Things to do in Santa Barbara, CA

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Discover the Best Activities in Santa Barbara, CA

If L.A. and Santa Cruz had a baby, her name would be Santa Barbara. The town is an enclave of wealth and privilege, true to its soap-opera image, but in a less aggressive and flashy way than its SoCal counterparts. Santa Barbara’s golden beaches, museums, missions, and scenic drives make it a weekend escape for the rich and famous and an attractive destination for surfers, artists, shoppers, and backpackers.

Top Things to Do in Santa Barbara, CA

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Get to Know Santa Barbara, CA

Your one stop resource for where to go, what to see, and how to make the most of your stay.
Produced in partnership with Let's Go! Travel Guides.

Get Oriented

Santa Barbara is 92 mi. northwest of L.A. and 27 mi. from Ventura on Ventura Freeway (US 101). Since the town is built along an east-west expanse of shoreline, its street grid is skewed. The beach lies at the south end of the city, and State Street, the main drag, runs northwest from the waterfront. All streets are designated “east” and “west” from State St. The major east-west arteries are US 101 and Cabrillo Boulevard; US 101, normally north-south, runs east-west between Castillo Boulevard and Hot Springs Road.

See & Do

What to do in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is best explored in three sections—the coast, swingin’ State St., and the mountains. Santa Barbara’s beaches are breathtaking, with sailboats bobbing around the local harbor and breeze-rustled palm trees lining the shore. Far from town but close to Mission Santa Barbara and the Museum of Natural History, the botanical garden boasts non-native flora planted along easy, meandering paths.

Top Attractions in Santa Barbara

Eat & Drink

Santa Barbara may well have more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in America; finding a place to eat is easy on hip State St. and cheaper Milpas St.

California’s trend-setting status extends beyond fashion and movies to fresh, natural foods. Home to acres of orange and avocado trees, California offers an array of often organic produce in everything from smoothies to salads. Grapes also grow plentifully in the numerously vineyards that line the fields of Napa Valley and central California, the United States’s prime wine country.

Customs & Etiquette

Table manners

In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.

Public behavior

Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.

Gestures

One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.

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