Santa Barbara is a mid-sized city in California that’s known as much for the beaches as it is for the Moroccan architecture. The buildings in the city with the red roofs are a characteristic of this style.
That’s a fun little tidbit of information, but if you’re more curious about more practical information on where to stay in Santa Barbara, then our article has pretty much everything that you need to know before you visit.
Why You Should Visit Santa Barbara in 2023
Santa Barbara is a coastal city with many beautiful sights and plenty of interesting attractions to visit. Both the city and the outskirts have some fantastic hiking trails and natural walking paths that first-timers in the city will relish.
From there, you’ll be able to see all of the city from above and check out some beautiful forests and green fields.
The main attraction will obviously be Santa Barbara Beach, with its fine soft sand and its blue waters that are just perfect for both swimming and water sports alike. Vacation goers are drawn to the coastline of the city, and luckily, there are plenty of hotels where they can stay.
If you like checking out the nightlife in the cities that you visit and you stay close to where the party is, then you might have a bit of a hard time deciding where to stay in Santa Barbara.
That’s because the city has bars, lounges, and nightclubs on pretty much every street corner, but you’ll easily find a nice place where you can sit down and enjoy a drink.
We’ll go through the most notable sections of the city, so you should be able to get at least a decent idea of what to expect from the city as long as you keep up with the information that we lay out.
The 5 Best Areas in Santa Barbara
We’ve outlined the five spots in the city that are the most popular tourist destinations for visitors, and we’ve pointed out the most interesting attractions in all of them.
- Urban Wine Trail: Wines and vintages galore — it’s in the name
- Downtown: The nightlife hub of Santa Barbara
- West Beach: Hotels that aren’t too expensive and a great beach for vacation-goers
- East Beach: The home of the Santa Barbara Zoo and plenty of other beach-side attractions
- Upper State Street: The Moxi Museum, the Santa Barbara Golf Club, and a little bit of everything else
The Best Areas & Hotels in Santa Barbara
There are quite a few areas of the city that don’t really have much going on and, as such, are pretty dry when it comes to interesting attractions or fun activities that tourists can try out.
This also means that there aren’t all that many hotels in said areas since there aren’t all that many people going there. However, all of the spots we mention are brimming with attractions and tourists, so you’ll have many accommodation options.
Without further ado, you can easily find an ideal fit, with hotels for every budget. Let’s start with the Urban Wine Trail.
1. Urban Wine Trail
The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail is such a famous attraction of the city that not only is it considered to be its own part of the city, but it also has plenty of hotels surrounding it that you can take full advantage of.
This area of the city stretches from the start of the Downtown district to the edge of West Beach. As you might have already assumed by the name, the biggest draw of this area are the many wine tasting facilities.
There are a dozen spots that you can visit or call to schedule a tasting, and most of the time, they’ll be able to squeeze you in for something on the exact same day.
Even if there isn’t an opening in the first location that you try, the second or the third is bound to be able to accommodate and allow you to try some of the local vintages. There’s only one issue with this area of the town, and that’s that we’ve just described pretty much everything that you can do here.
Sure, there are restaurants and bars, but there aren’t any other notable attractions to speak of aside from the beach (which is better on East or West Beach) and the distilleries.
Things to Do
- Make a reservation in one of the many distilleries in the area and try out some of the local wines and vintages with your friends.
- All of the wine tasting locations in the area also usually have a bar connected to them as well, which means that you can go and enjoy a drink with your friends.
- The Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara has some fascinating exhibits and a lot of contemporary art pieces that you can check out.
Where to Eat
- McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams is the best place to go if you’re in the mood for a frozen treat on a hot day.
- Joe’s Cafe has a simple bar vibe to it and a pretty big drinks menu to pick from.
- Sandbar is one of the best places in town to eat if you’re in the mood for some Mexican food.
Urban Wine Trail Budget Hotels
- Ala Mar by the Sea offers a decent room at an affordable price, and it comes with a cable TV and free wifi throughout the property.
- Haley Hotel provides you with rooms that come with a seating area, a flat-screen cable TV, and an AC unit.
Urban Wine Trail Mid-Range Hotels
- Holiday Inn Express Santa Barbara comes with an on-site business center that you can use for the fax and photocopying services, as well as rooms that come with free wifi and a front desk that’s always available via phone call.
- Hotel Santa Barbara has rooms that come with a cable TV, an AC unit, coffee and tea-making facilities, free toiletries, and even anti-allergenic pillows, so guests don’t have to worry about anything.
Urban Wine Trail Luxury Hotels
- Kimpton Canary Hotel provides all of the guests with access to an outdoor swimming pool that they can use at any time, an on-site restaurant with nothing but fresh ingredients, and even same-day dry cleaning services.
- Hotel Californian comes with a full-service spa that has a steam room and a salon, two in-house restaurants with different atmospheres and menus that you can choose between, and a sizeable outdoor pool that you can use whenever you want
The Downtown district of Santa Barbara is the best place to go to if you’re interested in the nightlife scene in the city. Here, you’ll find quite a few interesting and colorful drinking spots.
If you’re in the mood for just a simple stiff drink with your friends at the end of the day, then you might want to check out the old-school joints with the classic long wooden bar where you can sit and enjoy the atmosphere.
This area of the city also has plenty of different shops that you can check out as well as entire shopping districts.
The more unique shops would be the Lewis & Clark store, where you’ll be able to find some interesting antiques, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art Store, which sells everything from art books to board games.
The Warbler Records & Goods is yet another interesting place where vinyl lovers can find something to add to their collection. The main issue with this area of the city would have to be that everything from the shops to the bars is pretty pricey.
This, unfortunately, means that buying a souvenir to remind you of your trip or enjoying a night out on the town is going to put a hole in your pocket.
Things to Do
- Check out the massive shopping district in this area and look through all of the shops if you want to find some pretty interesting items.
- Unique shops aren’t all that this area has to offer, and there are plenty of boutiques where you can change out your entire wardrobe if you want to.
- This is the best place in town if you want to try a pub crawl where you visit multiple bars on the same night and have a drink in all of them.
- You can pay a visit to the Santa Barbara Museum Of Art and check out some of the beautiful art pieces that are on display here.
Where to Eat
- Ca’ Dario Santa Barbara provides you with traditional Italian dishes that you can try out.
- Santa Barbara Public Market is where you find locally sourced organic food and drinks.
- Mission Street Ice Cream & Yogurt is the best place to go if you’re in the mood for some frozen yogurt.
Downtown Budget Hotels
- Secret Garden Inn & Cottages is a bed and breakfast that comes with a complimentary buffet breakfast each morning and rooms that come with free wifi.
- The Presidio comes with a massive 42-inch flat-screen cable TV with HBO movie channels, as well as an AC unit and hypoallergenic bedding and amenities in every room.
Downtown Mid-Range Hotels
- The Upham Hotel provides you with access to the on-site restaurant that has a large selection of comfort food, as well as a large wine list, and all of the rooms come with free wifi.
- Bath Street Inn comes with a 3-course gourmet breakfast each morning, as well as a flat-screen cable TV in every room and free wifi throughout the property.
Downtown Luxury Hotels
- Palihouse Santa Barbara has a kitchenette and a mini-bar in certain rooms that guests can take full advantage of, a 24-hour front desk that’s always just a single phone call away, and round-the-clock room service as well.
- Simpson House Inn provides all of the guests with rooms that come with a flat-screen cable TV and a DVD player, a free breakfast each morning that can be enjoyed in the massive garden, and free bike rentals that allow you to explore the area a lot more easily.
3. West Beach
West Beach is quite a decent summer vacation spot with its sandy seaside, but there are also plenty of bars and restaurants. The best part is that all of the locales are much more wallet-friendly than, say, Downtown.
Seeing as how this part of the city is also connected to one of the most famous beaches in Santa Barbara, it would be a shame if you didn’t visit it at least once.
Take an umbrella with you, grab a pair of sunglasses and some sunscreen, and check out the great tanning spots and the crystal clear water that’s just perfect for swimming. Near the bay, you’ll also be able to find the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
This is a pretty unique museum where you’ll find displays that tell the story of the local fishing and hardhat diving culture that was present back in the day. If that doesn’t pique your interest, displays on some of the most massive shipwrecks that happened just off the coast surely will.
While this area of the city is better for managing your budget, it’s just lacking in terms of variety in your nightly wine & dines. Moreover, since they’re cheaper, the restaurants and bars aren’t quite as impressive as some of the ones that you’ll find Downtown.
Things to Do
- Get all of the necessary gear that you might need and just spend a whole day on the beach soaking in the sun or practicing your breaststroke.
- There are plenty of beachside bars that you can visit, and check out their list of cocktails and drinks that can help you cool off and beat the heat.
- Visit the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum if you want to learn a bit more about the history of the local coast from the artifacts and exhibits that are housed here.
Where to Eat
- Toma Restaurant & Bar has a great selection of both Italian dishes and wines that you can choose from.
- Chad’s Cafe is a great beach-side cafe with a pretty great breakfast menu.
- Longboard’s Grill is one of the best places around to go if you want to try a nice cold cocktail.
West Beach Budget Hotels
- Villa Rosa Inn comes with a flat-screen cable TV and a small sitting area in every room, as well as a complimentary continental breakfast every morning.
- Marina Beach Motel provides you with a daily breakfast buffet that you can enjoy and a room that comes with an AC unit, as well as tea and coffee-making facilities.
West Beach Mid-Range Hotels
- The Eagle Inn has a full on-site business center that you can take advantage of, a large DVD library where you can rent out a movie that you can watch on your flat-screen TV, and an AC unit and free wifi in every room.
- Mason Beach Inn comes with a massive 55-inch TV in every room that has HBO film channels, as well as free parking for every guest and free wifi throughout the property.
West Beach Luxury Hotels
- Hideaway Santa Barbara has an option for a vegetarian breakfast that guests can enjoy, all of the rooms come with a flat-screen cable TV and an AC unit, and there’s free high-speed wifi throughout the property.
- Harbor View Inn provides you with access to a fully-equipped fitness center that you can take full advantage of, an HDTV with cable channels in every room, and a mini-bar with refreshments.
4. East Beach
The most visited spot in East Beach would definitely have to be the Santa Barbara Zoo. The many exotic animals that call this place their home are the main attraction that draws visitors of all ages.
The younger children come to see animals that they’ve only seen in storybooks before, while the older guests can still marvel at the beauty of some of the beasts that are kept here.
This is also the largest stretch of beach in the entirety of Santa Barbara, and that makes it pretty popular among vacation-goers as well.
The beach itself isn’t all that different from West Beach, and the soft sand and crystal clear water are the same. But this area being bigger means that there’s a lot more in the way of entertainment.
There are jet ski rentals that you can try out, as well as kayaking and snorkeling gear if you want to try a few water-based activities. If you want to stay close to the beach, you can also try the many volleyball courts and play a few matches with your friends.
Ultimately, the many beachside bars will provide sufficient respite with a nice cold drink in your hand even if you grow tired. Since East Beach is also a popular vacation spot, and a bigger one at that, it’s often pretty crowded.
This results in the beaches being swarmed with people, the bars rarely having an empty seat, and even the hotels getting all booked up if you don’t call ahead of time.
Things to Do
- Go to the Santa Barbara Zoo and check out all of the interesting and exotic animals that are kept there.
- Walk along the beach and look through the many different gear rental shops that allow you to try out all sorts of different watersports.
- Visit one of the many tiki bars and cocktail lounges that can be found n this area and just sit down for a spell and chat with your friends with a drink in hand under the shade.
Where to Eat
- East Beach Tacos is where you go if you’re in the mood for some Mexican food.
- Reunion Kitchen + Drink is a beachside restaurant with a pretty impressive menu.
- Convivo Restaurant & Bar is where you go for a bite and a drink.
East Beach Budget Hotels
- Motel 6-Santa Barbara has an outdoor swimming pool that guests can use at any time, as well as vending machines if you get hungry during the middle of the night.
- Cabrillo Inn at the Beach comes with a flat-screen cable TV, free wifi throughout the property, and a heated seasonal swimming pool.
East Beach Mid-Range Hotels
- Palmoro House provides you with access to a fully-equipped fitness center, an impressively large 55-inch flat-screen TV in every room, as well as a coffee machine and a wall safe in the room.
- Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort has a front desk that’s always available if you have any questions or requests, a full garden that you can enjoy, and on-site car hire services.
East Beach Luxury Hotels
- Blue Sands Inn comes with a flat-screen TV and an AC unit in every room, and certain rooms come with a microwave; on top of that, there’s also an outdoor swimming pool that guests can use.
- Santa Barbara Inn has a fully-equipped fitness center that all of the guests can take advantage of, an on-site parking spot for all of the guests, as well as an in-house restaurant and bar.
5. Upper State Street
The Moxi Museum is a unique sort of place. While other museums and galleries usually house more standard paintings and historical exhibitions, this particular museum is more focused on inspiring a new generation of creative minds.
And it’s easy to see how this is possible thanks to the numerous science and technology showcases that give you a glimpse into the world of architecture and mechanical engineering. This area is also the home of the Old Mission Santa Barbara, which was constructed back in 1786.
This is a historic landmark in the city, and you can visit this place of prayer to learn a bit more about the history of the city, its culture, and even the sort of daily activities and practices that happen here.
You can visit the on-site mausoleum, check out the impressive mission library, and meet the friars that maintain the facility. If you want to have a bit of fun, you can visit one of the many nightclubs in the area and dance until you drop or until they throw you out in the morning.
If you’re after something tamer, enjoy the many cocktail lounges where you can order yourself a combination of drinks while enjoying the live music performance on stage.
The Upper State Street area of the city has a bit of everything, but that also makes it sort of bland and unimpressive. There are a lot of things to do, but not many notable attractions to speak of.
Things to Do
- Go to the Old Mission Santa Barbara and check out the old building that holds a part of the history of the city and see how it’s managed by the friars that live there.
- Check out The Moxi Museum and go through some of the more interesting exhibits and displays that you’ll find in the city.
- You can visit the nearby Santa Barbara Golf Club and play a few holes, or just get a bucket of golf balls and just practice your swings.
Where to Eat
- Sun Sushi is the best place in town for you if you want to try some sushi.
- Lure Fish House is an upscale restaurant with a great dish menu and wine selection.
- Chuck’s of Hawaii has some pretty interesting items on both the main course menu and the wine menu.
Upper State Street Budget Hotels
- Agave Inn provides you with a free parking spot to go along with each room, coffee and tea-making facilities, and free wifi throughout the property.
- Town and Country Inn provides all of the guests with a parking spot, a flat-screen cable TV with HBO movie channels, and free wifi throughout the property.
Upper State Street Mid-Range Hotels
- Rose Garden Inn comes with a flat-screen cable TV, a microwave, a mini-fridge, and a coffee maker, as well as an in-house bar that you can visit.
- Quality Inn Santa Barbara has an outdoor swimming pool that guests can use at any time, a free buffet-style continental breakfast that’s provided every morning, and a flat-screen LCD TV in every room.
Upper State Street Luxury Hotels
- Sandpiper Lodge – Santa Barbara comes with a fitness center that guests can use, a full-sized swimming pool, and a small hot rub right next to it, as well as a flat-screen cable TV with pay-per-view channels.
- Best Western Plus Pepper Tree Inn provides you with rooms that come with a tea and coffee maker, a sizeable swimming pool that guests can use whenever they want, and two hot tubs.
So, Where Should You Stay in Santa Barbara?
If you’ve just finished the article and at least have some idea about what to expect from your visit to the city, then you’re all set to go.
However, if that was just a little bit too much information, then here are the three areas that you need to keep in mind when you’re in Santa Barbara:
- The Downtown District is a must-visit location for partygoers, and even though there are plenty of bars in every part of the city, Downtown is where it’s at.
- West Beach is the smallest section of Santa Barbara Beach, but it has the most affordable hotels, and its locales are much less expensive than other stretches of beach in the city.
- The Urban Wine Trail is the best place to go if you’re interested in visiting the local wineries and trying some of the best vintage that the city produces.
Regardless of the area you choose, you’ll be surrounded by friendly locals, warm weather, and gorgeous scenery. So what are you waiting for… book your trip today. Happy travels!