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Things to Do in Santa Barbara

Just a quick drive up from Los Angeles lies the city of Santa Barbara, also lovingly referred to as “The American Riviera.” This seaside town earns its nickname through its beautiful coastline, miles of pristine beach and the two green hills that en-wrap the city; all of which lend an air of health and beauty to the Spanish-tiled roofs which line the streets.

Visitors here enjoy a mean annual temperature of 72 F, and with over 300 days of sunshine per year, people can usually be found outside enjoying the abundance of the city parks, the decorated Botanical Gardens, some of the many water sports activities or simply doing some window shopping along the popular State Street. The area is also widely known for its excellent wine offerings (the movie Sideways was filmed just over the first crest of hills) and many of the local wineries have banded together and formed a bit of a wine trail in the industrial heart of the city.

While here, be on the lookout for Hollywood celebrities on vacation, local bakeries opening their doors early and all the dining and beach-going you desire.
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Old Mission Santa Barbara
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10 Tours and Activities

Also known as the Santa Barbara Mission or simply “The Mission,” Mission Santa Barbara has come to be more than just a Catholic outpost; it has come to represent all that is historic and cultural in Santa Barbara. A Spanish mission founded by the Franciscan Order in 1786 and built upon a hill overlooking the valley, The Mission, with its beautiful construction and commanding position on the landscape, is a long-standing Santa Barbara favorite.

Rich in history, the missions of California were Spanish colonial outposts and served to help colonize the area. Known for its rolling lawns and rose garden, which are open to the public year round, Mission Santa Barbara is one of the longest continuously operating missions in California. It still takes parishioners to this day, thus maintaining the longest unbroken tradition of choral singing among the California missions.

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Santa Barbara County Courthouse
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After the great earthquake of 1925 ruined much of the city, an opportunity arose to give this beloved city by the sea something that would reflect the areas culture and beauty; something that would both honor and impress its residents. Designed in Spanish-Moorish style and completed in 1929, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is now one of the main tourist attractions on a visit to the American Riviera.
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Santa Barbara Waterfront
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It should come as no surprise that a city hailed for its beautiful coastline should consider its waterfront the #1 tourist attraction in the area. With a variety of restaurants, boating and sport fishing tours, a bird sanctuary, bike path, and a beautiful promenade connecting the Waterfront to the rest of the downtown area, the Santa Barbara Waterfront is, without a doubt, one of the glittering gems of Santa Barbara.
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Santa Ynez Valley (SYV)
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The Santa Ynez Valley (SYV) is located in northern Santa Barbara County, California and includes the towns of Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang. It is one of five distinct American Viticultural Areas in Santa Barbara County's large wine country. More than 50 varietals thrive in this area's diverse micro-climates. There are more than 120 wineries located here, and most are small boutique operations and family owned and operated. Visitors come here to enjoy world class wines in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
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Funk Zone
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The Funk Zone is a hip, artistic neighborhood in Santa Barbara, CA, and it has become a haven for artists, artisans, wine makers, and chefs. Visitors will find plenty of artisan shops, art galleries, hip eateries, award-winning microbreweries, and a craft distillery, and many of them are located in aged warehouses and forgotten scuba shops. There are countless tasting rooms and a few specialty wineries. Five of the wineries located in the Funk Zone are part of the Urban Wine Trail, which is a group of wineries in Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley.
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Stearns Wharf
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Embodying beauty, rustic charm, tourism, and a feel of the ocean, Stearns Wharf is Santa Barbara’s number one tourist attraction. Built by lumberman John P. Stearns in 1872, Stearns Wharf has a long and decorated history including naval appropriation and one great conflagration which all but destroyed it. Nowadays the pier is a bustling center for shops, restaurants, and fishermen.
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Montecito
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Montecito is a small but wealthy town along California's coast. The town started out as a popular vacation destination more than 100 years ago because of the pleasant climate and natural beauty. Some visitors loved it so much they didn't want to leave, and they decided to move to Montecito. Today many celebrities call this town home. It's still a popular place for a relaxing escape, and there are plenty of hotels, shops, and restaurants with outdoor patios.

One of Montecito's big draws is its natural landscape and environment. This small town's coastline is home to some of the area's most beautiful beaches including Miramar Beach, Fernald's Point, Hammonds Point, and Butterfly Beach. Some areas boast calm waters while others are well known for their waves. Popular activities include surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, swimming, sunbathing, and boating. Since the coast faces west, it is also the perfect place to watch the sunset.

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Solvang
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Just over the hill from sunny Santa Barbara lie the Santa Ynez Valley and the small, Danish-style town of Solvang. Founded in 1911 by a group of Danish teachers, Solvang (Danish for “sunny field”) is now a bustling hub of activity, ripe with wine-tasting rooms, a fairy-tale-esque downtown, and all sorts of quirky shops.
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Shoreline Park
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Shoreline Park is a 15 acre coastal park west of Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara, CA. It is a popular place to come for picnics and has individual picnic tables, a group picnic area, barbeques, park benches, a playground, sidewalks, and stairs that access the beach. Many people also come here to walk, jog, roller blade, and play Frisbee. The park offers spectacular views of the Santa Barbara coastline, the city itself, the Channel Islands, and the Santa Ynez Mountains. If you're lucky, you might even see some whales or dolphins.
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Leadbetter Beach
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One of the most beautiful beaches near downtown Santa Barbara, Leadbetter Beach is often filled with windsurfers, joggers, and sunbathers. Its light surf makes its an excellent spot for low-key and beginning surfing. It’s one of the more scenic spots close to the city, with an expansive golden sand beach and grass lawn. There are also facilities for picnicking and barbecue, as well as public restrooms and showers. Often sailboats can be seen cruising just off the coast from Leadbetter, as it’s located next to the Santa Barbara Harbor. Lifeguards are on duty during daylight hours. For these reasons, it is one of the more popular public beach areas. Though it can be crowded, it is often bustling with activity compared to other spots on the coast. It’s considered by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in California.

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More Things to Do in Santa Barbara

State Street

State Street

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The heart of Santa Barbara, State Street delights visitors and locals alike with its lively downtown ambience. Spend a couple of leisurely hours wandering the tree-lined boulevard, stopping by shops, galleries, and wine tasting rooms.
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Goleta

Goleta

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Goleta is a small coastal town west of Santa Barbara, CA. The town has a mild climate with temperatures typically within 10 degrees of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and warm winds, making this a pleasant place to live or vacation. The town hugs the coast providing plenty of opportunities for enjoying the beach as well as swimming and other water activities. The nearby Santa Ynez Mountains make for a picturesque backdrop. They are also the source of the warm, or sometimes even hot, winds that blow in occasionally.

Many of Goleta's residents commute into Santa Barbara to work at a variety of companies or at the University of California Santa Barbara. The town is also known for its Monarch Butterflies. In October each year the butterflies return to Goleta from their summer home and congregate in massive colonies in the Eucalyptus trees in the Goleta Butterfly Grove.

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Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA)

Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA)

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Small but beautiful, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) is renowned for its extensive collection of French and English 19th- and early 20th-century art, as well as modernism and photography exhibits. It also houses Portrait of Mexico Today, the only intact mural in the US by celebrated Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros.
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Channel Islands

Channel Islands

Just off the Californian coast, dotting the horizon like some distant land, the beautiful Channel Islands are a favorite escape of every southern Californian. Hiking, kayaking, biking, fishing, surfing, and camping are popular pastimes for those who frequent these amazing local treasures, but the Channel Islands are more than just a quick weekend getaway. Five of the eight of the Channel Islands comprise the Channel Islands National Parks - a conservation zone which protects thousands of years of animal, plant, and archeological resources which can be found nowhere else on earth.

The most popular Channel Islands are: Anacapa Island, Santa Cruz Island and Santa Catalina Island.

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Santa Barbara Cruise Port

Santa Barbara Cruise Port

Otherwise known as “The American Riviera,” Santa Barbara is a seaside port town on the lower end of the Central Californian coast. About 80 miles north of Los Angeles and about 5 hours drive from San Francisco, Santa Barbara and the neighboring Santa Ynez Valley make excellent day trips or vacations in themselves for those that want to experience the best of California beaches, fantastic local wines, and rustic luxury. While the “funk zone” houses more than a dozen critically acclaimed wineries, the numerous spas, high-end boutiques, and Michelin-rated restaurants fill State Street (the main drag in town), while others still grab a surfboard or kayak and hit the water. Ultimately, though, the main charm of the city lies in walking the palm-tree and eucalyptus-lined streets, enjoying the incredible sunshine and weather.
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Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

Discover the diverse Pacific ecosystem and engage with marine animals at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Located on the historic Stearns Wharf, the family-friendly educational space features interactive exhibits, a theater, and life-size replicas of gray whales.
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Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG)

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG)

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG) is a beautiful natural conservatory featuring over 78 acres (31.5 hectares) of lush greenery, with over 1,000 species of rare and indigenous plants. Guided tours are free, and a walk among the oaks, boulders, and dusty trails makes for an enjoyable dive into California flora.
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Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Founded in 1916 and nestled into the rock and oak of the surrounding area, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is set in a cluster of Spanish-revival buildings surrounding a beautiful courtyard. The museum is home to expertly preserved displays of birds, insects, mammals, and sea life, along with a planetarium.
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Santa Barbara Zoo

Santa Barbara Zoo

The most beautiful zoo in the world? While this might sound like a bold statement, the lions with their oceanfront view wouldn’t likely quibble about it. Located on 30 acres right across from the ocean, this small zoo has repeatedly been voted one of the best in the nation, particularly for children.
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