Santa Barbara County is in California's Central Coast region. It is sometimes considered the northernmost part of Southern California. Although it shares excellent weather, Mission-style architecture, and beautiful beaches with the rest of Southern California, the Santa Barbara area is physically remote, and has more of the laid-back attitude of the Central Coast.
Buellton is home to several Santa Ynez Valley wineries. Visitors will also find the ostrich & emu farm interesting, with the opportunity to get up close and personal with the giant birds.
This small oceanside town offers a salt marsh preserve, tide pools, and a seal and sea lion rookery that is active from December through May. During the first weekend in October Carpinteria plays host to nearly 100,000 visitors at its annual avocado festival, which features the world's largest vat of guacamole.
Goleta is adjacent to Santa Barbara and offers similar beaches and resorts to its neighbor. It is also home to a grove of trees that is an overwintering area for monarch butterflies, with the insects gathering in huge numbers each year from mid-November until mid-February.
This small town is primarily focused on agriculture and oil production. Travelers will enjoy visiting the neighboring Guadaulpe-Nipomo Dunes, an 18-mile stretch of beach that is one of the largest remaining natural dune areas in California. The Ten Commandments was filmed in the dunes and the sets were buried after production, but today blowing winds repeatedly reveal and then re-cover these reproductions of ancient Egypt.
Nicknamed the "City of Arts and Flowers", more than half the world's flower seeds are grown in the fields around Lompoc. The city celebrates its association with flowers every June during the Lompoc Valley Flower festival. The area is also home to Vandenberg Air Force Base, America's west coast spaceport, where rocket launches can sometimes be seen.
The "American Riviera" is a historic mission city that is an incredibly popular getaway destination. Its wide beaches, highly rated wineries, luxurious resorts, art galleries, and a large variety of excellent dining choices, enable the town of just 90,000 residents to enjoy the sort of cultural and social amenities which are usually found only in much larger cities.
Santa Maria is the largest city in the county, and is probably best known as the original home of barbecue tri-tip, now referred to as Santa Maria style barbecue. The area is also one of the state's largest wine-producing regions, and has been a filming location for films ranging from The Ten Commandments to Pirates of the Caribbean.
Santa Ynez sits at the heart of the rural Santa Ynez valley, an area that attracts travelers to its many wineries. The valley was the setting for the 2004 film Sideways, and fans of the film are known to make pilgrimages to the inns and restaurants from the movie.
Nearly one million visitors travel to this small town each year to see its Danish architecture and experience its (mostly) authentic Danish culture. Visitors can enjoy Danish food, a replica of the Little Mermaid sculpture, windmills, and the horse-drawn Hønen for sightseeing. The Danish Days festival lasts through the weekend during September and has been held almost every year since 1936.
- Los Olivos - This town has more than its share of wineries and tasting rooms, with around a dozen such businesses despite its tiny population of just over 1,000. The town also draws visitors wishing to pay their respects at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, which is located five miles north of town but not open to visitors.
- Montecito - Bordering Santa Barbara and located along the ocean, Montecito is one of the wealthiest communities in America and is home to stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Rob Lowe. Visitors seeking luxury, and who can afford to pay for it, will appreciate the upscale resorts; those who would rather not pay a small fortune for lodging can still enjoy the beaches and excellent restaurants.
- Cachuma Lake Recreation Area - This rural county park in the hills, about 18 miles up Route 154, makes for a pleasant day trip for kayaking or hiking, or you can arrange to camp there.
The main artery of Santa Barbara county is US Highway 101, a limited-access freeway.
The Santa Inez Valley, just north across the crest of the seaside mountain range, is a fairly well-known winery region. This was the locale for the popular movie "Sideways". Wineries can be found through the valley. Wine tasting is a popular activity that can be made easier (and safer) by using a shuttle for transportation. Most will pick you up right at your hotel lobby and take you out or a full day of tasting with a knowledgeable guide. The typical tour includes tasting at four wineries and a picnic lunch set up for you in wine country.
- The Grapeline Wine Country Shuttle. The most consistently recommended wine tour service, offers daily tasting tours and focuses on hospitality, comfort, and flexibility. Guides are accommodating, the shuttles are roomy, and unlike most other services, the Grapeline does not limit the winery choices to a handful of "preferred partner" wineries, so winery requests are encouraged and every trip can bring new discoveries.
- Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours. Is for the more rugged types who like the sun on their shoulders and the wind in their faces. Open air jeeps are more fun... if the weather is right which is often the case in the mild coastal climate. Beyond winery knowledge, Cloud Climber guides pride themselves in knowing the area history, plant and wild life.
- Sustainable Vine Tours. For the environmentally conscious. Both Sustainable Vine and the wineries they visit care about the planet and are doing something about it. Learn the difference between organic wine and organic wine-making techniques. Featured wineries are those focused on sustainable techniques. Prices are a bit steeper than other services and the standard tour offers three wineries instead of four. Tours do not run every day unless minimums are met, so check in advance if the day you want is "on."
Most of the lodgings in this region are in cities. You can find their listing in the various city articles above. Rural Santa Barbara County has a few resorts, ranches, and other lodgings scattered around. Some are listed here, others are listed in the article for a nearby city.
- El Capitán Canyon, 11560 Calle Real (From US 101, take exit 117 "El Capitan State Beach"), ☎ , toll-free: , fax: . A "luxury camping" site. They offer cedar cabins with beds, and tents on platforms with cots, plus hotel-grade housekeeping and amenities. The cabins and tents are strung along paths that follow a creek up a canyon. You get the feel of camping, without the work, and without the low price. $150-800, depending on season and type.
- San Luis Obispo County - San Luis Obispo County is located to the north of Santa Barbara County, and it marks a noticeable shift in landscape from areas to the south, with a dramatic and remote coastline that draws nature lovers. Hearst Castle is located here, the massive and historic former home of the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. The town of San Luis Obispo is a college town that is the last large city for over 100 miles for those traveling north along the coast.
- Kern County
- Ventura County - While to some extent it is an extension of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Santa Barbara County's neighbor to the south and east is home to rural getaways like the town of Ojai that share more with the remote Central Coast region than they do with the massive cities to the south. While the county is heavily populated (with services to match), the Los Padres National Forest dominates the northern part of this county and provides recreational opportunities for those who want to spend time outdoors.