Weekend Getaway: Santa Barbara

Where to eat, drink and stay in the coastal town

In Santa Barbara, about an hour and a half up the coast from Los Angeles, a different way of life awaits. Your pulse slows down, salt-water air fills your lungs and the good life waits: sun, sand, surf.

And, if you're lucky, tacos, seafood and wine are all on the beautiful, picture-perfect horizon. Here, the ideal weekend in Santa Barbara, from breakfast chilaquiles to rooftop cocktails.

Breakfast

Start the day at Renaud's Patisserie in downtown Santa Barbara. The tiny shop is filled with macarons, éclairs and the like, but the line out the door is for the perfectly flaky, buttery croissants. If morning decadence is your thing, go for the almond croissants ($3), topped with a sugary crust and sliced almonds.

For lighter fare, roll into Backyard Bowls for acai bowls ($8 to $12) layered with organic fruit and toppings such as local honey, bee pollen and almonds.

If south of the border is more your speed, order the chilaquiles ($8.50) at La Super-Rica Taquería. The hometown institution (and a favorite of iconic resident Julia Child) is where out-of-towners and longtime loyalists queue up for tacos. Don't miss the Monday special: crunchy tortillas chips doused with fragrant tomato sauce, cream and grilled green onions.

Lunch

No trip to Santa Barbara is complete without tacos, seeing as the city is chock-full of taquerías. We're partial to the rajas tacos ($4), laden with gooey cheese and caramelized chile pasilla and onions, at La Super-Rica. Ask for extra fresh-off-the-presses tortillas for a one-plate meal, and pair with the agua fresca of the day.

If eyeballs and brains are your thing, head to no-frills Lilly's, where the lines are short. The condensed menu lists the usual asada and adobada, but go for the cachete (beef cheek) and the chewier lengua (tongue).

Shop

With dozens of farms around, Santa Barbara's weekly markets are bustling year-round. Every Tuesday and Saturday, chefs and locals shop the stalls of produce, nuts, oils and more at Downtown's Farmers' Market.

The newly opened Santa Barbara Public Market is the area's answer to SF's Ferry Building or Napa's Oxbow Public Market. Start at Culture Counter Co. Snack on a cheese cone ($5)—meatlovers can go for prosciutto or salumi (both $4)—a sampler of five slices. Continue on to Belcampo Meat Co. for cuts of lamb, pork, poultry and beef straight from its own ranch. If it's lunchtime, sit down to the Belcampo burger ($12.50) with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese. And make a stop at Wine + Beer. The shelves are stocked with bottles to take home, including selections from the nearby Santa Ynez Valley, and the tasting bar pours glasses and flights.

Wine Tasting

Late afternoon or early evening, hang around at Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant for wine tastings and pairings. Try the omakase half glasses poured at the bar and served in flights.

Dinner

Spend a romantic night out at the go-to for seafood and farmers' market specials, The Hungry Cat. Begin with raw bar selects such as cherrystone clams ($2 each) and peel 'n' eat shrimp ($19), then continue with merguez and littleneck-mixed Lamb 'n' Clams ($23).

Newer on the scene is The Lark. Here, comfort foods meet seasonal ingredients, so the wedge salad ($13) is made with Little Gems, chicory-glazed bacon and spicy pecans, and the housemade gnocchi ($24) is served with Dungeness crab, grilled corn, jalapeño and preserved lemon.

Dessert

Off downtown's State Street, McConnell's Fine Ice Creams scoops seasonal flavors made with local ingredients, organic eggs and milk and cream from grass-fed cows. Favorites include Eureka lemon swirled with jammed marionberries, Santa Barbara strawberries covered with Guittard chocolate and, for fall, pumpkin pie.

Stay

Four Seasons's The Biltmore is a must for traditionalists. The quintessential Santa Barbara stay is a stunner, from the colonial Spanish architecture and lush gardens to the picturesque sunsets and (dog-friendly) manicured grounds overlooking Butterfly Beach.

Lovers can stay at Bacara, where the waterfront resort's private beach, dual pools and bluffs-meet-the-seascape means never having to leave.

For those that want to be in the center of it all, Canary Hotel is in the heart of downtown. The Spanish–meets–Art Deco lodging also has a rooftop lounge for sunset cocktails and a restaurant, Finch & Fork, that far exceeds standard hotel fare.