Santa Barbara Restaurants

Santa Barbara Restaurants

Given that Santa Barbara wineries have such a reputation for good taste, it follows naturally that that good taste is shared by the chefs of Santa Barbara County. Santa Barbara is steadily becoming known as a city with a diverse collection of restaurants, each of which seem to achieve the highest level of excellence in their chosen styles of cuisine.

Santa Barbara restaurants are renowned for using only the freshest of ingredients—and of course in seafood this makes a huge difference—and perhaps because of the healthy lifestyle of southern Californians, many of the restaurants stay heart-healthy as well, of course without sacrificing taste.

Seafood restaurants abound in this town, the food prepared in a worldwide variety of styles. Purists might want to try the sushi at Arigato, the popular and mid-priced sushi restaurant in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. Diners can enjoy the cosy and romantic brick interior while sipping one of their collection of 20 sakés, or, on warmer nights, enjoy the outside dining. With the freshest fish in town and a no-reservation policy, it’s good to get there early.

Restauranteur Pierre Lafond has three restaurants in Santa Barbara, one of which is the reasonably priced Bistro on State St. The business enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the Santa Barbara community, as they rely mostly on local farmers and purveyors for their ingredients, keeping the menu a lively selection of seasonal dishes. Grilled asparagus and artichoke salad, grilled ahi on a scallion potato cake with mango salsa, a selection of panini sandwiches and gourmet pizzas round out the menu; the bistro also boasts a great selection of wines and a variety of pastries and desserts.

Vegetarians young and old flock to the Sojourner Café, colloquially known as the “Soj”. Back in 1977, the Sojourner was pretty much the first vegetarian venture in Santa Barbara, and they are still going strong. With their eclectic menu of hearty soups, vegetarian lasagna, mouth-watering rice-and-veggie bowls and scrumptious home-baked desserts, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy the food there. Located on E. Canon Perdito (Santa Barbara St.), it is a great place to dine, reasonably priced and hip, among the Santa Barbara restaurants downtown.

Square One is another Santa Barbara restaurant that loves its produce, meats and seafood as fresh and organic as possible. At the other end of the spectrum from the Sojourner, Square One emphasizes sustainably-grown, organic produce and wild-caught seafood. This kind of attention to ingredients does push the price up, but their refreshingly minimalist dishes are worth it. The menu features, among other things, a Kobe-style beef burger with shoestring pommes frites. Their desserts have an eclectic blend of flavors: Hawaiian pineapple tartare with wild mint tea, beet granita and whipped Créme Frâiche. However you spend your vacation days, the Santa Barbara restaurants will provide a fantastic dining experience.

Santa Barbara Film Festival

Santa Barbara has an historic connection with movie making, from the very first days of the moving pictures. In 1910, Santa Barbara was home to the “Flying A Studios,” the world’s largest film studio of the time. Between 1912 and 1921, Santa Barbara was host to over 1000 movies, the local weather perfect for year-round filming and the varied landscape providing anything from a French coastline to a Moroccan desert. Even today, visitors can often spot film-crews at work in the area.

There are film tours that visitors can take to locations used in different movies; around downtown Santa Barbara for “Steal Big, Steal Little” for instance, out in the wine country for scenes from “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Seabiscuit” and “Sideways,” and further north to Lompoc and Santa Maria valleys for scenes from “The Graduate,” “Of Mice and Men” and “Spartan.”

Apart from Santa Barbara’s fascinating movie history, there is a large and active community in the creative media arts. Santa Barbara County is home to several film schools, and all year round there are numerous film festivals with a variety of themes—from the Underwater Film Festival to the Santa Barbara African Heritage Film Series and everything in between—screenings, lectures and special events.

To top all these, though, is the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which takes place every year in early February. The ten-day-long festival, with its geographical proximity to Los Angeles and its timing so close to the Oscars, has become a mainstay for the filmmaking community and a celebration of world cinema, accepting submissions from over 45 countries and screening over 250 movies.

There are panel discussions where top filmmakers discuss their work in all aspects of movie-making, from writing the screenplay to composing the musical score. February 2007 was the 22nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and over 60,000 people attended. For avid film buffs and aspiring movie makers planning a vacation in Santa Barbara, the first week of February would be the time to show up, and the weather is still as balmy and mild as a spring day practically everywhere else. The festival also hosts several competitions, the winners of the grand prize more often than not predicting Oscar selections. In addition are several student competitions, one of which is the 10-10-10, in which 10 students make 10 films over the 10-day festival period.

The grand Hotel Santa Barbara, located on State St., provides the headquarters for the festival, as well as the venue for many of the lectures and panel discussions. Six movie theatres in the downtown area screen the movies. The Lobero theatre was originally built as an opera house, but was converted to a movie theatre in 1924. The Arlington theatre is the largest of all the theatres, with seating for 2000. It was built in 1931, and its architecture is a spectacular blend of different Spanish styles. All six theatres are in the downtown area and are in easy walking distance from each other.

Santa Barbara Beaches

Santa Barbara County covers 100 miles of gorgeous golden sandy shoreline, and the geography of the area makes for some great beaches each with their own characteristics. The weather and water temperature is much warmer than the more northern California beaches, but still doesn’t reach Caribbean temperatures.

With the Santa Ynez mountain range so close by, the Santa Barbara beaches have spectacular views all round. El Capitan beach and state park is a long, wild stretch of coastland, where you can hike and explore the bluffs or spend the day swimming, walking along the beach or just hanging out catching a tan and maybe spot the odd dolphin. This beach is quieter than most, which means fewer sources of entertainment around; it is more for a day on the wild coast of California.

On the other end of the spectrum of Santa Barbara beaches is Leadbetter beach, which is located much closer to the center of town. This beach offers everything and is especially popular with windsurfers, surfers, and people who just like to walk along the golden sands. Every week during the summer a different sports event takes place at this Santa Barbara beach, and the grassy lawn area next to it has plenty of barbecue pits to make a popular picnicking area.

East Beach is the Santa Barbara beach to head for if you are a volleyball player, since it is world famous on the beach volleyball circuit and home to many prestigious matches. East beach is also the beach to head for if you are interested in practically anything else; it is within easy walking distance of the Santa Barbara zoo, there are great restaurants nearby and a skate rental place should you prefer rollerblading to a walk along the wharf. If you are a surfer you would probably want to head to Rincon Beach Park, one of the best surfing spots in California and known throughout the world. In winter the shoreline is pretty rocky, but by summertime ocean currents deposit more sand, making it a great beach for swimming too.

Butterfly beach is one of the few Santa Barbara beaches that actually faces west, making it a great spot to sit and watch the sunset. It also has great views of the city and the nearby wharf, and it is located in an exclusive neighborhood with a quiet, peaceful atmosphere.

Some things to remember for your day at the Santa Barbara beaches: cool breezes from the ocean mask the heat and power of the sun, but remember it is still there and put plenty of sunscreens on, and often. Many locals can be spotted wearing hats, as they offer better protection. Although Santa Barbara has an amazing stretch of coastland, the offshore oil rigs sometimes leak, so a pair of those rubber sandals is recommended in case you come across some tar on the sand. In that case, watch out for your beach towel and clothes.