The sun shines 283 days a year in Santa Barbara, California, and its residents know how to enjoy it. To find out what to eat and where to go in Santa Barbara, we asked a few chefs: Heather Lakey and Michael Patria of Bella Vista at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara; Ryan Simorangkir of Sama Sama Kitchen, Travis Watson of Blackbird at Hotel Californian; Matt Johnson of The Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch; and Johan Denizot of Belmond El Encanto. Here’s how to spend the ultimate weekend in Santa Barbara, straight from the pros.
FridayAs there are two dozen breweries in and around Santa Barbara, kick off the weekend with a pint or two. “We have so many breweries in our backyard,” says Heather Lakey, “so I always like to try local craft and micro crews, like those from Telegraph Brewing Co., Topa Topa and Institution Ale.” Lakey, Ryan Simorangkir and Travis Watson all agree pizzeria Bettina is the place for dinner, 20 minutes by bus or 10 by car from downtown Santa Barbara. Simorangkir goes for a pepperoni or maitake pizza paired with a white Negroni; Watson doesn’t miss the chicken liver mousse or the creative cocktails.
If you want to stay downtown, Simorangkir and Johnson suggest the Funk Zone and a wine tasting before dinner. There are 20 tasting rooms here, most open until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., including Fox Wine Co. and Melville Winery. For dinner, Simorangkir recommends Convivo on the waterfront, where he orders beef carpaccio and guinzaglio (a seven-hour veal Bolognese) along with a spritz, and Arigato, where he likes an uni and quail egg shooter and monkfish liver nigiri to eat paired with sake. Another top Japanese option three blocks away is Yoichi’s (reservations required), serving a seven-course kaiseki menu (five courses available Tuesday through Thursday).
For cultural events, check Downtown Santa Barbara’s active calendar of everything going on, like free outdoor concerts, gallery walks and performances at Ensemble Theater Company.
SaturdayAll the chefs recommended Hendry’s Beach. Both Lakey and Watson go for brunch at Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach while Matt Johnson says the beach is “a great place to relax with friends and some cold beers, and the water is perfect for body surfing.” Post beach, Johnson likes to go to eight-seat Thai-Taiwanese joint Empty Bowl, inside Santa Barbara Public Market, for the chicken curry noodle bowl. His other choice is La Super-Rica Taqueria, where “you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu; my favorites are chile con queso and the tacos.” At the Public Market, stop by Corazon Cocina where, Patria says, “there’s an octopus and shrimp taco that I get a craving for at least once a week.”
Both Bella Vista chefs Patria and Lakey also love going to the Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market, downtown Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and loading up with local produce and products. If you don’t fill up at the market, Lakey and Patria recommend eating at On The Alley or seafood restaurant Brophy Bros. where, Patria says, “The view and clams at are both pretty spectacular.”
Being a chef means eating a lot, so for these chefs, time means getting outdoors and being active—easy in Santa Barbara where the weather is perfect year-round. For hikes, Patria likes Seven Falls and Inspiration Point trails, and so does Simorangkir, who hikes there or at The Playgrounds. Denizot recommends the enormous Los Padres National Forest with its popular trails, picnic spots and beautiful ocean views. He’s a keen cyclist, so every weekend, rain or shine, you’ll find him on his bike. There are a dozen bike rental shops in Santa Barbara, including Santa Barbara Bikes To-Go and Wheel Fun Rentals, so you can cruise along the water, through the woods, or on the streets of downtown Santa Barbara.
Sunday FundaySanta Barbara has some terrific museums not to be missed. Start up in Mission Canyon at a favorite of Lakey’s, the Santa Barbara Mission, a Spanish mission from 1786 that gives the city of Santa Barbara its name. Just down the road is the kid-friendly Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where Watson and Denizot both like to go. From here you can walk 25 minutes along Mission Canyon Road up to the Botanic Gardens or break for lunch: upscale at Belmond El Encanto (20-minute walk) or ultra-popular Mexican at Los Agaves (a 25-minute walk).
Downtown and within walking distance are Santa Barbara Museum of Art (classical and contemporary Eastern and Western) and two big hits with kids (and adults who like to have fun): the Museum of Natural History’s Sea Center and MOXI, the Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation (less than 10 minutes apart on foot). Simorangkir says, “I love the MOXI science museum and always take my nephews there.”
Spend the rest of Sunday exploring more of the Funk Zone—visiting a few of its excellent galleries and shops, taking a snack break at Helena Avenue Bakery—or Travis Watson’s favorite neighborhood, the Presidio Neighborhood, which he likes for its “Spanish Colonial architecture, fun shops and restaurants and they are all easily accessible on foot.” For dinner, eat in at Barbareño, The Lark or Blackbird.
Where to Stay in Santa BarbaraIf you want to be able to walk to most things, stay in downtown Santa Barbara at the very comfortable and not too expensive Hotel Milo or The Wayfarer, or the pricier Kimpton Canary. If you don’t mind driving or taking cabs and have an ample budget, look at Four Seasons Santa Barbara, Belmond El Encanto, The Ritz-Carlton Bacara or San Ysidro Ranch.
Hero image by Jay Sinclair, courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara.