Finally, we got back to Santa Barbara, aka, the American Riviera! Its Spanish-styled architecture, near perfect climate, natural beauty of the sea leading to the mountains makes a trip to Santa Barbara feel like you could be dining, hiking or beaching around the coast of Spain. It’s been many years since we headed up to Santa Barbara and we couldn’t wait to explore it over our four day stay.
Living in Coronado makes you a bit soft when it comes to driving more than a few dozen miles – no way around it. Just going up to Orange County can drive locals crazy if they hit traffic in those familiar “slow down” spots – we are looking at you Sorrento Valley, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Oceanside…! That means leaving early or very late if you decide to drive the 200 miles up the coast. Without traffic, it takes about three to four hours, but that’s only if you miss traffic and the on-going Caltrans projects along the 101. Taking the train from San Diego to Santa Barbara is about six hours and may allow you to catch up on that book or your beauty rest. Just pay attention to any train transfers in LA. There are some flights to Santa Barbara, but we would suggest to drive your own car so that you have the option to explore more parts of Santa Barbara. Pick out a good podcast and have Waze loaded as your begin your journey north.
Ocean, Mountains, Oh Yeah!
Coastal mountains? Yep! Santa Barbara is known for its natural beauty – stunning beaches turn into tree and creek-filled foothills that rise up to the towering San Ynez Mountains. There is really nothing like this in San Diego and there are many places to take in the views looking out to the ocean or up towards the mountains.
A Hotel in the Perfect Location
Location, location, location. Choosing the Mar Monte Hotel was the key decision to ensuring the success of our getaway to Santa Barbara. Its location sits between some of our favorite parts of Santa Barbara: East Beach, Cabrillo Boulevard, Stearns Wharf, State Street, the Funk Zone and downtown Montecito. We will dive into these spots as this article continues. Bonus tip… be sure to collect or use your Hyatt points at the Mar Monte Hotel.
The Mar Monte sits right across the street from the beach, and their 200 Spanish-styled rooms come with sweeping views of either the San Ynez Mountains or the Pacific Ocean – a win win! During one of our “down days,” we hopped between the pool and the ocean because they were both so easy to get to from our room. One dinner, we got Mexican takeout and enjoyed our food with a bottle of wine and watched the sunset – priceless.
Walking around the grounds of the hotel felt as though you were back in the 1930s when the hotel was first opened. Stunning Spanish architecture, colorful tiles, thick arches and historic light fixtures were found all over the property.
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Excursion-Worthy Activities (Without a Car)
When you have an ocean view out your hotel balcony, it’s hard to muster the desire to actually leave the hotel. However, this is Santa Barbara and there are just too many great things to enjoy. Here are just some highlights of things we did (without a car) while we stayed at the Mar Monte:
East Beach and Walk to Downtown Montecito
Get some sun, play some volleyball or take a leisurely walk south towards Montecito. When the tide is low, it’s a beautiful 45 minute walk from East Beach to the ocean front Biltmore Hotel (currently closed for renovations). Take the steps up to the road and turn left and another quick right. That will lead you to a pedestrian underpass to Coast Village Road. Here you will find wonderful shopping and restaurants. Be sure to get a drink or lunch at Honor Bar. Keep your eyes open for celebrities, royalty, etc. 🙂
Walk or Bike to Sterns Wharf, Take a Sunset Cruise
We borrowed bikes from the Mar Monte Hotel (no additional cost). It took about 20 minutes to ride to the Santa Barbara pier, also called “Stearns Wharf.” Plan ahead and make reservations with Celebration Cruises. We enjoyed the “sunset cruise” and the strong cocktails as we motored around Santa Barbara’s coastline – a few sea lions were spotted. However, the most breathtaking view was of the San Ynez Mountains running into the Pacific Ocean – an absolutely magical view that you can only get from the water. For you hikers out there, here is a list of the top trails to get lost on, or stick to the path as you take in the many different views of Santa Barbara.
Cabrillo Boulevard and Dining at the Funk Zone
Whether walking, running or bike riding, Cabrillo Boulevard and the nearby beach paths are not to be missed. As you head south, there is a beautiful bird refuge called Andrée Clark Bird Refuge with lots of birds to spot. Head north and you can wind your way into the Funk Zone or ultimately hit State Street.
Both spots will give you tons of options for shopping and eating. We preferred the eclectic and hand-crafted Funk Zone to satisfy our dining desires. Some highlighted spots that we recommend:
Coffee at Dart Coffee
Breakfast Taco at Helena Avenue Bakery
Hop in the Car to the Santa Barbara Mission
The Santa Barbara Mission is a historic site not to be missed. It’s a short drive from anywhere in Santa Barbara and absolutely worth walking around or taking a tour.
Santa Barbara is the perfect getaway if you need a break from San Diego and want to skip over Los Angeles. Plus, it really is like spending a long weekend in a small town off the coast of Spain. Plan your trip to the The American Riviera and treat yourself to all that Santa Barbara has to offer.
A few links to help with your planning: