Exploring the “American Riviera”

Visit the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Photo by Aimee Robbins.

Visit the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Photo by Aimee Robbins.

When Spanish missionaries came to Santa Barbara, they didn’t realize they had stumbled into a palm-tree-ridden, beauty-soaked paradise that would someday be known as the “American Riviera.” This nickname aptly describes the quaint, red-tile- speckled city surrounded by alluring mountains and sunny beaches, all wrapped in a Mediterranean climate. The water, vistas, and culture of this Californian city can be enjoyed no matter the mode of exploration.

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Hike around the beautiful San Miguel Island. Photo by Todd Clark. cc

By Sea

The miles of coastline whet the appetite for water but also offer plenty of activities to satisfy that appetite.

Activities include kayaking, paddle boarding, and walking
along the beaches, which all offer great ways to explore the beautiful coastline. For more of a treat, head to Channel Islands National Park, which is known as the Galapagos of North America because of the unique animals, plants, and archeological resources there. Guided kayak excursions as well as swimming, snorkeling, and diving allow visitors to discover the kelp forests, sea caves, and coves amidst the abundance of marine life, including thousands of sea lions and seals.

Boat tours offer prime seats to see waterfront marine life. The Double Dolphin is one of the most favored water crafts for tourists. This boat provides sunset cruises, whale-watching cruises, coastal cruises, and daytime cruises.

By Foot

If having the ocean underfoot isn’t appealing, there are many activities to do on land.

No trip to Santa Barbara is complete without a visit to the historic Stearns Wharf, the oldest and longest working wooden wharf in California. Several tourist shops, a palm reader, a candy store, and an aquarium line the pier. Sample seafood at the Moby Dick and the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, but leave room for dessert at the Great Pacific Ice Cream Company. Fishing is allowed at the end of the dock, which is also an ideal place for pictures.

To really experience Santa Barbara life, take a stroll down State Street’s seven miles of shops, museums, restaurants, theaters, and more. Be sure to catch a bite at the oldest restaurant in Santa Barbara: Joe’s Café, a celebrated steakhouse and bar. Just off State Street is the Santa Barbara Country Courthouse, which features architecture based on Spanish castles. Hundreds of handmade tiles adorn the inside of the still-functioning courthouse. Ride the elevator to the top of the courthouse clock tower for an unmatched view of Santa Barbara. The lush landscape of the courthouse is an attractive place for picnics and pictures.

Explore the Danish-inspired mill in Slovang. Photo by Raymond Shobe

Explore the Danish-inspired mill in Slovang. Photo by Raymond Shobe cc

By Wheel

To add a little zip to your trip, there are a variety of vehicles that make sightseeing easy and fun.

Rent a standard or tandem bike to have an adventure and see the sights.

The Los Padres National Forest has great mountain biking trails for all levels. The vantage points from the mountains provide expansive views of the red-tiled homes, swaying palm trees, and sandy beaches. In the city, Cabrillo Bikeway is the most popular bike path, stretching from the harbor to East Beach. There are also attractive scenic routes along the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.

For unique forms of transportation, try renting a surrey (a four-wheeled, two- to four-person bike) or a Segway to tour the “American Riviera.” Find a truly unique experience by taking a horse-drawn carriage tour of Solvang (Danish for “sunny field”), a nearby Danish village. During the tour you can eat authentic Danish pastries, shop, and visit museums.

Since the Spanish settled in the area, thousands of tourists have flocked to Santa Barbara to boat, walk, and wheel around a true gem of a coast- line. Visitors who come to Santa Barbara find that they need at least a week to sample the coastal city and discover the charm that makes Santa Barbara the “American Riviera.”

—Aimee Robbins 

3 Comments

  1. This was never a place I thought about going, but after reading this, I’m considering it for my next trip.

    Reply
  2. I love coastal cities! I want to visit California this summer, so maybe I’ll add Santa Barbara to my itinerary now that I have lots of good suggestions for what to do.

    Reply
  3. Awesome! Now I know where i’d like to go next.

    Reply

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