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Best 1-Day Itinerary for Santa Barbara, California

Today I want to share my Santa Barbara 1-day itinerary with you. This city on the Central Coast of California is a great place to soak up the sun and experience a great escape in the Golden State. With beautiful Pacific Ocean beaches, delicious restaurants, and fun shops, it has something for everyone. I’m here now and I can’t wait to show you the highlights of spending a day in town. I’ve included a map, too.

Santa Barbara 1 Day Itinerary

Santa Barbara 1-Day Itinerary

I’ve arrived in Santa Barbara with a group after a scenic 2-hour drive from Los Angeles. I’m excited to spend 24 hours in this famous part of my home state. With its orange tile rooftops and dramatic backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, it’s hard to beat this part of Southern California for beauty.

But there’s more to it than looks. This city and the surrounding area are known for great food and wine, world-class beaches, and amazing hilltop hotels.

Add to that the only east-west coastline from Alaska to Cape Horn (guaranteeing that elusive year-round southern exposure) and an average of 300 days of sunshine, and Santa Barbara is worth a visit.

Mission Creek, Santa Barbara
View Over Mission Creek in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Funk Zone

We pull into town in the morning, and our Santa Barbara 1-day itinerary starts with a tour of the city’s Funk Zone. It’s a 10-block area adjacent to both downtown Santa Barbara and the waterfront. Located near lower State Street, it’s known for its converted warehouses, colorful street art murals, galleries, restaurants, shops, wineries, and more.

Formerly an industrial part of the city, today the Funk Zone is one of the coolest places in Santa Barbara. The area is a hip hub for the arts, cultural attractions, and creative businesses. There’s even an Urban Wine Trail here.

Our Funk Zone tour takes us around the neighborhood, showing us highlights like colorful murals and buzzing places to eat and drink. It’s a fun introduction to Santa Barbara, and a great way to kick off our day in town.

Santa Barbara mural in the Funk Zone
Santa Barbara Funk Zone Mural

Wine Tasting in Santa Barbara

After the tour, our 1-day Santa Barbara itinerary continues with a wine tasting in the Funk Zone. We pop into one of the many local tasting rooms and settle in for a flight.

Our host guides the group through everything from acidity to tannins as we sip and savor local wines. Many of them are made from grapes grown in nearby areas like the Santa Rita Hills.

Both educational and entertaining, it’s the ideal way to try Santa Barbara County wines and learn about them in the process.

Mission Creek, Santa Barbara
Mission Creek

Lunch in the Funk Zone

After the wine tasting, our Santa Barbara itinerary continues as we head over to The Lark restaurant for lunch. This place is named for the Southern Pacific Railroad’s overnight Pullman train that serviced Santa Barbara from 1910 to 1968.

As soon as we walk in, I fall in love with the huge communal table made from a single piece of Douglas fir from Oregon. After that I fall in love with the menu, which features bold flavors made from seasonal ingredients from the Central Coast.

We sit down to enjoy a meal of fresh salads and delicious local fare. As we do, I learn that in addition to the unique communal table, The Lark has furniture made from everything from former church pews to a 100-year-old Catholic confessional. It all makes for a memorable dining experience.

Santa Barbara restaurant interior
The Lark

Stearns Wharf and Santa Barbara Beaches

Full from lunch, we continue our Santa Barbara 1-day itinerary by heading to the waterfront to walk off some calories. A long wooden pier called Stearns Wharf extends from the end of State Street into the Pacific Ocean. At the end of it we’re rewarded with stunning views of the mountains in the distance.

Around us on the wharf are seafood restaurants, tasting rooms, and the Sea Center of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The last of these is an interactive regional aquarium where visitors can learn about the marine life of the Central Coast and the Santa Barbara Channel.

Looking back at the land, we see West Beach on our left. It’s a wide stretch of sand with everything from kayak and stand-up paddle board (SUP) rentals to beach volleyball courts and a paved bike-and-walking path. To our right, we spot Mission Creek and East Beach. The latter is known for its laid-back vibe and the grassy park that borders it.

Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara
Stearns Wharf

Downtown Santa Barbara

Back on State Street, we walk into downtown Santa Barbara and find ourselves among boutiques, cafes, shops, tasting rooms, and restaurants housed in harmonious Spanish Revival-style buildings. The whitewashed walls and orange tile roofs are eye-catching, and the shops lure us in with their mix of stylish clothing and home goods.

As we walk, we pass by everything from the famous Arlington Theatre, which offers live music and films, to the landmark early 20th-century Granada Theatre, where everything from movies to Broadway musicals takes the stage.

We also spot the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which houses American paintings, photography, Asian ceramics, and more.

Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara
Granada Theatre

Not far away, we take in the culinary treasures of the Santa Barbara Public Market. This place is packed with vendors selling everything from pizza to noodles and Mexican food, all of which looks delicious.

El Encanto Hotel in Santa Barbara

After exploring the market, we head up into the hills. We’re staying the night at El Encanto, a five-star Belmond luxury hotel with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean below. With expansive grounds and an inviting pool, it’s one of the most unique places to stay in California.

I’m ensconced in an elegant room nestled among lush gardens and trees. Between the cozy fireplace and inviting bathtub, I don’t want to leave. But the grounds at El Encanto are just as attractive as my room, and I can’t help popping outside to watch the sunset from the pool terrace.

Santa Barbara hotel
El Encanto, Santa Barbara

Dinner at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito

When the sun is gone my group heads to nearby Montecito. We’re having dinner at the famous San Ysidro Ranch hotel. The meal is excellent, but the real highlight is getting to see the Kennedy Cottage afterwards.

JFK and Jackie had their honeymoon at San Ysidro Ranch in 1953, and we’re lucky enough to get a glimpse of where they stayed. The 2,700-square-foot two-bedroom cottage is rumored to be a favorite of local celebrities like Oprah.

The four-poster bed is covered in a gauzy canopy, and the living room has comfy sofas and classic decor. Outside is a terrace with a hot tub and a view of the Channel Islands. From where I stand under the stars, I can hear the sound of the Pacific Ocean waves. It’s a dream.

San Ysidro Ranch Kennedy Cottage
Kennedy Cottage Bedroom at San Ysidro Ranch

Santa Barbara Itinerary for 1 Day

In fact, our whole Santa Barbara itinerary feels like a dream. The golden California sun, local food and wine, and luxurious hotels in the hills all make the old phrase “California dreaming” ring true.

I drift off to sleep at El Encanto, then wake up the next morning to say good-bye to Santa Barbara. As my group drives away, I can’t help wanting to come back and see more of the city, the surrounding vineyards, and the stunning coast. I know it won’t be long, and next time I’m going to want to stay for at least 2 days in Santa Barbara.

Sunset from El Encanto
Sunset from El Encanto

Santa Barbara Itinerary Map

As promised, I’ve created an interactive Google map of all the places on my Santa Barbara 1-day itinerary here. I hope it helps you plan your trip to the city. Happy travels!

Santa Barbara Clock Tower
Santa Barbara Clock Tower

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Santa Barbara 1 Day Itinerary

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