Santa Barbara is undisputedly one of the most popular destinations in a state with some pretty serious competition; in many other states it would surely be the star attraction by far. That's how rich the city is, with its gorgeous buildings erected by the city's early Spanish settlers, as well as later mission revival architecture. And, of course, it occupies a prime spot along the famous oceanfront Highway 101, with a backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains and a long stretch of beach with the undeveloped Channel Islands offshore. No wonder many Santa Barbarans can trace their roots here for generations—no one wants to leave.
Some of California's most significant early history took place in Santa Barbara, going back to its origin as the homeland of the Chumash people. For those who might think of it as just a town of bikers, joggers and fine beaches, its combination of a laid-back vibe with a sophisticated art scene and an international film festival can come as a surprise. For a modest-size city, Santa Barbara offers some seriously upscale shopping, while restaurants range from trendy taquerías to establishments serving fine French fare. And the fine wine flows through the city, as downtown now hosts a slew of not just wine shops but full-on wineries. Whether you are interested in high culture or viticulture, white-sand beaches or white-tablecloth restaurants, this is one of those destinations that truly has something for everyone.