Are you looking to impress that special someone? If you are there are so many romantic things to do in Santa Barbara. After all, they don’t call this Californian town the lover’s paradise for no reason.
Dubbed the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is one of my favorite destinations and, in my view, one of the most romantic cities in the US.
The city offers lovers plenty of romantic entertainment. Here the palm-lined beaches, vineyards, and mountain paths offer loads of opportunities to enjoy the wide-open spaces and fresh sea breezes. Restaurants, galleries, and theaters ensure plenty of choices for date nights in Santa Barbara.
And, if you’re into dreamy vineyard days, you’ll find your happy place in Santa Barbara. Vineyards lie scattered along the Santa Ynez slopes and valleys. In the city, wineries offer easy tasting.
Planning a date night in Santa Barbara? I’ve been there and done that. So, here are my suggestions for the most romantic things to do in Santa Barbara.
- Take a trip to the Winelands
- Head to the beach
- Enjoy a seafood supper at Stearns Wharf
- Explore the Santa Barbara City Lifestyle
- Hike the Trails in Santa Barbara
- Take a Romantic Trip Down Memory Lane
For A Romantic Getaway Head To The Winelands
Santa Barbara is one of the most famous grape-growing areas in California, and let’s face it, there are not many places as romantic as the beautiful Winelands. In Santa Barbara, you’re spoiled for choice.
Here around 200 wine farms ply their trade. Located in the valleys of the Santa Ynez Mountains you can find some truly beautiful farms.
Some of the best Santa Barbara wines include Merlot, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Choose your destination wisely and you’ll also get to taste the best of the wines.
The best wine farms also offer delicious food. Wander around the vineyards and take the time to savor great food and wine and glorious fresh air with mountain views.
If you’d prefer a tour, you’ll find plenty of companies willing to take you on an exciting trip around the Winelands as well as to the wineries and tasting rooms. Alternatively, you can sample many of the best wines from the area along the Urban Wine Trail, right in downtown Santa Barbara.
Head to the Beach For More Romance
Santa Barbara has miles of soft sandy beaches lapped by the warm Pacific waters. With over 300 days of sunshine, it’s holiday time all year round in Santa Barbara.
So, you’re bound to find a beach volleyball game any day of the week along this shore. Enjoy the views when you cycle or walk along the coast or just sit on a bench and bask in the sun, the sea, and the ocean breeze.
Free Things to Do in Santa Barbara
Consider cycling to Butterfly Beach. It’s one of Santa Barbara’s most beautiful beaches. The Cabrillo Boulevard Bike Path runs for 4.5 miles along the beachfront. The palm tree-lined path starts at Leadbetter Beach, passing Stearns Wharf and East Beach.
You can even stopover at the Andree Park Bird Refuge along the way. Butterfly Beach is the end destination. Bikes are available to rent in the Funk Zone.
Catch a Wave
Santa Barbara is known for some of the best waves in the world. So, there are always surfers out there. The city has several surfing schools, so even if you’re new to the sport, you can catch a wave. Stand-up boarding and kayaking are also very popular along this coastline. No need to bring your own. You’ll find plenty of surfboards and other marine sporting equipment up for hire across the city.
If you’re in the city on Sunday, the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts spans the beachfront. With all that good shopping you’re bound to find a keepsake to take home.
Take a picnic lunch in Shoreline Park. There is plenty of parking and picnic facilities and the views are stunning. After lunch, take the wooden steps to the beach below to find a tidal pool and private beach, a Santa Barbara hidden gem. Now that’s romantic.
Enjoy a Seafood Supper at Stearns Wharf
Stearns Wharf is the oldest wooden wharf in the state of California. Built-in 1872, it was used for 25 years for passenger and freight services. Today, the wharf is the take-off point for water taxis and cruises.
Whales and dolphins play these waters year-round as they migrate to their calving grounds. One of the most romantic things to do in Santa Barbara is to take a whale-watching cruise from the wharf. You won’t be disappointed.
There are a number of tour operators so you can choose a tour to suit your timetable. The tours take between two hours and a half a day.
You’ll find a shellfish market and a number of shops and restaurants at the wharf. Clam chowder and other delicious seafood dishes are up for grabs so why not enjoy a romantic dinner on the wharf?
The wharf is very popular amongst line fishermen. If you’re here early enough you’ll catch the fishing boats coming in. You can buy fish straight off the boats. You don’t get fresher than that.
During the summer, you may be lucky enough to see pelicans at play in the waters off the wharf.
While you’re in the area the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is well worth a visit. It’s the oldest museum in the city. The displays appear both inside and out and include many interactive exhibits.
A large planetarium and arthouse round up the offering at the museum. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.
Explore the Santa Barbara City Lifestyle
Book a Delicious Tasting Tour
There is no better way to learn about the people and culture than through their food and drink. Take a delicious tasting tour down State Street. The three-and-a-half-hour tour will take you to five different shops and restaurants to taste the local cuisine.
You’ll also stop at a winery for a taste of the crisp whites and full reds for which Santa Barbara is famous. Enjoy visits to specialist cheese shops, chocolatiers, and sandwich shops.
The tour guides are well-acquainted with the area and will offer interesting insights into the top tourist attractions along the way. What better way to get to know the area and all the best things to do in Santa Barbara downtown?
The Funk Zone is well worth a visit even if it’s just to see the street art that adorns the walls of the warehouse buildings. Home to a number of wineries, cafes, and fancy boutiques, the Funk Zone has grown in popularity in the past few years.
A large part of the Urban Wine Trail is in the Zone. So, if you want to discover why Santa Barbara has become famous for its wine, you can find out right here. If you’re hungry, you’re in the right place. Here fast foods and fine dining restaurants serve up delicious tastes and aromas throughout the day and well into the night.
Enjoy Date Night in Santa Barbara
When the sun sets on Santa Barbara, it’s time to head for State Street. State Street is great for shopping by day but it is at night that Santa Barbara’s residents come out to play. You’ll find cozy pubs and noisy cocktail bars, live music, and plenty of restaurants.
If you’re a night bird who likes to dance the night away, you will also find a choice of nightclubs in the city.
If you prefer something a little more laidback, you may prefer the quieter entertainment on offer in Uptown Santa Barbara. Either way, you’ll find plenty of romantic things to do in Santa Barbara during the course of the night.
Spend a Night at the Theater
Take in a concert at the Lobero Theater, founded in 1873, it’s the oldest theatre to continuously operate in California. The theatre is home to the State Street Ballet, the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. You’ll find the theatre downtown in the theatre district.
Close by, the opulent Granada Theater hosts both resident and touring production companies. The Arlington Theater a converted movie palace also hosts a variety of shows and movies.
For something a little different, take in a movie at the West Wind Drive-in. It’s a Santa Barbara landmark that has become increasingly popular as people socially distance. Rotating food trucks ensure that there is always something good to eat.
Hike the Trails in Santa Barbara
You’ll find a range of hiking trails in the Santa Barbara region to suit every level of fitness. Given the beauty of the city, almost all of the trails boast picture-perfect backdrops.
You’ll find flat and easy trails through gardens and parks and more challenging steeper slopes up the Santa Ynez Mountain and in the Channel Island National Park.
Channel Island National Park
The Channel Islands have been dubbed the Galapagos Islands of the North. Nature has endowed these islands with a wide range of unusual animals.
Take a boat trip to the chain of volcanic islands. 100 sea caves pit the cliffs of the Anacapa Island. Kayaking around the island is popular. One-hundred and fifty steps will take you to the top of the 300-feet cliffs.
If you want to you can even camp on the island, but you’ll have to bring all your own provisions. Catch the views from Inspiration Point or take a walk to the lighthouse
You’ll find sixty different animal and plant species on Santa Cruz Island. This is the biggest island in the chain, covering 96 square miles and 77 miles of shoreline. There are two camping grounds on the island.
Although visitors may only use a quarter of the island, there are plenty of lovely trails through the park. Favorite activities include kayaking and snorkeling through the kelp forests.
Though smaller than Santa Cruz the other three islands offer similar adventures with each of them offering the opportunity for an overnight stay.
Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens
Take a hike in the 78-acre Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens. The gardens feature more than a thousand indigenous plants. The Park has 5 miles of trails, all lined with plants and pretty flowers. It’s a great place to wander around and enjoy the views. Make time to visit the Mission dam and aqueduct, built in 1807.
Here landscapes change from groves of Red Woods to flower-filled meadows. Stopover for a refreshing cup of green tea in the Japanese teahouse and garden.
The gardens open every day between 9 am and 5 pm. Entrance for adults is $17 and children 3 to 17 Pay $8.
Santa Ynez Mountains
The Santa Ynez Mountains offer tantalizing hikes to peaks with lovely views of the city and the coastline. One of the best viewpoints on the mountain has to be Inspiration Point with its spectacular views of the Santa Barbara coastline.
The peak is 1800 feet high. From this vantage point, you can see for miles into the distance. You’ll cross a creek along the way and you may come across a wild animal or two, but it’s a lovely walk.
Lotusland, the 37-acre garden, was once the pride and joy of the late Ganna Walska, the opera singer. The garden took the Santa Barbara socialite 43 years to create and today is renowned as one of the best gardens of its sort in the world.
Lotusland contains 25 separate gardens, each with its own distinct theme. These include succulents, lotuses, ferns, orchids, aloes, and a water garden adorned with lotus flowers.
This is truly one of the unique things to do in Santa Barbara. Enjoy a walk in the shade of 100 fruit trees. If you want to take a tour, you’ll have to book well in advance. Adults pay $50 for the tour and children 3 to 17 pay half that.
Chase Palm Park
Located on Cabrillo Boulevard, Chase Palm Park runs two miles along the beach from Stearn’s Wharf to East Beach. The Park covers 10 acres of ground. Every weekend and on most evenings, you’ll find live music and other activities in the park.
It’s a great place to have a picnic. The Park includes a bike park and walkway. Take an evening cycle. It’s an excellent way to get some exercise with the sea breeze in your hair.
You can take a covered portable barbecue into the park under certain conditions. So, why not pack your burgers and enjoy the fresh air and festive surroundings.
Take a Romantic Trip Down Memory Lane
Old Mission Santa Barbara
Take a step back in time when you visit the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Built in 1786, by Franciscan monks the church sports stunning architecture complete with grand bell towers, columns, and arches set against the background of the stunning Santa Ynez Mountainside.
The on-site museum has replica rooms and contains dozens of artifacts and artworks. The lovely gardens also have grand views of the coastline. You’ll find a mausoleum and a cemetery in the gardens. There is still an active parish at the Mission.
The mission is open from 9.30 am to 4 pm from Monday to Saturday and on Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm. Adults pay $15 to enter. There are price concessions for the elderly, children, and military personnel.
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse isn’t known for being one of the most romantic things to do in Santa Barbara but it still owns the title of most beautiful government building in the US.
The Spanish Moorish building is an architectural delight. Climb up into the pretty tower for panoramic views of the city.
The inside is just as grand, resplendent in ornate wrought iron and colorful murals. The Mural room showcases the work of Daniel Sayr Groesbeck. The 6,000 square feet of murals depict the history of Santa Barbara.
You can explore the courthouse on your own or join a guided tour at 10.30 am from Monday to Friday or 2 pm seven days a week. It’s free of charge.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Find 27,000 works of art in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The art gallery features the works of many famous artists and focuses on American, European, and Asian works of art. The art gallery was first opened in 1941 in what was once the post office. Here artworks, photography, and interactive exhibits vie for attention.
The museum opens from 11 am to 5 pm from Tuesday to Sunday. It stays open till 8 pm on Thursday. Adults pay $10. Children under 6 pay $6 as do people 65 and over.
This Spanish fort was built in 1782. El Presidio is the last military outpost built by Spain along the Californian coast. The Presidio was built to protect citizens but also served as the seat of government. The fort is on a six-acre state park which is also home to several other historic homes.
The Park is open from 11 am to 4 pm. Adults pay $5 for entry and pensioners of 62+ pay $4.
Santa Barbara definitely has a lot to offer for those with romance in mind. So, you may find it difficult to choose a single romantic destination. There are plenty of hotels to stay in Santa Barbara, so why not book a weekend away and enjoy several of the romantic things to do in Santa Barbara? Thank you for reading.