SANTA BARBARA DAY 2: Stearns Wharf, Downtown Beaches, Urban Wine Trail
Santa Barbara's beaches are so lovely that it would be a shame not to start at least one of your days right on the sand. Near the volleyball courts you'll find East Beach Grill where the banana wheat germ pancakes are a favorite. Parents traveling with children can relax with their coffee and newspaper at Shoreline Grill, where some of the tables are right on the sand so the little ones can romp with their toys nearby.
Such a scenic breakfast can only be followed with more beach activities. Drive or walk out to the end of Stearns Wharf, where gamblers in the 1930s boarded floating casinos. Built in 1872, it's the oldest operating wharf on the West Coast, in spite of three fires and rogue waves. Today, you'll find eateries, shops and sign-up areas for boat trips, parasailing and whale watching. Stearns Wharf is also home to the Ty Warner Sea Center, where enthusiastic docents eagerly share their knowledge of the waters beneath your feet. For a pleasant stroll along the cliffs towering over the Pacific, check out Shoreline Park, overlooking Leadbetter Beach on the west side of the harbor. Here you can you can wander past tide pools, kelp beds, sea lions, dolphins and cormorants, and on occasion, you'll see a whale in the distance. If you seek privacy and don't mind a mini-hike, More Mesa is the beach for you, said to have hardly changed since the days of the Chumash. Dogs frolic off-leash at Hendry's Beach; take in the action as you dine al fresco at The Boathouse. And if you really want to get away, the coast just west of Santa Barbara is full of hidden coves that rarely see footprints. The largest and most accessible beach in Santa Barbara is East Beach, which has a full beach house, restaurant, snack bar, volleyball courts, play areas for children and a bike path. Nestled between Stearns Wharf and a grassy, palm-lined park, the city's most popular stretch of sand regularly hosts special activities, such as the local art show, held every Sunday. The Santa Barbara Zoo is located on a knoll overlooking East Beach, and its landscaped grounds provide a wonderful setting for kids and adults alike.
The sea air will undoubtedly build up your appetite. For lunch, try the harbor's Brophy Bros., or The Endless Summer Bar & Grill above the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. At the wharf, local lobster tacos (in season) at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. are a must. This humble eatery was once a buying station for fish and shellfish, and teems with local character. And don't miss a ride on Lil' Toot water taxi; kids love the short trip on this cheerful yellow boat that travels from the wharf to the harbor and ends the short journey with a flurry of bubbles.
Santa Barbara and Montecito are blessed with great hiking trails in Rattlesnake, San Ysidro, or Romero canyons. Lizard Lick, which is located off the San Marcos Pass, offers exceptional views amid giant boulders. Another fun way to explore the terrain is on horseback. Circle Bar B Guest Ranch, a 30-minute drive north, offers trail rides. There are views of the canyons, Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands, and for romance-seekers, the ranch also offers sunrise and sunset rides.
As the day winds down, you may be ready for a relaxing glass of wine. Although Santa Barbara Wine Country is about 40 minutes away, the city has several venues where you can taste locally produced wines. The Urban Wine Trail gives you a chance to sip your way through downtown, connecting wineries such as Kunin, Santa Barbara Winery and Jaffurs Wine Cellars. The Au Bon Climat Tasting Room and Jim Clendenen Wine Library are also nearby, making this section of historic El Paseo a must-visit for wine lovers.
Before you know it, it will be dinner time. For fine dining, Downey's is Santa Barbara's longest-running bastion of serious cuisine. Although the atmosphere is a bit staid, foodies will not be disappointed by the fare. Another option is Bella Vista, the fine dining restaurant at the Four Seasons Santa Barbara, which offers an unparalleled oceanfront setting.
Action seekers should check out the local bar scene on Lower State Street. It's lively on the weekends, especially with the UCSB college crowd. Start with a drink at the classic Joe's Café or one of the many other watering holes popular with a more mature crowd. Hip spots include EOS and Wild Cat. Roy is popular with the arty set, and offers some of the city's best late-night dining. Another good alternative to late-night pizza slices is the Blue Owl, which opens at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and offers Thai-influenced Asian fusion food.
Continue to Day 3