There’s something magical about Santa Barbara; there really is no other way to describe the relatively small and quaint town that is often referred to as “The American Riviera”. If you drive in from the Los Angeles area, as many people visiting the well-known Californian town do, your trip will get off to a great start – on your way to the coastal town, you’ll get a good look at the coast on your drive in. As I had the chance to drive in on a sunny day, this meant seeing a lot of the ocean and its surfers, which is a great introduction to this charming place.
Santa Barbara is, as I was told, best known for both college students and those well-off in looking for retirement. Several celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres, own houses here, and having visited the town now, it’s not surprising that they do. Santa Barbara is only about 1 & 1/2 hours away from Los Angeles by car, and offers a great escape from the big city. You might actually forget just how close you are to the 2nd largest city in the United States, considering Santa Barbara is much cozier and much quieter.
While the town has lots of shopping and sight-seeing to offer, I made it a priority to see 5 things in Santa Barbara: the beach, the architecture, the hills, the pier, and the view.
The hills and the view nearly came hand-in-hand; a drive up to some of the higher residential streets led to being cliff-side, with a view of the town. An even better view, however, came the same way I explored some of Santa Barbara’s best architecture: through the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse – or just the Courthouse, as I’ll call it – is a national U.S. historic landmark. Designed by William Mooser III, it was envisioned as a great example of the “Spanish-Moorish” style, which can also be seen elsewhere in downtown Santa Barbara. A tour of the beautiful building shows exquisite art within the Courtroom (pictured below, center), as well as everywhere else. The staircases, walls, and empty areas are filled – but not bombarded – with appropriate art styles that make you forget about our more modern styles of architecture. A walk through – and around – the Courthouse is like getting lost in time with absolutely no regrets.
If you’re not all that interested in art or architecture, a trip to the very top of the Courthouse has to be impressive enough to justify coming by. On this particular day, a rooftop wedding was in the works; the Courthouse is said to host many weddings and events, but still remains open to visitors interested in seeing Santa Barbara from above. While thankfully none of the wedding party seemed to mind that there were strangers lurking near their special occasion, the festivities definitely added to the already-insanely-romantic atmosphere that Santa Barbara holds in all aspects. No matter what direction you look in, all there is to see is beautifully-styled buildings as well as mountains, which is topped by a view of the nearby coast.
With the view, architecture and hills out of the way, the pier was up next. The famous and major pier in Santa Barbara, Stearns Wharf, was the obvious choice. The tourist hotspot – and most visited landmark in Santa Barbara – has stood the test of time as well as many natural disasters over the years. One visit to its docks gives any passerby a great view of the sands, as though from a ship or a far-off island, as well as the mountains in the back. Tourists will not only enjoy the view – both to land and out to sea – but also the wildlife (a pelican served as a hilarious troublemaker, attempting to steal a fisherman’s catch), restaurants, and little shops to visit. All in all, whether you’re in it for the view, the food, or even a quiet afternoo, Stearns Wharf is a definite must-see.
Further on, and maybe most importantly for anyone not from the coast, is the need to visit a real, well-known beach. For a real local experience, I headed to Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, also known as Hendry’s Beach by the locals. When entering the beach, a trip to the left side gives dog walkers and owners a great area to let their dogs take a walk by the waters, whereas a trip to the right gives those of us without a dog the chance to take in the sights. Hendry’s Beach isn’t the cleanest beach around, but with cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, it’s definitely a pretty sight. It’s also a great place to sit by, read, or take a nap, as the sounds of the ocean waves calm even the most stressed of people.
After my trip to the local’s beach, a final strut down State Street – also known as Santa Barbara’s downtown and shopping area – was needed. Santa Barbara being as small as it is allows most major places in the town to be somewhere near, off, or even on State Street; walking down the street to its very end actually leads you to Stearns Wharf, and a walk in the opposite direction gives you its shops, restaurants, and eventually the Courthouse. This, in addition to how calm the town is, definitely helps me understand why Santa Barbara is such a popular town for college students. Can you imagine, after a week of insanity at school, unwinding right by the beach? The fact that UCSB (Santa Barbara’s branch of the University of California) is right by the ocean also helps. Personally, I can’t imagine it – it would feel like being spoiled every day, and isn’t school supposed to be constantly stressful?
I guess things in Santa Barbara are different.
(More photos below video).