Santa Barbara, the American Riviera
Continuing southward along the coast about 45 miles will bring groups to Santa Barbara, one of the last peaceful, scenic stops before reaching the congestion of Greater Los Angeles. Thanks to its location, Santa Barbara has become famous in the region as a destination for locals looking to get away from L.A.
“We sit along the coastline, and we’re known as the American Riviera, because the mountains meet the sea in very close proximity,” said Michelle Carlen, director of sales at Visit Santa Barbara. “It’s very similar to the Mediterranean. We have a lot of Spanish Mission-inspired architecture. There are no buildings taller than six stories, so you’re looking toward the mountains from the waterfront. It’s a beautiful scene, very reminiscent of an Old World Mediterranean town.”
Many groups enjoy having free time to explore Santa Barbara’s wharf, boardwalk and walkable State Street, where they will find dozens of local boutiques, artisan shops, farm-to-table restaurants and winery tasting rooms.
Group leaders also often arrange for private trolley tours.
“They take you to attractions like the Santa Barbara Courthouse, which has Spanish Mission-style architecture with whitewash and a red roof,” Carlen said. “They also have a clock tower that goes up 10 stories. You can take the stairs or an elevator to get a 360-degree view of the city. Also on the trolley tour, you’ll get to see the Santa Barbara mission, which is known as the queen of the California missions.”
Carlen also suggested that groups arrange an arts and culture tour around town. This can include stops at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, which is a combined indoor-outdoor facility, as well as the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, which gives visitors an overview of the area’s seafaring heritage. Other museum highlights include the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation.
There are also several opportunities for groups to get out on the water. They can charter sailing vessels or take a private yacht cruise, and outfitters in town offer guided kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding excursions.