Santa Barbara has sunshine, wine, natural beauty, Spanish architecture and a laid-back vibe that’s distinctly Southern Californian. It’s home to several five-star hotels, great restaurants and Hollywood celebrities, but there’s a funkier side to this beachside town that is worth exploring. Here are eight hidden gems to start with.
Goleta Coffee Company
Behind an ordinary storefront in a strip mall off of Hollister Avenue is Goleta Coffee Company – a long corridor with high ceilings and walls covered in art and recycled street signs. Students and families stop in for the breakfast burritos, sandwiches and strong house-brewed coffee. The plentiful seating, outlets and free Wi-Fi make it an ideal place to study or read.
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Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Turnpike Center, 177 S Turnpike Rd, Santa Barbara, CA, +1 (805) 964-8344
La Super-Rica Taqueria
La Super-Rica Taqueria is not very ‘hidden’ anymore, but it remains a local gem—in this author’s opinion, it’s the best place for authentic Mexican fare. Julia Child deemed it one of her favorite restaurants, according to a New Yorker article from 2012. Located on a quiet, shaded corner of Milpas Street, it’s well worth the detour from downtown.
622 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara, CA, +1 (805) 963-4940
The sister duo behind the award-winning tapas bar Milk + Honey also run a hole-in-the-wall bar called Alcazar. In recent years, it’s become a preferred local haunt. Low lighting, bohemian decor, a projection screen showing vintage cartoons and mix of younger and older clientele create an inviting ambiance. Tasty small plates include lamb sliders, tiger prawns, ceviche and warm Brie with caramelized apples. The margaritas, whiskey sours and more experimental cocktails are some of the best in town.
1812 Cliff Dr, Santa Barbara, CA, +1 (805) 962-0337
If you’re a reader, The Book Den should not be missed. Originally founded in Oakland in in 1902, it’s one of the oldest bookstores in California. The selection is small but top-notch, with a mix of new releases, and many rare, signed editions of older books. Don’t miss their back wall, which is entirely dedicated to poetry. Pick up a unique postcard drawn or designed by a local artist to remember your trip by.
15 E Anapamu St, Santa Barbara, CA, +1 (805) 962-3321
While you’re shopping, stop in at Warbler Records and Goods, where you’ll be welcomed by the sunny atmosphere and friendly staff. Along with vintage trinkets and home decor pieces, take some time to browse through the wonderful selection of popular and obscure vinyl. On a recent visit, we picked up Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Love (for just $3 in mint condition), a compilation of classic, American folk songs, Radiohead’s Kid A and four other records for under $30.
131 E De La Guerra St, Santa Barbara, CA, +1 (805) 845-5862
The Santa Barbara Art Museum is certainly worth a visit, but fewer people know of the Museum of Contemporary Art, located on the upstairs level of the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center. Founded in 1976 by community artists and supporters, the humble space hosts the Santa Barbara Poetry Series every season, along with a number of intriguing exhibits by local artists.
Paseo Nuevo, 653 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara, CA, +1 (805) 966-5373
Santa Barbara has no shortage of extravagant brunch options that are sure to be packed on weekends. A slightly less obvious option is The Shop Café, housed next to an old auto-body shop down the street from Super-Rica Taqueria. While the breakfast fare and sandwiches are delicious, the real draw is the outdoor terrace, which overlooks the Santa Ynez Mountains. Relax with a group of friends at one of the picnic-style tables and enjoy a cold, local beer on draft.
730 N. Milpas, Santa Barbara, CA, +1 (805) 845-1696
Finally, follow the winding roads of Montecito, past the secluded mansions, and you’ll reach Lotusland. Madame Gana Walska, an opera singer and socialite, purchased the estate in 1941 and spent the following four decades making it into a lavish botanical garden. There are 18 different gardens to explore within the 37 acres – a Japanese garden, a butterfly garden, a tropical garden and more. Lotusland also offers a variety of community events, including bird walks and lectures from visiting naturalists. The garden is accessible by reservation only.
Ganna Walska Lotusland, 695 Ashley Rd, Santa Barbara, CA, +1 805 969-9990
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Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.