Need a dreamy getaway that’s as easy to reach as it is to relish? Yeah, so do we. A Santa Barbara vacation is the perfect warm-weather retreat.

Sure, epic summer vacations filled with ambitious itineraries, exciting excursions and endless town-hopping in distant lands are super, but sometimes you just need a simple getaway. And you need it now. Just think, no lengthy travel, no pushy schedule, no hustle and bustle. And during Utah’s winter and shoulder seasons, no snow, cold or tundra-like terrain. It’s waiting for you, just a short flight from Salt Lake City to a Santa Barbara, aka the American Riviera.

Locals will tell you the magic of a Santa Barbara vacation is in the way the California coastal town sits between the ocean to the south and the Santa Ynez Mountains to the north, fostering a temperate Mediterranean-like climate. But that’s only part of its allure. Iconic red-tile roofed Spanish Revival architecture, lush landscapes, award-winning wining and dining, luxe resorts, easy walkability and a carefree, small-town vibe make this the perfect spot for your much-needed retreat from reality, no matter how brief. Of course, you could spend weeks getting to know and love this heavenly spot, but even a few short days here will leave you charmed and wanting more.  Here’s a shortlist of things to see and do to get you started.

GETTING THERE 

Delta now flies non-stop from Salt Lake City to Santa Barbara, boasting a charming, small airport with the same Spanish Colonial Revival style that defines the town of Santa Barbara, a mere 7 miles away. Your Santa Barbara vacation escape is only a couple of hours away.

Old Mission Santa Barbara 

Established by Spanish missionaries in 1786, this historic gem is located above town and has been rebuilt multiple times because of earthquakes. Also known as “the Queen of Missions,” it features a broad pink-and-cream Doric façade and striking twin bell towers. Take a self-guided walking tour and  enjoy glimpses of early mission life. Explore shady courtyards, the lovely cemetery, humble interior, impressive church and a small museum. santabarbaramission.org

santa barbara vacation skyline
Photo: Courtesy Hotel Californian. Santa Barbara looks south over the Pacific.

Santa Barbara Courthouse

Completed in 1929 following a devastating 8.3 magnitude earthquake that leveled much of downtown four years earlier, the spectacular courthouse epitomizes the Spanish Colonial Revival style that now unifies charming Santa Barbara. Walk through the building, free of charge, to see the spectacular Spanish-Moorish décor defined by spiral staircases, vividly colored tiles, ornate ironwork, hand-painted murals and treasured art collections. Palms and exotic plants flourish in the gardens, and the clock tower offers breathtaking views of Santa Barbara and beyond. sbcourthouse.org

santa barbara vacation courthouse
Photo Courtesy: Jay Sinclair. Twin bells towers and a pink-and-cream facade define the Old Mission Santa Barbara.

Funk Zone

Energy and creativity permeate this once-neglected warehouse district located just blocks from the beach. Casually wander through the happening, 12-block hood and you’ll discover trendy microbreweries, art galleries, stylish tasting rooms, and plenty of hip eateries and bars. Decorating fans will find vintage and midcentury treasures at The Blue Door and elegant hand-printed textiles, furnishings and accessories at the charming Raoul store. funkzone.net

graffiti seen in a santa barbara vacation
Photo Courtesy: Max Whittaker courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Stearn’s Wharf

Constructed in 1872, this 2,300-foot-long landmark sits at the end of State Street and is California’s oldest working wooden wharf. As you stroll to its end, drop into shops for everything from taffy to clothing, souvenirs to jewelry. Visit the kid-friendly Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center and sip at the Deep Sea wine tasting room. If you’re hungry, there are numerous dining spots. Order lobster tacos at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company while relishing spectacular harbor views. stearnswharf.com  

stroll stearn's wharf
Photo: David Collier courtesy of Visit California; A walk along Stearn’s Wharf.

Lotusland

Located in the foothills of Montecito east of the city of Santa Barbara, Ganna Walska Lotusland is a spectacular 37-acre estate and botanic garden created by opera singer and socialite Madame Ganna Walska. With a flair for the dramatic and the unexpected, Walska spent 43 years of her life designing the extraordinary gardens showcasing collections of exotic plants and natural curiosities. Available by appointment, guided tours lead visitors through 21 themed spaces including succulent, fern, cactus cycad, topiary and Japanese gardens. Named one of the 10 best gardens in the world, this is a must for nature and landscape lovers. lotusland.org

lotusland garden, santa barbara
Photo: Brad Mee; Shells and agaves line a dazzling Lotusland pool.

Biking and Hiking

Pedal a cruiser around town or casually bike along the oceanside Cabrillo Bike Path overlooking golden sand beaches and the waterfront. Sights also include the Andrée Clark Bird refuge and Butterfly Beach. For those seeking more challenging rides, there are plenty to choose from. No bike? No problem. Beach-front retailers make it easy to rent and ride. If hiking is your thing, Santa Barbara offers miles of options in and amongst the mountains backing the sea. Most are within a short, 10-minute drive from downtown and range from easy to challenging. Favorites include the 2.5-mile-roundtrip Seven Falls (ending in pools), 8-mile-roundtrip Inspiration Point (with spectacular views) and Rattlesnake trail (a 3.5-mile, family-friendly option). 

Photo: David Collier courtesy of Visit California; Pedaling along the oceanside Cabrillo Bike Path.

Urban Wine Trail 

Forgo a drive through the surrounding wine country and enjoy tastings on foot. Some of Santa Barbara County’s finest wines from renowned vineyards can be sampled at more than two dozen tasting rooms within blocks of downtown. urbanwinetrailsb.com  

Photo: Lauren Salaun; A pour at one of the many tasting rooms in Santa Barbara

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