Must-See Spots in Santa Barbara

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Megan Halpin

While abroad in Spain, I had a conversation with another tourist in which they asked, “So, you go to UCSB, huh? Is Santa Barbara worth the trip if I’ll be in California in the next six months?” I resisted the urge to scream “YES!” and instead calmly answered, “If you have some time it’s a cool place to check out,” not wanting to sound like an insane American.

The truth is, I’m obsessed with Santa Barbara. Ever since I was a little girl coming to visit my cousins in the hills of Santa Barbara every Thanksgiving, I have always thought of this place as paradise.

It has everything you could ever want in one place: the beach, mountains, great food, and even better weather, all without the crowding and rushed feeling of a big city. Since I have family in the area and am now a local as a UCSB student, I feel qualified to list my favorite spots for newcomers to hit up if they want to get a real feel for what Santa Barbara is all about:

The first checklist spot is Arroyo Burro Beach, (or Hendry’s Beach as the locals call it), with the Boathouse restaurant right on the edge of the sand; there’s great seafood — and you can’t do much better than spending a day at the beach with fresh seafood to top it off. This beach is also a dog-friendly beach, so there are lots of dog watching and walking for those dog lovers out there.

Another must-see beach spot is Leadbetter Beach, a long expanse of glittering Santa Barbara coastline with a cute beach restaurant called Shoreline Cafe that has tables right on the sand. There’s a good chance you’ll see surfers competing to catch the best wave, and this beach is close to downtown State Street.

As for hiking, Santa Barbara has some of the best day hikes out there. Inspiration Point is a classic one that really brings you to some of the best views of Santa Barbara. It’s about 3.5 miles round trip, so you can fit this into a half day and still have time to do plenty more sightseeing.

Another option for a breathtaking view of the mountains down to the ocean is La Cumbre Peak, and this spot is especially popular if you’d rather drive to a view than hike.

But my personal favorite outdoor activity that Santa Barbara has to offer is visiting the local Channel Islands off the Santa Barbara coastline. These make for a great day of island hopping. You can take a ferry out to each island and kayak, hike, snorkel, camp, or whatever else floats your adventure boat.

In terms of restaurants, I have too many favorites to list them all, but a few deserve special recognition. These restaurants are known for their yummy cuisine from different cultures: Zaytoon for the best Lebanese food, Loquita for unforgettable Spanish tapas, and Arigato Sushi for some amazing fresh fish and sushi options.

Finally, if you’re looking to experience a typical day in the life of a UCSB student, pick up some Freebirds Mexican food, picnic along the ocean cliffs, hang a hammock at Sands Beach, and walk along Del Playa Drive. These are my personal favorites, but they in no way encompass everything there is to see and eat and do within the Santa Barbara area. That’s the beauty of our home!