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Santa Barbara City Trip - From the Beach to the Mountains

El Capitan Beach, just up the coast from Santa Barbara, is perfect for secluded strolls
El Capitan Beach

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. Breakfast with a beach view can also be had at Moby Dick's on Stearns Wharf. Parents traveling with children can relax with their coffee and newspaper at Shoreline Grill, where the tables are right on the sand so the little ones can romp with their toys nearby.

Volleyball on the beach in Santa Barbara
Volleyball on the beach

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 is the oldest operating wharf on the West Coast. The clickety-clack of the wooden boards beneath the wheels of your car makes a wonderful sound as you approach the pier's attractions. Along with hordes of tourists, you'll find eateries, shops and sign-up areas for boat trips, parasailing and whale watching. At Stearns Wharf you'll also find the Ty Warner Sea Center, where enthusiastic docents eagerly share their knowledge of the region's rich underwater world.

Fresh fruit at the Farmers Market in Santa Barbara
Fresh fruit at the Farmers Market

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 and the occasional dolphin bobbing up its head. 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. 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 — 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.

Circle Bar B Guest Ranch offers horseback tours 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara
Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

Santa Barbara and nearby Montecito are blessed with great hiking trails in Rattlesnake, San Ysidro or Romero canyons. 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 Blue Agave, 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


Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Hotels

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Travel Guide California
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Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission

(Updated: 06/21/13 NW)

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