This week we are heading to the west coast for Brit’s Summer Travel Series! Known as the American Riviera for its nearly perfect climate and resemblance to the famed French Riviera, Santa Barbara is the ultimate summer vacation destination.
Santa Barbara has a special place in my heart not only because I got married there, but also because I’ve been going for so many years, it feels like a second home to me. My father-in-law used to live in Santa Barbara so I was lucky enough to have a locals guide to this iconic coastal California town. But Santa Barbara is not your typical California beach town filled with surfer dudes and laid-back attitudes, it is incredibly chic and oozing with European charm. Situated between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, this quiet town is just 80 miles north of Los Angeles, and is packed with museums, vineyards, restaurants and some of the top-rated hotels in the world.
In addition to learning about the area from my father-in-law, I also spent two years planning my wedding in Santa Barbara. During that time, I researched and toured venues, resorts, restaurants and attractions extensively to determine where our dream wedding would take place. Because of this, I have compiled a tried-and-true list of where to stay, play, eat and drink along the American Riviera.
The hotels in Santa Barbara are some of the best in the world. I’m slightly biased, but my personal favorite is the Four Seasons. It is set on the most beautiful property over looking the Pacific Ocean and the gardens are truly stunning. As a guest of the hotel, you have access to the Coral Casino, which is a private social club across the street that has the most adorable pool and beach club. The level of service at the Four Seasons is unlike anything I have ever experienced at a hotel. Whether you’re hanging out at the Jungle Pool or the Coral Casino, lush chair coverings and towels are laid out for each guest and attendants bring around fun snacks like frozen grapes and peppermint patties throughout the day. The Spa and accommodations at the hotel are amazing and worth every penny of the hefty price tag.
If you’re interested in other high-end hotels in the area, the San Ysidro Ranch is an incredible choice (JFK and Jackie Kennedy Onassis honeymooned there) and offers a unique luxurious garden experience for their guests. I also love the Ritz-Carlton Bacara Santa Barbara although it is located quite a ways from the town of Santa Barbara. My dad and I stayed at the Bacara the week before my wedding and we had the best time. The resort is stunning and there is SO much to do–hiking, biking, golf, restaurants, several pools and an amazing spa.
While in Santa Barbara, there is no shortage of activities to do for people of all ages. My favorite place to go when I’m in town is Ganna Walska’s Lotusland. The story behind this stunning property is so fascinating and the grounds have been maintained to perfection since Ms. Walska’s death in 1984. Reservations are required for a visit so make sure to do that well in advance. With Lotusland’s proximity to San Ysidro Ranch, I would suggest a 10 a.m. reservation at Lotusland and brunch at the ranch after.
During the summer months and when COVID isn’t an issue, taking in a polo match is always a great experience or a hike to Cold Springs Tavern will make for a great day. If you prefer to stay in Santa Barbara proper, there are a number of wonderful wine tasting rooms, shopping and restaurants to enjoy. Two of my favorite tasting rooms in the downtown area are Au Bon Climat and Happy Canyon and The Funk Zone is a must-do for wine-lovers.
When you’re in Santa Barbara, Brophy Bros. is a must. I know, I know. It’s on the marina and looks like a tourist trap, but I promise you it is not. Locals love it and they have delicious oysters and clam chowder with one of the best views in the city. There are several fabulous Italian restaurants in the area as well. Our favorites are Ca’Dario and Olio e Limone and Lucky Penny for pizza.
If you’re looking for a casual vibe, Hillstone’s Honor Bar in Montecito is always a favorite as well as the Paradise Cafe and the Public Market in Santa Barbara…the Hangover Noodles at the Empty Bowl cannot be missed. If you’re looking for something fancier, the Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch and Lucky’s Steakhouse in Montecito are fabulous options.
For breakfast and brunch, Jeannine’s in Montecito is divine and McConnell’s Ice Cream is always a great way to end the night.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip to Santa Barbara with me and I hope we can all visit this beautiful city in person again soon. No matter where you go in Santa Barbara, you will not be disappointed. Come back next Tuesday to see where we will be traveling to next for Brit’s Summer Travel Series!
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