Transport Yourself to the Mediterranean

Embrace Santa Barbara’s European ambiance

Santa Barbara has been considered the “American Riviera” for well over a century. That’s because the landscape of the city is evocative of the iconic French and Italian Rivieras, with the backdrop of a dramatic mountain range towering above the sparkling Pacific, the abundant bougainvillea and lush citrus trees, and the lovely Spanish-Colonial architecture. Our leisurely, laid-back lifestyle also has European notes, as do the city’s pedestrian-friendly walkability and the seasonal, fresh-as-it-gets cuisine. So, when you’re seeking a travel fix that feels extra transportive but doesn’t require you pull out that passport, book a stay at one of our four Santa Barbara hotels and immerse your senses in all things Santa Barbara. Following are a few of the many ways you can savor the Mediterranean flavors of the American Riviera.

El Presidio courtyard and tree

Spanish Days

The Spanish were the first Europeans to colonize Santa Barbara back in 1782, when Spain founded the Presidio of Santa Barbara, and as a result, Santa Barbara’s architecture is deeply influenced by Spain. Visiting landmarks like El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park and Mission Santa Barbara bring that early Spanish history to life. The community celebrates its Spanish heritage every August during the colorful five-day Old Spanish Days Fiesta, filled with food, parades, dancing, rodeo, and more local traditions.

Southern California’s first shopping center opened in the 1920s, the historic El Paseo’s “Street in Spain” was designed to look like Seville, Spain. Today, you can meander through the paseo’s many pathways while stopping to browse the shops, taste wines, and dine at restaurants like Intermezzo by Wine Cask and the namesake El Paseo Restaurant & Bar.

Vineyard aerial

Taste of Italy

Over the decades, Santa Barbara has attracted many Italian immigrants who feel quite at home here. One of the most famous is internationally renowned horticulturalist, Dr. Francesco Franceschi, who spent 20 years as a Santa Barbara resident beginning in 1893. Franceschi took advantage of Santa Barbara’s Mediterranean climate to test the suitability of growing diverse plants from around the world here, and he is credited with altering California’s landscape through his work—as well as for naming Santa Barbara’s “Riviera” neighborhood, where he built a home, nursery, and botanic garden on 40 acres. Today, you can visit Franceschi Park, which occupies a portion of the very land where he once lived, and admire the remaining plantings and sweeping views of the city-to-the-sea below.

Naturally, one of the most pleasurable ways to taste the Italian influence in Santa Barbara is through our delicious Italian cuisine and Italian-style wines. Arnoldi’s (founded in 1937), Olio e Limone, and Pane e Vino are three longtime local favorites serving up authentic Italian ambiance. We also love sending our beach hotel guests to top-rated Toma Restaurant, just blocks away from Brisas Del Mar Inn at the Beach, Inn by the Harbor, and Lavender Inn By the Sea. Newcomer Aperitivo Wine Bar is also well worth frequenting for Italian wines and creative small plates.

Several local winemakers have Italian roots as well and embrace the region’s agreeable growing climate for Italian varietals. Try a tasting at Ca’ del Gravino in Los Olivos, Palmina Wines in Lompoc, or Grassini Family Vineyards in downtown Santa Barbara.

Your Tour de Italy should also include some souvenir shopping at the Italian Pottery Outlet so you can bring a piece of Italy home with you. The family run business has been importing goods from Umbria, Tuscany, and Sicily dating back to 1982.

French Twist

Santa Barbara is probably most compared to the South of France from an aesthetic point of view, down to the fact that flying into Santa Barbara Airport looks quite similar to flying into Nice. Like Cannes, we have our own Santa Barbara International Film Festival that draws the film world’s top talent for 10 days of screenings and red carpet events. A local Frenchman helped found the annual Santa Barbara French Festival that coincides with Bastille Day and has been running for over 30 years.

Eateries where you’ll find the strongest French influence include Petit Valentien in La Arcada, Stella Mare’s Bistro near the Bird Refuge, and Bell’s in Los Alamos. Many Santa Barbara County wineries specialize in Rhône varietals, which thrive thanks to the similar landscape and climate. The fruits of French winemaking can also be sampled at Crown Point Vineyards in Happy Canyon, whose wines are crafted by a team of three esteemed French winemakers.