Winter in Santa Barbara—to put it simply—is fickle. If you’re planning a trip to the Central Coast to escape whiteouts and icy winds, you will no doubt be blessed with less harsh climatic happenings. However, reliable and consistent our weather is not. I’ve decided to share this little insight today for a couple of reasons: One, no more than a week ago our days were blustery and cool, with the mercury dipping into the 30s at night. This week? Let’s just say we broached 80-degrees and bikini-clad beach goers were not uncommon. Secondly, if you’re coming to town for the holidays, packing may take a little extra thought. After an 80-degree December day, some may call us lucky Californians who wouldn’t know winter if it, well, hit us like a cold front. Perhaps this is so, but I’m here to advise you not to count on such unseasonable warmth. By the end of this week, we’re supposed to get a hefty load of rain. Next week: who knows.
There have even been a few winters when I’ve awakened to snowcapped Santa Ynez Mountains. Snow, people! In Santa Barbara. We’re just wild and unpredictable like that. So, dear travelers, here are a few tips to pack appropriately for a holiday getaway to our fair city.
1. Layer, layer, layer. Brisk mornings quickly turn into warm afternoons in these parts. And just when you’re basking in the December sun, breezes whip up and you can see your breath. Scarves and wraps are key (and oh-so hip) for the ladies, while local fellas are keen on layers like long sleeve thermals, sweaters, light shells, and, of course, fleeces. (After all, Patagonia—a layering pioneer—calls Central Coast shores home. Listen to the experts.)
2. Hats. Yes, the sun may beat down by day, but when dusk falls, beanies emerge. If you want to stay toasty without toting around an extra jacket all day, stow a beanie in your pocket. You can thank me later.
3. There’s a funny phenomenon that occurs in Santa Barbara when the rain starts to fall. Better prepared locals have Wellies to stay dry, but many Santa Barbarians (admittedly, mainly college students) don flip flops. I’m not saying it’s the sharpest idea, but if you can’t possibly fit your rain boots in your luggage, you won’t be the only one with wet feet.
4. Though forecasts may indicate temperate weather, pesky maritime conditions have a habit of settling into your bones and chilling your body from the inside out. Again, be prepared with layers—especially wind resistant fabrics.
5. Remember, this is California and we like to keep things casual. Unless you’re planning a posh night out at the Four Seasons Biltmore’s Coral Casino (or something of its ilk), jeans are almost always appropriate.
6. Santa Barbara has multiple personalities when it comes to temperature. The geography of the city effects the differential in weather, with nearby peaks rising upwards of 4,000 feet, then dramatically plummeting to sea level. This means that all at once it may be sunny and hot downtown, and windy and cold in the mountains, with a thick, wet fog bank hovering over the mesa. Did I mention it’s a good idea to layer?