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The Best Way to Spend One Day in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is one of the most gorgeous cities in California. Everywhere you turn, there’s colorful flowers, towering palm trees, and beautiful buildings. Located just 90 miles north of Los Angeles, a day trip to Santa Barbara makes for the perfect getaway. Keep reading for the best things to do in Santa Barbara to make the most of your time there!

one day in santa barbara

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SEE ALSO: 12 Epic California Weekend Getaways

Before we get into the best things to do in one day in Santa Barbara, let’s go over some logistics:

How to Get to Santa Barbara

day trip to santa barbara

Santa Barbara is located on the Central Coast of California, about 90 miles north of Los Angeles. If you’re coming from Southern California, you can either:

  • Drive
  • Take the Amtrak coastal train!

Taking the train is an awesome experience. This Amtrak actually runs all the way from San Diego to Seattle! Taking the train from LA to Santa Barbara, you will be cruising along the coast the whole way, basically parallel to the Pacific Coast Highway!

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara

Believe me – once you get to Santa Barbara for your day trip, you’re going to want to stay longer! If you’re able to spend more than one day in Santa Barbara, I highly recommend staying in a hotel in the vibrant and artsy “Funk Zone” area, which is super close to the wineries, restaurants, bars, and the beach! We stayed at The Wayfarer and loved it. It’s conveniently-located, affordable, and has a pool!

If you’re looking for more luxury, definitely check out Hotel Californian. It’s also located right in the Funk Zone. The rooms have beautiful ocean views and they give you access to free bikes to use during your stay!

When to Visit Santa Barbara

best things to do in santa barbara

The temperatures in Santa Barbara (similar to most of California) are mild year-round, so you will have a good time there no matter what time of year it is! However, if you want to beat the summer crowds, I recommend going in October/November. Avoid going in June, since that’s when the foggy “June Gloom” hits throughout southern and central California.

One Day in Santa Barbara: The Best Things to Do

Like I mentioned above, if you are able to spend more than one day in Santa Barbara – I highly recommend it. You won’t want to leave! That said, if one day is all you have, see below for some highlights for you to choose from to make the most of your time there.

Coffee at Dart Coffee

Kickoff your day the right way with some great local coffee. Located in the Funk Zone, Dart Coffee Co is one of the best spots to get coffee in Santa Barbara. They also have tea (and matcha!) if you aren’t a coffee drinker. The coffee shop looks like an Instagrammer’s dream, with paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling and streamers lining the awning outside. The best part? They have a little garden across the street where you can sip your coffee and hang out. There’s even wifi out there if you want to catch up on some emails in this peaceful spot.

one day in santa barbara

Pro Tip: Grab a pastry from Helena Bakery about a block away and bring it with you to the garden to enjoy with your coffee. Their pastries are SO good!

Brunch

Ah, my favorite meal of the day! There are quite a few options for a good brunch in Santa Barbara. I went to Goat Tree when I was there, which is in the Funk Zone right next to the beautiful Hotel Californian. Goat Tree was great! They have the cutest outdoor patio, and delicious lemon ricotta pancakes.

brunch santa barbara

Other popular options include Chad’s Cafe and Hendry’s Boathouse, both located near the beach, or Scarlett Begonia in downtown Santa Barbara.

Stearn’s Wharf

one day in santa barbara

Stearn’s Wharf is a must-see when in Santa Barbara for the day. This pier has a few shops, restaurants and bars on it, and has a GREAT view of the beach and surrounding mountains.

Explore the Funk Zone

funk zone santa barbara

Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is the place to be. This vibrant arts district has tons of bars, wineries, restaurants, galleries and shops to keep you busy. In fact, most of the places I recommend in this post are for the Funk Zone area. It’s conveniently-located in between the beach and downtown Santa Barbara, and as you’re wandering around, you’ll see beautiful buildings, ivy-covered walls, and eclectic artwork everywhere. It’s truly an awesome spot!.

Go Wine Tasting

funk zone santa barbara

One of the best things to do in Santa Barbara is to go wine tasting at one of the many wineries in the area. The famous “Urban Wine Trail” in Santa Barbara has most of the winery tasting rooms located in the Funk Zone. The local wines served at these spots are from Santa Barbara County, most of them made just over in the hills that you see while walking around.

There are quite a few wineries to choose from, but we opted for Santa Barbara Winery, which is the oldest commercial winery in the area (founded in 1962). They have a cute outdoor patio to enjoy your wine outside, and also have a cheese plate you can order if you want something to snack on!

If you are in the mood for some bubbles, try Riverbench Winery, also located in the Funk Zone, with a few types of sparkling wine available to taste.

If you are more of a beer person, check out either Figueroa Mountain Brewery or Rincon Brewery in the Funk Zone.

Hit the Beach

If you’re looking for something more relaxing, head to the beach and chill. You can lay your towel on the sand and enjoy the beautiful views, swim in the ocean, or even rent a sailboat or paddleboard in the harbor!

Happy Hour with a View

day trip to santa barbara

There’s nothing better than having happy hour with a view. Check out the upstairs terrace of Ozu for some great cocktails overlooking the beach. You might have to wait a bit for a table up there, so try to either make a reservation or get there on the earlier side.

Another option is Deep Sea Tasting Room. This winery, located on Stearn’s Wharf, pours tasting flights and has an outdoor patio overlooking the ocean!

Walk Along State Street

Check out Downtown Santa Barbara area starting with iconic State Street. Wander down this street and admire the beautiful buildings, cute shops, bars and restaurants and get a feel for Downtown Santa Barbara

Dinner

best place for dinner santa barbara

Santa Barbara has some great restaurants! I went to Zaytoon during my one day in Santa Barbara and highly recommend it. This Lebanese restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara has a BEAUTIFUL outdoor patio with lots of trees and string lights, and tables that have fire pits in the middle. It’s super scenic, and also the food is delicious! Make sure to order the spicy potatoes appetizer – it’s amazing.

Other great options include The Lark for some great farm-to-table food (definitely will need a reservation for this spot), Lucky Penny (pizza) or Loquita (Spanish/tapas). All three of these are in the Funk Zone.

Go for a Hike

best hikes in santa barbara

After all of the above activities, it’s unlikely that you will also have time for a hike with only one day in Santa Barbara. However, if you happen to have more time to spend (or prioritize hiking over the other activities I listed) – make sure to check out Gaviota Wind Caves. This is one of the best hikes in Santa Barbara, although it’s technically about 30 minutes north. This unique hike takes you to these natural-formed caves in the side of the mountain, overlooking the PCH and the Pacific Ocean. It’s beautiful and unique!

SEE MORE: Best Hikes in Southern California

Enjoy!

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