Santa Barbara lies on the West Coast of the United States
, 92 miles (148 km) north of Los Angeles and 332 miles (534 km) south of San Francisco. It is the largest city and the seat of Santa Barbara County, which covers 2,774 square miles. The Santa Ynez Mountains, which run along the east-west section of the Santa Barbara coast, serve as the boundary distinguishing “North County” (Buellton, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Los Alamos, Santa Maria, Santa Ynez, Solvang, and others) from “South County” (Carpinteria, Goleta, Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Summerland). While the South County cities and towns nestle in the Santa Ynez foothills on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, North County communities are located in higher-elevation inland mountain valleys.
The county is famous for its beautiful beaches, most of which lie along a unique south-facing stretch of coastline that affords beach visitors sun all day long and greater shelter from winds and surf than many other coastal beaches. But there’s far more here than beaches. The county encompasses enormously varied terrain: nearly one-third of its total acreage is set aside in the Los Padres National Forest, which includes the rugged San Rafael Wilderness Area. Santa Barbara County’s topographical diversity creates a huge variety of outdoor recreational opportunities in a relatively compact area.
Santa Barbara County welcomes adults and children alike with a host of family-friendly attractions, outdoor activities, and exciting wildlife experiences. The wide range of recreational options meets the needs of every age group and interest level. Choose from biking, beach going, ocean swimming, fishing, wilderness adventures, boating, rock climbing, horseback riding, urban hiking, and more. The county is also home to an enchanting zoo, fascinating museums, and unique historical and cultural attractions.
The city of Santa Maria (1-800-331-3779) offers Kids Just Want to Have Fun!
, a free brochure outlining North County family activities. For kid-friendly sightseeing, it's hard to beat the alpine village of Solvang, the county's "Little Denmark." With its windmills, Tudor architecture, wealth of Scandinavian food and souvenirs, and palpable love for the achievements of Hans Christian Andersen, the city looks and feels like a true Danish village.
In Santa Barbara,
even historic attractions comply with Federal and California State law regarding accessibility for visitors with disabilities. (The Channel Islands present an exception-the ruggedness of the terrain makes wheelchair access difficult or impossible in places.) Parking for drivers with disabilities is plentiful, and the county honors eligibility insignias from other states.
The first people to fall in love with Santa Barbara’s
spectacular setting were the Chumash Indians. TheChumash made their homes here, sustaining themselves from the fish-rich waters of the Pacific Ocean in front of them and the game-tracked mountains behind.
In 1542, Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo laid claim to the region in the name of Spain and established friendly relations with the Chumash. Sixty years later, Sebastian Vizcaino led his small fleet into the channel seeking shelter from a severe storm. The storm passed on Saint Barbara’s feast day, and, grateful for God’s having spared the ships and the lives of their crews, a friar on board one of the vessels named the bay and the coastal landfall in honor of Saint Barbara.
It was almost another 200 years before the Spanish began settling the area in earnest. Father Junipero Serra, traveling with Captain Jose Ortega and Governor Felipe de Neve, made his way up from Mexico and established a royal presidio here in 1782. Four years later, the mission was founded—the first of three (including Santa Inés in Solvang and La Purísima, Lompoc) in what is now Santa Barbara County.
The Spanish ruled the area until 1822, when Mexico asserted its independence and California became a Mexican territory. Mexican rule was short-lived however. In 1846, Colonel John C. Fremont claimed the region for the United States. California won statehood in 1850, but Santa Barbara retained much of its sedate pueblo atmosphere until the late 1800s, when affluent and famous visitors began arriving in great numbers.
This increased when a fledgling industry was established in town—motion pictures. In 1910, the American Film Company opened Flying A Studio on the corner of State and Mission Streets. At the time, the largest studio of its kind in the world, Flying A ultimately produced more than a thousand films. It closed in 1920, and the film industry dug in farther south, but movie stars had been introduced to the remarkable appeal of Santa Barbara. Close enough to be accessible but far enough from Hollywood that they could actually have some privacy and quiet, the area was a true haven, and many stars began spending more and more time here.
Resorts had been springing up to accommodate the city’s affluent guests for several years, but now celebrities wanted in on the action. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford owned property in the mountains. Charlie Chaplin built the Montecito Inn in 1928 largely for movie people. Ronald Colman Alvin Weingand bought the San Ysidro Ranch in 1935 and ran it, too, mostly for friends and guests. The trend has continued, with many celebrities keeping homes here to this day. Other residents have established themselves in an astonishing range of entrepreneurial successes. Among the companies that have started up here are Balance Bar, Carrows, Motel 6, Lockheed, Big Dog Sportswear, Territory Ahead, Jamba Juice, and Kinko’s (which the founder started, right out of UCSB, in Isla Vista with a single copying machine in a 100-square-foot shop in the corner of a taco stand).
Santa Barbara Style
The “Santa Barbara” architectural style is famous around the world. Although distinctly influenced by the architecture of Spain, it’s actually a blend of genres, including Spanish, Mediterranean, and Moorish/Islamic. Its key features are gleaming white stucco surfaces, the famous red tile roofs, courtyards, and the wrought iron used to ornament windows, light fixtures, staircases, and other accent elements. This aesthetic is largely the work of engineer Bernhard Hoffman. He founded the City Planning Commission and worked with other organizing bodies to enforce building codes and architectural standards at the advent of the 20th century, demanding that all new construction conform to modern safety guidelines. The new style which emerged was a tribute to Santa Barbara’s Spanish heritage and the predecessor of the “look” we know today. In 1927, Pearl Chase became chair of the Plans and Planting Committee (in which capacity she served until her retirement in the 1970s) and further helped establish and enforce many of the standards that have kept Santa Barbara, in her words, “...a beautiful city, with an architecture in harmony with its historic background and adapted to its distinctive topography, its climate and its delightful location.”
The Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara (805-965-6307, www.afsb.org) leads two-hour tours each Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. weather-permitting. Saturday tours meet at the steps of City Hall, De la Guerra Plaza and discover the city’s hidden courtyards, secret fountains, and original Spanish adobe structures. The Sunday tour leaves from the entrance of the Public Library and explores Santa Barbara’s historic art and architecture as it was reborn after the 1925 earthquake. A $5 donation is appreciated. Group tours or tours for the physically challenged are available by arrangement.
Santa Barbara County's cities and towns have their own Chambers of Commerce
, who can provide you with business information and related resources.
Conference/ Convention & Visitors Bureaus
Conference & Visitors Bureaus are here to service you and provide you with information and resources to make visiting Santa Barbara County a rich and rewarding experience.
Santa Barbara County
hosts national, regional, and local banking facilities. Public and private Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) can be found on or off of most major streets. Refer to the listing below for specific locations.
Health Services & Hospitals
If you are in need of medical attention or health services while visiting Santa Barbara County, refer to the listings below.
Public libraries can be found in all of Santa Barbara County’s cities and towns. Refer to the listings below.
Mail & Delivery Services
Shipping and correspondence services are located throughout the county. Refer to the listings below.
Discover the pulse of the American Riviera. Local news, local views, local arts…the list goes on. The following publications are produced in and about Santa Barbara County.
Santa Barbara County provides opportunities for a wide range of religious services and denominations.
Schools & Universities
Santa Barbara County is home to a major state university, as well as other collegiate institutions. See listings below.
Community associations and foundations servicing visitors throughout Santa Barbara County.