If you’re looking for a California destination that truly embraces a slower pace of life, head to gorgeous Santa Barbara. Located 90 minutes northwest of Los Angeles, but with a fraction of L.A.’s population, this scenic seaside city is a great escape. From its Spanish architecture, Mexican/rancho culture and surrounding Santa Ynez Mountains to its always-beautiful weather, sprawling beaches and bodacious waves, Santa Barbara boasts an intriguing blend of California cool and European flair.
And then there’s downtown’s State Street. Lined with palm trees and old-world charm, this seven-mile stretch is home to an historic landmarks walk, a wine trail and tons of charming shops. It’s also pedestrian friendly. But, if walking down the street while laden with shopping bags doesn’t sound appealing, you can always hop onto the electric shuttle. The downtown shuttle has a stop every block on lower State Street and is only 50 cents a ride. A second shuttle runs along the waterfront (transfers between the two are free).
Want to see the best of downtown? Start with these locales, all of which are within walking distance of the shuttles.
Santa Barbara County Courthouse
This Spanish Colonial-style courthouse was built in 1929 and occupies an entire city block. Guests can take a self-guided tour of its “sunken” garden and its 85-foot clock tower, or opt for the free guided tours every weekday. Either way, don’t miss the ornate mural room, where all four walls depict scenes from the city’s history.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
One of Southern California’s finest art museums, this must-visit gem boasts 27,000 works of art spanning more than 5,000 years. From classical antiquities and French Impressionist paintings to contemporary art and photography, the SBMA’s diverse collection offers something for every artistic taste. Stop by the Museum Store for distinctive gifts related to SBMA’s permanent and travelling exhibitions.
La Arcada Court
With its pretty greenery, tiled walkways and cool collection of bronze statues, this charming little shopping area is a lovely alternative to hitting the malls. Spend some time browsing the boutiques and art galleries, then head to one of La Arcada’s six resident restaurants and cafés for a bite of lunch or a light snack.
Make sure you have lots of time to spend here. The store isn’t huge, but it’s stuffed to the brim. Check out the vintage typewriters, jewelry, furniture, lamps and more. The prices are mostly reasonable and the friendly staff is usually open to bargaining. Be warned, though—they know their stuff.
This 10-block area, right off State Street, is home to more than 10 tasting rooms that make up the majority of Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail. The rest of the area is dotted with microbreweries, a handful of surf and paddleboard shops and art galleries. Be sure to stop by Metropulos Fine Foods for a Tunavo—a tuna and avocado sandwich.
Enterprise Fish Co.
This nautically decorated 1917 brick restaurant is located a few blocks from the harbour. Watch your Pacific swordfish or Costa Rican mahi mahi being grilled over charcoal in the open kitchen. This place is always packed inside, so reservations are recommended.