Santa Barbara is known for its red tile roofs, relaxing beaches, fine dining, and a burgeoning wine industry. It’s the laid-back vibe and natural beauty that brings many visitors to our American Riviera.
State Street is our downtown hub in Santa Barbara that houses a lot of cool shops and quality restaurants. However, if you walk a few blocks off State Street, you’ll find some hidden gems that only the locals know about. We tend to stay away from the touristy spots that are inundated with cruise ship visitors; instead we’ve created our own little hideaways. I may be breaking the local’s unspoken code of silence, but here are my 6 Secrets to Santa Barbara.
El Presidio (123 E. Canon Perdido)
Most visitors can be found coming off of tour buses at Mission Santa Barbara. Granted it’s a popular place to see, but El Presidio de Santa Barbara is just as exciting, rarely crowded, within walking distance, and free.
The Presidio is a former military installation built by the Spanish in 1782. Located between Anacapa and Santa Barbara Streets, just one block east of State Street, it’s a burst of local history in the downtown hub.
BONUS: There’s a great deli and lounge directly across the street from the Presidio called 3 Pickles and the Pickle Room (126 E. Canon Perdido). That building has its own history originally housing Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, a 60-year business that is dear to locals’ hearts. The new owners kept the original exterior of the building and incorporated the past into their modern updates. They serve delicious sandwiches and unique cocktails, but try an order of their unique fried rice!
The Mesa, La Mesa, or plainly Mesa
Depending on who you’re talking to and what part of town they are from, the “correct name” of the area will be heavily debated. Mesa is a section of town filtering down from Carrillo Hill right to the ocean with fantastic views of the water and Channel Islands. Mesa is a true local spot and residents can be somewhat territorial, so when you’re passing through, give a head nod and say, “hey brah” with your best surfer accent in order to blend in.
The Douglas Preserve, also called the Wilcox Property (located at the dead end of Linda Drive), is a stretch of land that sits on the cliffs overlooking Hendry’s Beach, also called Arroyo Burro Beach. Have you noticed a name thing going here? The Preserve is a rare piece of undeveloped land that locals fought feverishly to protect and keep as an open park. Enjoy a stroll through the trails with residents and their four-legged friends. Bring a picnic and sit close to the cliff while watching the sunset over the ocean for a dose of romance. Before leaving, travel down Cliff Drive and check out the Boathouse (2981 Cliff Drive) for a meal or just to breathe in the sea air. The restaurant is tucked away on the sand of Hendry’s Beach, the only official dog beach in Santa Barbara.
Funk Zone (Yanonali at Anacapa Street area)
This area of Santa Barbara has certainly boomed in the last few years. Originally it was an industrial section of town filled with artist studios and sparse wine-tasting rooms. The area still has a lot of the artistic flavor and you’ll notice most of the buildings covered with murals and graphics from local artists, especially on Mason Street. Now, after the recent building development, the area is mostly filled with tasting rooms. But we can’t complain, the wine is delicious! For a good glass of locally made vino, I recommend Municipal Winemakers (22 Anacapa Street).
Muni Wine is a small local winery that produces top-notch flavors most notably known for their Australian style blends. For a snack, head over to Seven Bar and Kitchen (224 Helena Avenue) for “seven deadly sin” themed options of sandwiches. Or, if you’re lucky enough to spot the Burger Bus food truck, usually parked in the Funk Zone, try a burger or falafel sandwich. Other notable places within blocks of one another are: Figueroa Mountain Brewery, The Arts Fund, Lucky Penny, and the Art Foundry.
Santa Barbara Hotels
The low-key bed and breakfasts and hidden historic hotels provide an authentic Santa Barbara experience. The Upham Hotel is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California. Built in 1871, this historic Victorian is located at 1404 De La Vina Street, one block from State Street and the famous Arlington Theater.
Located inside the Upham Hotel is Louie’s California Bistro, a fine dining restaurant that’s also dog friendly. The Simpson House Inn is another hidden historic gem in the downtown area of Santa Barbara. Nestled in an acre of English gardens, this Victorian estate was built in 1874 and boasts luxury and beauty within prime walking distance.
Secret Garden (Micheltorena & Garden Streets)
Across from the Simpson House Inn is a lovely garden spread across an entire city block. A variety of plants and a pond filled with ducks and turtles are housed here. The Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, or Alice Keck Park-Park as locals like to joke, is another hero story. The space was slated to become a large apartment complex, but an anonymous donor purchased the property and donated it to the city with the condition of being turned into a garden. It was later revealed that Alice Keck Park was the donor and wished to remain anonymous until after her death – when the garden was subsequently named in her honor. Many people visit the Park-Park to relax, eat lunch, and feed the ducks. Visit during the spring to see adorable ducklings swimming around the pond.
Local Santa Barbara Hangouts
I’ve mentioned several places to stop for a bite to eat, but perhaps the most local of them all is The Brewhouse (229 W. Montecito Street). It’s a very casual restaurant where you’ll often find friendly patrons in shorts and flip-flops enjoying outstanding food. This is where locals go for food, beer, music, and to watch sporting events. If you go, try a taster of the jalapeno beer brewed on location; it will definitely clear your sinuses.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention a fantastic Mexican restaurant. There is a whole section of town on Milpas Street filled with great taquerias, but my favorite is Lito’s Mexican Restaurant (514 E. Haley). It’s a family owned “hole in the wall” that serves the most amazing pozole every day – the only restaurant in Santa Barbara that does.
Santa Barbara is a beautiful small historic town chock full of interesting nooks and crannies. Take a stroll off the main streets and you’ll find many local treasures to provide an authentic and fulfilling experience. Happy exploring!
contributed by Lauren Bray, Managing Editor of edhat.com, Santa Barbara’s #1 website for all things local. for more great information and articles, please visit Authentic Luxury Travel