Perfect 2 Day Itinerary for Santa Barbara

Here’s a local’s guide to a perfect weekend in Santa Barbara, especially for first time visitors.

It is organized by area. Many of the locations can be reached by walking or biking, reducing the reliance on cars. On day 1, you’ll visit the Upper State Street and Downtown areas, while on day 2 you’ll see Lower State and the beach.

Getting to Santa Barbara


If you are flying to Santa Barbara, you’ll use the small regional airport SBA. American Airlines and Southwest frequent the airport several times a day.

You could also fly to LAX for a cheaper flight and then take the airport shuttle. The Santa Barbara Airbus has many pick up and drop off times at LAX. It costs about $60 one-way and you should budget 3 hours for the journey in case there is traffic. However, the drive usually takes about 2 hours.


Santa Barbara is located along the 101 Highway, also known as the Ventura Freeway. It is roughly 2 hours north of Los Angeles, depending on the starting point in Los Angeles.

Where to Stay


There are not very many budget-friendly options for lodging in Santa Barbara. One of the cheapest options in the area is Motel 6 in Goleta which is located right next to a cute coffee shop, Dune, as well as a Trader Joe’s and Walgreens. Any Motel 6 in the area will cost about $130 a night. The airport is in Goleta and is a slightly more budget friendly area. That said, it takes about 10-15 minutes of driving to get to the heart of Santa Barbara from Goleta.

If $100 is still more than you want to spend, you could consider a shared room on AirBnb. It is possible to find private rooms in the Santa Barbara area for less than $100 per night on AirBnb, but accounting for the cleaning fees and taxes, the total still usually tips over $100, even on a weekday booked months in advance.


For about $180-250 a night, you can find many more options. You’ll likely still recognize many of the names of good mid-range hotels in the area. There is the Best Western Plus Santa Barbara, which has older decor but a convenient location in central Santa Barbara. If location isn’t as important, the Courtyard Marriot Goleta, offers an upgrade on renovations and decor. If you prefer a boutique style hotel, try the beachfront Hotel Milo.


Hotel Californian is a well-located luxury hotel within walking distance of the beach, wharf, and countless bars and restaurants. Its patio is also a popular venue for weddings and receptions. The price at Hotel Californian is about $750 per night. A new boutique hotel named Drift was built in the old Santa Barbara headquarters of the Church of Scientology. This hotel has stylish, calming boho decor. Drift starts at about $300 a night. A bit further north is one of the most luxurious hotels in the area, the Ritz-Carlton Bacara. Complete with walking trails and beach front access, this hotel costs at least $1,000 a night.

When to Visit

Santa Barbara generally has great weather year-round. However, June through September see the least rain and most sunshine. Winter temperatures are usually between 40-70 °F degrees, including overnight. January is the wettest month on average, with a little less than 4 inches on average. August is the hottest month, with average temperatures ranging between 70 and 90 °F.

Day 1: Upper State and Downtown

For breakfast on your first day, I recommend Alessia or Handlebar for lighter breakfast options. These are both good spots for pastries and coffee. Alessia also serves omelets and larger entres as well. Handlebar on De La Vina St. is closer to your first stop on your sight-seeing itinerary. Handlebar also sells a lot of local merchandise, making it a great spot to pick up a mug, tote bag, or T-shirt souvenir.

Alessia's in Santa Barbara
Pastries at Alessia – they taste as good as they look!

One of Santa Barbara’s most famous landmarks is the Spanish Mission, built in 1786. It was badly damaged during earthquakes in 1812 and 1925, but has been restored over the years. It was primarily built by indentured native Chumash labor.

Outside the mission there is typically a mobile coffee shop and a few tables. There is also a large space of grass to hang out in the sun and read or picnic. Catholic church services do still occur in the mission, but you can visit on a tour when Mass, funerals, and weddings are not occurring. One-hour guided tours are available most Fridays at 12:30 pm, Saturdays at 10:30 am, and Sundays at 12:30 pm. Self-guided tours are also an option.

2 Day guide to Santa Barbara

Close by to the mission is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. This is a cool indoor/outdoor museum that kids especially love. There is a nature trail that “walks through time” and has large models of dinosaurs placed around in their habitat.

Option: While you’re in the area, this is a good point in the itinerary to consider a walk or hike at either Stevens Park or Inspiration Point, respectively. Assuming it’s not too hot and that you’re dressed for it, the mission and Museum of Natural History are located in the northern part of the city where you meet the foothills of the mountainside. Inspiration Point is a moderately easy hike of a few miles, while Stevens Park is relatively flat and shady. Stevens Park is more of a suburban nature trail, while Inspiration Point is definitely more of a hike.

Working your way south down State Street, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art does not disappoint. It houses both permanent and loaned collections. You will find wild west sculptures by Fredric Remington and paintings by Dalí, Monet, and more.

Another prominent feature of downtown Santa Barbara is the courthouse. Surrounded by gardens and grassy areas, this building is a popular location for photoshoots- everything from proms to weddings to Instagramers.

There are very few tall buildings in Santa Barbara, but the tower at the courthouse is one of the tallest features of the skyline. You can go to the top of the tower for a great view of the city.

2 Day guide to Santa Barbara courthouse

Further down State Street, the next stop is lunch. Nearby the courthouse you can find Sama Sama, a mix of primarily Asian cuisines. Another idea is the Santa Barbara Public Market. Here you can find everything from sushi to pizza to burritos to fully vegan falafel bowls. If you have a bigger group, this is great option because everyone can get exactly what they’re craving while still sitting together. A more budget friendly option is La Super-Rica Taqueria for amazing Mexican food.

A visit to Santa Barbara is incomplete without a wine tasting. In the downtown area, you could try a wine tasting at Grassini Family Vineyards. A little further out of the way, but worth the distance is the Carr Winery.

Next up in the itinerary is your chance to shop local in Santa Barbara and pick up souvenirs. Diani is a stylish local boutique with primarily women’s clothes. The Book Den is great bookstore to browse both new and used books. You could pick up a book and take it to relax and read at Caje, Dune, or Lighthouse Cafe. You could head to any of these coffee shops for a late afternoon caffeine pick me up.

Next up is a visit to the historic El Presidio Real de Santa Barbara while you’re in the area. Built in 1782, this is a former Spanish military facility. Here you’ll find the second oldest surviving building in California, an adobe structure called El Cuartel. Only the chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano further south is older. The Presidio was also the last military structure built by Spain the Americas. Today, you can find a museum and historical information here. Like the courthouse, it is also a popular spot for photographers. It also hosts weddings and pop up markets such as the Mujures Makers Market.

If you’re looking for a treat, you could try ice cream at McConnell’s or gelato at Tondi’s. McConnell’s was founded in Santa Barbara in 1934 and has since grown tremendously. Tondi’s is great for its dairy free options. If you’re not craving gelato nor ice cream, you could grab a cupcake at Crushcakes. They have a few locations in the area, but for this itinerary, the one on Anacapa Street is most convenient.

2 Day guide to Santa Barbara cupcakes
Strawberry blush – Crushcakes and Cafe

If you like architecture, you’ll enjoy spotting the Jeff Shelton designs around town. Known for their whimsical, Dr. Suess-like design with a mix of Spanish influence, these mixed-use buildings are a fun feature of Santa Barbara. Organic lines and colorful tiles are a typical characteristic of Shelton’s work. You can find the quirky El Jardin in this area. It’s also marked on the map below, along with all the other places mentioned in this post.

2 Day guide to Santa Barbara architecture
The stairs at El Jardin

For dinner, I highly recommend Zaytoon. This Lebanese restaurant has a beautiful outdoor courtyard with overhead twinkle lights. Larger parties often are seated at their fire pit tables, although if they aren’t too busy small parties can also score a seat these tables. Zaytoon is located right next to the Presidio and can get busy on the weekend so reservations are encouraged.

If you still have energy and are looking for a night cap, consider craft cocktails at Pearl Social.

Day 2: Lower State and Beaches

Breakfast at Hendry’s Boathouse is a must! However, I recommend getting here early. If you visit here early on a weekday, that’s even better. They do not accept reservations, but get ridiculously busy (1+ hour waits). Why is this place so popular? Not only is the food good, but it’s a stand alone restaurant nestled in a canyon. It has beach front views and patio seating.

A significant feature of this area is Hendry’s Beach, also known as Arroyo Burro Beach. This is an off-leash dog beach. During low tides this beach is super popular. Part of the fun of the Boathouse restaurant is watching the dogs run around on the beach. Even if you don’t have a dog, this is a great spot to go for walk. There are also dog washing stations here that accept card. This is a huge help for dog owners. You can also hose off your feet and ankles to get the sand off when you’re done.

Next, you’ll head back to town and start with Lower State Street. Go see the Moreton Bay Fig Tree. This may just be a tree, but it is a HUGE tree! You cannot climb or get too close to the tree because it is protected by a fence. This tree is 120 years old and thought to be the biggest of its kind in the country.

2 Day guide to Santa Barbara moreton bay fig tree

No visit to Santa Barbara is complete without walking the pier at Stearns Wharf. This iconic feature is a short walk from the fig tree. It was completed in 1872, although it has gone through several disasters (fires, earthquakes, storms) since then that have required rebuilding. While it originally served an economic purpose by connecting to the railroad station (also right next to the fig tree), today it is primarily touristic. A downside of the pier, in my opinion, is that cars are able to drive out onto the pier and park, reducing space for people and leisure. I don’t recommend driving out onto the pier as it is crowded. It is better to park on the street nearby and walk.

For lunch on this itinerary, I recommend Brophy Bros over at the harbor. Brophy Bros is on the other side of the harbor from the pier, at about a 20-minute walk. If you are interested in trying Santa Barbara’s famous fresh uni (sea urchin), stop by the neighboring Santa Barbara Fish Market. If you visit on a Saturday morning, you can also see the Fishermen’s Market. Here you can see or purchase lobsters, California King Crab, sea urchin, halibut, and more. If you don’t like seafood, try the Anchor Rose, which is still located in the harbor, but has less seafood centric items on the menu.

The Santa Barbara Harbor itself is a great place to hang out and watch the boats and animals. There are many birds, sea lions, and seals that frequent the area. The seals and sea lions like to hang out around the main dock to catch scraps from the fishermen or sleep on a flat float near the mouth of the harbor and beach.

From here I recommend renting a bike to ride down to East Beach, the further southeast end of the Santa Barbara city beach front. There is a nice, paved bike trail along this route, as well as space to walk. You’ll pass through Chase Palms Park and see the colorful Chromatic Gate after about 10 minutes by bike.

For the best sunset view in Santa Barbara, I recommend the Douglass Family Preserve. You’ll need to hop into the car and drive here, located somewhat midway between Goleta and Santa Barbara. You can find street parking in the surrounding neighborhood, granted it does get busier at sunset hour. Check the time for sunset and give yourself at least half an hour to drive, find parking, and walk. You’ll find a short network of trails here perched atop the coastal bluffs. Down below you can see dog beach and surfers. Bring a throw to sit on or an extra jacket, as it will get cooler and breezier here.

For dinner on day 2 I recommend eating at Rare Society or Loquita. Staying with Day 2’s theme, both of these restaurants are in the Lower State Street area. Rare Society is an American steakhouse with mid-century modern decor inside. Loquita is an upscale Spanish tapas restaurant. You should make reservations in advance.

For the last night, visit the Funk Zone. Here you’ll find great wine tasting rooms like Pali Wine or the SB Wine Collective and breweries such as Topa Topa. It is also part of the Urban Wine Trail. This area is also artsy, so you’ll find tons of murals. Because of the artistic element, this is also cool area to explore during the day.


Here’s a quick reference list, perfect for screen shots!

Day 1: Upper State and Downtown
  • The Spanish Mission
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
  • The Courthouse
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • The Historic Presidio Real
  • Shelton’s El Jardin
  • Optional: Hike Inspiration Point or the easier Stevens Park Trail
  • Shopping- downtown bookstores and boutiques
  • Night out for creative craft cocktails
Day 2: Lower State and Beaches
  • Hendry’s Dog Beach
  • Moreton Bay Fig Tree
  • Stearns Wharf and Pier
  • The harbor
  • Bike riding or walking the coastal trail
  • Chase Palms Park and the Chromatic Gate
  • Sunset at Douglass Family Preserve
  • Night in the Funk Zone- Urban Wine Trail and breweries
Breakfast and Cafe Recommendations
  • Hendry’s Boathouse
  • Handlebar Coffee Roasters
  • Dune Coffee Roasters
  • Lighthouse Cafe
  • Caje
  • Alessia
Lunch Recommendations
  • Sama Sama
  • Brophy Bros
  • La Super-Rica Taquiera
  • Santa Barbara Public Market
Dinner Recommendations
  • Zaytoon
  • Loquita
  • Rare Society
Drink Recommendations
  • Pearl Social
  • Santa Barbara Wine Collective
  • Carr Winery
  • Grassini Family Vineyards
  • Topa Topa
Dessert Recommendations
  • McConnell’s Ice Cream
  • Tondi’s Gelato
  • Crushcakes Cupcakery

More than 2 Days?

Have more than two days in Santa Barbara? Check out this local’s guide to Santa Barbara with more than 37 things to do. You could also consider a day trip to Channel Islands National Park.

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I’m Taylor. If you’re interested in contributing a guest post to the website, drop a message into my inbox. Thanks for visiting!

Santa Barbara, California


5 thoughts on “Perfect 2 Day Itinerary for Santa Barbara

  1. I’ve never been to Santa Barbara so your local’s guide and two-day itinerary are perfect for this first-time visitor. I love history and and am fascinated with trees so would definitely need to check out that fig tree. And the views are so beautiful!

  2. I’ve never been to Santa Barbara so your local’s guide and weekend itinerary are perfect for this first-time visitor. I’m especially fascinated with trees so most definitely would check out that fig tree. And love the whimsical stairs. Looks like a lovely destination.

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