The Sterling Traveler is a reader-supported blog. When you buy through links on this site, we may earn a commission. We appreciate it!
Santa Barbara is a wonderful town to visit. It’s no secret that I love visiting Santa Barbara. It’s one of the few places, other than my own home, that I can consider living at. Planning a trip to a town that isn’t very big can be daunting. How do I get there? Where do I stay? Even I find asking myself those questions when I plan a trip to a place that is outside of a major city. Because of that and my love of Santa Barbara, here’s a quick reference guide to Santa Barbara.
Where is Santa Barbara?
Santa Barbara is about 95 miles northeast from Los Angeles. While it’s not exactly far away, or on the path less traveled, it can seem somewhat out of the way, and more challenging to get to, than other areas near Los Angeles. Santa Barbara is much more accessible than it may seem.
How To Get to Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is conveniently located and is very accessible. To get there you can drive, take the train, or fly. There are also cruise ships, but the planning for a port of call isn’t always necessary.
Getting to Santa Barbara by Car or Bus
As I mentioned above, Santa Barbara is roughly 95 miles from Los Angeles. The time it actually takes highly depends on where you are in LA and the traffic. On average, it should be an hour and a half. With no traffic, it could take 45 minutes. With traffic… well, let’s just say it will be more than one and a half hours.
It is an easy drive. The stretch of the drive between Ventura and Santa Barbara is also quite lovely as it goes along the coast.
Last time I drove to Santa Barbara, it took me just two and a half hours from Orange County which is south of Los Angeles. I left at about 8:30 AM so there wasn’t much traffic. The time it takes you can vary widely – just keep an eye on traffic with your smartphone, and remember that no matter how long it takes you, you’ll get there eventually.
This new to me bus service has a network across California, and other regions across the United States. The bus fares across all of their routes are very cheap. For example, from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara it is $4.99 each way. I can’t speak to the comfort or anything, but from the looks of it, they’re akin to BoltBus, MegaBus, etc. They have WiFi, power outlets, and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) entertainment.
If you want me to try out FlixBus, feel free to contact me and I’ll give you my PayPal. ;-D
Getting to Santa Barbara by Train
The train is by far the most relaxing option to get to Santa Barbara. There are several trains a day that make the trip from San Deigo, going through Orange County and Los Angeles. This included the long-distance train, the Coast Starlight, that goes up to Seattle from Los Angeles Union Station.
It typically takes about 3 hours each way (from Los Angeles), assuming the trains aren’t running late. So this could theoretically be quicker than driving. Train tickets cost about $30 and will drop you off right in Downtown Santa Barbara, a block away from the Funk Zone to be exact!
There are rental car lots within Santa Barbara so you could rent a car if you wanted to go to Los Olivos or another surrounding town. If you’re staying within the city, it’s easy to get around by walking or taking a cheap bus or trolley.
Getting to Santa Barbara by Plane
Santa Barbara Airport (airport code: SBA) gets a surprisingly good amount of traffic from many destinations considering the size of the city and proximity to LAX. Most of the major airlines have mainline service from at least 2 places. United is also adding service from Chicago next year!
Airfare can vary greatly so be sure to compare prices to taking the train or driving – especially if you’re traveling within Southern California.
Where to Stay
I wanted to start this section by saying that there isn’t a shortage of hotels in Santa Barbara. The number of hotels isn’t small, but the size of the hotels is. The demand is greater than the supply so prices do tend to be fairly high. Thankfully, there are a number of points options to help save some money.
The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort used to be the Fess Parker Doubletree, which had a nice lobby but in need of updates in other areas of the hotel. The location has been renovated and rebranded to a full-service Hilton. I must admit that they did a wonderful job with the renovation.
On the other hand, I had much better service when I stayed there before they rebranded it. During my recent stay, there were multiple service failures across the board, from the front desk to housekeeping. I don’t like pulling out the DYKWIA card, but I definitely felt like doing so when I was asking for another towel because they didn’t give me enough after cleaning my room. Unfortunately, it’s the only Hilton in Santa Barbara proper.
Searching for points availability resulted in a minimum of 80,000 points, which is high but Hilton Honors points are easy to obtain. The good thing is that you can get lucky and have a decent cash rate of just over $200/night.
Search for the best rates at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort.
Fortunately, the award stay situation gets better with Hyatt. There are two properties to choose from.
The Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara is in a great location, just east of the Hilton. However, the hotel is in desperate need of a renovation, which they have started. When I stayed there, my expectations were fairly low, but I was still disappointed. The hotel is currently undergoing renovations, but no date is available as to when it will be done. The hotel is currently a category 4, which would be 15,000 Hyatt points per night. I do expect it to go up in category after the renovations, so you may want to make a speculative booking for mid-2020.
Search for the lowest rates at the Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara.
The brand new Hyatt Place is a much-welcomed addition to the selection of hotels in Santa Barbara. Hyatt Place hotels are usually predictable and mundane. I stayed here last time I was in Santa Barbara and was pleased. Keep your eyes peeled for a more in-depth review soon. Like the other Hyatt property, it is also a Category 4 which is kind of cringeworthy for a Hyatt Place. That makes this location one of 22 Hyatt Place locations worldwide which are a World of Hyatt category 4.
Search for the lowest rates at the Hyatt Place Santa Barbara
Hotel stays using points gets even easier with IHG. There are several locations located in downtown. Hotel Indigo is across from the train station and I’ve heard that rooms are *ahem* cozy. Because of those drawbacks, cash rates can be pretty reasonable, whereas it’s 50,000 IHG points. A better option is the Holiday Inn Express a few blocks up State Street at the same amount of points.
Another option is the Kimpton Canary Hotel. While cash rates aren’t cheap, and it’s 70,000 points per night, the hotel is a great option to use the free night award that comes with the old version of the Chase IHG MasterCard. IHG points are as easy, if not easier, to earn than Hilton, so 50 or 70,000 points isn’t that bad.
Search for the latest rates at the Kimpton Canary.
Oddly, there aren’t any Marriott hotels in Santa Barbara proper. There is a Residence Inn and Courtyard in nearby Goleta. There is a Ritz Carlton that is technically in Santa Barbara, but it’s on the far side of Goleta from downtown Santa Barbara – though it is only 50,000 points and looks like it has excellent ocean views!
Search for the best rates at the Ritz Carlton Santa Barbara
There are many other hotels in Santa Barbara. Some are bookable with American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. Take a look at other hotels. There’s always a hidden gem or two.
Search for hotels in Santa Barbara
Where to Eat
Santa Barbara has so many good places to eat that I can’t possibly list them all. I mentioned a few in my article about wine tasting that you can read here. The bottom line, I haven’t be led wrong by Yelp. This is one of the not-so-common occasions where you can trust it.
Leaving Santa Barbara
I never like leaving any place I’ve visited, particularly Santa Barbara. If you’re fortunate to continue traveling after visiting Santa Barbara, here are my recommendations. If you’re headed north, continue on US 101 to Big Sur and Monterey. There are some gorgeous views and things to see along the way. To the South, there’s Los Angeles, of course. Spend some time in Orange County, just past LA. There are beaches, hiking, golf, and nearly anything else you’d want to do. Read a bit more about Orange County: Local’s Guide to Costa Mesa.
Pin this to save for later