How to Plan the Perfect Santa Barbara Weekend Escape
Want to plan the perfect Santa Barbara weekend? Look no further. This guide will give you everything you’ll need to book, reserve, and see!
This post is in collaboration with Visit Santa Barbara. All opinions are my own.
There might just be no better place more suited to a weekend (or week-long or life-long) getaway than Santa Barbara. With its famously perfect weather, the city is chock full of cultural sights as well as outdoors activities. It also offers up quite a variety of restaurants and bars, starting with the Funk Zone district. And because it’s fairly small you’ll be able to get around in under 10-15 minutes and avoid the kind of traffic LA is notorious for. I can see why Oprah opted to call it home over anywhere else in the world!
When Sher and I visited as part of our California coast road trip, we had about two full days and two nights, so I thought I’d take what we did, tweak it a bit, and share so you guys can copy for your own weekend getaway!
For more advice, check out my guide on all the unique things to do in Santa Barbara
Tips for Your Santa Barbara Weekend
Where to Stay
Because everything in Santa Barbara is fairly close by car or e-bike, it doesn’t matter too much where you wind up staying. However, I do think within walking distance of the Funk Zone will put you in the best position, especially if you plan on having drinks with dinner and want to just walk to and from your hotel. We stayed at the very cute and newly renovated Hideaway. It lives up to its name and is tucked away on the side of the road. The breakfast is absolutely delicious!
You can drive or fly into Santa Barbara. We drove in from San Luis Obispo, which was only two hours away, and then drove on to LA, which was another two hours. If you fly in, Santa Barbara has its own airport, which is only ten minutes from downtown.
We mostly got around by car and everything was at most 10 minutes away! I actually have a better recommendation if you’re comfortable with it…
After doing my e-bike ride, I immediately wished we’d rented e-bikes for our whole time and gave ourselves a break from the car. Santa Barbara is extremely bike-friendly right down to the constant sunshine and multitude of bike paths. You can very easily get around downtown and over to Montecito and Summerland just by e-bike and it’s really not the expensive, especially if you’re planning to rent a car for your weekend.
Plus, it’s an e-bike! So a lot less work than a regular bike, and even then there aren’t many hills or anything to make it too challenging. I recommend using Cal Coast Adventures as they can also arrange to drop off the bikes anywhere you are.
The Perfect Santa Barbara Weekend Itinerary
Now let’s get into your actual Santa Barbara weekend itinerary!
Most hotels in Santa Barbara have a hard check-in at 4:00 PM, so if you get in any earlier, I recommend renting bikes and going over to Summerland and Montecito. Hopefully you’ve taken my advice and gotten e-bikes for the weekend, so this can be your start time!
Grab dinner at Boathouse and enjoy the sunset
One of the best spots in Santa Barbara for the sunset has to be Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach! It’s pretty popular, so I would 100% call to make reservations. When we went, we split three appetizers: steamed black mussels, fried calamari, and the local rockfish ceviche. Would recommend all options! We also tried to get some Santa Barbara uni, which is a type of sea urchin, but they were out. For a main, I loved the fish tacos, which are made with local snapper. Really, though, I feel like you probably can’t go wrong here with whatever you order.
Head to the Funk Zone for drinks
Once it’s dark out, head over to the Funk Zone to grab a drink or two! I only sampled mocktails at different restaurants, but here’s a handy list of fun cocktail spots and another list for mocktail spots. My personal vote would be to try Test Pilot.
Start off with breakfast
If you’re staying at the Hideaway, you do NOT want to miss breakfast. They only run from 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM, so don’t oversleep. The menu switches daily and is freshly made right as you arrive, and each day was so delicious. Our first morning was a vegetarian breakfast burrito that still has to be one of the best I’ve tried.
Spend all morning outside
Santa Barbara is a city of good weather and sunshine, so take advantage and spend the morning outside! There are so many ways to get out – hiking, bike riding, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, swimming… the sky is the limit. I opted for an e-bike ride that stopped off in Montecito for a coffee at Bree’Osh and ended at Winslow-Maxwell Overlook.
Lunch at Flor de Maiz
When in SoCal, you’ve got to get Mexican at least once. We opted for Flor de Maíz which is right across the road from the beach and has some great outdoor seating. After splitting some empanadas de langosta, I got the duck mole taquitos and Sher got the fish tacos. YUM!
Visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art
I’d try to fit in at least one museum during your weekend in Santa Barbara. We chose the newly renovated SB Museum of Art and were impressed by how varied the collections were. It’s fairly small at two floors, so you should be able to walk and read about the pieces around in around an hour or two.
Check out the Spanish architecture at the County Courthouse
Right around the corner from the museum is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. It’s a cool example of Spanish colonial architecture from 1929 and a quick visit unless you’re there in time to go up the El Mirador clock tower (we missed the opening times).
Enjoy Old Mission Santa Barbara at golden hour
By this point, it should be around golden hour, which means Old Mission Santa Barbra is especially beautiful. The pink-hued building was first built in 1786 and has a really pretty green space surrounding it. If you want to learn more, there’s a museum here, but really it’s just nice to walk around and admire the exteriors. Heck if you’re feeling artistic, we saw at least one guy sitting down to sketch while we were there.
Head over to La Paloma Cafe for dinner.
Again, be sure you’ve made reservations! La Paloma Cafe’s history goes back to 1940 (though from 1983 – 2019 it was known as Paradise Cafe). After it was acquired by Acme Hospitality, they dove in to revive the cafe’s history with the help of the original owners’ granddaughter.
Cuisine here is a mix of Spanish, Mexican, and Chumash. Start with the La Paloma salad (two words: hibiscus vinaigrette), Kumiai oysters, and their ranch fries. Then split the oak grilled fish of the day and a size of their glazed carrots. If you still have room after all that, try the Mexican salted chocolate tarte for dessert.
Start with breakfast at your hotel
Again don’t miss Hideaway’s breakfast. On our second morning, we had shakshuka!
Spend the morning at Lotusland
Once you’ve finished breakfast head over to Lotusland in Summerland. It’s truly one of the most underrated spots in Santa Barbara (kind of reminds me of the Getty Villa in LA). You have to reserve tickets in advance, and it’s a timed slot. The earliest is 9:15, which is what I would choose so you avoid the sun getting too bright.
Give yourself around two hours to walk around the gardens, which were originally cultivated by Ganna Walska, a Polish opera singer who purchased the property to be a retreat for Tibetan monks. You can take tour or there are plenty of volunteers around the garden with whom you can chat and ask questions.
Head over to Field + Fort for lunch
Since you’re already in Summerland, head over to Field + Fort for lunch. It’s half luxury home goods and half cafe with lots of outdoor seating. Still kind of obsessed with their market greens salad. Get it with chicken salad on top and drizzle that carrot ginger vinaigrette generously. This is also a good spot for breakfast before Lotusland if you’re staying a hotel with no breakfast options!
If you still want to do a little walking around after lunch, park your bikes or car at Lookout Park and walk around downtown. You can go antiquing or grab an iced chai latte at the very cute Red Kettle Coffee.
Relax at Summerland Beach or Rosewood Miramar pool
Now it’s time for some relaxation, swimming, and sunbathing!
I’ve recommended a lot for one Santa Barbara weekend, so I think a nice way to (almost) end things is lounging around and soaking up the sun. Either go down to Summerland Beach or get a day pass at the luxurious Rosewood Miramar Beach to use their gorgeous outdoor pools.
Just a note: The way this itinerary works means you’ll probably have checked out your hotel by now. Don’t worry about figuring out changing for dinner. Summerland at least has some spots to rinse your feet and your day pass to Rosewood will give you access to showers and changing rooms.
Dinner at The Lark
End your Santa Barbara weekend with one more excellent restaurant! The Lark gets its name from the old overnight Pullman train that used to go through town and is situated right in the middle of the Funk Zone. It’s actually kind of set back a bit, and you walk past another restaurant to get it.
The Lark’s menu focuses on locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients and is split between farm, ocean, and ranch. I recommend getting a dish from each section and splitting them so you can try everything. For farm, you have to get the Brussel sprouts! They might actually be the best Brussel sprouts I’ve ever had. From the ranch, we really liked the buttermilk chicken. It’s really juicy and deceptively light. As for the ocean, we loved the diver scallops; they were super tender and I could’ve probably eaten ten more!
And that’s a wrap on the perfect Santa Barbara weekend! Once you’re done dinner, you can drive off to your next destination! With this itinerary, you’ve gotten some outdoors, some cultural sightseeing, some really good food, and a bit of relaxation all in the span of 48 hours! Anything you’d add? Let me know below!
For more California travel, read these next:
- Dreamiest Castles in the US
- Fun Things to Do in Truckee, CA
- Going to San Francisco for the First Time?
- A Local Guide to Los Angeles
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So amazing trip, your pictures looks so amazing, Love your blog so much!
Aw thank you!!