Sponsored Content

Here’s Where to Revel in Santa Barbara’s Cool Community Vibe

Ramp up the fun in this laid-back coastal California city.

Here's Where to Revel in Santa Barbara's Cool Community Vibe

A community of winemakers, fishermen, artists, and chefs, the residents of Santa Barbara have long preserved the history and culture of their city—from the old-school theaters to the colorful tiles of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. You won’t find tall buildings, thanks to a law passed back in 1930. And downtown’s El Pueblo Viejo Landmark District was established in 1960 to protect the area’s distinctive, mission-style architecture. Today, the city’s cool community spirit has expanded beyond downtown to neighborhoods like the Funk Zone and the Lagoon District, which are filled with a new generation of tastemakers. Here’s where to check it out.


Stay in the Funk Zone
In recent years, the Funk Zone has become one of Santa Barbara’s hottest neighborhoods, thanks in part to its converted warehouses and graffiti murals. The Wayfarer Santa Barbara hotel is a great base for exploring this local community; it’s within walking distance of East Beach and the Santa Barbara Pier, and there are beach cruise bikes available for rent. Whether you’re traveling solo, with your partner, or with your crew, there’s a welcoming atmosphere in the mix of private and shared guest rooms, as well as a fully equipped communal kitchen and a year-round heated pool. Start your day with the complimentary breakfast and take part in social events like poolside yoga, pub crawls, cooking demos, and live music.


Dive into Waterfront History
Housed in the former Naval Reserve Building right on the waterfront, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum was founded by a group of local fishermen, divers, and sailors to showcase the history of the Santa Barbara Channel. They envisioned it as a place where visitors could experience the heritage of this coastal community, just steps from where you can still kayak, paddleboard, or have a seaside meal. From lighthouse artifacts to Native American canoes used to cross the channel, the exhibits include a deep-sea-dive VR experience and hands-on crafts for kids, as well as timeless tales of shipwrecks and surfing. Take in the great view from the fourth floor and browse the shop for local books and souvenirs.


Explore the Valley
For a real-deal taste of local wine culture, check out Sanford Winery: In the early 1970’s, the first vines planted in the Sta. Rita Hills were at the now-legendary Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. For nearly 50 years, this vineyard—a site that Wine Enthusiast lists as one of the five most important and iconic vineyards in the state of California—has set the standard for quality in the region and is home to the oldest pinot noir vines in all of Santa Barbara county. Today, you can sample their superb wines at the tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara, or head to the winery in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Cruise down country roads to the mission-inspired estate for an education in winemaking. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the sustainable winemaking facilities and sample a wine flight in the tasting room. To fully savor the valley setting, book a seated private tasting of estate-grown wines for $45 per person and add a delicious picnic lunch for $25.


Kick Back in East Beach
A popular beach for families—and volleyball players of all levels—East Beach is a stop on the scenic Cabrillo Bike Path, which runs along the coastline. Within walking distance of the sand and its plethora of volleyball courts, The Inn at East Beach is a budget-friendly hotel with 33 spacious rooms featuring stylish mid-century décor and views of the Santa Ynez foothills. You’ll also find a surprising number of amenities, like ’round-the-clock complimentary coffee from the Santa Barbara Roasting Company in the lobby (as well as tea and hot cocoa) and on-site bike rentals provided by Cal Coast Adventures. Plus, you can borrow all the beach essentials you might need, from sand toys and body boards to umbrellas and chairs.


Throw in the Towel
To hit the beach in comfort and style, bring a towel from Riviera Towel Company. Plush, absorbent, and beautifully patterned, these designed-in-Santa Barbara beach and bath towels let you dry off while making a statement. Steeped in the tradition of the Turkish Towel, they’re made from super-soft, sustainable cotton. Yet they dry faster than terrycloth and pack up tight, making them perfect for travel. Plus, a portion of every sale benefits marine agencies working to heal and protect our oceans. Visit the showroom in the Sevilla Square building and you’ll also find blankets, bathrobes, and beach bags in the same unique designs of stripes, diamonds, and chevrons. For more information about Santa Barbara, visit SantaBarbaraCA.com.

Visit Santa Barbara
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR