One Weekend in Beautiful Santa Barbara

From its world-class restaurants and hotels to the rolling green of its wine country, Santa Barbara is one of America's best-kept secrets. Discover how 48 hours in this town can rejuvenate your spirit.

By: Erica Walsh

Photo By: Jim Bartsch

Photo By: Mark Weber

Photo By: Brophy Bros Clamhouse

Photo By: Mark Weber

Photo By: Ron Berg / Visit Santa Barbara

Photo By: Mark Weber

Photo By: steeven petitteville

Photo By: Jay Sinclair

Where to Stay

Described as encompassing Spanish Colonial warmth, old Hollywood glamour and new California dreaming, the Bacara Resort & Spa is the height of luxury for a weekend in Santa Barbara. Every one of the 311 rooms and 49 specialty suites are intimate and relaxing, featuring their own private patio or balcony.

The resort resembles an intimate Mediterranean village, embracing 78 beachfront acres between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains. The understated elegance is present in every room and at the resort's spa and 3 restaurants.

Another great option is The Simpson House Inn, an 1874 historic landmark decorated to Victorian perfection. French doors open to manicured gardens, and quaint cottages dot the beautiful grounds. While the rooms have everything your heart could possibly desire, the Inn's most impressive features are its extras: the gourmet Mediterranean hors d'oeuvres and Santa Barbara wines served each afternoon, the enormous video library and the full gourmet breakfast (delivered on delicate china).

Take a tour of The Simpson House Inn's gardens, and see why guests fall in love with this unique Santa Barbara bed and breakfast.

Budget Stay

If you're looking to experience Santa Barbara's splendor, but don't want to break the bank, book a room at the Days Inn. The hotel is only a block from Yacht Harbor and walking distance from some great dining options. Walk to Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant and The Brewhouse, but better yet, walk directly across the street to the beach.

Where to Eat and Drink

The Brewhouse is a quintessential California hangout: outdoor dining, views of the water, dinner and drink specials, fresh music and a relaxed vibe. And to state the obvious, great beer brewed on the premises is served daily; try the dark Harry Porter or the Condor Pilsner.

Brophy Bros., overlooking the harbor, is a locals' favorite and home to fresh California cuisine. Two things not to be missed at Brophy's are the clam chowder and the opportunity to make new friends at the long communal table. The fresh-fish menu changes daily, the mark of a great seafood restaurant.

One of Santa Barbara's most romantic restaurants is Stella Mare's. The traditional French cuisine is served for brunch, lunch and dinner, complemented by French and American wines. Overlooking the Bird Refuge, a 42-acre saltwater wildlife refuge, the beautiful old house and greenhouse are the perfect place to bring a loved one while staying in Santa Barbara.

For the best authentic tacos in Santa Barbara, head to this humble street-corner shack. Endorsed by Julia Child, you won't mind waiting on line for fresh ingredients that are spiced to perfection. Always check the daily specials first and ask for extra tortillas no matter what you decide to order.

What to See: Old Mission Santa Barbara

The Santa Barbara Mission was founded on December 4, 1786, the tenth of 21 California missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans. From its hilltop lookout, you can view Santa Barbara below and the Channel Islands beyond. Tour the beautiful church, historic cemetery and mausoleum, and 10 acres of gorgeously landscaped gardens from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Self-guided tour brochures are also available at the Mission's gift shop in 8 different languages.

What to Do: Santa Barbara Zoo

The Santa Barbara Zoo is a perfect afternoon activity. All 700 animals can be seen within 30 minutes at this pint-sized park, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Christmas. Enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the Pacific after your visit with the animals.

Ganna Walska Lotusland

Another picturesque setting for a beautiful afternoon in Santa Barbara is the Ganna Walska Lotusland, a lavishly landscaped 37-acre estate brimming with exotic flora and romantic garden paths. Named after its late owner, the eccentric Madame Walska, the garden contains priceless rare and beautiful specimens acquired during the lax import regulations of the 1940s. Wander the ethereal walkways and feel as though you've entered another time, but advanced reservations are required to tour these grounds.

After Dark

After watching a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean, head to any number of places for nighttime fun. The Boathouse at Hendry's Beach is a relaxed atmosphere perfect for watching the sunset and then sipping cocktails around the fire pit.

For a lounge atmosphere with great dancing, head to Eos Lounge located near State Street. Combining the vibes of casual elegance, contemporary cocktail lounge and nightclub, Eos is a great place to experience the culture and style of Santa Barbara.

To combine your dinner with some great theater, head to The Lobero whose calendar of events features performances like the Australian Chamber Orchestra, The Capital Steps, Damn Yankees and an evening with Lily Tomlin. It's conveniently located in downtown Santa Barbara and is the perfect Friday night activity.

Travel Channel Insider's Tip

Santa Barbara's wine country is still largely undiscovered, however it's quickly garnering international respect. Travel the vineyards located about 30 minutes from Santa Barbara for sophisticated and spectacular wines. The best part? Chances are you'll have personalized attention at these small vineyards. You can also take a self-guided tour of those wineries featured in the 2004 Academy Award winner, "Sideways."

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