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Spotlight: Santa Barbara

Discover Golden State treasures in this Central Coast gem

Lying on the Central California coast between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, the dazzling city of Santa Barbara charms visitors from across the world. The town exudes a blend of stylish elegance and laid-back California cool that’s found nowhere else on the planet.

Architectural styles here are as varied as the recreational opportunities. Visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse to see a California-Spanish style structure in fine form. Unique features like the distinctive wooden gate and detailed tile work throughout the interior make it a standout. The Mural Room and the Observation Tower are not to be missed when visiting the courthouse.

Dating back to 1786, Old Mission Santa Barbara is often called the Queen of the Missions. Self-guided and docent-led tours of the mission, which is home to a community of Franciscan friars, include visits to landscaped gardens, the mission museum, the church and the mission’s historic cemetery.

Gaze at lotus blossoms floating in peaceful waters at Ganna Walska Lotusland, a 37-acre estate and botanical garden that houses more than 3,000 plants from all over the globe. The property also features a Japanese garden, a horticultural clock and topiary animals. Lotusland is a public garden in a residential neighborhood, therefore, reservations are required.

The Santa Barbara Zoo welcomes animal lovers to visit with its dozens of residents. See 146 species of animals, many of which are exhibited in open, natural habitats. Popular animals include the western lowland gorilla, African lion and Humboldt penguin. The zoo offers evening and overnight safaris behind-the-scenes for enthusiastic guests.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Santa Barbara by the Sea

Stroll Santa Barbara’s Waterfront, where dining, shopping and wine tasting lure visitors off the promenade. Walk along State Street and window shop for trendy clothes, beautiful antiques and marvelous works of art.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center on Stearns Wharf showcases interactive exhibits that focus on marine life and the human impact on the marine ecosystem. Nearby, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is dedicated to education, history and community involvement through presentations like the Marine Science Program, tall-ship tours and family kayak races.

Catch a wave or watch the sun set over the surf at Shoreline Park, which runs along the coast and includes a children’s play area. During migration season, lucky visitors will see whale pods traveling through the open ocean. Take a charter cruise from Santa Barbara Harbor to enjoy a sunset dinner or a whale-watching excursion.

In downtown Santa Barbara, the Reagan Ranch Center showcases items and multimedia presentations devoted to the 40th president. Reagan spent 25 years at nearby Rancho del Cielo, also known as the “Western White House.”

Scenic Santa Barbara

See the best of the city and its surroundings on the Santa Barbara Scenic Drive. Stunning architecture and ocean views reward motorists.

Enjoy the outdoors on a hike of the Jesusita Trail, a 7-mile round trip that thrills dedicated hikers with views of spring wildflowers and waterfalls. Cold Spring Trail passes small waterfalls as well. Hiking around Santa Barbara invites stunning views of the landscape, and many weary walkers seek refreshment inside Cold Spring Tavern. This 1860s-era structure originally served as a waystation for stagecoach travelers heading over the San Marcos Pass. Also on the property is the Ojai Jail, built in 1873 and donated to the property’s owners when the Ojai sheriff retired.

Santa Barbara has a hot art scene, and temperatures rise to their highest at Santa Barbara Art Glass. Visitors can make their own creations in private glassblowing classes with the assistance of talented instructors. If you’d rather leave it to the professionals, one-of-a-kind pieces are available for purchase.

Getty Images/moodboard RF

Getty Images/moodboard RF

The Old West comes to life at the Carriage and Western Art Museum. Displays of antique Western tack gear and stagecoaches sit alongside saddles once used by Will Rogers, Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart.

The Spanish-style Lobero Theatre is an architectural treasure that puts on plays and concerts, and showcases vintage architecture. Whether you stop in for a show or just want to look around, this theater always entertains.

Little ones can get their adventure on and adults can enjoy a relaxing afternoon at Kids’ World at Alameda Park. The expansive playground caters to children ranging in age from 2 to 12. Across the street, the memorial garden at Alice Keck Park offers self-guided tours that help grown-ups to recharge their batteries.

The life of early Spanish settlers is re-created at El Presidio de Santa Barbara. This state historic park is nestled downtown and preserves the remains of the last Spanish fortress built in Central California, which dates to 1782. Two adobe buildings still stand, and several parts are open for visitors to explore on self-guided tours. Reconstructed rooms show how Presidio officers, soldiers and their families once lived.

For More Information

Visit Santa Barbara
California Travel and Tourism Commission