A Day Trip to Santa Barbara – the Perfect Itinerary for a Solo Traveler in 2023

Known as the “American Riviera,” Santa Barbara boasts gorgeous Spanish architecture, bright blue water, and fantastic wineries. If you love fresh seafood, biking along the beach, or local shopping, then a day trip to Santa Barbara is a must.

Santa Barbara is just 1.5 hours from Los Angeles, along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Despite its proximity to LA, Santa Barbara is a completely different city. It looks like a European town but has a laid-back, west coast feel.

Why is Santa Barbara worth a day trip?

It has all the charms of a small-town – community and walkability – but with the amenities of a big city. You’ll never run out of things to do in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara is best known for its wine scene, artsy, upscale community, and environmental movements.

Earth Day started right here, after a massive oil spill in 1969. Every year, the town throws an Earth Day festival which is worth visiting.

Downtown Santa Barbara Food Tour

3.5ish-hour fun, informative, and local walking lunch tour:

Eat delicious lunch food,

drink great drinks

learn about downtown Santa Barbara

Enjoy food from 5-6+ local eateries

1-2 wine tastings or 1 wine tasting plus another alcoholic beverage

Go where locals like to go


The nature in Santa Barbara is worth a day trip alone. Here you’ll find stunning, secluded beaches, easily accessible hiking trails, and active marine life. It has some of my favorite views in California.

Santa Barbara is also home to the rich and famous, looking to enjoy a more private, quiet life. Some particularly notable residents include Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres, and Brad Pitt. You’ll find numerous notable arts and culture events here like the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Santa Barbara is one of my personal favorite cities and one I was lucky enough to call home for four years.

As such, I’ve put together the perfect day trip to Santa Barbara itinerary below, filled with local spots. You’ll find everything you need to have the perfect solo Santa Barbara day trip.

Also read: The 17 best places to visit in California in December for a solo female traveler

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From where would Santa Barbara make a great day trip?

Santa Barbara is located in Southern California. Due to its proximity to the central coast, it’s an easy day trip to Santa Barbara from numerous Southern and Northern California cities.

Some of the easiest places to visit Santa Barbara from are:

Los Angeles

Just 1.5 hours from Los Angeles, It’s very easy to take a Santa Barbara day trip from Los Angeles. If you drive, you’re only 1.5 hours away. You can also take the train, depending on where you are in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, beach pier

San Luis Obispo

If you’re coming from the central coast, San Luis Obispo is an easy city to visit Santa Barbara from. Only 1.5 hours away with a car or a leisurely 2.5-hour train ride.

Orange County and San Diego

If you have access to a car, driving from most Orange County towns only takes 2.5 hours to Santa Barbara. From San Diego, it’s just over 3 hours.

If you have to take the train, however, it’s best to spend the weekend in Santa Barbara. A train will take between 5 to 6 hours.

Santa Ynez Valley

If you’re wine tasting in Santa Ynez Valley wine country, why not head to Santa Barbara for the day? It’s only an easy 40-minute drive away.

Santa Ynez Valley Wine Tour 2022 - Santa Barbara

✔ wine tasting in three local wineries,

lunch in the Santa Ynez Valley

door-to-door shuttle service

knowledgeable guide for the day


How to get to Santa Barbara

There are three ways you can get to Santa Barbara: driving, taking public transit, or flying.

Getting to Santa Barbara by car

If you’re within driving distance, renting a car is by far the easiest way to get to Santa Barbara – especially for a day trip.

I’d recommend driving so you can have a car while in the city. This will make sightseeing easier.

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Find the best car rental deals and explore around freely, at your own pace. My favorite way to enjoy a destination!

Getting to Santa Barbara by train

If you’re coming from any of the above cities or surrounding areas, you can easily take the Amtrak train into downtown Santa Barbara.

Getting to Santa Barbara by bus

You could find also find bus routes depending on the city or town you’re coming from. This will take more time, however.

Santa BArbara aerial view

Getting to Santa Barbara by bus

Last but not least, you could fly directly to Santa Barbara Airport. The airport is located a twenty-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara.

However, if you’re only visiting Santa Barbara for the day, flying into the city may not be the most cost-effective way to get to Santa Barbara.


How to get around Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a very walkable city if you stay downtown. You can easily walk to the beach, the funk zone, and downtown.

For everything else, Santa Barbara has rideshare services like Lyft and Uber. There is also a bus system.

If you have your own car, driving will be easier and more cost-effective to get around. Santa Barbara has plenty of free parking areas throughout the city and traffic is minimal.

Santa Barbara Overview


Day trip to Santa Barbara Itinerary – the best way to spend a day in Santa Barbara

1. Have breakfast on Lower State and go on a beach walk

Start your day by heading to a local cafe or coffee shop and grabbing some breakfast.

My favorite area to get breakfast in Santa Barbara is Lower State, due to its proximity to the beach.

There are also numerous coffee shops and cafes in this area, like Dart Coffee, or Jeannine’s.

Get your coffee to go and walk down to Leadbetter beach. Here you can watch the surfers enjoying the morning swell, and numerous people running or doing yoga.

Stroll down to the harbor and Stearns Wharf. Check out the paddleboarders or the fishermen getting their boats ready. This is the perfect time to enjoy the most touristy area without the crowds.

Day trip to Santa Barbara

2. Shop along State Street

After 10 am, all the shops will be open but Santa Barbara will still be somewhat quiet. It’s the ideal time to explore State street before the afternoon and evening bustle.

State street starts at the beach and runs through Santa Barbara. You can easily walk up to the beginning of Upper State, about 30 minutes, before it becomes more residential.

The street is filled with cute shops, great cafes, architecture, and people watching. It’s the perfect place to check out some local boutiques and get a feel for the downtown area.

Santa Barbara broadwalk

3. Stop by the historic sights

From here you’re within walking distance, or a quick uber ride, to some of the most historic attractions in Santa Barbara.

I recommend starting with the historic Santa Barbara Courthouse. Trust me when I say that this is the most beautiful courthouse you’ll ever see.

Depending on the time and the season, you can climb up to the bell tower for the best views of the city.

There are even outdoor movie nights here once a week throughout the summer.

Then take an Uber (or a long walk) to the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Founded in 1786, you can tour the mission and learn its history.

The best part, however, is the grounds. The Santa Barbara Mission has a wonderful park out front that has wonderful views of the city and the sunset.

During the summer months, the rose garden is in bloom which is a must-see.

If you’re into botany, just up the street you’ll find the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. It’s worth a stop if you have the time.

Small-Group 90-Minute Tour by Trolley, Santa Barbara 2022

90-minute trolley tour of the American Riviera featuring:

driving past Santa Barbara landmarks such as: the courthouse, the Mission, the Museum of Natural History

Learn about the town's culture and history from live commentary and note places that you might want to return to independently later.

Learn more than you would be touring by yourself

Enjoy the convenience of a narrated guided tour

Ideal for first-time visitors to Santa Barbara

This is a small-group tour, for your comfort


4. Make your own food tour…

Santa Barbara has so many great restaurants it can be hard to decide where to go. As a solo traveler though, narrowing down a restaurant can feel even more difficult since you can’t share with someone.

Not to worry – why not create your own food tour? There are numerous, open-air foodie spots that make it easy to try a variety of dishes for one. I’d recommend heading up to the Public Market or Savoy Cafe & Deli.

All these places are counter service, offer a variety of options, and can easily be taken to go for the activity below.

Santa Barbara wineries

5. …or join a guided food tour with a local guide

Sometimes sharing a food experience is much more fun so if you are traveling alone you can join a food tour so you can make new friends and share your culinary experience.

► 😋 BOOK NOW the best food tour in Santa Barbara 😋

Downtown Santa Barbara Food Tour

3.5ish-hour fun, informative, and local walking lunch tour:

Eat delicious lunch food,

drink great drinks

learn about downtown Santa Barbara

Enjoy food from 5-6+ local eateries

1-2 wine tastings or 1 wine tasting plus another alcoholic beverage

Go where locals like to go


6. Have a picnic and enjoy some nature

Now that you’ve picked up your lunch, why not have a picnic? There are numerous scenic places in Santa Barbara that boast the best views in Southern California.

Having a picnic is a great way to soak up the sights on a Santa Barbara day trip.

Some of my favorite places to picnic and sightsee are Douglas Family Preserve, Ellings Park, and Shoreline Park.

These spots have gorgeous views of the ocean. They are also wonderful places to watch the sunset.

Santa Barbara view

7. Bike ride along the beach

After a nice, relaxing lunch, it’s time to get active. One of my favorite things to do in Santa Barbara is to rent a bike and ride along the beach.

Or you can book a guided bike tour.

You’ll find a bike path starting at Stearns Wharf, and spanning West Beach to East Beach.

Santa Barbara Shore

I recommend biking down to Montecito to end at Butterfly Beach. This is one of my favorite places to catch the sunset.

The area offers tranquil views, great photo spots, and fewer crowds than the downtown Santa Barbara area.

Not into biking? Another quintessential Santa Barbara activity is to rent a paddleboard in the harbor. It’s an easy and fun activity to do if you’re eager to get in the Pacific ocean or get some sun.

Santa Barbara Electric Bike Tour

A knowledgeable tour guide will take you around Santa Barbara landmarks by electric bike and share the city’s history.

Numbers are limited to five people, ensuring personalized attention and a small-group experience.

Enjoy beautiful coastal views and explore the historic Santa Barbara Mission

Stop for photo opportunities

8. Enjoy happy hour in the Funk Zone

The Funk Zone is one of the coolest areas in Santa Barbara. This former, and current, the industrial area is as hip as it gets. The Funk Zone boasts numerous wine-tasting rooms, breweries, and trendy eateries.

I’d recommend wine tasting or brewery hopping throughout the Funk Zone.

My personal favorite places are Lama Dog, Pali Wines, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., and Municipal Wines. They offer local wines, wine tastings, microbrews, and a fun environment.

Check out the urban wine trail for a full map of the Santa Barbara wineries.

Finish the evening off with a happy hour dinner at Santa Barbara Fish House in the Funk Zone. They offer sunset views, fantastic fish tacos, and a lively vibe.

Sunset on the beach in Santa Barbara

9. Watch the Sunset

Your Santa Barbara day trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing a sunset. Santa Barbara boasts some of my favorite sunsets on the California coast.

One famous spot is the Santa Barbara winery, Deep Sea Tasting Room. Located on Stearns Wharf, you can watch the sunset while enjoying a glass of wine above the ocean.

If you’d rather be on the beach, I love watching the sunset from Butterfly Beach or Douglas Family Preserve.

Santa Barbara beach


Where can I stay in Santa Barbara?

Budget Hotels in Santa Barbara

Cabrillo Inn Hotel

Cabrillo Inn is a quaint, lovely motel right in front of East Beach. While it’s a good 15-minute walk from the downtown area, it’s right next to the Funk Zone. You can’t find a better deal when it comes to a beachfront hotel.

Check Rates and availability on Booking.com

Santa Barbara garden

Castillo Inn Hotel

If you’d rather be right by downtown, Castillo Inn is a similarly priced option two blocks from the beach.

Check Rates and availability on Booking.com

Mid-Range Hotels in Santa Barbara

Hotel Santa Barbara

Located right on State Street, in the heart of downtown, is the Hotel Santa Barbara. This is a great spot for solo travelers who want to be right in the action.

You’re steps from the best restaurants and nightlife but you can still easily walk to the beach.

Check Rates and availability on Booking.com

Hotel Milo

If you’d rather be on the beach, Hotel Milo is a lovely beachfront hotel for a reasonable price. Across from West Beach and a few a steps off State street, you’ll have easy access to downtown.

Check Rates and availability on Booking.com

Santa Barbara walkway path

High-End hotels in Santa Barbara

Hotel Californian

The Hotel Californian is arguably the nicest beachfront hotel in Santa Barbara. It’s more of a resort than a hotel, with popular restaurants on sight like Goat Tree Cafe. You’re steps from the Funk Zone, the beach, and downtown.

Check Rates and availability on Booking.com

Kimpton Canary Hotel

Another fantastic option is Kimpton Canary Hotel. It’s one of my favorite hotels in Santa Barbara. It’s downtown, off State street, with a lovely rooftop view of the city and numerous events.

Check Rates and availability on Booking.com


Best restaurants and Cafes in Santa Barbara

When it comes to Santa Barbara restaurants, there are quite a few options to choose from. While I haven’t had a bad meal yet, these are my favorite restaurants:

Mony’s Tacos

My favorite spot for Mexican food in Santa Barbara, Mony’s tacos is a must-try. A small counter-service restaurant located in the Funk Zone, it’s easy to grab your tacos to go. Take them to the beach or nearby wineries.

If you’re looking for sit-down Mexican food, I highly recommend Santo Mezcal just down the street.

Santa Barbara pier

Tap Thai

Tap Thai is further from the action, in Upper State, but it’s worth the journey. It’s a casual family-run spot, but there’s always a line.

Tap makes the best green curry you’ll ever have. I’d recommend pairing it with their delicious roti and Thai iced tea.

Milk and Honey

One of my favorite tapas spots, Milk and Honey has the best happy hour in Santa Barbara County. Milk and Honey has a lovely outdoor patio and a cute interior.

Try their patatas bravas, Brussel sprouts, and their coconut mojitos.

Santa Barbara sunset

Boathouse or Fish House

If you’re looking for the quintessential California seafood spot, these sister restaurants can’t be missed.

Santa Barbara Fish House is right off the pier, with sunset views and a fun, lively ambiance.

The boathouse is a bit further away, right on Hendry’s Beach. It also has gorgeous sunset views with a slightly more upscale vibe.

More importantly, they both have a great happy hour that serves my favorite fish tacos in town.

Olio Pizzeria

If delicious thin crust, wood-fired pizza is what you seek, then check out Olio Pizzeria. It’s a wonderful Italian spot in downtown Santa Barbara. It has an old-timey ambiance and a cute courtyard.

If you’re looking for something a little more casual, Lucky Penny Pizzeria, in the Funk Zone, makes thick-crusted, wood-fired pizza.

Santa Barbara palm trees

Dune Coffee

Dune Coffee is one of the most well-known local coffee roasteries in town. If you’re looking for a great cup of coffee and some locally baked goods, definitely stop by Dune.

Plus, this hipster cafe is perfect for people watching or meeting the young community.

Alternatively, Caje Coffee is a new, trendy local coffee roastery. They have locations all over town that are worth a visit.


One of the oldest restaurants in Santa Barbara, Jeannine’s has the best breakfast in town. Family run, you’ll probably be served by one of the founding family members while you’re there.

They have several locations locally, but my favorite is the one in Montecito. Expect breakfast classics like Caramelized french toast and fresh, egg white omelets.

If you’re looking for something beachy casual, check out Dawn Patrol. Their breakfast hash and vanilla bean lattes are to die for.

McConnell’s Ice Cream

Once you’ve tried the locally famous McConnell’s, no other ice cream will compare. I don’t know how they get their ice cream so creamy, but it’s delicious.

Plus they have vegan options! McConnell’s has several locations in Santa Barbara, but their Upper State location also has frozen yogurt.

Not into ice cream? Check out Hook and Press Donuts for some of the best donuts you’ll ever have.

Santa Barbara beach overview


Other things to do in Santa Barbara in case you want to extend your trip to Santa Barbara

Sightsee up the 154

Some of the best things in Santa Barbara can be found up highway 154. Just past Upper State, this scenic highway boasts some of the best views in Santa Barbara County. Take your car for a drive and enjoy views of the Santa Ynez mountains

Head up to Lizards Mouth to climb around on boulders that rival Joshua Tree. You’ll have panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the ocean. Not to mention, the sunset here is incredible.

Then pop into the Historic Cold Springs Tavern. This former stagecoach stop transports you to a different era. They have live music, line dancing, and great drinks.

Santa Barbara courthouse

Beach Hop

There are so many stunning beaches in Santa Barbara, it’s a full-time activity just trying to see them all. Each beach offers different scenery, crowds, and views.

My favorite beaches to swim and layout on in Santa Barbara are More Mesa and Arroyo Burro beach. In Montecito, I recommend Miramar Beach.

If you’re interested in driving just 15 minutes south, Loon Point offers stunning cliff views. Alternatively, Santa Claus Lane, in Carpinteria, is one of the most pristine beaches around.

Explore the Nearby Neighborhoods

Santa Barbara may seem like a small town but it’s anything but. There are so many different parts to explore just outside the city center.

Check out Lotusland or go hiking in Montecito. Have breakfast in Summerland and Relax at the Sacred Space. Enjoy the beaches and some local shopping in Carpinteria.

If you have more time, spend the day in Ojai, just 40 minutes from Santa Barbara. This famous bohemian town is known for its picturesque orange groves, and artsy community.

Santa Barbara boat and mountains

Go Hiking

There are so many hikes just a quick drive away in Santa Barbara. Inspiration Point is the most accessible, located just outside of downtown.

Alternatively, Hope Ranch is home to numerous trails as is Montecito. My favorite is Hot Springs Canyon.

Enjoy the Nightlife

While many view Santa Barbara as laid back, when night comes, it’s anything but. Thanks to the lively college community, there’s active nightlife in downtown Santa Barbara.

You can have a great time bar-hopping up State Street. Start in the Funk Zone and slowly make your way up. End the night with live music and a cha-cha line at The Red Piano, or dance at the iconic Wildcat Lounge.

Santa Barbara bay by night


Planning a Santa Barbara Day trip? FAQ

How to pack for a day in Santa Barbara

It’s easy to pack for a day trip to Santa Barbara, thanks to the temperate weather. That being said, the mornings are slightly chilly, as are the evenings. The daytime is usually sunny and warm.

I’d suggest bringing a light jacket and something you feel comfortable wearing out at night. Santa Barbara is relatively casual but it’s not a boardshorts at night kind of town.

For the day, pack clothes you can move in, like activewear, as well as your swimsuit.

santa barbara beach at sunrise

Best time to visit Santa Barbara for a day

Santa Barbara has mild weather all year long. You can visit anytime and have a great day in Santa Barbara.

However, if you’d prefer warmer weather, then you should visit Santa Barbara in May-October.

Keep in mind that peak tourism season is July-August, so if you’d like to avoid crowds, you may not enjoy those months.

Is a day in Santa Barbara enough?

After living here for four years, I can safely say that a day trip to Santa Barbara is not enough time. There are so many wonderful things to do in this small yet vibrant town. I’d recommend visiting for at least a weekend trip if you can.

Here is a post on the best luxury Airbnb in Santa Barbara

If you only have a day in Santa Barbara, it’s still worth visiting. You can get a great feel for the city, especially the downtown area.

Santa Barbara beach promenade

Must do in Santa Barbara

While I recommend everything in this article, there are a few things that are absolute must-do’s on a Santa Barbara day trip. My top favorite things to do in Santa Barbara are:

  • Watch the sunset on Butterfly Beach
  • Wine tasting in the Funk Zone
  • Walk along Shoreline Drive
  • Soak up the sun at More Mesa Beach
  • Enjoy happy hour at Santa Barbara Fish House or BoatHouse

Top tours available in Santa Barbara

We love traveling alone but sometimes it’s nice to share our experience with likeminded people or we just want to be able to split the costs. So here are some tours that are much more fun in good company!