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Santa Barbara Neighborhoods

There are a number of residential Santa Barbara neighborhoods that are remarkably beautiful, but have little to attract visitors other than for looky-loo purposes—some of these are horsey Hope Ranch, the hillside Riviera and cottage-filled San Roque. Most of the best Santa Barbara things to do are downtown, in Mission Canyon, or on the waterfront.  To the south, the Santa Barbara neighborhood of Montecito is home to some of the areas more famous residents, including Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Jeff Bridges. Summerland is a charming beachside town full of antique and shelter shops, and just south, in Carpinteria, Rincon is the county’s best surf and surf-watching. On the north, Goleta is home to the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), and next door Isla Vista is where most of the students reside. Inland, still in Santa Barbara County, and a short, 30-45-minute drive from downtown, the Santa Ynez Valley is the wine country portrayed in the movie Sideways. Aside from the many wineries (most of which have tasting rooms), the valley has bucolic small towns like Los Olivos, as well as the bustling Danish-themed Solvang. To the northwest is Lompoc, which from May to September explodes in color from commercial flower fields. It’s also home to Vandenberg Air Force Base.


Following the earthquake in 1925, the far-sighted city government of Santa Barbara decided to devote the downtown area to Spanish-Moorish-Mediterranean architecture (and a few original landmarks like El Cuarto, from 1782, at the Presidio). One of the most stunning of these is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, completed in 1929. El Paseo is a series of shady cobblestoned shopping lanes built in 1924, all leading to a sunny courtyard centered around a fountain. There’s nothing fossilized about downtown, however (in fact, it's one of the best Santa Barbara neighborhoods to visit). It’s home to shops, restaurants, coffee houses and Paseo Neuvo, a modern shopping mall built 1990 in such pleasing Spanish style that it manages to make even chain stores look more interesting.


A lovely little beach town filled with cottages and more than a dozen antique shops is well worth visiting. It’s the next town southeast of Montecito. Lookout Park, on a bluff over the ocean, is a wonderful place to relax, and dogs are allowed to frolic on part of the beach.


This unincorporated neighborhood has always been a magnet for the wealthy, starting at the turn of the century with second homes for wintering Easterners. Today celebrities shop and dine in peace and relative anonymity.

Goleta/Isla Vista

Home to the University of California Santa Barbara, Goleta has little to attract visitors beyond the wealth of educational and cultural events connected to the University. Isla Vista, where many students live, is known for its raucous (and sometimes dangerous) Halloween celebration.

The Funk Zone

This odd, light-industrial, depressed area between the 101 Freeway and Cabrillo Street, State Street and Milpas Street, has become a bohemian center, including cheap studio space for artists and funky shops and restaurants that couldn’t afford to exist in conservative, expensive Downtown. How long development will be held in abeyance is anyone’s guess.

Mission Canyon

This hillside area above downtown is an essential stop for any visitor. It’s home to the Mission Santa Barbara, the Museum of Natural History, and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Views of the ocean, and on clear days, the Channel Islands are a bonus.

Santa Ynez Valley

The Santa Ynez Valley is Santa Barbara County’s main wine country, containing the larger town of Solvang (a kitschy Danish fantasy), and rustic Los Olivos, Ballard and Santa Ynez. It’s the area made famous by the movie, Sideways, but wine lovers have long known about the terrific wines coming out of this Central Coast region. It’s northwest from Santa Barbara, about 45 minutes away, and both routes from Santa Barbara are scenic (The 101 Freeway up the coast, or Rte. 154 over the San Marcos pass, through the mountains skirting Lake Cachuma).


The waterfront covers the area from Stearns Wharf to the Santa Barbara Harbor, including the beaches between. Shops, restaurants, and the Ty Warner Sea Center add to the attraction of Stearns Wharf, first built in 1872. At the Santa Barbara Harbor, the private boats are a beautiful backdrop to more restaurants and shops.