Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara: 24 Perfect Hours in the American Riviera

25 April 2017
Read Time: 5.2 mins

Nestled between the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean and the chaparral-covered Santa Ynez mountains lies the gem that is Santa Barbara. With 300 days of sunshine, a Mediterranean climate and red-tiled rooftops juxtaposed against white stucco walls, it’s easy to see how the destination has become known as The American Riviera.

A view over red-tiled roofs to the sea in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara has become known as The American Riviera. Image: Jay Sinclair

Casual, friendly and brimming with attractions, Santa Barbara lures couples, families and friends from the world over to explore, discover and relax. Most travellers arrive in Santa Barbara via Los Angeles, making the two-hour journey north of California’s mega-hub.

Those who come for a day-trip wish they had stayed overnight, those who came overnight wish they had lingered longer. Whatever your time constraints (or lack thereof), here’s our guide to making the first 24 hours in the American Riviera as perfect as a completed jigsaw puzzle.

Early Morning

There’s nothing like starting your day with an adrenaline hit and connecting with nature. Both can be done simultaneously in Santa Barbara’s great outdoors.

Cyclists on the Cabrillo Bike Path in Santa Barbara, California. Get your bearings along the beachside Cabrillo Bike Path. Image: Jay Sinclair

Just like the surrounding terrain, your options are varied. However, perhaps the best start to the day for first-timers is along the Cabrillo Bike Path, which crosses Santa Barbara’s three downtown beaches.

It is here that you’ll get your bearings while watching (and joining in with) the locals’ morning exercise regime. Don’t worry if you can’t ride a bike – you can jog or rollerblade if you prefer!


After working up an appetite, there’s no better way to sate it than brunch with a view – and a coffee. For the ultimate brunch indulgence with a beach view head to Bella Vista, Four Season’s Italian restaurant, where a premium buffet brunch is served daily.

If you’re mad about artisan bread and pastries, a visit to the recently opened Helena Avenue Bakery is a must. Located in the heart of Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, it is here that irresistible sweet and savoury delights are crafted by hand.


In the heat of the day, find reprieve at Santa Barbara’s historic and charming Spanish landmarks. Check out the Red Tile Walking Tour, which showcases the city’s Spanish Revival architecture. The Spanish-Moorish courthouse offers exquisite, 360-degree views from its tower, while the Old Mission Santa Barbara is regarded as the chief cultural and historic landmark of the city.

A view over red-tiled rooftops in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara's Spanish Revival architecture is the star of the Red Tile Walking Tour. Image: Jay Sinclair

By now you’ll probably be a bit peckish and ready to sample the next Santa Barbara culinary sensation. One of the most prominent cuisines of the region is Mexican food. Wander down the Eastside of Santa Barbara along Milpas Street for authentic Mexican taquerias and restaurants, all of which serve handmade tortillas and seasoned meats with mouth-watering salsas.

Early Afternoon

Head towards the Santa Barbara Funk Zone, where you’ll find a flourishing subculture of artists’ studios, galleries, artisanal shops and eateries. Perhaps the star of the Funk Zone, however, is the Urban Wine Trail.

A sign outside a wine-tasting place in Santa Barbara reads: With wine and hope, anything is possible. Don't forget to sample Santa Barbara's world-class wines. Image: Jay Sinclair

Just outside of Santa Barbara city, the endless, rolling hills of the region’s wine country produce the finest nectar of the vine. This world-class wine is brought to you along the Urban Wine Trail in dozens of tasting rooms.

Late Afternoon

Sunset in the American Riviera is spectacular. Luminescent oranges, pinks and purples diffuse into the skyline, reflecting across the water. Make your way to Endless Summer bar-cafe to kick back, relax and sip on something while watching nature’s light show.

A peach-coloured sky over Santa Barbara. Prepare for spectacular sunsets in Santa Barbara. Image: Blake Bronstad


Dine out in the American Riviera and the hardest decision you’ll have to make is where to go. For a local favourite and a fusion of Californian cuisine with Asian influences, head to Opal Restaurant and Bar. If you’re feeling the need to be treated like royalty and eat fancy food, Italian and seafood eatery Toma Restaurant and Bar is the spot.

A glass of red wine is poured in a restaurant in Santa Barbara, California. When it comes to dining out in Santa Barbara, you're spoiled for choice. Image: Blake Bronstad

There is no entertainment like live music, especially in a legendary venue. Santa Barbara bowl is next-level live legendary. The 4000-plus-seat amphitheatre has been hosting the most acclaimed artists since the 1930s.


Put your feet up and rest your head in a bed of clouds. Unwind and recharge in one of Santa Barbara’s boutique hotels or luxury resorts, such as the Bacara Hotel and Spa. Awake the following morning to complete your perfect 24 hours… but linger a little longer for a perfect 24 more.

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