Off the beaten path in Santa Barbara

A savvy traveler shows us there’s more here than State Street and the wharf 

Hotel Oceana poolside cabanas

Andrea M. Gómez

An insider's guide to Santa Barbara

Beautiful places come with the downside of a crowd.

On the upside, as I learned all too well from living in Santa Barbara, crowds stick together. Which also means they’re easy to lose—if you leave them to the tourist hot spots and instead seek out the less-obvious pockets of town.

Here's where to go, starting with these pool-side cabanas at the Hotel Oceana. More about where to stay next.

Santa Barbara, CA, Hotel Oceana

Andrea M. Gómez

Santa Barbara weekend: Where to stay

Instead of a break-the-bank beachfront hotel:

Shop West Beach for deals. Like the Spanish colonial–style Hotel Oceana (from $239, including breakfast; 805/965-4577). The rooms are simple and comfortable with hardwood floors; beach cruisers come with vanity license plates; and the pool has cabanas.

East Beach is a smidge farther from downtown but has finds too, like the cozy Craftsman Old Yacht Club Inn B&B (from $149; 800/549-1676), with a reputation for its knockout breakfast.

Santa Barbara, CA, Franceschi Park

Andrea M. Gómez

Santa Barbara weekend: What to see

Instead of Cruising Cabrillo :

Drive along what Santa Barbara locals call “the APS,” which might as well stand for a-place-where-no-triple-surrey-can-go (but really stands for Alameda Padre Serra). The road winds up the foothills east of the Mission Santa Barbara, through the ritzy Riviera neighborhood, with views around each curve.

Off the APS is Franceschi Park (pictured; 1510 Franceschi Rd.), with Pacific views, plus picnic tables, trails, and the 19th-century house of botanist Francesco Franceschi.

Santa Barbara, CA, Paradise Cafe

Andrea M. Gómez

Santa Barbara weekend: Places to eat

Instead of dinner on State  Street:

Avoid the raucous lower State Street nightlife scene and try one of these gems: the grilled shrimp salad at Paradise Café ($$; 702 Anacapa St.; 805/962-4416), with its neon sign and cash register from the 1940s; Italian food at Ca’ Dario ($$$; 37 E. Victoria St.; 805/884-9419); or abalone at hot-ticket Julienne ($$$; 138 E. Canon Perdido St.; 805/845-6488). 

Locals also line up for baked goods at D’Angelo Bread ($; 25 W. Gutierrez St.; 805/962-5466) and cupcakes at Bella Dolce Bakery (113 W. De La Guerra St.; 805/962-2253). 

Santa Barbara, CA, Santa Barbara City College

Andrea M. Gómez

Santa Barbara weekend: Must-visit sights

Instead of the mission on a weekend:

It’s worth its must-visit status, but the mission gets slammed on weekends. For a similarly scenic spot with total peace, check out Santa Barbara City College, overshadowed by UCSB in this college town.

The look is more Mediterranean estate than community college—it’s a wonder anyone can get any studying done with those ocean views.

Get your art fix at the contemporary Atkinson Gallery (closed Sun; $5/day parking; 721 Cliff Dr.; 805/965-0581). 

Santa Barbara, CA, Santa Barbara Harbor

Andrea M. Gómez

Santa Barbara weekend: ocean escapes

Instead of Stearns Wharf:

Visit the less-commercial (and more kayak-friendly) Santa Barbara Harbor.

Yes, the harbor’s Brophy Brothers Restaurant ($$; 119 Harbor Way; 805/966-4418) draws crowds with its epic moorings-and-mountain views. But downstairs is slightly quieter Brophy’s bar, with a giant Channel Islands map.

Next door, the ultra-fresh Deli Sushi Go-Go (pictured; $; 805/962-6568) has outdoor tables.

Santa Barbara, CA, winery

Andrea M. Gómez

Santa Barbara weekend: which wines to sip

Instead of Santa Ynez Valley wine country:

Ditch the drive over the pass to wine country this time and taste as any biped should: on foot.

A cluster of wineries in the industrial hood locals know as the Funk Zone are pouring the area’s famous Pinot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet grapes.

We like Kunin Wines (pictured; $10 tasting; 28 Anacapa St.; 805/963-9633), in a WWII Army barrack turned tasting room. The honeysuckle-ish Viognier is a great pour.

Santa Barbara, CA map

Finding Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is 95 miles north of Los Angeles. Direct flights to Santa Barbara’s airport (SBA) are available from Phoenix, Denver, and Salt Lake City.

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