48 Hours in Santa Barbara

From the desert to the beach! Well, actually, it was the other way around last week. Tor and I were so happy we got to spend a few days in Santa Barbara before trekking to Arizona. We got married in Santa Barbara county, but we had not actually spent any time in downtown Santa Barbara. This was our chance!

We only had 48 hours in Santa Barbara, and I certainly would have preferred to stay longer than that, but we still got to enjoy so much! I think Santa Barbara quickly became one of my favorite cities in California. It’s completely picturesque on every corner. Almost every building is incredibly beautiful and seems to tell a story. Santa Barbara architecture is Spanish Colonial, and that’s evident everywhere you turn. After spending the past year in Spain, Tor and I felt like we had returned to the Iberian peninsula as we walked through the city.

Where To Stay
For our trip to Santa Barbara, we stayed at Belmond El Encanto (check out our post about our luxurious home away from home here). While it’s not downtown, it’s up in the hills that provides a picturesque overview of the whole city plus the ocean that can’t be rivaled anywhere else. It was always nice coming back to the hotel after the end of the day and grabbing champagne and an incredibly delicious dark chocolate soufflé while overlooking Santa Barbara down below. Plus, every room is really it’s own little villa and it’s very spread out, making the entire property feel private and quiet. It was the perfect place to wind down.

Day 1
After checking in, take some time to relax by visiting the hotel pool or the hotel spa. The pool at Belmond El Encanto is heated, so it doesn’t matter if it’s not crazy hot out. After some time at the pool or the spa, get ready to head into town early before dinner. Stop at Old Mission Santa Barbara first on your way downtown, since it’s only 5 minutes from the hotel. It’s a beautiful site around sunset, so this the perfect time to grab some key photos (especially Instagram!). Once downtown, be sure to visit the iconic Santa Barbara County Courthouse especially for some photos. Downton is gorgeous around and right after sunset, so take a nice walk before dinner (or so some shopping on historic State Street!). You’ll see how prominent the Spanish Colonial style is right away.

Tor and I dined at Bouchon for our first night in Santa Barbara. We were celebrating our one-year anniversary, so it was the perfect spot for such an occasion. They even adorned our table with rose petals, which completely added to the already romantic ambiance. I highly recommend dining here at some point during your visit.

Save room for dessert and head back to the hotel after dinner for a glass of wine or champagne with a dark chocolate soufflé. Ask to dine on their patio, even if it’s a bit cold out. They’ll light the heat lamps as well as provide you with as many blankets as you want for warmth and cuddling as you look down on the twinkling lights of the city down below. Then, crawl into your heavenly bed because tomorrow will be another fun-filled and exciting day!

Day 2
Pack a picnic basket or tote bag for the day, since you’ll be stocking up on some items before you hit the beach. Head into town for breakfast and eat at Jeannine’s Bakery. It can be very popular due to the deliciousness of their food, so don’t be turned off if you have to wait a minute to be seated. Despite just eating, head to Three Pickles and pick up some incredibly yummy deli sandwiches to put in your picnic basket or tote, since this will be lunch later today on the beach!

Miss USA 2011 Alyssa Campanella of The A List blog wears Roberta Roller Rabbit dress and Hat Attack fringe tote at Butterfly Beach, Santa Barbara

That’s right, it’s beach day! Tor and I don’t spend a lot of time at the beach. We aren’t really “beach people”, but in Santa Barbara we knew we wanted to spend some time at the beach. We visited Butterfly Beach during our visit, however we also recommend Santa Claus Beach (it’s actually in Carpenteria, but it’s a best-kept-secret beach!), Arroyo Beach (can get quite crowded), Leadbetter Beach (close to town and so it can get crowded), and East Beach (also close to town). Butterfly Beach doesn’t have any restrooms or restaurants, which is why I recommended picking up sandwiches before heading to the beach (I recommend bringing your own food anyway, since lines can be long at beach cafés), however Butterfly Beach does not get as crowded as many other beaches and Tor and I love finding privacy wherever we can. Don’t forget sunscreen! This one is my favorite sunscreen for face.

Style note: This swimsuit was my most popular requested look during this trip. It will definitely be my favorite this year!

After a few hours on the beach, head back into town to see more of the city. You’ve had lunch, but now it’s time for dessert! McConnell’s is the one and only place you need to go for delicious ice cream. They make their waffle cones right in front of you and from scratch, and the warm cone makes the creamy ice cream even more delicious. I enjoyed chocolate chip and chocolate ice cream in my cone (the chocolate chip was my FAVORITE!).

Now that your stomach is full, it’s time to head back towards the water. Stearn’s Wharf is great to visit towards the end of the day, since the sun isn’t so harsh above plus the colors that reflect on the water are my favorite at this time of day. We didn’t know this at the time, but it turns out that you can park on Stearn’s Wharf (there’s actually complimentary valet!). We parked far away, thinking you couldn’t drive on the boardwalk… oops! You can, and I highly recommend doing that.

At the Wharf, you’ll see some peeps fishing off the pier. There are also some cute shops and fish-n-chips stops, but I say why not enjoy some wine tasting while here? Deep Sea Wine Tasting Room is conveniently located on the wharf and couldn’t be a more better place to watch the sun go down right over the water.

Style note: This may be my favorite dress of the season. I am obsessed with the fabric and its gorgeous colors. It also comes in orange and black, and I just got this skirt from them that I am also obsessed with!

Now that it’s dinner time, head to The Lark for some yummy grub and cocktails. I highly recommend making reservations in advance here, since it’s quite popular and for good reason! Tor went nuts for their brussel sprouts, and I went nuts for their rosé wine and pappardelle pasta. If they’re still offering both at the time of your visit, GET THEM. They are all DIVINE.

After a yummy dinner, head back to the hotel to reflect on a jam-packed but wonderful two days in Santa Barbara. On our last night, I drew a bath in our suite’s luxurious bathtub so I highly recommend doing the same.

Day 3
For your final morning, have breakfast at the hotel on the patio in the main building. I recommend their pancakes as well as their hot chocolate. The view on our final morning featured a cruise from Princess Cruises docking down below, which was quite a sight. Checking out is the hard part, but luckily we only had a 90 minute drive home so we know we aren’t too far away to return to Santa Barbara for another fabulous trip in the future. Be sure to check out my Santa Barbara guide for more suggestions for your trip.

Miss USA 2011 Alyssa Campanella of The A List visits Santa Barbara, California

Thanks to Belmond El Encanto for hosting us. Photos by Torrance Coombs.

Look 1: Splendid bikini top and bottom, Roberta Roller Rabbit dress (also love this one), Marc Fisher shoes, Illesteva sunglasses
Look 2: Matthew Williamson for ASOS swimsuit (bikini version here; also love this one), Robert Roller Rabbit dress, Marc Fisher shoes, Illesteva sunglasses, Crate and Barrel picnic basket, Hat Attack tote bag, Eugenia Kim hat
Look 3: LA DoubleJ Editions dress (also available in orange/black here; also just bought this skirt), Sam Edelman shoes (also available here), Cult Gaia bag, Illesteva sunglasses

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  1. This looks like a great trip:). I see y’all made some doggie friends😀

    Posted 4.25.17 Reply
    • The A List

      Thanks, Debbie! And they were only friends with us because they could smell our delicious sandwiches in the picnic basket 😛

      Posted 4.25.17 Reply
  2. I love your blog, and your photography! It makes me want to travel so much. <3

    Posted 4.25.17 Reply
    • The A List

      Aww, thank you Shannon! I hope you do get to travel!

      Posted 4.25.17 Reply
  3. Meg

    Great post! I come to Santa Barbara once a month for work and Jeannine’s is my favorite place to get breakfast! So good!

    Posted 4.29.17 Reply
    • The A List

      Thanks, Meg! I’m glad you like Jeannine’s too! And I am super picky about breakfast spots 😉

      Posted 5.1.17 Reply
  4. Bertie Riphagen

    The LA DoubleJ Editions dress, can you tell me if the waistline is fitted under the tie belt? And where the zipper is? I’m having a tough time locating this info or a picture of the dress without a belt! I’m not the thinnest in the middle and wondering if the belt would custom fit the dress for me!

    Posted 4.29.17 Reply
    • The A List

      Hi Bertie! The belt on the dress is detached, so you can adjust it however you like. The waistline isn’t fitted under the belt, which is what I love about it. The belt helps me determine how tight I want it to be, if I even want to wear the belt. Hope this information helps!

      Posted 5.1.17 Reply
  5. Loved this post so much! I’m planning a trip in November driving from San Francisco down to LA and want to spend a few nights here. Your photography and outfits are beautiful too.

    Sincerely, Sarah xx

    Posted 4.9.18 Reply
  6. Santa Barbara is a year-round tourist destination renowned for its fair weather, downtown beaches, and Spanish architecture. Thanks Debbie !

    Posted 2.7.20 Reply