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CABBI Travel Blog

Kayaking at the Santa Barbara Harbor

Santa Barbara: Al Fresco Dining, Outdoor Attractions, and Intimate Lodging on the American Riviera

As travel destinations all over the world re-invent themselves to fit a new reality, some stand out as particularly well-suited for the times. Near the top of that list would have to be Santa Barbara, the cheerful Southern California seaside oasis that—let’s face it—has never had any trouble attracting visitors. From its nearly perpetual sunshine, ocean-kissed breezes, and wide-open beaches to its stately Spanish architecture, lush Mediterranean gardens, and world-class culture, the city often referred to as The American Rivera has been a favorite Southern California getaway since the 1870s, when doctors regularly recommended its salubrious climate to their patients. It’s no surprise it has adapted so well to our recently heightened focus on health and safety.

State Street
Shops on State Street – Photo by Mark Weber/Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara
State Street Pedestrian Promenade
State Street Pedestrian Promenade – Photo by Karna Hughes, Visit Santa Barbara

The first change visitors are likely to notice upon entering the city is the recent transformation of State Street, the lively thoroughfare that runs northwest from the beach and bisects the city’s central commercial district. State Street has always been pedestrian-friendly, as have the lively blocks that surround it to create a walkable shopping district, but now the sidewalks have been taken over by outdoor dining spaces and the street has become a wide pedestrian promenade closed to car traffic. Built as it was for afternoon strolls along tree-lined streets, Santa Barbara’s recent innovation suits it well.

Outdoor dining at bouchon
Outdoor dining at bouchon – Photo by Tucker Horan Media, courtesy of bouchon and Visit Santa Barbara

This town is also well-suited for al fresco dining, thanks to reliably sunny days and a long-standing commitment to beauty and sophistication at every turn. Many sought-after restaurants are open for outdoor service at reduced capacities that allow for proper social distancing. While these establishments always tended toward open-air architecture to take advantage of the weather, creatively placed outdoor seating now spills onto the sidewalk, creating the feeling of a vast outdoor market and providing endless opportunities for people-watching.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden – Photo By Cecilia Rosell, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

One of the safest ways to practice social distancing is to head to wide-open spaces, and despite its cosmopolitan feel, Santa Barbara has no shortage of those. Tucked in the valley between the Pacific and the Santa Ynez Mountains, hikers will find everything from easy treks through manicured gardens to strenuous climbs leading to views of the Pacific. An easy choice is the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, a 78-acre living museum not far from downtown that celebrates California’s diverse native landscapes. Santa Barbara has four miles of public beaches, three of which are connected by a paved bike path. In fact, the city recently ranked third in the country for best bicycling.

Butterfly Beach
Butterfly Beach – Photo by Jay Sinclair, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara
Old Mission Santa Barbara
Old Mission Santa Barbara- Photo by Gabriela Herman, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Whether by bike, on foot, or by car, a self-guided tour is a great way to experience Santa Barbara’s many architectural and historic landmarks while assuring minimal contact with other travelers.

For some, another assurance for minimizing contact is to stay small. Santa Barbara boasts a wealth of small-scale boutique hotels and bed and breakfast inns which provide intimate experiences far from the crowds. For extra peace of mind, all of the boutique hotels and B&Bs listed below have also been certified Clean + Safe by the California Hotel & Lodging Association.

Where to Stay

At the Beach
Casa Del Mar Inn at the Beach
Casa Del Mar Inn at the Beach

Casa Del Mar Inn

Just a half-block from the ocean, Casa Del Mar Inn is a popular choice for couples or families looking for beach access, simple décor, and a modern touch. Rooms range from spacious two-room suites to charming rooms for two.

The Eagle Inn
The Eagle Inn

The Eagle Inn

This enchanting retreat near the beach is the classic example of Santa Barbara’s Spanish-Colonial architecture, with rooms that feature furnishings made by artisans in Mexico and a collection of free-standing casitas for the ultimate in seclusion.

Harbor House Inn
Harbor House Inn

Harbor House Inn

Just steps from West Beach, Stearns Wharf, Downtown Santa Barbara, and the famous Funk Zone shopping and dining district, this inn features 17 one-of-a-kind kitchen suites decorated with neutral tones and upscale furnishings.

Hideaway Santa Barbara
Hideaway Santa Barbara

Hideaway Santa Barbara

With glorious views from abundant windows, this exciting new boutique hotel just three blocks from the beach is filled with meticulously curated coastal décor in an ocean-inspired color palette.

Inn by the Harbor
Inn by the Harbor

Inn by the Harbor

Located just three blocks from Santa Barbara’s picturesque waterfront, rooms at this charming Mediterranean escape open onto a lush garden courtyard and pool and reflect the Spanish architecture typical of Santa Barbara.

Lavender Inn by the Sea
Lavender Inn by the Sea

Lavender Inn by the Sea

Guests can relax amid the soothing scent of lavender and soft ocean breezes at one of the most enchanting boutique hotels in Santa Barbara. The hotel is just two blocks from Santa Barbara’s picturesque beaches and yacht harbor.

Villa Rosa Inn
Villa Rosa Inn

Villa Rosa Inn

A half-block from the beach, this intimate escape exudes Spanish Colonial style with a contemporary flair. Cozier than most Santa Barbara hotels, Villa Rosa offers all the amenities associated with larger resorts while maintaining the intimacy of a small inn.

Downtown
A White Jasmine Inn
A White Jasmine Inn

A White Jasmine Inn

Just three blocks from State Street and a 20-minute downtown walk to the beach, one of the oldest bed and breakfasts in the city offers three secluded cottages, each with its own private garden.

Haley Hotel
Haley Hotel

Haley Hotel

As close to downtown Santa Barbara as it gets, this nautically themed oasis is a block from State Street and features thoughtfully designed outdoor spaces, and local art, furniture, and amenities.

Bath Street Inn
Bath Street Inn

Bath Street Inn

With its 12 rooms spread across two houses in a quiet residential neighborhood three blocks from State Street, this cozy inn is known for its Victorian charm, an inviting front porch, and lush gardens.

Cheshire Cat Inn
Cheshire Cat Inn

Cheshire Cat Inn

The sun-filled rooms and cottages at this bed and breakfast just a block from State Street are named for characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and surrounded by a tranquil, oak-lined English garden.

Garden at Secret Garden Inn
Secret Garden Inn & Cottages

Secret Garden Inn & Cottages

Each of the homey, bird-themed cottages surrounding this 1905 farmhouse within walking distance of State Street has a private entrance that provides access to lush gardens and the shade of a sprawling persimmon tree.

Abbeywood Cottage at the Simpson House Inn
Simpson House Inn

Simpson House Inn

Timeless and elegant, the grand dame of Santa Barbara’s bed and breakfast inns is a lavish Victorian nestled amid tranquil English gardens and hidden behind tall hedges in a quiet historic neighborhood a couple of blocks from State Street.

Spanish Garden Inn
Spanish Garden Inn

Spanish Garden Inn

Inspired by the timeless beauty of Spain, this downtown-close jewel among Santa Barbara boutique hotels offers six suites with amenities like private balconies or patios, authentic local artwork, and oversized deep-soaking tubs.

Upham Hotel
Upham Hotel

The Upham Hotel

The oldest continuously operating hotel in Santa Barbara combines the intimacy of a bed and breakfast with the convenience of a full-service hotel from its convenient location in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara.

Just Outside of Town
Inn on Summer Hill
Inn on Summer Hill

Inn on Summer Hill

On a hill overlooking the ocean in Summerland, the toney antiques and furnishings shopping destination just south of Santa Barbara, spacious rooms feature private balconies or decks will full ocean views.

Montecito Inn
Montecito Inn

Montecito Inn

Uncompromising luxury meets full-service amenities just 2½ blocks from the beach in Montecito, an upscale Santa Barbara suburb and shopping destination, at an inn that was originally built by Charlie Chaplin as an escape for his closest friends.