The 15 Best Restaurants & Bars in Santa Barbara

Where to eat and drink in this Central Coast hideaway
Best Restaurants & Bars in Santa Barbara, CA
The sea urchin carbonara at Barbareño | Photo: Blake Bronstad

Now that more and more chefs have been discovering the Central Coast hideaway that is Santa Barbara, there's been no shortage of places to eat. From tapas bars to taquerias, these are the must-try restaurants to grab a table at.

Where to Have Breakfast

Helena Avenue Bakery

Go for head chef Adam Shoebridge's grit bowl speckled with black pepper and Grana Padano cheese before picking up a few (or all) of head baker Avital Rachmany's expertly made carbs, which run the gamut from morning buns begging to be pulled apart to crusty sourdough loaves.


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The Shop Kitchen

The biscuits baked fresh each morning at this community favorite are put to use in gut-busting breakfasts, like carnitas eggs Benedict or the YOLO—a pair of crispy chicken cutlets topped with an egg and surrounded by homemade sausage gravy.


French expat Pierre Henry isn't cutting any corners at his café and viennoiserie. The namesake brioche is a 15-hour process, while his showstopping croissants, which are three days in the making, rival anything you'll find across the Atlantic. 

Santa Barbara's Best Lunch Spots

Finch & Fork

There are more locals than overnight guests heading to this restaurant in the lobby of the Kimpton Canary hotel downtown. Do as every other table does and start with an order of chef James Siao's bright-pink, beet-pickled deviled eggs that are topped with smoked trout. 


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Brophy Bros. Santa Barbara

No beach town dining experience is complete without at least one (admittedly tourist- and seagull-filled) seaside shack. Brophy Bros. on Harbor Way has everything you could ever ask for in a restaurant of its nature: bowls of thick chowder, breaded crab cakes and, during brunch, killer Bloody Marys 

Mony's Tacos

After you've waited in line for La Super-Rica (Julia Child's own personal favorite taqueria), stop by this spot in the Funk Zone, where the long, winding list of meats includes off-cuts such as beef tongue, tripe and pork, and the condiment bar goes beyond pico de gallo with a zesty pistachio salsa. 

Santa Barbara Public Market

The food hall trend is taking over smaller cities, too. Slurp up a bowl of Taiwanese noodles at Empty Bowl and grab a scoop of honey almond crunch ice cream at Rori's Creamery before choosing from 41 craft beers at the indoor beer garden.

Ring in Happy Hour

The Good Lion

Aside from its Greatest Hits list of classics (like a house old-fashioned and Montenegro daiquiri), this bar's rotating cocktail menu makes it rare to slide into a leather banquette with the same cocktail twice. Walk into happy hour early enough, and you'll be greeted with the complimentary punch of the day.


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The Urban Wine Trail

You won't need to keep an Uber on standby if you want to go on a daylong tour of Santa Barbara's best wineries. The Urban Wine Trail brings together nearly 30 tasting rooms, all within walking distance of each other.

Santa Barbara's Best Places for Dinner


This OG of wine country dining rooms has been a staple long before Thomas Keller's brasserie of the same name came along a few years later. As expected, there's an extensive wine list that makes it easy to find the perfect pairing for your duo of duck involving a seared, maple-glazed breast and a tender confit leg. 

The Lark

A celebrated gem, The Lark dishes food that is just as exciting as when Jason Paluska became one of the first chefs to make the transition from a big city. House-made porchetta is adorned with roast strawberries, West Coast oysters are bracingly refreshing thanks to a tangerine granita and local lettuce is dressed with spicy pecans, glazed bacon and smoked blue cheese. 


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The "nomad Italian" food you'll find at this breathtaking, oceanfront restaurant draws inspiration from countries well beyond Italy's borders. Spit-roasted chicken is flavored with Tunisian harissa paste, while Middle Eastern za'atar is used on potatoes served with romesco sauce.


Once you grab a coveted table, order the reinvented Santa Maria-style tri-tip cooked sous-vide for 24 hours, or the uni carbonara tinted with squid ink. The duck-fat beignets with bacon custard and whole-grain mustard caramel are an unorthodox but highly memorable dessert.   

Smithy Kitchen + Bar

The stunning, backyard patio is the place to be to enjoy chef Lauren Herman's down-to-earth hits. Save room after your bavette steak with caramelized onion butter for a dessert from pastry chef (and Herman's wife) Christina Olufson, like her blood orange vacherin with candied kumquat ice cream.


Kick back with a Spanish-inspired cocktail (or two) as you dive into your tapas-laden spread. Order extras of the chorizo-wrapped, blue cheese-stuffed dates and don't be taken aback by how silky and tender the kitchen manages to get the octopus with black garlic aioli.

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