Just a two-hour drive from most of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara might be the best food and wine destination for Angelenos looking to get out of town. Between the incredible produce bounty of the Central Coast, innovative winemakers of Santa Ynez Valley, talented cooks trained in top kitchens across the state, and legitimately better weather than LA, Santa Barbara makes for an ideal weekend getaway. Here now is a handy guide to one explosive day of eating that showcases Santa Barbara’s strengths: world-class wine, standout specialty foods, and effortlessly great restaurants worth driving for.
8 a.m.: Oat Bakery and Panaderia Veronica
Count longtime Santa Barbara resident Oprah Winfrey among Oat Bakery’s numerous fans, who swear by the organic bakery’s breads and pastries. Bakers use organic oats and unbleached flour to produce focaccia loaves, date almond shitake rolls, date almond bread, and even gluten-free options. But if you’re craving pan dulce from a traditional Mexican bakery, Panaderia Veronica is a two-block walk from the beach. It’s cash-only and opens at 5 a.m. until everything sells out. Opt for one of the many sugar-covered conchas, or the savory chicken and green chile tamales. Oat Bakery: 5 W Haley Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. Panaderia Veronica: —Mona Holmes
10:30 a.m.: Lokum
On the pedestrian-friendly section of Downtown State Street, prepare to be dazzled by Lokum. The display case is colorful and packed with everything sweet. If you need a quick hit of more caffeine, try an impossibly strong Turkish coffee or tea in the area of the shop. Then dive into the Turkish delight, which has over a dozen flavors from apple-hazelnut to the more traditional lemon or mint. (The treat also travels well for at-home consumption and can easily be shipped as a gift.) Make sure to order the orange and hazelnut cream coated in crunchy cereal and bits of hazelnut. Lokum also caters to the plant-based crowd with options that omit gelatin. Now, onto the baklava. Eat these sticky, crispy, honey-filled filo pastries as quickly as possible. If you’re heading further up the coast, there’s a second location in San Luis Obispo. 1019 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101 —Mona Holmes
1 p.m.: Bettina
Over the past few years, one of the most consistent and talked about restaurants in Santa Barbara has been Bettina, a gem of a wood-fired pizza place that pulls blistered pies out of a roaring oven from day to evening. The sprawling outdoor patio, tucked into a shopping center, works as an ideal place to sip prosecco or Sandhi pinot noir rosé while picking at ‘nduja-stuffed dates or meatballs topped with pistachio salsa verde. Pizzas comprise the bulk of the lunch menu, leavened naturally over two days, mozzarella hand-pulled in the kitchen, and produce from local markets. Opt for something like a seasonal asparagus pie with shredded spring garlic and braised leeks, or go classic like the pepperoni, riddled with crisp meaty rounds and laced with chile oil and wildflower honey. 1014 Coast Village Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93108 —Matthew Kang
3 p.m.: Wine Tasting
Santa Barbara, only a 30-minute or so drive from the heart of the vineyard-rich Santa Ynez Valley region, has its own teeming wine culture for travelers to invest in. If you’re short on hours, skip the drive north to Melville Vineyards in Lompoc and visit its satellite tasting lounge on State Street, one of the main veins in the city that pulses with bars, restaurants, and tasting rooms. There, you can try Melville’s signature Santa Barbara syrah and pinot noir wines paired with its selection of cheeses and charcuterie.
If you have time to spare and can swing north of Santa Barbara proper, consider touring the picturesque towns of Santa Ynez and Los Olivos by foot (both are pedestrian friendly with winery-packed main strips). In Santa Ynez, ramble along to Roblar Winery where you can enjoy your tasting on its large, ethereal outdoor patio. Carhartt Family Wines in Los Olivos offers a more rustic experience in its log cabinesque tasting grounds. Or you can book a visit to Salon de Refusés in Buellton, a wine bar housing cool-kid natural wine brands like L’arge D’oor and Scotty Boy Wines. —Nicole Adlman
7 p.m.: Loquita
With so much Spanish architecture around Santa Barbara, thanks to the historic Mission, it makes sense for Spanish cuisine to shine in this city. Loquita has been one of Santa Barbara’s most consistent restaurants thanks to well-executed tapas like pan con tomate and croquetas to patatas bravas and tortillas served in a charming space covered with colorful tiles and tasteful wooden tables. There’s no fuss with the food, just reliable, shareable plates that put a smile on your face. Four paellas grace the menu, from a vegetable version with trumpet mushrooms and local snap peas to a seafood one with grilled local squid, mussels, and prawns. Wash it all down with one of the city’s earliest gin and tonic menus, such as spiced gin with elderflower or the Maravillosa, topped with blueberry yuzu foam. 202 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101 —Matthew Kang
9 p.m.: Tondi Gelato
Towards the end of the day, Tondi Gelato is an essential stop in Santa Barbara. Open since 2021, owner James ‘Tondi’ Haskins chose a section of State Street where bikes and pedestrians have the right of way. Haskins believes every gelato should be made fresh, often using herbs and fruits directly from State Street’s weekly farmers market. Those ingredients are brought straight to Tondi Gelato’s production area right inside the shop. Every batch is produced daily with vegan or full-cream gelato options, including pistachio, salted caramel, lemon, strawberry, or the dreamy hazelnut and chocolate. Tondi Gelato stays open until 10 p.m., so settle into a chair in the middle of State Street to enjoy. 401 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara, CA 93101 —Mona Holmes