Let it be known that Santa Barbara is a town for sweet lovers—there’s fresh-churned ice cream, French pastries, daily cookie specials, and other sugary treats around every corner. As if we didn’t have enough temptations, a cupcakery boom recently swept through town—a decidedly welcome development for locals of the confection persuasion, and a potential nightmare for parents of saccharine-savvy kiddos. These days, if you ask a Santa Barbaran where they go to indulge their cupcake craving, you’ll get a different—and passionate—answer every time. Whodidily! Fresco! Jeanine’s! Crushcakes! Everyone has their favorite, whether it’s heavy on the frosting, easy on the waistline (think vegan and gluten-free), or good old-fashioned like-mama-used-to-make-’em goodness. We all know there’s nothing—and I mean nothing—worse than indulging in a frosted piece of heaven, only to realize it’s just. All. WRONG. As a certified sugar addict—and your NileGuide Local Expert—I’m here to steer you in the right direction. Rest assured, I’ve diligently taste tested each and every cupcake in town. Herein, I’ve listed my personal favorites (in alphabetical order), with important notes for the die-hard sweet tooth in you.
Real butter is used to make both classic and creative flavors, like Buttermilk Crumb Cake, Chocolate Bliss, Cool Vanilla Bean, Peanut Butter Cup, and Lemon Drop ($3 each). If you want to try more than one flavor (you know you do!), pick up a dozen mini cakes ($1.25 each), or give the vegan and gluten-free options a whirl. I find these particular treats a little on the sweet side, but who I am to turn down a cupcake? The slogan here is, “Make Cupcakes, Not War.” I couldn’t agree more.
I dream about the perfection of Fresco’s cupcakes ($3.50 each). Sure, the cafe offers a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu (I should mention that their food is delicious as well), but I generally go for the cupcakes and the cupcakes only. This place does not mess around with their fresh, out-of-the-oven sweets, which include characteristically hearty servings of cake piled high (and I mean high) with homemade-tasting frosting. For me, the creme de la creme is the white cake with decadent chocolate frosting, although their red velvet is a close second.
Jeanine’s whips up decadent confections fresh daily, and while I can’t say that it’s my favorite cupcakery, they serve up soft, sweet cakes ($2.99 each) that satisfy a craving quite nicely. While you’re there, try Rori’s homemade ice cream (sold by the pint or cone) and a steaming cup of Portland’s dark, rich Stumptown coffee. It’s all about the combination of indulgences here… Why choose just one?
Who-whaaa? With locations in Montecito and downtown Santa Barbara, these inventive cupcakes ($3.50 each) are much too accessible for people of my sugar-loving ilk. The shop itself is like Willa Wonka’s Chocolate Factory on acid, with loud, sweet-theme music; bright colors adorning the walls and floor; saccharine sweet staff; and a make-your-own-cupcake station complete with a frozen yogurt machine and toppings. If choosing among Whipple Scrumptious, Chocolate Fluff, and I Love You A Latte is more than you can handle, try a dozen miniature “wishcakes” and decide once and for all on your favorite flavor. (My go-to is The Whodidily, which is confetti cake with a cream center and fudge frosting. STOP. It.)