What to do in Santa Barbara
January 3, 2007 3:55 PM   Subscribe

What is there to do in Santa Barbara?

The BF and I are driving up from LA to Santa Barbara for a little weekend vacation. What is there to do in Santa Barbara? Here are some restrictions:

Restaurants -- A nice romantic restaurant would be nice, but it has to accomodate the both of us: him being vegan, and me not being vegan.

Things to do -- Since it's a "we need to get away from LA" vacation, something low key would be nice. Are there any good quiet, untouristy beaches? I think the BF wants to go to at least one winery also. Any recommendations on those?

I'd rather not spend too much of the vacation driving, so suggestions of things/places fairly close to Santa Barbara would be perfect.
posted by nakedsushi to Travel & Transportation around Santa Barbara, CA (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I could spend a whole day walking State Street and the pier. Plenty of restaurants. As low key as you want it to be.

I hear the SB zoo is fun too, although I've never been.
posted by clh at 4:10 PM on January 3, 2007

The only time I was in SB with my boyfriend, we wound up going kayaking on the spur of the moment after walking from State Street to the pier for lunch (don't know about vegan options out there, though, since pretty much everything is going to be seafood-oriented). I don't know if that's your idea of low-key, but we certainly had a ton of fun, especially checking out the sea lions up close.
posted by scody at 4:19 PM on January 3, 2007

At this time of year, all of the beaches are pretty quiet. West Beach (that's the stretch left of the wharf) is the most touristy/loud, but that's generally a summer phenomenon. Butterfly Beach, in Montecito, is across the street from the Four Seasons hotel and therefore gets a steady flow of vacationers all year. But it's mostly couples holding hands as they walk down a shore that feels relatively secluded. Not much risk of boomboxes and screaming kids if that's what you're worried about.

Santa Barbara is, by design, a low-key vacationers' paradise. So to narrow things down a bit, it'd help to know more about what you'd enjoy. Do you like historical sightseeing? (The Mission, Presidio, El Paseo) --Window shopping? (State Street including Paseo Nuevo) --Bicycling? (rent bikes near the train station, then head down to the bike path along Cabrillo Blvd) --Nature? (Bird sanctuary, Marine center)

All of these are within a 2-3 mile radius, most of them right downtown. If you really want to avoid driving, take the train up. It deposits you right downtown, and within a few blocks of countless hotels, motels, timeshares, and B&B.

If you're interested in outdoorsy stuff, hotsprings, waterfalls, the Los Padres National Forest, and Lake Cachuma are less than an hour away by car.

Find out what's playing at the Arlington Theater while you're in town. If there's anything even moderately interesting, get tickets. The theater itself is quite an experience, one of the last of the great old "movie palaces" -- with an interior that's done up like an old Spanish plaza.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 4:40 PM on January 3, 2007

The Natural Cafe, 508 State Street. Edible happiness for vegans and omnivores both.
posted by changeling at 5:09 PM on January 3, 2007

The beaches will be mellow and uncrowded this time of year, and by other places standards they are uncrowded in summer also. For veggy friendly food the natural cafe on lower state st or the sojourner on canon perdido in the old presidio district will be good bets, I have been to neither but they have both been around a long time and are popular. Our art museum is small but nice and there are some nice funky little neighborhoods for aimless walks if you go a few blocks off state. And yes the Arlington is very cool if you want to see a movie in the old fashioned grand theater way.
posted by Iron Rat at 5:10 PM on January 3, 2007

I asked about restaurants in Santa Barbara a while back. We went to Downey's and loved it. Fit's the bill romantically to be sure. However, unless there's a meat-free entree the night you're there, he'll have to stick to appetizers.
posted by DakotaPaul at 5:24 PM on January 3, 2007

The county courthouse next to the art museum is probably the most beautiful government building in the state and is well worth wandering around in, also our harbor is a working harbor with fishing boats amongst the yachts and a walk out on the breakwater is fun. The natural history museum near the old mission is nice.
posted by Iron Rat at 5:32 PM on January 3, 2007

Hiking in the mountains might be a good wintertime alternative to going to the beach, there are a lot of good hiking trails in Santa Barbara. I recommend cold spring and/or rattlesnake canyon trails.
posted by Mark Doner at 5:38 PM on January 3, 2007

The Condor Express is a local whale watching boat. It is fast, smooth, modern, pricey, and has a very professional captain who knows where the big beasties will be found. We have a lot of sealife in the channel so you will see dolphins, porpoise and sealions in addition to whales.It's best to call and ask what they are seeing before deciding. I do not do wineries but there are a bunch over the mountains in the Santa Ynes valley. The Santa Barbara winery is in town but it looks a little industrial rather than intertaining.
posted by Iron Rat at 6:12 PM on January 3, 2007

I second the Natural Cafe and The Sojourner, which is a little less casual than the Natural Cafe but not fancy. They always have vegan menu items and specials.

I haven't eaten there yet, but Spiritland Bistro looks romantic from the outside and the menu seems fancier than Sojourner's...well, it seems more expensive, anyway!

I would recommend walking around The Douglas Family Preserve on the Mesa, and if you want to head down to the beach from there and it's low tide, take the Thousand Steps off Mesa Lane. (I'm having trouble finding directions to the steps, but just ask anyone in the park and they'll know where it is.) During high tide there won't be any beach, though!
posted by lemuria at 6:28 PM on January 3, 2007

The Zoo is nice, in a cute, tiny kind of way. You couldn't spend a day there, but you could while away a morning or an afternoon.
posted by Rubber Soul at 6:37 PM on January 3, 2007

Hmm, let's see-

For restaurants, there are essentially 3 places that I know of (and I would likely know) that would be good choices, and lemuria mentioned them all. My wife and I have eaten at Spiritland Bistro a few times, and we've very much enjoyed it. It's a much nicer restaurant (dress up a little bit) than the other two choices: Natural Cafe (a great place for lunch) and Sojourner (which has amazing desserts, but get there early for a good selection).

As for things to do: most of the beaches are relatively quiet, and the West Beach recommendation is right on. Much of downtown Santa Barbara is walking distance. State Street is great for window shopping or just wandering. The Courthouse (2 blocks off State at Figuroa and Santa Barbara Steet) is pretty and has a great (and free!) observation tower.

As Iron Rat said, most of the good wineries are about 40 minutes away in the Santa Ynez valley. All of the local tourist areas have maps, and 154 is a pretty drive. (You can take 101 instead, which is pretty between Buellton and Santa Barbara).

Let me know if you need more info. (Feel free to email if necessary.)
posted by JMOZ at 7:20 PM on January 3, 2007

The "Santa Barbara" wineries, as JMOZ mentioned, are about an hour north of the city. If you make it up there, I highly recommend the Foxen Canyon area. It's an idyllic place, although the absence of much rainfall during the past year has made it less green than usual. Foxen Winery itself is, IMO, the best among the wineries in the area. Great wines and a very rustic and friendly tasting room. In Los Olivos nearby, I recommend Beckman Vineyards.
posted by shoos at 7:46 PM on January 3, 2007

As several have already said, the wineries over the hills in the Santa Ynez valley are great (if you want a quick over view of several of the wineries and scenery, watch sideways).

It really takes a day to appreciate it though, and could easily be a trip by itself. I agree with shoos that foxen is a must see, though I found several other wineries to have better wine (though it's all subjective).
posted by justgary at 8:46 PM on January 3, 2007

Stop in Summerland and have a walk on the beach there. Instead of driving 101 from Summerland take Evans Ave north to Ortega Ridge road. Turn right onto Ortega Ridge, continue to East Valley Rd. Make a left and then follow that through Montecito to Hot Springs Rd. and then go back down to Cabrillo. You'll see some new scenery without going a long way off the main road.
posted by X4ster at 10:27 PM on January 3, 2007

While many of the wineries are up in the northern county, there is a gem right on State St. in the middle of downtown. The tasting at Giessenger Winery may be the best $5 I have ever spent. Check it out whether you go up to wine country or not.

For restaurants, I'd recommend Spice Avenue for excellent Indian food that (probably) will have some vegan-friendly options. Cafe Buenos Aires is another great restaurant and while not so vegan-friendly, it is worth stopping in for a Mojito.

As far as outdoorsy stuff goes, if you come up within the next few weeks you should go see the Monarch Butterflies, which are stopping in Ellwood along their migration at this time of year. You can go see the butterflies and then spend a couple of hours roaming around the surrounding bluffs and beach. Hiking is pretty good around here too, I recommend Inspiration point or McMenemy Trail for some great views. Also consider renting/bringing a bike, it's really the best way to see Santa Barbara.

If you're looking for a low-key nightspot, Elsie's is a very cool bar with a fun crowd. Dargan's is an Irish pub with lots of pool tables and pretty good bar food that I also like. Roy is a cool bar/restaurant/art gallery.

Hope you enjoy your stay.
posted by SBMike at 12:32 AM on January 4, 2007

We spent a couple hours wandering around the mission while we were there; the grounds are beautiful. Across from them is an extensive rose garden with hundreds of varieties; if it's in bloom this time of year, it's worth a walk-through.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:15 AM on January 4, 2007

I second (or third?) The Sojourner.

We (boyfriend: vegan, me: vegetarian) also really enjoyed Bucatini. It has that romantic feel you don't always get from veggie-friendly places, and is in the heart of downtown. He had the Fusilli Tartufati with no cheese, and he still raves about it several months later. I'm sure we'll return for another visit.

And though it's touristy, I have a soft spot for Solvang. It's about 30 minutes away and it's a lovely drive. I enjoy wandering the shops there.

The food choices aren't great if you're having lunch there (we had semi-gross Mexican I wouldn't recommend), but several places did have at least one vegetarian sandwich option.
posted by faunafrailty at 10:43 AM on January 4, 2007

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