Travel Tuesday: Santa Barbara – The American Riviera

by Marika Flatt on August 29, 2023 in Travels,

For many years, when I would talk to those “in the know” about California’s wine country, they would say: You must go to Santa Barbara. It stayed on my mental wishlist for about a decade, and I was finally able to experience this “American Riviera” with my own five senses. I absolutely fell in love on the first day in this coastal oasis that blends an old world charm with a modern Cali vibe.

From Texas, it’s easy to fly into Santa Barbara Airport (direct flights from Dallas) which is small and full of charm. It even has its own small museum just outside the main airport doors.

There’s a reason Hollywood’s elite flock to Santa Barbara (many of them even own homes in the area). Santa Barbara’s Spanish colonial architecture, featuring red roofs with white exteriors, is absolutely iconic.

Santa Barbara is home to over 275 wineries, 17 Michelin endorsement restaurants, 15 breweries, and seven artisan coffee roasters. And, Santa Barbara’s unique climate makes it the perfect place to make limited amounts of world-class wines.

Welcome to the Hotel Californian

Book a room at Hotel Californian and admire its beautiful Spanish colonial architecture. Photo Courtesy Hotel Californian/Visit Santa Barbara

High Cali culture, right in the middle of the action on the popular State Street (closed to traffic so it’s pedestrian friendly), Hotel Californian is only one block from the beach.This super posh hotel located in the vibrant Funk Zone, and only one block from Santa Barbara‘s train station, is in the heart of everything coastal Santa Barbara. Its 121 rooms are spread across three city blocks, with its black and white old Hollywood motif interior.

Make a reservation now for an amazing wine and culinary experience at The Society: State & Mason. Photo Courtesy The Society: State & Mason/Visit Santa Barbara

The Society: State & Mason is a hip wine bar on the corner of Hotel Californian. Enjoy a California wine tasting featuring the best of Foley Food & Wine Society. Included in their flights, you’ll find Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards and Ferrari-Carano Vineyards, both featured in one of our recent Wine Wednesday round ups. People watching, paired with their wine flight and fresh hummus equals the perfect afternoon treat.

Inspired by vintage Vegas lore with a spin on the modern steakhouse aesthetic, Rare Society is a treat for all the senses. Photo Matt Furman/Courtesy Visit Santa Barbara

Rare Society, also on State Street, just a few blocks away from Hotel Californian, is a delicious steakhouse just waiting to be devoured. Boasting leather booths and a gold paneled ceiling, the Vegas-esque steakhouse is primed to offer premium steaks and fabulous hearty sides. Start with a wedge salad featuring bacon and blue cheese and tasty crab cakes, then indulge in their scalloped potatoes with a tender steak. You’ll love the low lighting and fabulous service.

The Goat Tree offers fresh baked goods and pastries, among other savory breakfast items. Photo Courtesy Hotel California/Visit Santa Barbara

The Goat Tree, on the property of Hotel Californian, is the perfect breakfast café with indoor and outdoor seating. Fill up on a flavorful avocado toast, frittata, or a fresh croissant. The name Goat Tree is a playful nod to the trees of southwest Morocco that goats famously climb in search of nuts to eat.

Butterfly Beach, one of the many destinations along the Cabrillo Bike Path.  Karna Hughes/courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Check out bikes from Hotel Californian and spend the day riding on the perfectly placed Cabrillo Bike Path which will take you past various beaches, the butterfly garden, and all the way to Montecito. Spot a giraffe at the zoo and wind your way along the lovely landscaped path.

Loquita is a Spanish term for a wild and young, fun-loving girl. This is the spot for paella! Photo Blake Bronstad/Courtesy Visit Santa Barbara

Enjoy dinner at Loquita, a Spanish tapas restaurant on State Street. Sit on the outdoor patio, surrounded by pink bougainvilleas. Enjoy a glass of bold Tempranillo or their famous citrusy gin and tonic. Dine on the chorizo y pollo paella for the perfect alfresco SB experience. 

Grassini Family Vineyards makes all their products exclusively from renewable and sustainable resources. Photo Gabriela Herman/Courtesy Visit Santa Barbara

The Grassini tasting room is where you will learn about the seven different microclimates in the Santa Ynez Valley, also called Happy Canyon. The winery sits on 208 acres and they only use their own fruit. They make a Sauvignon Blanc, which is their only white grape, a rosé from Cabernet Sauvignon grape, a red blend that is part Merlot and part Cabernet Sauvignon. Chill with a flight in the courtyard that also encompasses several other tasting rooms from the area’s burgeoning wine scene.

Check in at the Kimpton Canary Hotel for a full experience of the city’s downtown life. Photo Courtesy Kimpton Canary Hotel/Visit Santa Barbara

Kimpton Canary Hotel is in the heart of downtown and features a well appointed bar and the premium Finch & Fork restaurant on the first floor. It proves to be a great location for walking around State Street to include shopping, other great restaurants, and even seeing the famous beautiful interiors of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Climb up to the clock tower for a 360° city view of town. Bonus at the Canary: if you forgot something, they have items for you on loan or for the taking such as: cell phone chargers, lip balm, apparel tape, humidifier, and even tweezers. 


Celebrate Italian culture and cuisine with a little slice of Italy at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele. Photo Jake Cowen

Enjoy lunch near the Canary on State Street at  L’antica Pizzeria da Michele. Boasting over 152 years of history in pizza-making, this elevated pizza parlor offers a taste of Naples through its use of imported Italian ingredients, honoring age-old cooking traditions and its street-side courtyard. The first U.S. outpost was founded in Hollywood in 2019 under the direction and vision of owner Francesco Zimone and Naples-born Executive Chef Michele Rubini, before expanding to Santa Barbara in late 2022.

L’antica Pizzeria da Michele’s Margherita pizza earned its praise long before its fame rose from an appearance in the bestselling book Eat Pray Love. Courtesy photo.

For possibly your most favorite meal in SB, start with the gnocco fritto (deep fried pizza dough sandwiching burrata, prosciutto and arugula); then move on to their tagliatelle al pesto (green pasta with spinach, basil pesto and burrata). Don’t forget to try their famous margherita pizza. Ciao, Bella! 

Travel Trip Tips

> Take a bike ride to Montecito, home to big names such as Oprah, Katy Perry, and Harry and Megan. This upscale community is the quintessential upper crust of California.

> Venturing outside of the Santa Barbara area is extremely easy utilizing the Pacific Surfliner Amtrak bus that can take you north or south with ease. Purchase a ticket online and jump on at the State Street station.

> When the Texas temperatures reach triple digits in the summer, Santa Barbara’s moderate coastal climate beckons as the perfect retreat.

> Lodging properties throughout the Santa Barbara South Coast are offering a Third Night Free when two or more nights are booked. (Terms vary by property.) Participants include more than a dozen hotels and resorts, ranging from mid-tier motels and independent boutique hotels to larger luxury resorts.


Cover Photo Blake Brondstad/Courtesy Visit Santa Barbara

Marika Flatt, Outstanding Austin Communicator 2021, is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She began her travel writing career in 2002, and can be seen as a contributor on TV shows across Texas, such as KVUE, Daytime (FOX), San Antonio Living, Good Morning Texas, and KXAN!  Marika spent five years as the voice of the “Weekend Trip Tip” on NPR’s Texas Standard pre-Covid.