Start your day at The Daily Grind for coffee and a pastry, or one of their delicious burritos. I once found a hair in their spinach and egg burrito, and ate it anyway because it was that damn good. The place also has great fresh smoothies and free Wi-Fi.
If you want a 360-degree view of the city head to the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Check out the architecture and art murals before you climb to the top of the stair tower so you can get a view of stucco sided houses, terra cotta roofs, rolling green hills, and the Santa Ynez mountains as far as the eye can see. You’ll be surrounded by other tourists taking panoramic shots, but it’s worth it.
Another good place to cop a great view is the Douglas Family Preserve. About a 15-minute drive out of town and up some bluffs is a park with views of the ocean and Arroyo Burro Beach down below. Dogs are welcomed off-leash both in the park and on the beach, so feel free to let your pup roam free. In 1996, Santa Barbara residents pooled their financial resources to save the land from being developed. Actor Michael Douglas donated a large chunk of the money, hence the name.
After seeing that clear blue water you’re likely going to want to get in it, so rent a paddle board or kayak (rental places are easy to find) and make your way around the shallows of the Pacific Ocean. This is a popular spot for surfers as well when the swells are big enough. You’ll also see the occasional parasailer, kite surfer, or windsurfer out on the water.
For lunch, take a walk down State Street. There are a few good options here, particularly Hoffmann Brat Haus and Hana Kitchen. There’s also tons of options for pizza and Mexican food. If you feel like shopping there’s department stores as well as trendy clothing exchange shops and places selling custom shoes and hats. Just beware of suave salesmen and women with sexy accents that will try to sell you overpriced hand cream. Locals know to just ignore their friendly banter on the sidewalk.
Eat dinner at sunset on the harbor at one of the many restaurants that overlook the water. Solids picks are are Brophy Bros and Sushi Go Go. Fill yourself to the brim with delicious and fresh seafood.
Walk out past the harbor and down the pier to get a view of the town from a different angle. Make your way down the line of porous rocks and you’ll see the colony of pelicans that have taken over the old abandoned and rusted up ship and if you’re lucky, a sea lion or otter swimming in the water.
Check out the Mission, a beautiful building with a sad history. Built by Native Americans under slave labor orders from the Catholics aiming to convert the Mexicans, these buildings are all over the state, and every California child has to write up a report on them. There’s a museum inside. Another museum option is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
You might also want to stop in to the Museum of Natural History Sea Center perched out on Stearns Wharf. It wasn’t too long ago that a giant oil spill dumped over 143,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean just off of the coast, threatening birds and marine life in the area, many of which were already endangered, but it’s rebounded well.
For nighttime entertainment, catch an outdoor live music show at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Big names regularly pass through here to play at this amphitheater-style venue, where every seat has a great view of the stage. If there isn’t a show at the Bowl you can check out Soho, which has events nightly like Grateful Dead tribute night and jazz quartets. And if you’re in town in the summer, every Friday there’s a free movie showing on the lawn of the courthouse. You can lay out blankets on the grass, bring your own food and drink and watch classics like James Bond and Casablanca.