The Best Hidden Gems Of Santa Barbara, California

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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 Companya 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.

Goleta Coffee Co. | © Ryosuke Yagi/Flickr

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.


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

Courtesy of Alcazar

Courtesy of Alcazar

The Book Den

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

Bookstore/ | ©Pixabay

Warbler Records and Goods

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

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Museum of Contemporary Art

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

Rimini Protokoll (Helgard Kim Haug, Stefan Kaegi, Daniel Wetzel), 100% City, 2008-16, HD video, Installation view at Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, 2017, Video concept & realization by Marc Jungreithmeier, Courtesy the Artists. Photo: Brett Bollier

Rimini Protokoll (Helgard Kim Haug, Stefan Kaegi, Daniel Wetzel), 100% City, 2008-16, HD video, Installation view at Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, 2017, Video concept & realization by Marc Jungreithmeier, Courtesy the Artists. Photo: Brett Bollier

The Shop Café

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

Another look back at Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez mountains beyond | © Doc Searls/Flickr


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

Lotusland - Australian Cycad | © Jean/Flickr

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