Santa Barbara Surprise In The Dog Days of Summer

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Leaving Carmel

It was time to head south again.  Our next stop was planned, but we did not know we would get a Santa Barbara surprise.   Had we known how much we would  like Santa Barbara, we would have booked a longer stay.

Getting ready to leave Carmel took a long time.  This was the first time we had unpacked since we left home 2 weeks before on our 4 week west coast trip. We had been lucky so far, able to pack into our small rolly bags for the 2 or 3 day stops. With this 4 day stop and a few loads of laundry, we started from scratch and re-packed.

Staying Off The PCH

The day was grey and it started to drizzle as we packed the car. This just reinforced our decision to not take the Hwy 1 PCH route for the second day in a row (see our trip sunny day trip to Big Sur). We left Carmel early, hoping to actually get to Santa Barbara with enough time to enjoy a bit of the day there.

The first half of our drive south on Hwy 101 was an easy drive, with views of hills, wineries, oil rigs and huge fields of crops. While they may dry farm in Napa, there were a lot of irrigation contraptions visible in the vast fields we saw on the side of the road.

This was one of the few times we found that we could actually hit the posted speed limit of 65mph.  The options for a bathroom or coffee stop were very few on this first half of the drive.  So stop when you see a gas station or restaurant . We missed the one rest station as we got distracted by 5 helicopters flying in formation over the army base. Passing the half way point, the traffic picked up significantly.  It required much more concentration on driving. We had left the flat fields and spent some time winding our ways through hills and valleys.

Finding Our First Santa Barbara Surprise

Our hotel (Inn By The Harbour) was easy to find from the highway. Since we got there early, our room was not ready so we left the bags in the car and did the short walk to the marina for lunch. Having lost track of days, we didn’t factor in that it was Sunday and Fathers Day which made everything very busy.

The hotel clerk recommended we try the Brophy Brothers in the marina.  But he was not the only one recommending this spot. By the time we got our table for 2 outside it was well past lunch time. And David was well into cyanide hour from being hungry (aka “hangry”). It was a good thing that his lunch was the best Cioppino (seafood stew) ever.  It was reasonably priced with tons of seafood (and you could order it not spicy). The breaded calamari was very good as well, cooked perfectly with a light, tasty breading. I continued my quest for the ultimate mussels, but left knowing there would not be a repeat order in this spot.

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The great seafood was definitely the first Santa Barbara surprise.

Settling Into Santa Barbara

When our hotel was originally booked, we were only stopping here for one night before pushing on to LA. With our friend Donna’s input, we added one additional day for Santa Barbara.  But did not change our hotel or room selection. We got a pretty basic room that was ok for 2 days but it would not be our choice if we came back for a longer stay.

If the room was just “ok”, the other amenities proved to be much better than we might have expected from this 3 star hotel. David indulged in “free” food almost whenever he wanted. The continental breakfast selection was good (with leftovers available all day). There was a good selection of wine and cheese from 4:30 to 5:30.  And then hot cookies from 6:30 to 8:30.

The sister hotel next door offered both bikes and movies, both of which we took advantage of. The pool was small but warm in June, with loungers and tables. We did not try the hot tub even though I was tempted after bike riding one day.

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Our base at the Inn By The Harbour worked well as we found the Santa Barbara surprise discoveries.

Biking In Santa Barbara

Early one day we picked up bikes and headed out for 4+ hours to explore the waterway bike paths. The one speed bike was ok for most of the ride in this non-hilly town. Only once or twice did I need to push it. The only challenge was the need to backpedal to stop the bike.  This took some getting used to. We had our bikes to get around.  But the dogs we saw found ways to travel too!

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We loved exploring the Santa Barbara Pier and waterfront area on bicycles.

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Biking in Santa Barbara was a great way to get around.

Exploring The Waterfront

A long boardwalk followed the shore, with two piers and a large marina in the harbour. The marina water was very busy.  There were all sizes and kinds of boats and a vast array of kayaks and stand up paddle boards. Many options were available to eat. While we diligently searched and sampled, we never did find an ice cream place to recommend.

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Harbour - Santa Barbara Surprise.jpg

Harbour - Santa Barbara Surprise.jpg


Our stop for lunch was in the downtown area at another spot recommended by our hotel. The Enterprise Fish Company had a vast selection of good lunch specials. We are able to find two selections that gave us each 4 different dishes to share. The menu looked quite comprehensive if you came back for dinner.

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We enjoyed the chance to explore the waterfront in Santa Barbara.

Finishing Up Our Santa Barbara Surprise

It was a great day out in the sun.  We finished with some time by the pool in the late afternoon.  And followed this with wine and cheese on the patio.

I was in need of a non-seafood dinner so David did his thing to find us our dinner spot. The Brewhouse menu offered a great selection of beers – $2 to try a 4oz shot. David tried 3 including a very smokey one and I tried an apricot wheat beer. David’s half rack of ribs must have come from a very big cow since he didn’t even finish them.  And they were a bit more spicy than advertised. My beef stroganoff was American large.  While the beef was good, the gravy and risotto got mostly left in my bowl. But I had addressed my need for a break from seafood. We really wanted to try the renowned peanut butter cream pie.  But neither of us had room after our meat fest. We walked the long way back to the hotel and headed to the water as the sun was going down.

It was off to tinsel town next, with a stop in Santa Monica!  We really liked Santa Barbara, as much as our friend Donna said we would.  It was busy on Sunday at the marina.  But for the rest of the time it was a really nice small town with a great harbour and beach.  We knew we would be back here for a longer stay the next time.

What is your favourite thing when you get a Santa Barbara surprise?  Did you find a great ice cream shop to recommend?

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About TravelAtWill 748 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!


  1. Santa Barbara is such a lovely place. However, as I was looking for accommodation – and I’m quite cheap when it comes to lodging – I found a great deal in Carpinteria. It’s a small resort about an hour be public bus – yap, there is a public bus albeit the schedule is not very generous…. – and that was just perfect. This way, I spent a great day out visiting Santa Barbara and went back to my comfortable yet reasonably priced retreat.

    • Good to find a cheaper accommodation but still be close enough to Santa Barbara for a day visit. We have been back a few times and always find something new. And a great seafood feast!

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