Santa Barbara has long been an oasis for Los Angelenos seeking respite from big-city life. The attractions begin at the ocean and end in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains. A few miles up the coast east and west—but still very much a part of Santa Barbara—are the exclusive residential districts of Montecito and Hope Ranch. Santa Barbara is on a jog in the coastline, so the ocean is actually to the south, instead of the west; for this reason, directions can be confusing. "Up" the coast toward San Francisco is west, "down" toward Los Angeles is east, and the mountains are north.
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Things You Can't Miss
The Old Mission Santa Barbara, dating from 1786, is an architectural and cultural landmark. Tour the church and gardens, and enjoy the interpretive displays.
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The garden preserves and displays 65 acres of trees, wildflowers and cacti, including rare native plants. Take a tour or stroll solo.
The self-guided tour takes you around 12 blocks of the city’s landmarks and architectural gems, including 22 adobe buildings dating from the 1700s.
The County Courthouse, in all its Spanish-Moorish glory, has been in business for 160 years. The tower offers a 360-degree view of the city’s red-tile roofs.
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East Beach, with white sand and warm water, is the best spot around to watch serious volleyball. The playground and bike path are great for families.
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Take a lesson at Santa Barbara Fitness Tours, then go paddleboarding in the bay. Feel the fresh salt air on your face and gaze up at the mountains.
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Winter is whale-watching season, when thousands of gray whales pass by on their way to calving grounds in the Baja lagoons of Mexico.
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One of my favorite drives in the United States is the winding mountain pass of Painted Cave Road, where you’ll see jaw-dropping views of the Pacific.
For a bit of the Old West try dinner at Cold Spring Tavern, opened as a stagecoach stop in 1886. Meat and house-baked breads are specialties.
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