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Santa Barbara

National Parks

Santa Barbara, California

The city of Santa Barbara is located on the California coast approximately 90 miles (150 km) north of Los Angeles. It is somewhat sheltered from Pacific Ocean weather by a group of uninhabited rocky isles, known simply as the Channel Islands, situated 30 miles to the west across the Santa Barbara Channel. Its beautiful beaches and sheltered waters offer a great weather for swimming, boating and sunbathing.

Mission Santa Barbara © Mike Leco /
Sightseers will enjoy exploring the Old Spanish Presidio and the Mission Santa Barbara in the older parts of the city.

Santa Barbara, The American Riviera

A low ridge of hills with spectacular views of the harbor nearly surrounds the city. Many beautiful but costly homes adorn these ridges and hillsides. A few miles further inland, the great wall of the Santa Ynez Mountains forms a picturesque eastern backdrop. This part of the California Coast is often called the American Riviera, as it is a beautiful vacation destination but a very expensive place to live.

You can get to Santa Barbara by driving about two hours north from Los Angeles on Highway 101. On the way, you will pass some great scenery as the road snakes between the coastal mountains and many isolated surfing beaches. Santa Barbara Municipal Airport is small, but it hosts a nice selection of daily flights from many major western cities. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner train offers a half dozen trips a day from Los Angeles and San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Beautiful Beaches in Santa Barbara

The major attraction in Santa Barbara is its beautiful broad beach fringed by rows of palm trees and pristine parks. It resembles the gorgeous beach at Santa Monica in northern Los Angeles, but without any of the surrounding congestion, traffic or air pollution. It even has a long pier accommodating restaurants, shops and amusement attractions. On a Saturday afternoon in August, this beach had only a handful of sunbathers scattered about its vast sandy surface. This is what makes Santa Barbara a favorite weekend getaway destination for residents of all southern California including many Los Angeles natives.

To the north and south of downtown Santa Barbara, there are numerous narrower beaches ideal for surfing. Near Carpinteria, about 15 miles south of Santa Barbara, Rincon Point is reputedly the finest surfing spot in California. Several surfing schools in Santa Barbara offer to teach you how to surf like a real California beach bum in a single day.

From the harbor basin in Santa Barbara, you can rent kayaks or sailboats. You can go on whale-watching cruises, on fishing charters or on boat excursions to the Channel Islands nature preserves. You can rent bicycles and pedal cars nearby.


Also known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is a popular tourist travel destination in California offering various lodging and hotel accommodations close to beaches and attractions

No high-rise hotels or condominiums

There are no high-rise hotels or beach condominiums in Santa Barbara. Small classy hotels, restaurants and shops surround the beach area. All of the streets in town are lined with palm trees and flowering shrubs. The major shopping and entertainment area is located along State Street beginning about 6 blocks back from the beach. This city has a wonderful selection of fine restaurants, boutiques and upscale shopping malls. On weekend nights, the bars and clubs along State Street offer lively entertainment to both tourists and local revelers. The city also offers a ballet, a symphony, theaters, museums and many art galleries. For golfers, there are several beautiful courses near Santa Barbara with gorgeous palm-lined fairways and year-round golfing weather.

Shopping in Santa Barbara © Mike Leco /
The major shopping and entertainment area is located along State Street beginning about 6 blocks back from the beach.

Sightseers will enjoy exploring the Old Spanish Presidio and the Mission Santa Barbara in the older parts of the city. The courthouse that combines striking modern design with traditional Spanish colonial features is worth visiting. From Santa Barbara, it is less than an hour drive over the mountains or along the coast to the Santa Ynez Valley with its flower farms and wineries. This is the heart of the California Central Coast wine region where some great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are grown. You can visit many of the wineries and sample some of their vintages.

Solvang, a Danish Village in California

Solvang, located along Route 101 in the Santa Ynez Valley, is one of the most unique towns in the USA. It is a complete Danish village with Danish architecture, Danish restaurants and Danish shops. It is a good place to stop for lunch during your explorations of the Santa Ynez Valley.

The best times to visit the American Riviera are from May through October. The temperatures for this half of the year are normally warm enough to lie on the beach and to enjoy other outdoor activities. Swimming in the somewhat chilly Pacific Ocean waters is always a challenge. During the winter months, it is usually warm enough for most outdoor activities like golf or tennis, but a bit too cool for sunbathing or swimming. It never gets too hot even during mid summer as the ocean breezes keep the temperature very pleasant.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau & Film Commission
Photo Description: Santa Barbara Harbor