You Travel, You Eat: Santa Barbara

Travel two hours north out of Los Angeles proper and you'll find Santa Barbara, a bustling seaside town that's mastered the high art of laid-back chic. Nestled just south of California's fastest growing wine region, it's boasting an impressive-for-its-size food and drink culture. But black-tie dining this is not. As a longtime vacation spot for Hollywood's rich and famous, Santa Barbara is all about keeping a low profile. Think fine wines and exquisite farm-to-table cooking served al fresco and meant to be shared. With a year-round selection of fresh produce, seafood and great wines at arm's reach, it's no wonder they call this place the "American Riviera."


Seasonality is the name of the game at Justin and Emma West's kitchen, located in the heart of Santa Barbara's historic downtown district. The menu features a rotating cast of fresh-from-the-farmer's-market characters. The starters and salads are not too be missed. And save room for entrée options, which range from adventurous vegetarian pasta dishes (ricotta ravioli with charred strawberries) to revelatory fish and meat ensembles, like the fried quail with sweet potatoes, spinach, and thyme-favored marshmallow. 138 East Canon Perdido Street, 805-845-6488,

The Lark/Lucky Penny

This two-for-one hotspot in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone — a micro 'hood featuring restaurants, wine tasting rooms and distilleries — offers the best of all worlds. The currency-covered Lucky Penny is dishing up bubbling wood fire pizzas alongside fresh salads, sandwiches and house-made baked goods. And next door, The Lark's bustling open kitchen is cranking out some of the best rustic farm-to-table bites Santa Barbara has to offer. Most nights are cranking, so show up early to snag one of the restaurant's cozy booths (fashioned out of 100-year-olf French church confessionals, no less). Then get to ordering. First stop: the duck liver mousse on charred toast. The Lark: 131 Anacapa Street, 805-284-0370,; Lucky Penny: 127 Anacapa Street, 805-284-0358,

The Hungry Cat

There is certainly no shortage of seafood joints in Santa Barbara, but no one does it better than The Hungry Cat. David Lentz's trio of restaurants (there are Hollywood and Santa Monica locations, too) offers site-specific ocean fare that aims for freshness first. Between the daily selection of oyster options (shucked right behind the bar) and the multi-tiered seafood platters, you can easily go all raw. But if you're looking for your food to hit the grill, the Cat's bleu cheese and bacon burger is a hands-down winner. 1134 Chapala Street, 805-884-4701,

Arigato Sushi

Come Friday night, there is no hotter table to be had than one at Arigato. This Santa Barbara staple falls to the "fusion" side of the sushi spectrum, but never sacrifices taste (or freshness) for the sake of getting artsy. What that means is lots of delicate flavors, quality ingredients, and seriously stunning seafood presentations. All of the specialty sashimi offerings are worth the splurge, but we reserve a special place for the yellowtail and jalapeño pairing. 1225 Slate Street, 805-965-6074

La Super-Rica Taqueria

This godfather of the Santa Barbara taco scene comes bearing some serious street cred. (Most famously, it was Julia Child's favorite spot during her later years.) And the mile-long lines and cash-only setup only add to the appeal. That said, La Super-Rica's small eastside stand boasts all the Cali-Mex bells and whistles — scratch-made tortillas, gooey rajas, handcrafted tamales — as well as some decadent curveballs (i.e. bacon queso). In short, it's well worth the wait. 622 North Milpas Street, 805-963-4940


Founded way back in 1949, this funky little scoop shop has grown into a bona fide ice cream mecca. At McConnell's State Street flagship, they're serving up a mouth-watering short list of flavors, not to mention house-baked sweets and waft-able waffle cones. As for a favorite, it's a toss-up between the salty-sweet Double Peanut Butter Chip and the tangy goodness of the Eureka Lemon & Marionberries. 728 State Street, 805-324-4402,


Landing somewhere between a swanky Rat Pack hangout and a hip friend's bachelor pad, Dawn O'Brien's cocktail bar is all about the warm welcome. Situated behind a strip mall, the unassuming exterior gives way to a low-lit, mid-century chic hangout that's still bordering on a well-kept secret. Better still, the drinks are some of the best—and carefully crafted—Santa Barbara has to offer. The wide selection of whiskey is well worth noting, and the classics are all done up to perfection, but specialty cocktails like the Marmalade Sour and The Imperial (Aviation gin, dry vermouth, and Luxardo) make The Imperial worth the jaunt. 320 South Kellogg Avenue, Goleta

Sama Sama Kitchen

Folks come for the food but stay for the bar program at this stylish Indonesian-inspired stopover. Like its edible menu, Sama Sama's drinks reward the adventurous. Think Thai-chili infused Moscow Mules and locally distilled mezcal paired with pisco, tangerine, lime and sage. Add in an overgrown open-air patio and a side-order of jidori chicken wings, and you've got yourself the makings for happy hour heaven. 1208 State Street, 805-965-4566,

Municipal Winemakers

This buzzy stop of the Urban Wine Trail exemplifies Santa Barbara's relaxed vibe. Municipal's tasting room calls an old dive shop home and artfully balances a décor that's part vintage schoolhouse upcycling, part Wes Anderson-style quirk. As for the wines, they're (almost) all made from Santa Barbara County grapes, and they run the gamut from the super approachable (the dry Riesling is crisp bordering on effervescent) to more complex offerings (the smoky, earthy Counoise is a must-try). 22 Anacapa Street, 805-931-6864,

Telegraph Brewing Company

Tucked a ways off downtown's central drag, this newly remodeled brewery and tasting room is one-stop shopping for craft beer lovers. The label's foundation brews stretch from a spicy medium-bodied ale to a rich, chocolate-y porter, all nicely balanced and gracefully restrained. For the courageous drinker, there's also a rotating tap or two, which have been known to hold everything from delicate sours to multi-layered coffee- and tea-infused brews. 418 North Salsipuedes Street, 805-963-5018,

COFFEEThe French Press

With two bustling downtown locations under their belt, Julia Mayer and Todd Stewart can easily be thanked for bringing the specialty coffee movement to Santa Barbara. The French Press' house-made pastries and house-roasted coffee (under their Castle Coffee Roasters nom de plume) are reason enough to swing through, but the upbeat service and community-first mantra is what keeps this place packed. That, and the perfectly pulled single origin espresso shots. 1101 State Street, 805-963-2721,

EDIBLE SHOPPINGArmada Wine & Beer Merchant

Part bar, part tasting room, part wine shop, Armada is a welcome stop for connoisseurs and novices alike. The chic-but-unfussy aesthetic and ultra-welcoming staff is always game to answer questions, make suggestions, and talk up what they're pouring, which on any given day ranges from local and far-off wine selections to some of the harder-to-find craft beers in the country. 1129 State Street, 805-770-5912,

Metropulos Fine Foods Merchant

If you're in the market for a gyro, Metropulos is serving up the mother of all lambwiches every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But the rest of the week, the spotlight here is the market, which contains a wealth of Spanish, Greek and Italian imports ranging from tubed harissa and tinned anchovies to Tuscan honeys and Greek olive oils. 216 East Yanonali Street, 805-899-2300,

C'est Cheese

This cheese shop-turned-full-service café is dishing up some serious food and drink, but it's the retail side that put it on the map. Armed with a knowledgeable staff and an awe-inspiring selection of meats and cheeses, you almost can't go wrong. Looking for gifts? They've got you covered with everything from artfully packaged salts to a well-curated selection of cookbooks. 825 Santa Barbara Street, 805-965-0318,

HOTELSHotel Indigo

As far as the Santa Barbara boutique hotel scene goes, the Indigo owns downtown. Seated in the heart of the Funk Zone, this spot has become a go-to destination for food and drink (the lobby-adjacent Blue Tavern is serving up Peruvian fare with a twist), as well as local culture (the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art runs a satellite gallery in the hotel's communal space). With an eco-friendly seal of approval and an all-pets-welcome policy, it doesn't get much easier — or more stylish. 121 State Street, 805-966-6586,

Spanish Garden Inn

Though it sits just a couple blocks off Santa Barbara's high-traffic downtown drag, the longstanding Spanish Garden Inn feels like it's tucked far away. This modest 23-key establishment touts itself as one of the city's oldest and most well respected luxury getaways, modeled after the same red tile roofed architecture that is Santa Barbara's signature. Here, intimacy is key — each room comes equipped with either a scenic balcony or a private garden, and all guests can take advantage of in-room spa services. 915 Garden Street, 805-564-4700,

Belmond El Encanto

Situated on seven acres, this newly renovated hilltop retreat dates back to the 1920s. Then and now, the El Encanto offers a luxurious home-away-from-home feel, thanks primarily to the setup. Choose between a handful of stand-alone bungalow and suite options, all equipped with marble tubs, heated stone floors and king-sized beds. In keeping with the California-chic motto, the grounds and facilities play off the hotel's original craftsman-style architecture, with amenities that range from spas and fitness studios to a jaw-dropping stretch of infinity pool. 800 Alvarado Plaza, 805-845-5800,

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