Whether you’re staying for a few days or just enjoying a short weekend trip, Santa Barbara offers unrivaled beauty in nature and plenty of activities both on and off the water. Flanked between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is known as the “American Riviera,” with its scenic views every which way you look. This coastal town is bursting with culture, style, art and water sport fun in the sun. There’s so much to enjoy, you’ll want to stay forever, like we did! But if you’re just joining us for a visit, here’s a guide of what to do in Santa Barbara during your first 24 hours.
<<Check our long-term and short-term vacation rental homes to find the ideal beach rental in Santa Barbara>>
One of the best things about staying Downtown is that everything is just a short walk or bike ride away. You’ll notice that most of our Santa Barbara accommodations are located within easy walking distance from the beach, State Street or both.
Early morning walk or bike ride along the Santa Barbara Shoreline
Take advantage of the proximity our coastal rental homes offer and stroll down to Stearns Wharf where you can rent bicycles or a four-wheel surrey, perfect for families. Allow this light physical activity along with the ocean breeze and sunshine to wake you up – your day in beautiful Santa Barbara is just beginning!
Santa Barbara is of course famous for its beaches. Leadbetter Beach is a favorite for tanning, relaxing and picnicking. Head the opposite direction on the bike trail and you’ll run into East Beach with its volleyball courts, open lawns and nearby Skate Park.
Java, pastries & Spanish architecture
Santa Barbara is known for its strong brews and friendly, local coffee shops. Walk or bike on over to one of these popular coffee and pastry spots: Handlebar Coffee Roasters on Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara Roasting Company, at the overpass on the way to the beach, or the French Press on State Street.
Fueled up and ready for the day, head on over to the Santa Barbara Courthouse to admire the Spanish architecture and lush Sunken Gardens. Climb the clock tower stairs or take an elevator to the top for a 360-view of the city, mountains and ocean.
Late morning – midday
After relaxing for a bit in your rented Santa Barbara coastal home, it’ll be time for brunch soon – Santa Barbara style. Santa Barbara has a rich Spanish heritage, so you’ll definitely want to savor Mexican food during your stay.
<<Check out our page on dining in Santa Barbara with our list of local restaurant favorites>>
But if you opt for a more American style comfort food, try the famous Sambo’s just across the street from the beach. Another casual breakfast and lunch spot in an ideal location is On the Alley, directly at the Harbor. Enjoy a quick bite and take a stroll along the Waterfront to admire the sailboats.
Water activities at the Santa Barbara Harbor or Pier
After letting your food settle, it’s a great time to try some light watersport. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board for a leisurely tour around the Santa Barbara Harbor waters. Admire the many pelicans and harbor seals and take in the majestic views of the Channel Islands in the distance. Those wanting to get in a surf will also find many places to rent surf boards or boogie boards.
You can also take a short boat ride on the beloved Lil’ Toot Water Taxi, which transports guests between the Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearn’s Wharf. There are also sailing companies offering whale watching tours, wine sailing trips and lunch sails. There’s literally an activity to suit everyone on the water.
<<Check out our blog post on Santa Barbara coastal sailing>>
Speaking of wine…
The Central Coast is the ideal spot for wine tasting and Santa Barbara is chock full of wine tasting rooms. Go to the colorful Funk Zone to experience some of the town’s newest wine tasting rooms and breweries (for those favoring beer). Once run-down industrial buildings and warehouses have been converted into hip restaurants, wineries, chic boutiques and artists’ studios, making Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone a thriving arts district. Feel free to meander from one wine tasting location to another, as they’re within short blocks from each other. True wine aficionados will want to look into the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, a self-guided wine-tasting tour through Santa Barbara’s neighborhoods.
Dinner & dessert
After a day of wining, dining and exploring, head back to your cozy vacation rental home and indulge in the properties many luxurious amenities. As the sun begins to set, you’ll want to make sure you’re in a good spot for happy hour before heading out dinner.
<<Take another look at our SB Dining list for where to eat dinner & enjoy happy hour in Santa Barbara>>
Choose from Japanese sushi on State Street, Spanish tapas, American cuisine featuring regionally sourced ingredients and many other savory foods. If you haven’t yet tried the local flavor, Santo Mezcal is our favorite for contemporary Mexican cuisine with an emphasis on seafood.
After dinner, take a romantic stroll down State Street and stop at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, a true Santa Barbara treat. McConnell’s has been crafting delicious ice cream with natural ingredients since 1949, and after one taste you’re sure to come back tomorrow for more!
Sleep & dream in Santa Barbara
As the day comes to a close, relish in the fact that your first day in Santa Barbara isn’t quite over yet. When you go back to your rented beach house, villa or urban retreat, you’ll sleep easy with all the comforts of home. Take a look at our Guest Services to see what luxurious amenities you can expect at each of our properties. And make sure to browse the descriptions of each of the properties to view full details and photos for each of our carefully curated Santa Barbara vacation rental properties.
Whether you’re in town for several days or a weekend mini-break, we welcome you to experience and enjoy all Santa Barbara has to offer. Although we’ve covered many activities and places to visit in this short guide, there’s still so much more to see and do in Santa Barbara and the surrounding communities.
Read our full page on Santa Barbara attractions and activities for a comprehensive list of what to do in Santa Barbara during your stay.
Need to book a vacation in Santa Barbara, Carpinteria or Montecito, enter your dates and browse our coastal rental properties.