How to Spend 3 Days in Santa Barbara
With three days in Santa Barbara, you’ll get a chance to explore the area’s natural wonders, immerse yourself in the local art scene, hike rugged coastal trails, and watch the sunset from the beach—and still have time to venture into the surrounding wine country. Use this itinerary to help you make the most of your 3-day adventure.
Day One: City Highlights
Devote your first day to hitting the highlights of Santa Barbara, starting with the city’s most iconic attraction: the Old Mission. Dating to 1786, this Franciscan mission features Spanish colonial architecture, a year-round rose garden, and an on-site museum featuring nine rooms filled with art, artifacts, and period recreations.
From here, head downtown to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which holds a collection of Victorian-era art along with sculptures, photographs, and other objects. The museum’s star attraction is thePortrait of Mexico Today, a mural created by Mexico’s famous David Alfaro Siquieros. To continue your exploration of art, check out some of the numerous galleries in the city’s Funk Zone neighborhood, which is equally known for its many local breweries and wine bars that showcase local treats. Finish off your day with dinner at Stearns Wharf, a pier chock-full of seafood restaurants with views over the harbor.
Day Two: The Natural World
Spend your day exploring Santa Barbara’s natural world. Start by learning about local ecosystems at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, which chronicles the animals, birds, insects, and aquatic life in the area—there’s even a to-scale replica of a blue whale skeleton.
Then, hop over to the Santa Barbara botanic garden to take in Southern California’s rich plant life. The garden includes more than five miles of trails offering up gorgeous coastal views. After your visit, grab a few picnic supplies and make your way to the beach: Area options include the 15-acre Shoreline Park, full of grassy areas and viewpoints, as well as Leadbetter Beach, a popular sunbathing and surfing spot loved by locals that makes a great place to watch the sun set into the Pacific Ocean.
Day Three: Santa Ynez Wine Country
Finish off a 3-day trip by visiting the Santa Barbara’s celebrated local wine country. While there are plenty of wine-rich areas in the greater region to visit, each with its own appellation, the Santa Ynez Valley typically beckons most first-timers.
The town of Santa Ynez itself offers plenty of tasting rooms, as does Los Olivios to the north. Bicycle tours appeal to active travelers, but anyone planning on doing a lot of drinking is better off joining a tour with a hired driver. While in the area, stop in Solvang, just west of Santa Ynez. This town, founded by Danish-Americans looking to escape the cold of the Midwest, is full of half-timbered architecture that seems far more Californian than Scandinavian, plus all sorts of Danish shops, restaurants, and bakeries.