Must See

From one-time visitors to lifetime residents, there are several must-see, must-visit locations entirely unique to the Santa Barbara area. Local charm, historical significance, and scenic excellence exude from the represented selections below. Regardless of the length of your stay, these places will leave a lasting impression by giving you a piece of Santa Barbara to keep wherever you go.
Santa Barbara Courthouse

Scenic, historic, and lovely, it is no mystery why the Santa Barbara Courthouse is one of the most photographed courthouses in the world. From the top of its bell tower, views of red tile roofs and ocean waves are visible. Constructed between the years 1926 and 1929 in the aftermath of the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake, the incredible architecture and stunning sunken gardens serve as a prime example of Santa Barbara's adoption of Spanish Colonial as a civic style. It takes a second to remember that this space is the working-day home for local judges, lawyers, and those on trial. It is also currently home to a myriad of paintings (the Mural Room being one of the most breathtaking) decorated by names such as the Dutch artist, Theodore Van Cina, and Italian artist, John Smeraldi. Big doors, hidden doors, winding staircases, mudejar style architecture, asymmetry of windows, and murals splashed throughout the walls make the Santa Barbara Courthouse a must-see for anyone passing through or permanently staying in the city.

State Street

Often the center of activity and life, State Street is home to an abundance of shops, restaurants, and nightlife. Locals often differentiate "upper State" from "lower State" to describe the variation occurring along this long stretch. Upper State Street is a residential and commercial district that includes numerous professional offices and homes, Lower State Street (also known as the Funk Zone) stretches along the waterfront and is very popular among tourists. Lower State Street is where the nightlife thrives and is the main location for celebrations such as the Old Spanish Days Fiesta. In this area alone, the diversity of Santa Barbara is represented and a true taste of the area's culture can be experienced.

Santa Barbara Zoo

Located on 30 acres near the ocean in Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Zoo has been ranked numerous times as one of the nation's best small zoos. It is home to more than 500 animals in numerous exhibits and became known for having a giraffe with a crooked neck. Exhibits include "Cats of Africa" featuring African lions and black-footed cats, "The Forest's Edge" with two male lowland gorillas, "California Trails" exhibiting California condors, the Channel Island fox, desert tortoises, and bald eagles, "African Veldt" with Masai giraffes, East African Crowned Crains, Sulcata tortoises, and slender-tailed meerkats, "The Crawford Family Penguin House" with Humbolt penguins, and "Elephant Walk" that houses Asian elephants. This little zoo is the perfect spot for a foreign getaway in the midst of this cozy coastal city. 

In 1941, a well-known Polish opera singer named Madame Ganna Walska, purchased an estate in Montecito and spent the next 43 years creating Lotusland. The incredible collection of exotic plants throughout the property alludes to Walska’s whimsical and dramatic character as the 37-acre property is a wonderland to walk through. Upon her death in 1984, Lotusland became a nonprofit organization and was open to the public in 1993. It is currently being used to serve and educate the community as a prime example of innovative horticultural practices on display for garden-enthusiasts around the world. These gardens include the aloe, Australian, blue, bromeliads, butterfly, cacti and euphorbias, cactus, cycad, fern, Japanese, orchards, parterre, succulent, theatre, topiary, tropical, water, and the water stairs and cypress allee. These tucked away grounds truly are a rare sight everyone ought to see.

Santa Barbara Historical Mission

For anyone interested to see how Santa Barbara began, the Old Mission Santa Barbara is the perfect place to start. It is a Spanish mission founded by the Franciscan order under Padre Fermín Lasuén on December 4, 1786 and was the tenth mission intended for the religious conversion of the indigenous Chumash-Barbareño tribe of Native Americans. It is the namesake of the city of Santa Barbara and for Santa Barbara County and consistently amazes those who visit its grounds. Whether you chose to walk through the large and small rooms that ebb and flow with history or simply sit in the rose gardens delicately decorating the grounds outside, the historically extravagant Santa Barbara Mission has something in store for everyone.

Stearn's Wharf

Located in the harbor in Santa Barbara, California, it was completed in 1872 and became the longest deep-water Wharf between San Pedro and San Francisco. It was named after local lumberman John P. Stearns who built the wharf to serve the passenger and freight shipping needs of California’s South Coast. Activities may involve taking a ride on a Water Taxi, checking out some marine life at the Sea Center, eating some of the best seafood in Santa Barbara on the ocean, finding souvenirs, treating yourself to Ice Cream at the Great Pacific Ice Cream Company or candy at Mother Stearns Candy Ship, and finding unique shells at Nature’s Own Gift Shop. The smell of salt, view of the shore, and vibe of the ocean will truly make any experience on or around Stearn’s Wharf a truly memorable one.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Located in downtown Santa Barbara on State Street, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art was founded in 1941 as a small art museum. It is home to both permanent and special collections from Asian, American, and European roots spanning 4,000 years of history. The museum presents carefully chosen shows highlighting names such as Degas, Leonardo, Picasso, Rothko, and Van Gogh. It has been, and continues to be, an incredible pioneer to the exhibition of emerging regional artists and seeks to present contemporary art of national and international importance. Its mission of integrating art into the life of the community is made visible in its over 40 education programs that reach over 40,000 people each year. The rich repertoire it contains reaches the entire community in creative, innovative, and beautiful ways. It is here that Santa Barbara’s local talent and creativity can be most directly accessed.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Covering over 78 acres, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden contain 1,000 different species of rare and indigenous plants. It is located in Mission Canyon in Santa Barbara, California and offers the rare opportunity to stroll 5.5 miles of path touring California native plants in their natural settings. Mission Creek flows through the premises and includes a rock dam that was constructed in 1806 by Native Americans with the help of Spanish padres from the adjacent Santa Barbara Mission. The Garden was founded in 1926 and designed by a noted landscape architect named Beatrix Farrand. By 1936 the plants that were native to the California Floristic Province which includes a bit of southwest Oregon and part of Baja California. In 1883, the Garden became a Santa Barbara County Landmark and features an authentic Japanese Teahouse and Tea Garden, spectacular views along Porter Trail, and the stunning Meadow wildflowers when they are in full bloom. Walk freely to explore the Arroyo Section, Campbell Trail, Canyon Section, Desert Section, Home Demonstration Garden, Manzanita Section, Meadow Section, Porter Trail, Redwood Section, Tea House Garden, and Woodland Trail.

El Presidio

Built by Spain in 1782, El Presidio, otherwise known as the Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara is a former military installation with the mission of defending the Second Military District in California. The Presidio currently serves as a popular tourist attraction across the street from several cafes and coffee shops in an active area downtown. It currently functions as a museum and still active archeological site for El Presidio de Santa Barbara Historic Park. It contains an original adobe structure called El Cuartel, and is the second oldest surviving building in Santa Barbara. This Presidio has the distinction of being the last military outpost built by Spain in the New World. It became a California Historic Landmark in 1958 and was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

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