In today’s video chat I am joined by Jocilyn Schumacher, the Senior Manager, Travel Trade at Visit Santa Barbara who enchants us with all the amazing things that Santa Barbara, California – aka The American Riviera – has to offer. And believe me – this is one “riviera” you are going to want to add to your list of must see domestic destinations. From the outdoor activities to the food and wine scene to wellness to arts and culture and so much more – there is truly something for everyone to be found in sunny and beautiful Santa Barbara. California here we come!
Santa Barbara is a very easy destination to get to. If you want to fly direct there’s an airport right there – about a 10-15 minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara so it’s not far at all. It is however a super small airport with just five gates and as per Jocilyn it is one of the best experiences at an airport that you’ll ever have because you can get there a half hour before your flight takes off, check your bag and walk right on to the plane! Then you also have Los Angeles (LAX) about a 90 minute drive away and San Francisco – which is about a five or six hour drive – but it’s along the scenic Pacific highway and you can always stop and visit other spots along the way. So, as you can tell Santa Barbara is very well positioned within California especially if you’re going to be doing a multi destination itinerary within the state as you have everything within driving distance. It’s a great place to be a home base or if you want to have your home base in LA then you can drive up to Santa Barbara. And for those of you guys who want train travel Santa Barbara is really great for that too. And Jocilyn agreed and noted that the one thing she really likes about the train – which she feels is extremely underutilized – but it comes up from LA and you can drink wine all the way to Santa Barbara while you enjoy a beautiful ride along the coast. And then when you arrive it drops you right in the center of downtown so you can just continue drinking wine once you get here (more on that later – wink, wink)!
Why the American Riviera?
Santa Barbara is quintessential California. It boasts a vibrant arts and entertainment scene, outdoor adventures, an abundant wine country and hyper-local cuisine. People refer to Santa Barbara as the American Riviera for a variety of reasons, but Jocilyn feels that the biggest reason is that it resembles the French Riviera in the way the mountains meet the water and then you see all those beautiful houses on the hills. It also a lot of the architecture and they have a strong Spanish influence there and one thing that people know Santa Barbara for is those whitewashed buildings with the red tile roofs and how gorgeous that architecture is.
Then of course there is an abundance of wine, lots of food, lots of outdoor adventure and a really big arts and culture scene as well. Perhaps one of the nicest things is that you can fit a lot into a short period of time as it’s a small city of about 100,000 people – but they have all the big city amenities like the opera, the ballet and more. So basically, if you want that experience that you would get in LA you can get it there but you’re not sitting in traffic for 45 minutes. Another great thing about Santa Barbara is that in summer – which is peak season – the average temperature is usually about 75 degrees and then the average in winter is about 65 – so all year round you’re in that 65 to 75 range with colder and hotter temps once in a while. Jocilyn noted that some of the best sunsets actually happen in winter which she is a huge fan of.
Santa Barbara has 100 properties, and you know what that means – they have something for everyone! Everything from economy properties all the way up to luxury – it just depends on what you’re looking for – whether you want to be downtown or on the beach – they even have some camping and glamping options for those who are a little more adventurous.
Santa Barbara has five different neighborhoods which of course I was excited to see because as you know I love to talk about things that are off the beaten path! The neighborhoods within Santa Barbara are The Presidio, Downtown, Waterfront, Funk Zone and Haley Corridor.
Haley Corridor is an up and coming neighborhood, so they’ve got a lot of really cool funky breweries and wineries and they do giant walk parties down there where they shut down the streets and you have like a trolley going around to catch a ride on and it’s all super fun stuff like that. The Funk Zone is where a majority of the wine tasting is and what they refer to as the urban wine trail – which we will talk about in a bit. Then you have Downtown Santa Barbara which is totally walkable – you do not need a car while you’re there and the nice thing about that is it can be kind of like a pub crawl where you can just walk and stop into little wineries along the way and pick up little snacks as you go – and you can do it day or night – your choice! So, you guys – what a great area this is to go hang out for three or four days – or more – right?
Santa Barbara is home to 25 beaches and Jocilyn shared that the really special thing about Santa Barbara that a lot of people don’t know about and is actually very unusual for any coastal town is that they actually face towards the South. So that means when you’re standing on the beach you are actually looking South which means you can watch the sunrise and set over the ocean and that’s not something that a lot of people ever see – even in beach destinations. And of course, with beaches comes a lot of outdoor activities including horseback riding. And Jocilyn pointed out that they are one of the only places on the South Coast that you can actually go horseback riding on the beach. So, if you want that beautiful horse in the water with the sun setting behind you picture, we got you! We can set it up for you and even get you a photographer. There is also pretty much anything else you can imagine from golf to biking to hiking to rock climbing to kayaking and more – you name it they’ve got it!
One great outdoor spot is Channel Island which is a national park and easily accessible for all sorts of fun adventures. Jocilyn shared that the amazing thing about Channel Island is that it’s actually one of the least visited national parks in the US. So, if you’re a National Park junkie or if you just want to get some nature it is definitely worth the trip. Known as the Galapagos of the North thanks to its beautiful crystal blue water, it’s uninhabited so there are no hotels, there’s no running water, there’s no electricity – just two Park Rangers that live there – but you can camp there and go hiking or diving or snorkeling. Fun fact – it’s home to the largest sea caves in North America and you can go sea cave kayaking which Jocilyn said she did and it’s very exciting. But the best part just might be that the 90 minute ferry ride to get to Channel Island is also a whale watching trip! And Jocilyn raved that the last time she went out there when they were coming back, they saw four humpback whales and a pod of probably 1000 dolphins!
Food and Wine
You can pretty much grab just about everything and anything in California, but Santa Barbara has amazing gastronomy – with an ideal climate, six weekly farmers markets, and fresh catches the local food scene is heaven for hungry visitors – there is also an abundance of wine, fresh local produce and seafood. So again – the wonderful thing about Santa Barbara is even though they are a small destination they have those big city amenities. Case in point – there are over 450 restaurants in Santa Barbara alone featuring all types of cuisine – from your hole in the wall taco-rias, to Australian Indian Fusion to Thai food – pretty much anything you can imagine they’ve got it. And for those of you guys who really want to go to those Michelin star restaurants they’ve got 11 local restaurants listed in California’s own Michelin guide – yes, they have their own Michelin guide!
As for the wine options – you can stay in the city, or you can go into the valley. Spend half a day or a week – whatever you want. The wine tasting options in Santa Barbara really makes this destination so unique. It’s not like a Napa Valley where you’re going to end up only at the vineyards. You have so much variety and so many options of ways to do wine in Santa Barbara – whether that be on the urban wine trail or up in the vineyards, both of those things are possible and Jocilyn said she think s they now have over 220 wineries up in the valley so you could spend more than a week trying to visit all of them if you really wanted to! And let’s talk about this urban wine trail because I’m sold! The wine options in the city are located in the Funk Zone, Hailey Corridor and Presidio District and they’re all kind of clustered in little spots in each of these neighborhoods so the nice thing about the urban wine trail is if you’re only staying for two nights and you don’t really want to take the full day adventure to go to the valley you can still experience the wine and have a really great experience within the city, do some sightseeing while you’re there or even go hang out on the beach. And I think that the way they are positioned you could do Funk Zone one day and then split it up and go to The Presidio for one of the days and then Hailey Corridor on another day so you can have three days of amazing wine and we can set it up so that you can walk everywhere!
As for the valley experience Jocilyn said a lot of people want to know the difference between a Santa Barbara experience with wine and a Napa Valley or some of the other wine regions within the United States. She said she thinks the biggest thing about Santa Barbara is going to be the topography. So, they have a mountain range that creates the Santa Yanez Valley, and it is actually an east to west mountain range, so it allows the flow of the fog and the breeze from the ocean to go through which creates different microclimates and diverse soils. This means that although they are known for pinots and chardonnays, they can create pretty much any type of wine that you want. In addition, their tasting experience is also a little bit different. They aren’t a big, commercialized area so you’re going to get a very personalized experience when you go into these tasting rooms – you’re going to be meeting the wine makers, the people who own the vineyards, so it really adds a different element to the trip. So, guys this is really about the local experiences. You’re meeting locals, you’re meeting the local owners – so the small business owners who really need your tourism to be sustainable and equitable and this is why I’m bringing you this because I want to make sure that we tie it in so that we can actually help these local farmers because we’re all in this together and we want everybody to thrive. So, in a nutshell you’re going to have amazing experiences and amazing wine!
As a lot of you know, wellness for me is more about the self-being of the person as well as the community and in Santa Barbara it really is just all around you – it’s how they live. And Jocilyn agreed and said that’s exactly how she thinks about it and that’s exactly how the destination is. It’s not just your spas and your yoga and the things that people typically think about when they think about wellness. It is everything from the farmers market six days a week where all the local farmers come around and the chefs at the local restaurants shop there so you get those rotating seasonal menus. It’s being able to go out into some wide open space and just kind of breathe and be in nature and it’s just so refreshing that it clears your mind and releases your stress, and it gets you to a place where you can go wow I didn’t realize XYZ about myself. And she added that one of the comments she gets the most from people is that Santa Barbara just has an energy about it and it’s really a great place for that – not to mention there are a lot of places you won’t get cell phone service – so it’s a great place to unplug!
Arts and Culture
Another of my pillars, travel as a living classroom, is alive and well here. There’s plenty of arts and culture including 50 + museums and galleries, arts and craft shows, vibrant festivals and events and200 annual stage productions. The arts and craft show happens every Sunday down along the waterfront and it is all local artists who just set up shop there. Jocilyn said it’s super fun and it’s right on the beach and they do a lot of different things like this and that this is just the one that’s most consistent. They also have a first Thursday which is the first Thursday of every month where they open up different art gallery’s everywhere and they have food, wine and live music. There’s a lot of experiences that you can have in Santa Barbara depending on what you’re interested in.
They also have festivals and events all year round thanks to their weather that obviously allows for it and again – it just depends on what you want to see and do. They have an International Film Festival, they have what is called Old Spanish Days Fiesta, which is a weeklong celebration of their Spanish heritage, they have a Chalk Festival in May, a Solstice Festival in June, and if you’re looking for food and wine October is going to be harvest so that’s going to be the best time to come as they have a seafood festival and lots of wine from harvest. Then in December they have the Christmas Parade Of Lights in the harbor as well as quite a few other events around the holidays. So, whew – always something going on there!
And as for history Jocilyn joked that people always think she’s crazy when she tells them to go to the courthouse, but she raved that it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Santa Barbara and there is a lot of history there. They have docent led tours so you can go and get a tour and get the history but the other thing for people who don’t want any history is you can actually go up to the clock tower and it has the best 360 views of the city. Another point of interest is the Old Mission Santa Barbara which is part of the California mission system, and it is known as the most beautiful mission – or the queen of the missions – because it has two bell towers. It is still a fully functioning church and they have mass every Sunday and friars do live there. You can actually get a tour with one of the friars and talk to them about their life and what they what they do there and then you can have coffee or tea with them afterwards and bonus – you can stand at the mission and look all the way down to the ocean!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing Santa Barbara is open for visitors!
Oh my gosh – so much going on here! Who’s ready to book? I know I am! And remember – domestic destinations are the way to go if you are still hesitant about leaving the country – and no passport or visa needed!
For more details on things to see and do in Santa Barbara, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!