Santa Barbarians love their town. A lot. And tourists love it, too. During any given season, slews of university students and out-of-towners can be found cruising State Street, perusing shops, dining at restaurants, and checking out the nightlife. While locals are grateful for visitors, we also have some secret go-tos up our sleeve—where we escape the crowds (and where we’re guaranteed to run into a familiar smile). I may face some glares from fellow Central Coast dwellers for revealing our sacred hideaways, but herewith I’ve listed ten noteworthy locals only hot spots (in no particular order). Far from comprehensive, this is a taste of off the beaten path eateries, hidden hangouts, quiet hikes, and some other special spots that make Santa Barbara such a groovy town.
Strong Verve coffee and rich pastries fuel students and other laptop toting hipsters at this State Street cafe. Local art adorns the walls (and foam—latte art here is impressive) and regulars come in every day for their morning jolt.
Know for live music seven days per week, you can catch Santa Barbara’s finest talents serenading diners at this upstairs restaurant off of State Street in Victoria Court. Locals favor singer/songwriter showcases as well as samba nights, when the dining room-cum-dance floor fills up fast.
Inventive tapas, creative cocktails, and fine local wines are served at this dimly lit favorite located in a strip of shops on the Santa Barbara Mesa. Popular for date nights, the intimate eatery is a cozy hideaway stocked with a full bar and a menu that keeps patrons coming back for more.
Winemaker Dave Potter offers wine on tap, refillable growlers, surprising varietals (think Fizz, a sparkling red wine), and a throwback vibe at his tasting room located along the urban wine trail. Regulars come by for tastings and conversation on the way home from work, or after strolling the nearby beach side path along Cabrillo Boulevard.
Located on the east side of town in the funk zone—along with many of the community’s craftsman, music makers, and artists—Telegraph Brewey opens it doors to the public on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Twenty- and thirty-something locals regularly congregate at the brewery-turned-watering hole to imbibe in Golden Wheat Ale, White Ale, and other frothy brews on tap.
This moderate three-and-a-half mile trail is only a few minutes from downtown and winds up to panoramic views of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands. Hikers take to the oak, sycamore, and chaparral lined trail to run, bike, explore, and, this time of year, to harvest mushrooms. (If you have the itch to mushroom hunt, please consult an expert—picking the wrong fungi can be dangerous.)
This classic deli is packed daily with hungry locals who work downtown. The tuna melts are to die for, and hot sub specials like the Canon Capicolla Club (turkey, ham, crispy capicolla, and swiss cheese on sourdough bread) are made-to-order and suspiciously addictive.
There are a lot of boutiques and department stores to choose from on State Street, but for a quirky, true Santa Barbara experience, step in to this secondhand haven. With everything from suede coats, cowboy boots, and gowns, to dishes, jewelry, and shades, this shop is a trove of treasures from the past.
A visit to Santa Barbara wouldn’t be complete without a hefty helping of Mexican food. For locals, a week wouldn’t be complete without the an authentic adobado (marinated pork) taco on a fresh corn tortilla at this tiny establishment on Milpas Street. Would you believe that kitchen maven and onetime Santa Barbara resident Julia Child endorsed this hole-in-the-wall haunt? True story.
I think any Santa Barbarian will tell you that a good portion of their paycheck goes toward this natural food store. The impressive salad bar is a lunchtime draw, and sushi and hot food discounts after 8 pm bring in only locals (and now you!) who are in the know.