K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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The eclectic town of Santa Barbara offers numerous charms, including both ocean and mountain scenery, multiple vineyards and wineries, Old World architecture and a wealth of ways to relax or get active. No matter what your idea of a fun weekend getaway, these things to do are sure to make it especially unforgettable.
If you want to be able to gaze out at the Pacific, sip wine and pamper yourself with spa treatments while feeling as if you’re in a gorgeous Mediterranean villa, you might want to book a stay at the Bacara Resort & Spa. Perched atop a bluff overlooking the glistening expanse of the ocean, this Mediterranean-inspired resort offers private balconies in every suite as well as a 42,000-square-foot spa. This relaxation heaven serves up more than 60 treatment options and includes an adults-only pool, a redwood sauna and a eucalyptus steam room. If that’s not enough, you can get even more relaxed by heading to the resort’s Foley Wine Tasting room. Not only can you sample and purchase great wines, but the personalized concierge service offers reserve tastings, cooking classes and wine outings.
Set upon a hilltop overlooking the city and the Pacific Ocean, this impressive mission is a combination of Spanish, Greek and Roman styles, with six pink-hued columns that make it unique from most other missions. It provides visitors with a glimpse of the city’s early origins and is the only mission with twin bell towers. The six giant bells welcomed guests and announced various events throughout its history, including at one point being used to summon Native Americans to assemble in church. Founded in 1786, its purpose was to convert the native Chumash into Christians. A number of different tours are offered that will take you through the nine-room museum of art and artifacts, as well as the historic cemetery and mausoleum, and the spectacularly lush historical garden.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is located in the heart of downtown, and hosts permanent collections that include more than 27,000 works of American, European and Asian art, including paintings, prints, ceramics, and sculptures. It also features a library, museum store, cafe and auditorium, as well as offering docent-led tours.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden offers a break for beach-goers and draws all types of nature lovers who come to walk the paths and explore this garden that serves to protect plants that are unique to the central coast region of California. It’s incredible diversity and picturesque mountain views make it a stand out, providing a refreshing escape from the city with only the sounds of the birds singing, the chameleons skittering around and the trees gently swaying in the breeze.
The El Presidio de Santa Barbara offers another opportunity to step back in time in a historic park that showcases a number of restored buildings that were part of the last Spanish military settlement. Originally constructed in 1782, it hosts 17 buildings and sites set around the Plaza de Armas, providing the opportunity to learn about the Chumash who settled the land more than 13,500 years ago as well as the Spanish colonization of the land. The park also includes an exhibit on the history of Asian immigration to the Santa Barbara region, while the grounds feature two of the original sections of the Presidio as well as both Spanish and American adobes, a chapel and bell tower, along with archaeological discoveries.
One of the primary reasons people come to Santa Barbara is the wine, and the Urban Wine Trail features more than 20 tasting rooms in and around the Funk Zone area for sampling it. Park your car and walk or hop on a pedi-cab to explore them, with the most notable tasting rooms including the one at Grassini Family Vineyards, which pours only Bordeaux varietals, the Cottonwood Canyon Winery and Riverbench. Outside of the “Funk Zone,” don’t miss the wine and the 360-degree views of the Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting Room on Stearns Wharf. Check the calendar for special events and tastings too, such as live music in the Carr Winery Barrel Room and afternoon Wine Time events at Jamie Slone.
On a pleasant day, which can be enjoyed much of the year here thanks to the Mediterranean-like climate, rent a bike to get out on two wheels for a ride along the coast and beyond. Wheel Fun offers an extensive selection of bikes and sits right on the beachfront, allowing you to hop on and roll along the paved path at beachside, through palm tree-lined streets and enjoying views of the Santa Ynez Mountains as well as the Pacific.