit, be sure to climb up the Clock Tower for incredible panoramic views of Santa Barbara.
If you’re unable to access the interior when you visit, it’s still very much worth a stop.
Do a self-guided tour of the gardens and courthouse exterior. This interactive map will give you a bit of insight into some of the must-see spots around the property. Some particularly cool spots to check out include the Garden Arch, the Anacapa Arch, and the Jail Entrance.
Walk Over to State Street for Lunch
Once you’re done at the courthouse, stop for a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the area. If you’d like, you can grab your food to-go, and then take it over to the mission (the next stop on the itinerary) and enjoy your meal on the beautiful lawns.
Here are a few great options to check out on (and around) State Street that are near the courthouse:
- State & Fig: State & Fig is a rustic Californian-style brunch and lunch eatery. The menu features a variety of burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, salads, paninis, and more.
- The Blue Owl: This casual Asian fusion restaurant has an eclectic menu with sandwiches, fried rice, salads, pastries, coffee and tea, and more. It’s also very vegan/vegetarian-friendly.
- Pickles & Swiss: Pickles & Swiss is a popular local sandwich shop. You can build your own sandwich, or choose from their menu of cold, hot, or panini sandwiches. They also offer soups, salads, and sides.
- Taqueria Cuernavaca: If you’re craving authentic Mexican food, stop by this casual taqueria, which is just a couple blocks west of State Street. The menu has tacos, burritos, quesadillas, soups, and other special plates.
Do a Self-Guided Tour at Old Mission Santa Barbara
Next, it’s time to head about a mile inland to Old Mission Santa Barbara. If you drive, you can park at the free parking lot in front of the mission. If you don’t have a car, I highly recommend taking a rideshare at this point.
The walk from the courthouse to the Mission isn’t too exciting, and you’ll want to save some travel time to make the most of your short time in Santa Barbara.
Beginning in 1769, Spain built 21 missions in California over the span of about 50 years in an effort to expand its territory and convert Native Americans to Catholicism. While the mission era ended in the 1830s, the missions have been preserved and are open to the public. Many still hold religious services, as well.
Old Mission Santa Barbara (founded in 1786) was the 10th to be built, and is the only California mission that has continued under the guidance of the Franciscan Friars since its founding.
The Spanish Old Mission Santa Barbara was founded in 1786, and is the only California mission that has continued under the guidance of the Franciscan Friars since its founding.
The property is 15 acres, and features the mission church, a historic cemetery, a mausoleum, a museum of artwork and artifacts, and a variety of well-kept gardens.
Adult tickets are $15 (they can be purchased on-site), but you can also enjoy the exterior grounds for free. , and you can buy tickets on-site.
Visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
The next stop during your day trip to Santa Barbara is the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, which is about a 5-minute drive from the mission. There isn’t a safe walk or bike path, so if you don’t have a car, a rideshare is essential.
This garden expands over 78 acres, and offers gorgeous views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
There are 5.5 miles of paths through the property, and you can explore the Japanese teahouse and tea garden, a grove of redwood trees, the desert garden section, and much more. If you’re visiting during the spring, you may be lucky and catch the California Poppies blooming in the meadow section.
Adult tickets are $16, and you can buy them on-site. More information here.
Take a Coffee & Snack Break Downtown
Now it’s time to make your way back to Downtown Santa Barbara for a quick coffee break or bite to eat.
You’ll be exploring The Funk Zone next, so if you want to grab a cup of coffee or a sweet treat, check out these eateries in the area:
- Dart Coffee Co.: This local coffee shop is located in the center of The Funk Zone, and has a beautiful garden space right across the street where you can soak in the sun and enjoy your coffee. Dart offers classic coffee and tea drinks, as well as specialty drinks like a churro cortado, lavender latte, and more.
- Cajé Coffee Roasters (E Haley Street Location): Cajé is known for offering super unique (and very photo-worthy) specialty coffee and tea beverages. The cafe also has a small food menu, as well as more traditional coffee and tea drinks.
- Chocolate Maya: If you have a sweet tooth, this local fine chocolate shop is for you! You’ll find delicious bonbons, chocolate bars, drinking chocolates, and more at Chocolate Maya.
Explore The Funk Zone and Sample Local Wines
The Funk Zone is Santa Barbara’s arts and culture district. This trendy industrial area is home to galleries of local artists, cool independent boutiques, restaurants, bars, and wine tasting rooms.
You can check out the map here, and be sure to also look at the directory of all the galleries and businesses to see if there are any specific spots you want to stop by.
Some cool galleries that are open to the public include GraySpace Art, Lancaster Wood Prints, and Silo118.
After stopping by a few galleries, take a moment to relax and try some amazing wine from vineyards in Santa Barbara County and beyond. The Urban Wine Trail maps out some great tasting rooms in the area, and includes quite a few options in The Funk Zone.
Here are three spots to check out:
- Santa Barbara Wine Collective: This tasting room offers a diverse selection of wines from vineyards located in Santa Barbara County and the surrounding area.
- Pali Wine Co.: Lompoc-based Pali Wine has three brands, and produces its own wine from grapes sourced from its vineyards in Santa Rita Hills and Sonoma County.
- The Valley Project: This local winery makes wine from the five diverse viticulture areas of Santa Barbara County – it’s a great spot to get a real taste of local wine!
Keep in mind that many of the wine tasting rooms close up shop on the earlier side (generally around 7pm to 9pm), so if you’re in the mood for wine, you’ll want to do that prior to dinner.
Where to Go for Dinner and Drinks
Once you’ve explored The Funk Zone, it’s time to grab something to eat! Here are a few great restaurants in the area:
- Loquita: Loquita is an authentic Spanish restaurant offering hot and cold tapas, seasonal paella, wood-fired grilled seafood and meats, craft cocktails, and more. It is located in The Funk Zone, right on State Street.
- The Lark: The Lark is situated in the middle of The Funk Zone inside a former fish market. The American restaurant offers a variety of seafood and meat dishes, as well as shareable appetizers.
- Modern Times: Fun and eclectic Modern Times Brewery (which is located on State Street a few blocks north of The Funk Zone) has an amazing 100% plant-based menu featuring burgers, burritos, sandwiches, brussels sprouts, and more. Of course, the brewery also has an extensive selection of beers on tap.
If you’d like to grab drinks after dinner, here are two great spots in the area to check out:
- Test Pilot: Test Pilot is a fun and festive tiki bar in The Funk Zone that specializes in delicious and unique craft cocktails.
- Pearl Social: Right across the street from Test Pilot is Pearl Social, an intimate cocktail and music bar specializing in creative drinks.
What to Do with More Than a Day in Santa Barbara
If you’re able to spend more than 24 hours in Santa Barbara, here are a few additional activities to consider adding to your visit.
We have a guide for planning a weekend trip to Santa Barbara. If you have two days or more, you should read that!
Check Out the Local Museums
Santa Barbara is full of fascinating museums. Here are just a few that you can check out during your visit:
- Santa Barbara Museum of Art: This downtown museum has approximately 25,000 works of art, which span over 5,000 years. Adult tickets cost $10.
- Santa Barbara Maritime Museum: This family-friendly museum is less than a mile up the coast from Stearns Wharf, and educates visitors on over 13,000 years of history in the Santa Barbara Channel. Adult tickets cost $8.
- Casa Del Herrero: This museum and historical Spanish revival architecture home was built in 1925. Tours of the estate (which is located in Montecito) can be booked online. Adult tickets cost $25.
Go Wine Tasting in the Greater Santa Barbara County
If you’re willing to go for a drive to the outer edges of Santa Barbara County, consider visiting some of the vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley and/or Los Olivos.
These towns are about a 45-minute drive from Downtown Santa Barbara, and the drive itself is incredibly scenic.
Some great wineries in the area include Koehler Winery (Los Olivos), Andrew Murray Vineyards (Los Olivos), Sunstone Winery (Santa Ynez), and Vincent Vineyards (Santa Ynez). The latter three take reservations (although they aren’t required), and Koehler only takes reservations for larger groups.
While you’re in the area, be sure to stop by the charming town of Los Olivos. It’s a great place to stop for lunch – check out Wine Merchant Cafe, Panino, or Nella Kitchen and Bar.
Visit the Local Beaches
If you’re visiting during the warmer months – or just want to spend some more time by the water – head to some of the amazing beaches in the county.
One great option that I highly recommend is Arroyo Burro Beach, which is about a 10-minute drive north of Downtown Santa Barbara. This picturesque beach (which is also known as Hendry’s Beach) is surrounded by gorgeous bluffs, and is also dog-friendly.
On top of the bluffs (at Douglas Family Preserve) there’s also an easy trail loop (just over a mile long) that offers beautiful views of the coast.
If you have more time during your stay, two other great beaches to check out are Leadbetter Beach (which is just about a 5-minute drive north of Downtown SB) and Butterfly Beach in Montecito (about a 10-minute drive south).
Go for a Hike
Santa Barbara boasts a ton of amazing hiking trails. If you have some extra time to spend in the area, consider checking out one of these hikes.
Keep in mind that all of the options below (excluding the Carpinteria Bluffs Loop) are located in Los Padres National Forest, and you must display an Adventure Pass in your car.
- Carpinteria Bluffs Loop (2.7 miles, 104 feet elevation gain): This easy trail is a great option if you want to hike along the coast. It’s located in Carpinteria (about a 10-minute drive south of Downtown SB), and takes you right on the bluffs above the coast. You’ll also pass by the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary! Note that there is a $10 parking fee.
- Seven Falls Trail (3.2 miles, 803 feet elevation gain): The trailhead for this hike is just about a 15-minute drive from the middle of Downtown Santa Barbara. This trail leads to a series of waterfalls, which do require a bit of scrambling over rocks to access.
- Inspiration Point (3.4 miles, 935 feet elevation gain): As the name suggests, this out-and-back trail leads you to Inspiration Point, where you get panoramic views of Santa Barbara. At the beginning, this trail follows the same path as the Seven Falls Trail, but then veers off before you get to Seven Falls. For a longer hike, you can combine these trails so that you can see both Seven Falls and Inspiration Point!
- Romero Canyon Trail (6 miles, 1499 feet elevation gain): The Romero Canyon Trailhead is located closer to Montecito, and is about a 25-minute drive from Downtown Santa Barbara. The loop trail offers beautiful views of the ocean, and also goes along a creek.
- Red Rocks to Gibraltar Dam Trail (6.5 miles, 830 feet elevation gain): This trail is located deeper in the Los Padres National Forest, and is about an hour drive from Downtown Santa Barbara. The loop trail passes by several natural pools, and you’ll get beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
Where to Stay for a Night in Santa Barbara
If you plan on spending the night in Santa Barbara, here are a few great hotels to consider for your stay:
- Palihouse Santa Barbara: This upscale boutique hotel in Downtown Santa Barbara is located just a few blocks off of State Street. It offers both rooms and suites (many with a patio or garden), and there is a pool, cocktail bar, and café on-site.
- Hotel Santa Barbara: This hotel is conveniently located on State Street, and is super close to The Funk Zone and the beach. There are both rooms and suites available.
- Kimpton Canary Hotel: This luxury hotel is located a block off State Street in the downtown area, and is within walking distance of a variety of eateries and bars. There is a rooftop pool and a restaurant on-site, and there are rooms and suites with balconies available.
- Hotel Californian: Upscale Hotel Californian is right on the edge of The Funk Zone, and is a block away from the beach and Stearns Wharf. There are rooms and suites available, including some with ocean views. On-site, there is a café, restaurant, rooftop pool, and spa.
- The Waterman: The Waterman is located in The Funk Zone, and is just a short walk away from the beach. There are queen and king bed rooms available, and there is also an outdoor pool on-site.
Getting Around Santa Barbara
We’ve talked a bit about getting around Santa Barbara above, but here are more details about the different transportation options in the city.
Downtown Santa Barbara and the surrounding area is very accessible on foot. Streets in the area have sidewalks, and the town is very flat – no need to worry about brutal hills!
However, once you start exploring the greater Santa Barbara area, you’ll need to find other transportation options. If you’re planning on following the above itinerary, as mentioned, you’ll need to either drive or call a rideshare to get to the Botanic Garden.
If you have more than a day in Santa Barbara, many of the additional activities recommended above (except for the museums) are not accessible on foot.
By Public Transit
Santa Barbara has a bus system called the Santa Barbara MTD that has a pretty good reach around Santa Barbara County – you can find the map and schedule here.
Taking the bus will add some extra time to your travel time, so it’s not the absolute best option if you only have a day in the city. I’d recommend walking, biking, or driving/taking a rideshare when possible, and only taking the bus if absolutely necessary.
If you do choose to take the bus, a day pass costs $6, and a one-way fare costs $1.75.
Keep in mind that, while the bus does cover a wide area, there aren’t any bus stops near the Botanic Garden or many of the hikes mentioned above (although there is a stop by the Carpinteria Bluffs Loop).
Biking is another great option to get around the greater downtown area, as the city is very bike-friendly. There are also plenty of bike trails in the area – this guide goes over options for all skill levels.
If you want to rent a bike, two highly-rated companies to check out are Wheel Fun Rentals and Santa Barbara Bikes To Go. The city also has an electric bike share system called BCycle.
If you’re planning on fully following the itinerary above and/or exploring the greater Santa Barbara area, I highly recommend traveling by car (either rideshare or your own vehicle) since some spots simply aren’t accessible by any other mode of transportation.
It’s easy to get a rideshare in Downtown Santa Barbara and the immediate surrounding area, so this is a great option if you don’t have your own car.
While parking in the downtown area can get a bit more hectic in the summer and on weekends, there are plenty of parking lots available (this real-time parking lot availability map is helpful), as well as street parking.
You’ll still be able to get around on foot quite a lot, so you won’t need to re-park too many times during your visit.
Getting to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles
From Los Angeles, there are two primary ways to get to Santa Barbara – here’s what you need to know about each option.
For most people driving to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles, the quickest and most straightforward route is via the 101 – it takes you right into Downtown Santa Barbara.
If you’re coming from Downtown LA, hop right on the 101 North, and the drive should be about an hour and 45 minutes (depending on traffic, of course!).
If you’re coming from the Westside (Santa Monica, Culver City, Beverly Hills, etc.), take the 405 North and connect to the 101 North and you’ll be on your way. The drive should take around an hour and 40 minutes.
By Public Transit
Alternatively, you can take the train up to Santa Barbara via Amtrak. There are a variety of stations in LA county, primarily in The Valley.
Union Station (in Downtown LA) is the furthest south in the county, and there are also stations in Glendale, Burbank, Van Nuys, Chatsworth, Simi Valley, and Moorpark.
The Santa Barbara Amtrak Station is conveniently located in Downtown Santa Barbara.
From Union Station, the ride will take about two and a half hours.
You can find the most up-to-date schedule and buy tickets on the Amtrak website. One-way tickets fall in the $20 to $40 range, depending on the station you’re departing from and the seat you select.
Of course, you’ll need to be mindful of the last departure of the day.
Currently, the final train departs from Santa Barbara at 7:04 pm (but Amtrak schedules change – check the website for the most current information!). With that in mind, if you’re planning on staying later, the train might not be the best option for you.
Keep in mind that, if you don’t have a car, you’ll need to rely on other modes of transportation (besides walking or biking) to get to some of the spots in the itinerary below. We’ll go into more detail about how to get around Santa Barbara at the end of this guide.
When to Visit Santa Barbara
Short answer: whenever! There really isn’t a bad time to visit Santa Barbara.
Even in the winter, the temperature rarely drops below the 60s during the daytime, and the average temperature in the summer is warm but not uncomfortably hot (mid to high 70s).
If you want to hit that sweet spot when the weather is warmer but the city is less crowded, try visiting Santa Barbara between September and November or March through May.
Plan an Unforgettable California Adventure
Heading to California? We’ve got all sorts of super detailed, in-depth California travel guides written by locals to help you plan an amazing trip.
- San Francisco: We’ve got a guide to spending 3 days in SF, one day in San Francisco for planning a shorter trip, and a complete guide to finding the perfect place to stay in San Francisco. We also have guides to 14 perfect weekend getaways from San Francisco and the best day trips in the Bay Area. Oh, we almost forgot, here are the 15 best hikes near San Francisco, written by two Bay Area locals.
- Los Angeles: Read our perfect 2 Day L.A. itinerary, our guide to spending one amazing day in L.A. (with two versions!), and a guide to helping you figure out where to stay.
- San Diego: Learn how to spend a day in San Diego, a weekend in San Diego, and where you should stay.
- Lake Tahoe: Plan the perfect summertime adventure with our 3 day Tahoe itinerary, guide to the best hikes, and our guide to the best things to do in Tahoe.
- Santa Barbara: We have a guide to planning a weekend in Santa Barbara, and a guide to a day trip to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles if you’re pressed for time.
- Mammoth Lakes: To plan a perfect getaway in the Eastern Sierra, read our guide to the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes in the summer. Plus, our guide to the best hikes in Mammoth, featuring the epic climb to the top of Duck Pass.
- Big Sur: Plan the perfect weekend away with our complete Big Sur itinerary.
- Yosemite National Park: Plan an amazing trip with our guide to planning an amazing Yosemite itinerary, and our guide to choosing where to stay at Yosemite.
- Joshua Tree National Park: Plan the perfect trip with our perfect weekend itinerary (or a day trip, if you have less time), a guide to the best hikes, and some cool places to stay in Joshua Tree.
- Death Valley National Park: We have a SUPER detailed guide to planning the perfect Death Valley itinerary, and a guide to the best hikes in Death Valley National Park.
- California Road Trips: See the best of the Pacific Coast Highway on our San Francisco to San Diego road trip, or make the trip up Highway from on a Los Angeles to SanFrancisco road trip. If you’re more into mountains than beaches, a Highway 395 road trip from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe might be more your speed.