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Why Go To Santa Barbara

In the early 20th century when Flying A Studios opened its doors, Santa Barbara was slated to become the epicenter of America's movie-making industry. But the movie stars moved south to Los Angeles, and today's Santa Barbarans wouldn't want it any other way. On "America's Riviera," Santa Barbara aspires for a casual yet fashionable elegance. Just take a look at the well-dressed pedestrians on State Street to comprehend the city's understated indulgence. And although some of America's budget-friendly favorites — like Motel 6 and the McDonald's Egg McMuffin — have their origins here, Santa Barbara's boutique shops and world-class resorts have a reputation for making a dent in your vacation savings. If you can afford the price tag, this quiet, seaside paradise might just be the ideal California retreat for you.

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Rankings

The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on analysis of expert and user opinions. Read more about how we rank vacation destinations.

Best of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Santa Barbara is from March to May or from September to November. Temperatures are fairly mild year-round, hovering in the 60s and 70s, but traveling in early spring or fall ensures you won't be fighting crowds and rates will be less expensive. Summer welcomes most of the city's annual events and it's also peak season if you're looking for a beach vacation, but you'll have to contend with more crowds. If you're traveling during the winter months, make sure to pack an umbrella because Santa Barbara sees most of its rainfall between December and February. No matter when you decide to visit, pack layers as the as morning and late evening temperatures tend to be much cooler than the daytime highs. 

Weather in Santa Barbara

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Average Temperature (°F)
65
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66
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69
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58
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65
47
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Average Precipitation (in)
4.37
4.57
2.91
1.22
0.31
0.08
0.04
0.04
0.16
0.91
1.77
3.03
Jan
Feb
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See details for When to Visit Santa Barbara

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

What You Need to Know

  • SB is for active beachgoers There is almost always something happening on one of Santa Barbara's beaches, whether there's an art walk or a volleyball game on East Beach. Join in the fun and rent a bike or surfboard at a beachside shop.
  • Don't forget your wallet You won't get far without your credit cards. Santa Barbara drips with casual Californian luxury, which might look free but believe us, sustaining (or staying in) such a lifestyle demands some dough.
  • Pack layers You may be at the beach, but that doesn't come with a sunny guarantee. The mornings are usually foggy and cool until the afternoon, when the clouds leave and temperatures rise.

How to Save Money in Santa Barbara

  • Take the bus The city is walkable, but you can also hop on the public shuttle from downtown to the waterfront and zoo for only 50 cents one-way. 
  • Skip the shopping State Street is known for its boutique and speciality shops, but their wares come with a hefty price tag. To save a few bucks, find souvenirs elsewhere. 
  • Snack at farmers markets There is no shortage of farmers markets in Santa Barbara, so grab a fresh snack from local growers and artisans while strolling downtown.

Culture & Customs

Santa Barbara prides itself on being a city that maintains a small-town feel, but still maintains the refined atmosphere of a European city, which gives the region its nickname: the American Riviera.

The city draws from its history as a colony with Spanish revival architecture and mixes the laid-back vibes of beachgoers with a sophisticated arts scene and vibrant wine country. And with Los Angeles a short drive away, movie buffs could spot a celebrity or two. Instead of splurging on ballet tickets or a pricey painting, visitors can take advantage of 1st Thursdays, when galleries and performing arts venues open their doors for free the first Thursday of each month. 

Residents also like to spend a lot of time outdoors. And because of its location between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, there is no shortage of outdoor activities to partake in year-round. There is an abundance of city parks as well as water sports, hiking and biking opportunities. But locals won't mind if you just want to relax with a glass of wine or soak up the sun one of the public beaches. 

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What to Eat

Fresh local produce is a staple in Santa Barbara, thanks to a climate that's conducive to a year-round growing season. While you're walking downtown and along the waterfront, you're likely to run into multiple farmers markets, but for the ultimate experience check out the Public Market.

With its beachfront location, some of the most popular restaurants in town, including The Hungry Cat and The Lark, have seafood prominently features on their menus. If fish isn't your thing, try some of the artisan California-Italian cuisine at places like Olio Pizzeria. For a more romantic setting with views of the ocean, reserve a table at Toma.

No matter what cuisine type you choose and where you decide to dine, you're sure to find an extensive wine list. Santa Barbara County is known for being part of wine country. Just a short drive outside the city and you'll find an abundance of small vineyards and wineries that inspire the local cuisine. While you're in town, check out the area known as the Funk Zone, where you'll happen upon several wine bars and art galleries. 

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Getting Around Santa Barbara

The best way to get around Santa Barbara is on foot. Most of the main attractions, shops and restaurants are all located within a 3-mile radius in the downtown area. Santa Barbara is also known for its green transportation options and car free program that provides walking maps and alternative means of transportation like the various bus and shuttle system around the city.

To get to Santa Barbara, there are a few options. The closest major airport is Los Angeles International (LAX), about 90 miles southeast of the city. Santa Barbara also has a regional airport (SBA) that receives flights from a few major airlines through six major cities including Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Denver. Amtrak also runs two routes through Santa Barbara. The city is also relatively easy to get to by car, too, since it's right off the U.S. Highway 101, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway.

No matter which mode of transportation you take to get into town, whether it be bus, train or car, the public transportation station and the Pacific Coast Highway run right through downtown.

Photos

Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara
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For a small fee, visitors to the Santa Barbara Zoo can hand feed the Masai giraffes.

playfulphoto/Getty Images

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