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Decanter travel guide: Santa Barbara, California

Individuality is the watchword in this still-emerging region, says Katie Kelly Bell. Read her Santa Barbara travel guide and visit soon for a taste of California’s frontier spirit...

Santa Barbara travel guide: Where to stay, eat, shop and relax

Santa Barbara restaurants

Hitching Post

Relive the best and worst moments from the movie Sideways at this classic western steakhouse (where much of the movie was filmed). The menu features smoked duck, Texas quail and some serious steaks. hitchingpost2.com


A great stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Try the poached eggs with braised spinach and buffalo sauce or biscuit with house- cured pancetta. succulentcafe.com

Mattei’s Tavern

Once a historic stagecoach stop, this newly restored destination has creative delights from its chef Robbie Wilson. His Dirty Laundry charcuterie – house-cured goodies hanging on a ‘clothes line’ over a board of cheeses – and pimento cheeseburger are worth the visit alone. The tavern has newly opened luxury cottages, plus spa, pool and restaurant. matteistavern.com

Full of Life Flatbread Pizza

This is where the locals go for quality pizza, but you’ll also find foraged chanterelles, eggplant flatbread or heirloom tomato salad, depending on seasonal pickings. fulloflifefoods.com

Santa Barbara hotels

Koehler Winery

Rent the private home at this charming winery along the rural Foxen Canyon Road. Perched on a hillside adjacent to the tasting room (pictured above), the home is spacious, with only grapes and goats for neighbours. The fully stocked kitchen makes it ideal for a large group travelling together. koehlerwinery.com

Fess Parker Inn

An historic inn, now a boutique hotel, ideal for a romantic escape, with a touch of luxury and an award-winning Champagne spa right in the centre of Los Olivos. Make time for breakfast at the hotel’s Petros restaurant – the house-made Greek yoghurt and granola with Greek honey is world-class delicious. fessparkerinn.com

Santa Barbara shops


Check out this tack shop, western outfitter and supply store in Los Olivos. One of the best cowboy-boot selections I’ve seen, as well as cowboy hats, shirts, jackets, jewellery, small gifts and belts. This has bags of local character, showing the western heartbeat of this area – it’s still wild country. jedlickas.com

Bin 2860

Located adjacent to the Fess Parker Inn in Los Olivos, this intimate shop is packed with a smart international and local wine selection and the region’s best range of craft beers. Daily tastings are informative, and it’s a great place to get local tips on dining and touring. bin2860.com

How to get there

Direct flights into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with connections into Santa Barbara’s local airport are best to avoid the Los Angeles traffic. From Santa Barbara the wine region is a 45-minute drive (or 2.5 hours from LAX).

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