The spectacularly stunning city of Santa Barbara is located just two hours north of Los Angeles. Perched between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the wild waves of the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is one of the jewels of the California coastline that you’ll visit on a Pacific Coast cruise. It’s Mediterranean climate has given it the nickname “the America Riviera,” and it seamlessly blends a ritzy demeanor with a relaxed surf culture.
One of the most beautiful and fun beaches in Santa Barbara is East Beach. Located toward the eastern end of Cabrillo Boulevard, this palm tree-lined beach is made even more spectacular by the wide stretch of golden sand on one side and the mountains on the other side. No matter which way you turn, you’re in for a fabulous view. This beach is also a prime place for sunset watching if your time in port allows for it.
The Old Mission Santa Barbara was founded in 1786 and is the only California mission that still serves as a home to Franciscan friars. The mission’s architecture is beautiful and has largely influenced many of the buildings that have been built in the city since. Docent-led tours are offered daily on a first come, first served basis.
Head to Stearns Wharf, located next to the beach at the bottom of State Street, for a scenic stroll along its magnificent pier that overlooks the harbor and beaches. When the pier was built in 1872, it had the acclaim of being the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Nowadays, it’s known more for the shops and restaurants on it as well as the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, where you can learn more about the history and dynamics of the ocean and the creatures that call it home.
Built after a devastating earthquake in 1925 that destroyed much of Santa Barbara’s infrastructure, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is both a National and State Historic Landmark. Admire its grand Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, hand-painted ceilings and murals, detailed tilework, and ornate touches, then head up to the bell tower for a panoramic view of the city.
Riding a bike around the downtown area is a lovely way to spend your day in port on a Santa Barbara cruise. There are bike racks all over town, including up and down State Street, that make it easy to stop and try a cup of locally roasted coffee, shop, or grab a bite to eat. Riding a bike is also a fun way to get to some of the city’s main sites, such as the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
Santa Barbara is a great jumping-off point for a whale-watching adventure. There are more than 27 different types of whales and dolphins that you can see throughout the year in the waters off of Santa Barbara. May through November is the best time to spot these magnificent sea creatures, when humpback, blue, and gray whales are in the area. You’ll also likely encounter some frolicking sea lions during your whale-watching excursion.
Santa Barbara is located right within wine country, and exploring the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley is a fantastic way to spend the day. From the Foxen Canyon wine trail to the famous Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard, there is no shortage of wineries and vineyards to visit during your Santa Barbara cruise port of call. Booking a wine tasting shore excursion is your best bet, since you won’t need to worry about driving or getting back to your ship on time.
You don’t have to drive to the Santa Ynez Valley during a cruise to Santa Barbara in order to enjoy some local wine tasting. Instead, you can head a short distance east on Cabrillo Boulevard from State Street, and you’ll be in the epicenter of the Urban Wine Trail. California’s central coast is famous for its Pinot Noir, so be sure to try that variety during your tasting, along with the region’s many other delightful wine varietals.
There are numerous farms in the countryside around Santa Barbara, so the city is all about the farm-to-table experience. Many of the restaurants in the city center even have their own gardens that they use for entrée inspiration. Beef and chicken from local ranches are popular menu items, as are extensive local wine lists. In fact, so focused are the bars and restaurants on wines from Central California, that it might be hard to find any vintages not from the area. If you’re not into wine, you can also find a number of local craft beers in the bars and eateries of Santa Barbara.
Don’t miss out on the area’s fresh seafood dishes, ranging from casual fish tacos to exquisitely prepared catches of the day. To complete your local dining experience, head to McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams for a scoop of its deliciously decadent ice cream.
Santa Barbara was founded by Spanish governor Felipe de Neve and Franciscan Padre Junipero Serra in 1782. Prior to the European settlement of the region, the land was home to the Chumash people.
Santa Barbara may feel like a big, cosmopolitan city, but it has small-town roots, and many of the locals work on or are familiar with farms and wineries in the area. The city has an upscale air to it, but similar to the rest of California, you’ll find that the locals live a laidback lifestyle largely based around the outdoors. The local state university contributes to the economy, as does the tourism, finance, and health care sectors.
Cruise ships that stop in Santa Barbara anchor offshore and tender passengers on a smaller boat to land. Passengers are dropped off at Sea Landing, a small pier within the Santa Barbara harbor. Sea Landing has a staffed information table where visitors can get maps and public transportation timetables as well as information about various activities to do in the city. The actual Santa Barbara Visitors Center is located at 1 Garden Street. Sea Landing is also within walking distance of Stearns Harbor. To get to State Street and the beaches along Cabrillo Boulevard, a cheap shuttle is offered.
Taxis are the easiest way to get around Santa Barbara, but they’re not necessarily the most charming mode of transportation. That designation would go to the Santa Barbara Electric Shuttle, a public transportation system that runs along Cabrillo Boulevard and up and down State Street that only costs 50 cents to ride. A bus system connects downtown Santa Barbara with the outer edges of the city and nearby coastal towns, such as Carpinteria and Goldeta.
The best place to shop in Santa Barbara is up and down State Street, the main road through town. Wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks border this pretty, tree-lined street filled with popular brand name stores and designer boutiques. In addition, look for shops selling local agricultural products like olive oil, jams, and other packaged California food items you won’t want to miss bringing home with you as a souvenir.
The official currency used in Santa Barbara and the rest of California is the U.S. Dollar. If you need cash, you’ll find several ATMs throughout Santa Barbara, especially at local banks. Most businesses in Santa Barbara also take credit cards. Tipping customs are similar to what you find in the rest of the United States, with 15% to 20% of the total bill being a common tip amount to leave for restaurant services, taxi rides, and bar service. In the U.S., it’s also common to see tipping jars at eateries and coffee shops where you order at the counter, and leaving change or a dollar bill or two is appreciated.