Barcelona is calling, but for now, Santa Barbara can fill the void. This classic California beach town has undergone a quiet renaissance during the pandemic and is now open for visitors with plenty of new places to stay, eat, drink, and escape city life.
Santa Barbara is an easy five-hour drive from San Francisco, but a new daily Southwest Airlines flight out of Oakland makes a long weekend trip all the more doable, getting you there in an hour. You can rent a car, but could also manage to get around by walking, biking, and using ride share services. Here's a suggested long weekend itinerary.
Friday in Santa Barbara: Check in at Palihouse.
(Courtesy of Palihouse Santa Barbara)
Check in: Palihouse
From the second you walk through the door of this new boutique hotel in the heart of the Historic Presidio neighborhood, you'll be transported back in time to summering on the Riviera like Grace Kelly in a high-waisted bikini and cat-eye sunglasses. This enchanting, palm-enclosed Spanish hideaway has just 24 rooms that are cozy and a little bit eclectic with fun and purposefully mismatched colors, patterns (there's a lot of preppy plaids), and mid-century modern furnishings. Later, you can grab a drink from the bar to enjoy lazily in the courtyard or by the pool, but for now, drop your bags and grab complimentary bikes for adventuring out. // 915 Garden St. (Santa Barbara), palisociety.com
Wine Tasting at Sanguis
Most of Santa Barbara's wine tasting rooms along the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail reside in the Funk Zone (more on that later), but this inconspicuous winery is truly one of those spots where only those "in the know" will find it. Ride over to Sanguis' winery warehouse, hidden in an industrial textile area (when you arrive, look for the bell on a rope and pull hard). Tour their tiny wine operation and then settle in for a tasting of some unique blends made with biodynamic farming practices, like Verve made from grenache, petit verdot, and roussanne, or Tell-Tale Heart with marsanne, chardonnay, roussanne, and viognier. Each bottle features amazing art done by proprietor Matthias Pippig, who had a former career as a drummer in Germany. Sanguis also has an Art of the Long Lunch experience if you want to add food. // 8 Ashley Ave. (Santa Barbara), sanguiswine.com
Lunch at Secret Bao
Since opening this spring, this chic, fast-casual bao shop has quickly become a hot spot for locals working in the Presidio neighborhood. Chef/owner Peter Lee has Bay Area roots (hailing from San Jose, he cooked in Calistoga and Sonoma Valley) and while some offerings like the pork belly and shrimp are more traditional, Secret Bao even reinvents everyday sandwiches—think, PB&J, grilled cheese, and K.F.C (Korean fried chicken) but with Chinese-style steamed buns. Ask about the weekly Secret Bao, which has been Spanish octopus on at least one past occasion, or get the sweet donut ice cream bao if you just need a quick snack. Add on some side, like Kungpao cauliflower or Szechuan chili wontons and wash it all down with a glass of local wine. // 1201 Anacapa St. (Santa Barbara), secretbaosb.com
Pedal back to Palihouse, which is just a handful of blocks away, to officially check in and enjoy some PG-rated afternoon delight by the pool—by now, Santa Barbara's signature morning fog should have burned off. The Palihouse pool is a small and secluded oasis that passersby don't even know is there. If the bar is open, you can order local wine, beer, or a cocktail, like the Palisade Sangria, to sip in the sun.
Happy Hour at Venus in Furs
Grab some wine before dinner at Venus in Furs, a neighborhood natural wine bar and bottle shop that opened during the pandemic and, yes, is named in tribute to that raunchy Velvet Underground song. It's also easily walkable from Palihouse. With a divergence of bold colors, quirky patterns, and lots of greenery, the funky space matches the wine list, which features the likes of a sparkling chenin blanc, an Italian orange wine, and a handful of chillable reds that go down easy on a hot day. Venus rotates in different restaurant concepts for short-term residencies and also has a provisions menu (nuts, olives, tinned fish, etc.) and cocktails if you'd rather go that route. // 18 East Cota St. (Santa Barbara), instagram.com/venusinfursbar
Dinner at La Paloma Café
La Paloma is just one block away from Venus in Furs and this former burger joint has been transformed back in time in tribute to its original roots as La Paloma Café, which closed nearly 40 years ago after 43 years in business. The menu features dishes that pay homage to Californios, early California settlers that incorporated traditional Mexican and Spanish influences into their food, often cooked over fire. If it's on the menu, you must start with the grilled nopales (cacti), which sounds weird but is absolutely delicious, and the crispy Brussels with a twist (syrah-porcini mushroom reduction, pomegranate, and smoked cotija). Main options include a Santa Maria-style wagyu tri-tip and crispy cauliflower and potato chorizo tacos. The Oaxaca Old Fashioned with mezcal is an excellent selection from the cocktail menu and you should save room for the bread pudding topped with date syrup for dessert, a La Paloma original recipe. // 702 Anacapa St. (Santa Barbara), lapalomasb.com
Saturday in Santa Barbara: Explore the Funk Zone + Montecito
(Courtesy of Bibi Ji)
Start your day with one of the most Instagrammable and unique coffees or teas you've ever sipped—they literally look like fancy cocktails—from Cajé Coffee, which has a new Arlington Street location within a mile of Palihouse. Signatures include the Bella Rose (iced matcha latte with strawberry elderflower, pomegranate, rose, and beetroot powder) and the Burnout (breve latte, bourbon-pecan syrup, black lava salt, ginger, and blackberries). Add on some breakfast fare like yogurt and berries, pastries, and bagel sandos. // 1316 State St. (Santa Barbara), caje.coffee
Explore The Funk Zone
Santa Barbara's Funk Zone is a 13-block pedestrian marketplace full of boutique and vintage shops, eateries, galleries, wine tasting rooms and more, all housed in converted manufacturing buildings and warehouses. Home to 16 of the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail's wineries, pop in for a tasting at Municipal Winemakers, where all the cool kids hang out and you can taste from three fun and funky wine brands, or Margerum Wine Company, which pours a wide array of Santa Barbara wines to pair with small bites, charcuterie boards, and pizzas (they even have some with cauliflower crust). Make sure you try the amaro spritz before you leave; you'll never go back to the Aperol version again. The Funk Zone also has a handful of breweries and Cutler's Artisan Spirits, the city's first post-Prohibition distillery where you can order up a tasting flight or cocktail on the patio. // santabarbaraca.com
Lunch at the Revere Room at Rosewood Miramar Beach
Rooms at the Rosewood Miramar Beach can easily cost over $1,000 a night, but if that's not swingable, it's still worth the trip to check out this Montecito mansion that's oh so very old Hollywood glam (fittingly, because this is where all the celebs, like Oprah and Harry and Meghan, live). Don your best country club-meets-beach attire and make a lunch reservation on the patio of the newly opened Revere Room, which has an extensive menu of seasonal dishes sourced from the local land, sea, and air—and created by a Michelin-starred Italian chef—like a grilled Wagyu skirt steak, crab cakes, and fried quail breasts. Pair your meal with a cocktail made for pinkies-up sipping; they have names like Gable Fizz (gin, lavender, lime, Peychaud's bitters, club soda) and Tudor (Woodford Reserve bourbon, grapefruit, lime, cardamon). Save time after lunch for a stroll down one of the area's most beautiful beaches, Miramar Beach, which is accessible right from the resort. 1759 South Jameson Lane (Montecito), rosewoodhotels.com
Check into Mar Monte Hotel
Relocate to the beach for your second night. This Santa Barbara icon, formerly known as Vista Mar Monte from circa 1930, sits just across from East Beach. The hotel underwent a major renovation last year and as a result, the rooms are simple, elegant, and calming (as they should be for a beachside retreat) with pops of pink, Spanish tiling, and vintage art and furnishings that pay homage to the resort's heyday. There's also a pool, jacuzzi, and new Mediterranean-inspired bar and restaurant, Café Lido. // 1111 E. Cabrillo Blvd. (Santa Barbara), hyatt.com
Dinner at Bibi Ji
This contemporary Indian outpost on State Street has—plot twist—become a cult favorite of the California wine community since opening in 2018. Co-owner Rajat Parr is an Indian-American, James Beard Award–winning sommelier-turned-winemaker that's become quite a fixture in the wine industry in recent years. So, it's safe to say that the wine list at Bibi Ji is just as much reason to visit as the food, though you likely won't recognize many, or any, of the small, natural, and sustainable-focused producers on it. Ask a local and they'll tell you the crispy cauliflower appetizer is a must-order to round out an evening of chicken tikka, curry, and naan on the patio amidst the fresh ocean air. 734 State St. (Santa Barbara), bibijisb.com
Sunday in Santa Barbara: Morning at East Beach
Mar Monte's Café Lido
(Courtesy of Mar Monte)
Beach it Up
Grab a delicious date smoothie from Mar Monte's Café Lido and go for a chill, foggy morning beach walk along East Beach, which is home to several volleyball courts if you fancy a game. Or, grab a complimentary bike from the hotel and head to Stearns Wharf Pier along the Cabrillo Bike Path. Once there, if you dare, you must try the famous sea urchin at Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. It's basically a Santa Barbara rite of passage. Alternatively, you can head in the opposite direction from the hotel and wind around the Santa Barbara Cemetery along Channel Drive, pedal up the hill, and visit the locals-favorite Butterfly Beach.
A Last Hurrah
Check out of Mar Monte and before heading to the airport or back on the road, swing by the Funk Zone's new SB Biergarten for a quick pint, or even a boot, and lunch. The biergarten has mostly German-style pours (dunkels and witbiers and hefeweizens) that pair magically with a Bavarian pretzel and a brat or currywurst. If you can't decide, go big and get the sausage sampler. // 11 Anacapa St. (Santa Barbara), instagram.com/sbbiergarten