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Santa Barbara, CA City Guide

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Today’s City Guide comes to us from designer Amy Fitzgerald Tripp. After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, she and her husband found opportunities on the West Coast and have been living and working in Santa Barbara, CA for the past 6 years.  As designers, they have been conceptualizing, refining and fabricating a variety of products. A year ago they launched fitzgerald forbes as their own creative outlet to showcase the work they’ve been collaborating on.

Today Amy takes us on a tour of the picturesque downtown Santa Barbara area.  From cafes to missions, Amy gives us a glimpse of this beachside paradise.  Thanks, Amy, for such a wonderful guide! –Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump…

Santa Barbara, CAPhotos by Amy Fitzgerald Tripp

Since moving to the West Coast, the beautiful scenic landscape, as well as, the culinary and visual adventures we have found ourselves on over the years, have become a great influence and inspiration for us.

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara is known as the “American Riviera”.  The scenery is beautiful, the weather is predictably temperate and there is an amazing abundance of farm fresh produce. Everywhere you look there is thriving natural flora, whether it be lemon or lime trees, orange trees or even avocado or fig trees.  With so much availability there are many chefs and restaurants capitalizing on farmer’s markets to provide the most amazing farm to table dishes on the Central Coast.  There are also endless outdoor activities to take part in from cycling, hiking, camping and surfing to name a few. The community is active and there are also a number of artists and designers creating beautiful, interesting work.

Check out this Google Map of Downtown Santa Barbara for all of the below listings.

STATE STREET

State Street is the main street in Santa Barbara, orientated North/South leading you from the mountains to the ocean, respectively, and is a base point for the different parts of downtown described in this guide.

Eat, Drink & Snack:

The French Press A local coffee shop that has two downtown locations and serves the best cup of coffee in Santa Barbara, CA.

Sama Sama Kitchen A restaurant with an inviting atmosphere, offering up their own interpretation of Indonesian food using local seasonal ingredients.  It can get crowded during dinner, but just grab a well crafted drink at the bar and enjoy the evening before your table is ready.

Scarlett Begonia Described as “Local, Organic, Thoughtful Food”, this restaurant is also dedicated to using local, organic and sustainable products. We went for brunch, which can get crowded so get there early or be prepared to wait, and the food was delicious. A highly recommend dish is the smoked salmon, where they have taken the standard “bagel and lox” and completely transformed it.

Arigato Sushi If you like sushi, you will love this place.  Presentation and quality of food are at a very high level and the service is great.  They are open for dinner daily and we recommend either getting there early or be prepared to put your name in and take an enjoyable walk around State Street.

Cielito There are many mexican restaurants in Santa Barbara, but at this restaurant the Chef is taking the food to another level.  The food reflects a culmination of all of the different regions in Mexico, transforming the food into delicious, complex plates that are meant to be shared amongst diners. We highly recommend the Probaditas de Ceviche, which is a trio of the different ceviches they offer.

Olio Pizzeria A great place to either catch up with a friend or celebrate with a large group.  We highly recommend ordering a glass of wine, from which there is a great selection, enjoying a meat and cheese plate, followed by a crisp salad and a delicious pizza .

The Hungry Cat The food here is excellent, but the best item to order is the seafood platter, which is a great dish to share.  The “Raw & Marinated” portion of the menu is a great pairing to the seafood platter.  Not to mention they have well crafted cocktails that also use fresh and local ingredients.

Milk & Honey They have a great selection of tapas, as well as, cocktails.  You might find yourself here for a while.

Blender’s – In The Grass For a quick and delicious energy boost grab a smoothie here.  There are countless options and numerous supplements to choose from.  Definitely the best smoothie you will have.

Shop:

K.Frank A boutique that offers upscale, modern selections for men and women, as well as, kids.

Plum Goods This shop is a large supporter of local artists and designers.  They have a revolving inventory that reflects what is being made locally.  Definitely come by and check out what they have in stock.

Wendy Foster A boutique that carries a high-end collection of womenswear and accessories.

Cranky’s Bikes Definitely come by and check out what bikes they have in stock, or drop your bike off to get fixed.  They also carry a variety of bike accessories that are worth checking out.

Granada Books – A Community Bookstore A wonderful local bookstore that offers a variety of books for all ages, as well as, different events that you can check out on their website.

Do:

Farmer’s Market There are several Farmer’s Markets during the week, but the best one is Saturday mornings  in Downtown Santa Barbara.  This is a great way to start the weekend.  Even if you don’t need anything in particular, the Farmer’s Market never ceases to amaze us with their selection and overall wonderful feeling of being there.

1st Thursday – Art Walk The first Thursday of every month is celebrated with art.  There are maps of downtown Santa Barbara that note the location of all of the gallery openings, as well as, other special events.

Santa Barbara, CA

EASTSIDE

Eat, Drink & Snack:

Handlebar Coffee Roasters This is a great place to grab a coffee, sit outside and enjoy the view of the historic El Presidio de Santa Barbara Historic Park across the street.

The Shop Cafe Get your fix here, where they make slow food, fast.  They pay special attention to every detail and provide incredibly delicious food and attentive service.  Everything they have, they make in-house.  There are two all-time favorites we would recommend to everyone: “In-Yo-Face Salmon”, amazing house smoked salmon on house-made toast with dill creme fraiche, red onion and fried capers, and “General Sanders”, buttermilk-fried chicken sandwich with beets, spring greens and a carrot puree spread.  Not to mention the salads are amazing and the coffee is nice and strong.  Definitely come enjoy a morning or afternoon here on the patio.

Julienne If you are at the farmer’s market on Saturday, you will definitely see the Julienne cart filled with ingredients that will be used that day!  The farm to table mentality enables them to have a revolving menu of the freshest ingredients.

C’est Cheese A place that has an impressive selection of cheese, cured meats and other items you might want to assemble your own charcuterie board. They have tastings monthly, which are a must if you are able to attend.  Not to mention, they are expanding their lunchtime offerings into a full cafe!

Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro The Chef here makes excellent french pastries using the finest, freshest ingredients.  The combination of a cappuccino and pain au chocolat are a must.  Also, make sure to try their macaroons – you can’t go wrong with your selection, but salted caramel is a great choice.

Crushcakes & Cafe A cupcakery that also serves breakfast and lunch, as well as, Intelligentsia coffee.

Shop:

Warbler Records & Goods This record store carries both new and used vinyl, as well as, a selection of handmade goods made by local artists and designers.  Definitely make sure to stop by and take a look at their carefully curated collection.

Do:

Santa Barbara County Historic Courthouse Travel up to the top of the Courthouse bell tower for an incredible 360 degree view of Santa Barbara.  You will quickly understand between the mountains and the ocean why Santa Barbara is called the “American Riviera”.

Summer Films in the Courthouse Sunken Gardens During the summer pack a picnic, grab a blanket and go to the Courthouse Sunken Gardens to enjoy classic films (free admission).  Each summer has a different theme, my favorite so far has been Science Fiction Film Classics of the 1950s such as, The Day the Earth Stood Still. However, this summer features films by Alfred HItchcock, beginning with “Vertigo” followed by “Rear Window”.

Old Mission Santa Barbara Take a tour of the Mission or enjoy an afternoon on the Mission lawn amongst the beautiful rose garden.

Santa Barbara Bowl Awesome venue that is intimate and provides a breathtaking view of the ocean while you enjoy the music.

WESTSIDE

Eat, Drink & Snack:

The Daily Grind Coffee & Juice Station A great place to grab a coffee, pastry or even a breakfast burrito.  They also offer a variety of sandwiches and juices that you will definitely enjoy.

Our Daily Bread A great place to find yourself first thing in the morning amongst the handmade bread, pastries and coffee bar.  They also offer fresh, high quality breakfast and lunch that you are sure to enjoy.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams Local ice cream that is made in small batches with lots of love and care.  You will definitely taste the quality in every bite.

TAP Thai The laid back atmosphere creates a great setting for the healthy, homestyle Thai food served here.

Super Cuca’s Taqueria The very first Taqueria established in Santa Barbara.  They offer the “freshest high quality ingredients” at an affordable price.  Be sure to try one of their burritos, especially the Combo Burrito.

Los Agaves This restaurant now has two locations where you can enjoy good quality Mexican food. One of their specialties that we would recommend is the Mole!

Lilly’s Taqueria Highlighting the core ingredients to a well-made taco is what Lilly’s does so well.  The tacos are simple, delicious and very affordable.

Elsie’s Tavern Great low-key neighborhood bar offering a great selection of beer and wine.  Settle into one of their couches, sit out on the back patio or sign up for the pool table.  Cash only.

Shop:

Loop and Leaf A great source for those who either knit, crochet or drink tea – maybe all three.  They go out of their way to gather quality materials and have a great selection to choose from. There are also ongoing classes to sign up for, which range from beginner to advanced.

Santa Barbara, CA

FUNK ZONE

Eat, Drink & Snack:

Muddy Waters Coffee House This is a great place to spend your morning, as well as, your night.  They serve coffee and food during the day and at night, they also host a variety of bands and events.

Lito’s Mexican Food Authentic and original mexican food that is sure to please.  Their fish taco lunch special, which includes two fish tacos, rice, beans and a drink, for an affordable price is the best.

Municipal Winemakers Be sure to make your way here.  Enjoy a glass of wine inside the well decorated space, or out on the patio.  The folks at Muni display great care in their crafting of wine and it shows. This is an all-around great place to hang out for an afternoon or evening. If you are there on Saturday you will catch The Burger Bus, which offers delicious options that are made from local ingredients and are sure to make your wine tasting even better.

Telegraph Brewing Company A great place to enjoy a tasting of handcrafted American ales located in Santa Barbara.

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co A family owned, local brewery using the highest quality ingredients to provide a high quality beer.  On the weekend there are usually numerous food trucks that pull up, which will insure you stick around for a while.

Shop:

Art from Scrap An organization that encourages “reuse as a means of protecting our environment”.  They take donations from local companies and sell materials and treasures in order to promote theater and art projects for kids.  Wonderful place to find all sorts of treasures and support a great cause.

Cominichi’s A treasure chest of a store where you can find vintage furniture, art, jewelry and clothing.

Channel Islands Surfboards An iconic brand in the surfing industry and a place you can find the perfect surfboard, board shorts or any other surfing accessory you may need.

Tropicali A beach and beauty boutique that offers a variety of services, as well as, fun collection of beauty products, jewelry and clothing.

Santa Barbara, CA

WATERFRONT

Eat, Drink & Snack:

Brophy Bros. Enjoy an afternoon on the wharf overlooking the harbor and the mountains.  The steamed clams and clam chowder are highly recommended and that is coming from New England natives.

Santa Barbara Fish Market Great selection of fresh seafood that you can actually watch come in off the boats.

Shop:

Arts & Craft Show Every Sunday there is an Arts & Craft Show along the Waterfront displaying the work of local artisans.

Do:

Coastal Bike Path Amazing way to travel the coast and experience the landscape.

California Wine Festival Situated on the Waterfront, this festival displays countless winemakers, brewers, distillers and local chefs.

The Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival Located in the Harbor, you are able to purchase seafood straight from the fishing boats and have chefs prepare it for you on the spot – amazing.

Stay:

Agave Inn Located on Upper State Street, this hotel is run by a creative group of people that are extremely attentive to their guests needs.

Hotel Indigo Situated one block from the Waterfront and half a block from the train station, this boutique hotel is a great place to stay.

Camp For those who are adventurous with the outdoors, there are numerous campsites along the coast that are great to stay at.

Airbnb This is a great search engine that provides options for people who want to experience the city from a residents perspective.

Other Activities:

Outdoor Adventures

There is an abundance of hiking trails in the area. A favorite is Cold Springs.

Rent a bike and follow the coastal bike path that runs through Santa Barbara and along the coast.

Seasonal Celebrations

Summer Solstice In celebration of the first day of Summer, there is a large 3-day festival filled with music, beer gardens and food stands.  A giant parade also takes place on State Street, where you will quickly notice that residents are so serious about the parade – all parades for that matter – that they put their chairs out the night before to insure a premium spot!

Old Spanish Days – Fiesta A great 4-day celebration that takes over Downtown, filling it with food stands and covering it in confetti.  There is also a large equestrian parade and mariachi bands that travel in and out of bars playing festive music.

Notable Locals:

Katy Perry

Kathy Ireland

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21 Comments

K

I realize it may be slightly expensive, but I highly recommend staying at the Inn of the Spanish Garden (http://www.spanishgardeninn.com/). It’s a really gorgeous place, and my husband and I have stayed there for romantic weekends. It’s in easy walking/biking distance to anything in town. I also recommend taking the train up from LA if you’re local!

Paola

YES! Love seeing my hometown here! Let’s not forget all the beautiful sights and shops in Montecito!

Christine

Every time I go to or drive through Santa Barbara I have to stop at La Super Rica. The lines can be really long on the weekends but it is totally worth it to get some of the most amazing, cheesiest Mexican food around.

Bee

I lived in Santa Barbara for almost a decade (for school and work) and this city guide is bringing back some great memories of my favorite spots. Thanks for the post!

Tom

Muddy Waters Coffee House and Lito’s Mexican Food are not in the Funk Zone.

Debra

I love Santa Barbara. I live here and it truly is PARADISE! Agree with Tom, above, though. Muddy Waters and Lito’s definitely not in Funk Zone. Also, need to mention La Superica on Milpas.

dotdotdot

Eee! Perfect timing; I’m heading down to Santa Barbara for a wedding this weekend, and we’re even staying at the Agave Inn! Glad to have this simple little guide for coffee shops and other fun stuff.

A

I agree with the Spanish Garden Inn, most beautiful hotel/bed and breakfast. Great location, amazing service and very good breakfast…

Kerry

I don’t know how you could leave out The Palace Grill. Fab food, great service and a totally fun night.

Dianne

Didn’t notice the restaurant Julienne!? Downtown, intimate, and close to the best food in SB! Also, Super Rica is probably the most famous and it simply doesn’t get better for Mexican food. Get ready to stand in line if you’re there in the summer.

Chelsea Ward

Fantastic! I live just 30 minutes north of SB and I love so many places that are listed! There’s a bunch I’m not familiar with so I’m excited to give them a go! Such a great guide for this fun city.

melissa

Even if you’re just visiting for a weekend, you can buy a discount card and magazine from Axxess. It benefits local schools. If you don’t know which one, just pick one at random. Its $40, which you will make back in one of their meal deals. There are TONS of attractions listed plus quite a few hotel deals. Everywhere you go, just ask if they take Axxess.

I’ve got to add a few of my favorites:

Petit Valentien for French food. I’ve heard some people complain about the service but I have always had a stellar experience. I always sit at the bar and have the best chats with the servers and bar tenders. If you’re in town on a Saturday, their Ethiopian lunches are not to be missed! They’re in La Arcata.

Go to Pace if you want stellar service. I had been there twice by the time I felt like family. They are THE sweetest folks. Their food is definitely in the CA comfort style, with a few Hawaiian dishes thrown in. Truly family owned and run. Its simple, indulgent, and delicious. Located on State St.

Three Pickles makes the best sandwiches in town. Period. The guys there rival Pace for friendliness and service. When they first opened they’d open at 5am for the World Cup and served fried eggs on fresh bread with an old school Italian marinara sauce. SO GOOD. The eggplant parm sandwich is worth the 2o min wait.

El Bajio is where its at for Mexican food. They make pretty good fresh tortillas and mouth melting adobada. On the Corner of Milpas an Yanonali. Lilly’s delicious, I just wish they had fresh tortillas. Super Rica is meh. I’d never turn down a meal, but I always choose the former over Super Rica.

Chase Free Thursdays at The Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Its free, or by donation.

Natural History Museum, Botanic Gardens, and Rose Gardens at the SB Mission. They’re all in the same neighborhood and lovely attractions, especially if you have wee ones.

Debra Matlock

I agree La Super Rica is a must, but you can easily get the wrong thing and have a meh experience. Trust me on this, order the Especial: grilled pasilla chile layered with marinated pork and cheese, atop two handmade corn tortillas.

Bridget

Perfect timing!! I just arrived in Santa Barbara for a few months and I don’t know one person here. Thank you for all the recommendations! As someone above said, yes it is paradise. I feel like im walking around a movie set!

Question for the locals, if you don’t mind–where can I get an inexpensive but good (and clean and safe) manicure? Thank you!

donnaB

HI Bridget-
I’m new to SB as well. I’ve heard Aqua Nails is good and cheap and I go to Kristin Perez at Avanti–been in the biz for 20 years and does an amazing pedicure (haven’t done the manicure yet; constantly washing my hands at my job) Good luck!

Nina

I lived in SB for close to 10 years and my go to list is almost exactly the same! I really miss living there. It really is one of the best places on earth. Such a great community.

Barbara

Don’t forget to visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden!

Terry

Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful coastal town! Let,s not forget The Arlington Theatre, Granada Theatre and the Lobero Theatre.

Sommer Roman

As a local SB resident, I will confirm that your lists here are pretty spot on.!! I give another stamp of approval to these few that you listed: Cielito, Art from Scrap, French Press, Olio, Los Agaves, C’est Cheese, & Sama Sama. xo sommer

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