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Santa Barbara, California Day Trip Guide

Between its beaches, downtown area, and restaurants, Santa Barbara is the perfect place for a day trip from Los Angeles.

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Santa Barbara is a seaside town in Southern California known for its beaches, charming downtown, zoo, and college. Plus, it’s bursting with great restaurants, breweries, and wine tasting rooms. Santa Barbara is also just more than an hour from Los Angeles, making it the perfect spot for a day trip.

Here’s what to do, eat, and drink on a day trip in Santa Barbara, California.

Leadbetter Beach Santa Barbara
Leadbetter Beach

Go to the Beach

Get a dose of that picturesque California coastline by visiting the beach in Santa Barbara. There are several different beaches around town, each with their own pros and cons, so choose whichever one is right for you. You can simply stop by for a stroll or spend several hours on the sand, just make sure to treat yourself to some time relaxing on the beach on your day trip in Santa Barbara.

1000 Steps Beach

In the Mesa neighborhood you’ll find 1000 Steps Beach. As the name suggests, you’ll need to walk down lots of steps to reach the ocean.

This area is more secluded, so it’s quiet and full of beautiful views. The smaller shoreline meets towering cliffs, encircling the area. If you’re looking for a peaceful beach, this is the spot for you.

When visiting 1000 Steps Beach, be careful on the stairs. They can get wet and very slippery as you near the water. Also, keep in mind that with seclusion comes a lack of amenities. There aren’t nearby snack stands or restrooms. Plus, there isn’t a designated parking lot, so you’ll need to find street parking.

1000 Steps Beach is located at 1429 Shoreline Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93109.

Leadbetter Beach

Just down the road from 1000 Steps Beach is Leadbetter Beach. This spot is home to lots of white sand, a grassy park area, and beach amenities.

Leadbetter Beach is great for sunbathing, going for a swim, or playing games on the sand. There are picnic tables and barbecue areas to use as well. The waves don’t get too large here, so it’s a popular area for beginning surfers, sailboats, and windsurfers. Plus, the Shoreline Beach Cafe is right on the sand, so you can easily grab a snack or drink (more on that later).

There is a large public parking lot at Leadbetter Beach. You can enter the lot and choose your spot, then pay a fee at a stationary machine. How much you pay depends on how long you plan to spend at the beach. Other services include outdoor showers and restrooms.

Overall, Leadbetter Beach is the perfect spot for a beach day.

Leadbetter Beach is located on Shoreline Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

West Beach

West Beach is located between Santa Barbara Harbor and Sterns Wharf, two of the busiest areas in town.

This beach is great for renting a boat and people watching, but not so great for swimming. With its proximity to the harbor and wharf, West Beach also close to plenty of shops and restaurants. So, if you want to be close to downtown and perhaps take a spin on a kayak, this is the spot for you.

West Beach is located along W Cabrillo Blvd.

McConnells Fine Ice Creams

Explore Stearns Wharf and Downtown Santa Barbara

Stearns Wharf

Stearns Wharf juts out into the ocean from the end of State Street.

The wharf was built in 1872 and was named for its builder, John P. Stearns. For many years, the pier served as a shipping and transportation hub for the Southern California coast. It suffered damage and hardships over the years, until restaurants began opening up and drawing visitors.

Today, there are specialty shops and restaurants along Stearns Wharf. It’s also home to the Sea Center, a campus of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Stearns Wharf is located at 217 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

Downtown

The downtown area of Santa Barbara is centered around State Street, roughly between E Sola Street and Highway 101 (or “the 101,” as the locals call it).

Downtown Santa Barbara is full of specialty shops, boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Spend some time on your day trip simply wandering around and see what you find.

Make sure to stop and re-hydrate at a local brewery, like Institution Ale Co., originally based in Camarillo, or Night Lizard Brewing Company, which also offers several delicious non-alcoholic beverages.

Santa Barbara

Hang Out in the Funk Zone

The Funk Zone is a hip neighborhood between downtown and the beach. This area is full of local boutiques, breweries, and wine tasting rooms. It’s a great spot to spend the late afternoon, perusing the stores and sampling the local libations.

There are several shops in the Funk Zone with locally made merchandise. At Seaside Makers Collective, for example, you’ll find jewelry, clothes, home decor, and souvenirs.

When you’re in need of another brew in this area, stop by Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. Figueroa Mountain is based in nearby Buellton and brews some seriously delicious beer. Drop in for a pint of the Hoppy Poppy IPA and a round of oversized Jenga on the patio.

If wine is more your style, here you’ll also find a section of the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. The wine trail is a series of wine tasting rooms dotted around town. Make your way along the route, sampling the local vino as you go.

La Super-Rica Taqueria
A handful of plates from La Super-Rica Taqueria

Where to Eat in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is brimming with great restaurants. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough meals in the day to try them all. The restaurants in Santa Barbara range from low key, budget-friendly options to pricey, upscale eateries. Here are a few budget-friendly suggestions to try on your day trip.

Lighthouse Coffee

Lighthouse Coffee is a shop in Mesa, not far from 1000 Steps Beach. They serve baked goods, light breakfast dishes like acai bowls and avocado toast, and really good coffee. It’s a great place for a quick pick-me-up.

Lighthouse Coffee is located at 1819 Cliff Dr suite c, Santa Barbara, CA 93109.

La Super-Rica Taqueria

La Super-Rica Taqueria is the most famous eatery in Santa Barbara. The taqueria has been a local staple for many years, and Julia Child called it her favorite restaurant.

At La Super Rica Taqueria, you’ll find homemade Mexican dishes. The best part of all the meals is the hand-made corn tortillas made right in front of you. It’s a great spot for some tacos, quesadillas, and guacamole.  

Note that La Super-Rica Taqueria is cash only (and there isn’t an ATM close by). Additionally, the taqueria is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. And as such a famous spot, you might have to wait in line to order.

La Super-Rica Taqueria is located at 622 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103.

Shoreline Beach Cafe

Shoreline Beach Cafe is located on Leadbetter Beach. They serve a mix of fare, including Mexican and seafood dishes. It’s a great spot for lunch or happy hour at the beach.

Shoreline Beach Cafe is located at 801 Shoreline Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93109.

The Middle Child Restaurant
Fried chicken with coconut grits, bread with burrata, and a cocktail at The Middle Child Restaurant

The Middle Child Restaurant

The Middle Child Restaurant is in downtown Santa Barbara. This hip spot serves creative dishes, like fried chicken with coconut grits. It’s the perfect spot to grab a drink and try something unique.

The Middle Child Restaurant is located at 18 E Cota St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

Enterprise Fish Co.

Enterprise Fish Co. serves up seafood near the beach in Santa Barbara (they’ve also got a location in Santa Monica). The restaurant is housed in a large space with an open kitchen in the center. If you’re craving seafood, this is the place to be.

Enterprise Fish Co. is located at 225 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams

McConnell’s is another Santa Barbara institution. Your day in Santa Barbara really isn’t complete until you’ve had some ice cream from McConnell’s. Grab a couple scoops of whatever flavor your heart desires.

McConnell’s has two locations in Santa Barbara (they also have a couple in Los Angeles). One is at 728 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. The other is at 120 State St, Suite B, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

1000 Steps Beach
Sunset at 1000 Steps Beach

How to Get to Santa Barbara and Get Around Town

How to Get to Santa Barbara

To get to Santa Barbara for a day trip from Los Angeles, drive or take the train.

To drive from Los Angeles, simply hop on Highway 101 North/West. Santa Barbara is about 80 miles from LA, but it depends on from where in the city you’ll depart. The drive is generally about an hour and a half. (That, of course, depends on the traffic and where you’re leaving from, as well.)

To take the train from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, take Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner. The train runs up and down the west coast of the US. Trains between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara run several times a day. The trip takes about two and a half hours. Ticket prices vary.

How to Get Around Santa Barbara

To get around Santa Barbara, you can drive, walk, use public transitride sharing apps, or take a tour.

There are many parking lots all around Santa Barbara (where you can pay to park), as well as street parking. So, if you need to drive around, there’s no need to worry about parking shortages.

If you’re planning to spend most of the day around downtown, you’ll be able to walk everywhere. It’s not a very large area, and the weather is generally nice, so you can easily get around on foot.

As for public transportation, the city has many local buses. The buses are operated by Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (MTD). The MTD also offers downtown and waterfront shuttles.

Also, ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft are available.

Finally, if you’d like to take a tour, there’s also a hop-on hop-off trolley that travels all over town.

Shoreline Beach Cafe
Beachside cocktails at Shoreline Beach Cafe!

Between its beaches, downtown area, and restaurants, Santa Barbara is the perfect place for a day trip from Los Angeles. Simply spend your time exploring this charming town and enjoying its laid- back atmosphere. Cheers!

Santa Barbara, California Day Trip Guide

Santa Barbara Day Trip Guide

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