Living in Santa Barbara over the last 23 years, I consider it one of a few places that I can truly call home. I originally came here for an internship at Patagonia, then built DIANI, and over the years, have watched the sleepy beach town turn into a thriving destination. I love the mix of old and new here – from the historic Spanish architecture and classic California white sand beaches to elegant cocktail bars and worldly cuisine restaurants – it all makes this special city what it is. Through the years, many out-of-town customers have asked me what my favorite spots are, and while it's ever evolving, I thought I’d put together a city guide featuring my current favorite places to eat, stay, shop and play…
BEST RESTAURANT: APERITIVO
The brain child of Andrea Girardello and Brian Dodero, formerly of the Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Santa Barbara, Aperitivo Wine Bar celebrates that special time post-work when we gather for a drink and small bites. Featuring flavors from the far corners of Italy, Aperitivo serves a mix of small plates, Italian wines and refreshing cocktails. I like to order a few different things to share, paired with one of their house-made spritzers. And since their seasonal menu changes weekly, there's always something new and delicious to try.
FAVORITE LOCAL HIKE: STEVEN'S PARK
The beauty of Santa Barbara is that there are hiking spots right outside your back door. Nestled within San Roque Canyon, Steven's Park is a 1.6 mile out-and-back trail that is close to home and shaded by large sycamore and oak trees. While it can get busy over the weekend, I like to hike this trail with Nala and Jeffrey in the early mornings or during the week.
FAVORITE BEACH: HENDRY'S
From sunrise to sunset, Hendry's Beach – also known as "Arroyo Burro Beach Park" is a beautiful stretch of dog-friendly beach a short drive from downtown Santa Barbara. It's our go-to spot when Nala is in tow, as she can run for miles at low tide. It sits at the base of a bluff with Douglas Family Preserve at the top, which has hiking trails and breathtaking views.
BEST DATE NIGHT: PLOW & ANGEL
When I'm looking to celebrate our anniversary, a birthday or any other special occasion, my go-to spot is Plow & Angel at San Ysidro Ranch. Located in an old stone house that reminds me of the English pubs I grew up going to, this restaurant is cozy and romantic, making it perfect for a dinner for two. Inside, the fireplace, stained-glass, original artwork and professional friendly staff, make this spot special. And the menu is filled with indulgent favorites like their signature mac and cheese.
FAVORITE SPA: MAHARANI AYURVEDIC SPA
A healing center and educational program, Maharani Ayurvedic Spa uses ancient healing rituals to rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit. I've had many spa treatments in my life, but this Ayurvedic approach to wellness is one of my favorites. The PanchaKarma treatments are my go-to when in need of a gentle, yet effective cleanse. It works to support the entire body holistically using a series of bodywork therapies like hot oil lymph massage, herbal body scrubs, gentle steam therapies, plus dietary and herbal support.
FAVORITE DRINK SPOT: OUR BACK GARDEN
While Santa Barbara certainly has some great spots to get a drink, my all time favorite is my very own back garden. I'm lucky to call Santa Barbara home, so relaxing by the pool with calming mountain views is the best seat in town. Add in my favorite bottle of tequila, Don Julio 70, and I'm in heaven. Cheers!
FAVORITE SHOPPING SPOT: ARLINGTON PLAZA
While I may be a bit biased here, Arlington Plaza is truly a one-stop shop for locally-owned dining and shopping. Located across the street from the iconic Arlington Theatre, this bustling little corner features Renaud's Bakery, our three DIANI stores – the home store, shoe store and clothing boutique, Carlitos Mexican Restaurant, Blossom Salon, Treat beauty boutique, and new to the plaza, Marisa Mason Jewelry and Folly. Spend the afternoon shopping, eating, drinking and pampering yourself.
FAVORITE LUNCH SPOT: THE DAISY
When I'm heading out for lunch or grabbing a lunch to-go, my new favorite spot is The Daisy Restaurant in Victoria Court. Husband and wife team Dominic Shiach and Carmen "Daisy" Deforest serve, fresh flavorful dishes using locally-sourced produce and sustainably and ethically-raised meats, with a wide selection of wines on tap. They have the best salads and hummus and the atmosphere is relaxed, yet elevated.
WHERE TO STAYCATION: SAN YSIDRO RANCH
A legendary hideaway with a historic guest list – think Groucho Marx, Winston Churchill and John and Jackie Kennedy, San Ysidro Ranch is the ultimate staycation. Lush gardens stretch across 550 acres, where vine-covered cottages, oversized sunken spas, and outdoor rain showers are tucked away, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This is the ideal spot to get away without having to stray too far from home.
I'm always discovering something new that I can add to the list, but for now these are my favorite Santa Barbara spots. This city is truly a magical place, and after all this time, I'm still amazed that you can visit the beach and the mountains all in one day. I hope you enjoy your time here if and when you come to visit us!
Photos courtesy (top to bottom): Aperitivo Wine Bar, David W. Lockeretz, Caroline Diani, San Ysidro Ranch, Maharani Academy, Caroline Diani, Arlington Plaza, The Daisy Restaurant, San Ysidro Ranch
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