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Three colorful cocktails with a dram of whiskey on a bar.
Cocktails from Loquita in Santa Barbara.
Loquita

14 Essential Cocktail Spots in Santa Barbara

There’s more to drink in this beachside town than wine

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Cocktails from Loquita in Santa Barbara.
| Loquita

Even wine lovers who make the trek to Santa Barbara for a vino-cation will want to take a cocktail break. Fortunately, the coastal city has a growing offering of watering holes where tourists and locals alike can enjoy a stiff drink. There are enough craft cocktail specialists and old favorites in and around this beachside town to make for a quality bar-hopping experience. From Pickletinis to fresh margaritas, here now are 14 places to drink well in Santa Barbara.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Harry's Plaza Cafe

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No craft cocktails to be found at this upper State Street institution, but there are plenty of ‘tinis in giant martini glasses. Not only does Harry’s call itself “home of the very generous drinks,” but it’s reputed to serve some of the strongest in town. So order up a martini (Lemon Drop or Dirty) and settle into one of the red leather booths, because it’s going to be a bumpy night. 

The Good Lion

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This downtown neighborhood cocktail bar, which is part of the Good Lion Hospitality group of bars, relies heavily on seasonal produce from local farms. Its short list of cocktails is regularly freshened up, but the bar continues to serve up new favorites, such as a coffee negroni with cold brew to a swizzle with the house rum blend and green pineapple.

The Good Lion
The Good Lion
The Good Lion [Official Photo]

Sama Sama Kitchen

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Sama Sama Kitchen creates cocktails with a compelling mix of Indonesian ingredients and farm-fresh produce. The 14-drink list is a mix of seasonal specials and signature mainstays that will appeal to both the adventurous and the uninitiated. Choose from a lemon basil G&T or the popular Jamu margarita with Italian orange liqueur, pineapple, and turmeric.

Sama Sama Kitchen
Sama Sama Kitchen

Milk & Honey

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Stop by Milk & Honey for award-winning caliber cocktails. Owner Alvaro Rojas — who’s also behind Alcazar Tapas — has won many competitions and has been credited with furthering the local craft cocktail movement since 2000. His menu, which is categorized by spirit for easy perusal, will appeal to every type of drinker from pickleback shooters to sherry cocktail lovers. There’s even a “Fauxito” for teetotalers.

milk & honey
milk & honey
milk & honey [Official Photo]

The Pickle Room

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For a taste of Santa Barbara history, stop by The Pickle Room located next to Three Pickles Deli. This Presidio District neighborhood bar occupies one of the few buildings left of the city’s Chinatown. Here was where Jimmy’s Oriental Garden Bar served faithful locals for nearly six decades. Now it’s where bar flies and tourists, looking to escape bustling State Street, knock back $10 Pickletinis. But if martinis with pickle juice aren’t your jam, consider house cocktails and classics, such as Singapore Slings, Mai Tais, and Negronis. Drinks are affordably priced under $13, but score $2 off drinks and food during the daily happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Riviera Bar

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For no-nonsense drinking and cocktails under $14, the Riviera Bar, which occupies the former Sportsman space in the Edwards and Plunkett-designed building off State Street, serves up familiar favorites, such as Old Fashioneds and martinis. Even its easy-drinking house cocktails don’t stray too much into “mixology” territory, instead offering twists on classics, such as white negronis and ginger Pimm’s.

La Paloma Cafe

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For those desiring a chill neighborhood cafe with refreshing margaritas, there’s La Paloma Cafe on the corner of Anacapa and Ortega streets in downtown Santa Barbara. The original La Paloma Cafe, which occupied the space from 1940 to 1983, was a traditional Mexican restaurant. This one, updated by the Acme Hospitality group, focuses on Mexican as well as Indigenous and Spanish dishes and agave spirits for its cocktails. Specialty margaritas range from the Tamarind Dreamin with ghost tequila and tamarind to the Hibiscus Margarita with hibiscus and strawberry shrub. And don’t miss brunch here, with options such as a bloody Maria and Mexican coffee.

Venus in Furs Bar + Bottle Shop

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Even though Venus in Furs on Cota Street is a natural wine bar and bottle shop, it also offers an array of next-level wine cocktails that go beyond sangrias and spritzes. The popular Black Leather cocktail made with amaro, sweet vermouth and lemon will appeal to wine nerds who love Manhattans and Bitter Giuseppes. While Mai Tai lovers will be intrigued by the “wine tai” Personality Crisis, a mix of dry vermouth, cappalleti, lemon, orgeat, demerara, and Punt y Mes.

Shaker Mill

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This Old World Havana-inspired cocktail bar located on lower State Street has got all the fun libations: a variety of punches, blended frozen cocktails, fizzes and stirred drinks. Here’s where one would find a Mango Lassi cocktail, an espresso martini available as a shot and even a boozy Arroz Con Pollo cocktail made with bourbon, rum, coconut horchata and mezcal pechuga.

Test Pilot

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The island-inspired Funk Zone spot evokes a warm vacay feel with its ‘jungalow’ decor, tiki masks, and banana leaf prints. Grab a seat at a tiki head bar stool and order a Painkiller slushy before perusing the menu. Because with over 20 cocktails on the list, it might take a while to decide. Is it going to be the Oaxacan Dead, a zombie variation with mezcal and aged tequila or the Thai iced tea cocktail with Thai tea-infused rum and passion fruit pearls?

Test Pilot
Test Pilot

The Lark

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The Lark, which is located in the vibrant Funk Zone, has been a destination for fine food and wine since it opened in 2013. Bar manager Alberto Castillo and team create a new cocktail menu every season, celebrating the very best of the Central Coast. An intriguing example off their current list is the Yankee Point daiquiri with a rum blend, strawberry and sumac.

The Lark Santa Barbara
The Lark Santa Barbara

Loquita Santa Barbara

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Loquita leans into the town’s Spanish history and Mediterranean climate with its decor, wines, and dishes, which include tapas and paella. But the bar program with its gin tonicas, farmers market fresh sangria, and Spanish vermouth selection completes the Iberian vibe, especially when the drinks are enjoyed on the restaurant’s beautiful bougainvillea-dressed patio — the best seats in the house.

Three colorful cocktails with a dram of whiskey on a bar.
Cocktails at Loquita.
Loquita

Santo Mezcal

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This hip Mexican restaurant’s bar emphasizes mezcal and tequila, but it also offers cocktails that explore other spirits, such as the Riviera Hermosa made with bourbon and housemade blood orange sage-thyme syrup with a float of local pinot noir. But its wide range of agave-based offerings should be explored. Try one of the many margarita variations with Fresno mezcal or Serrano tequila or dig into a mezcal flight. 

Santo Mezcal
Santo Mezcal

Devon Espinosa — formerly of LA’s Tasting Kitchen, Ink and the Church Key — has brought his creative cocktail-making skills to the Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. As the hotel’s beverage director, Espinosa designed the drink menus for the whole property, from pool bar to in-room dining. But the Moroccan-dressed lobby bar, Djinn Library Bar, is where to drop in for well-crafted sippers with Instagram-ready presentations. The blueberry bourbon drink Puff, Puff, Pass is served on a moss bed enclosed in a smoke-filled glass cloche, literally ready to appear in a puff of smoke.

Smoky purple cocktail presented with greens.
Djinn.
Djinn

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Harry's Plaza Cafe

No craft cocktails to be found at this upper State Street institution, but there are plenty of ‘tinis in giant martini glasses. Not only does Harry’s call itself “home of the very generous drinks,” but it’s reputed to serve some of the strongest in town. So order up a martini (Lemon Drop or Dirty) and settle into one of the red leather booths, because it’s going to be a bumpy night. 

The Good Lion

The Good Lion
The Good Lion
The Good Lion [Official Photo]

This downtown neighborhood cocktail bar, which is part of the Good Lion Hospitality group of bars, relies heavily on seasonal produce from local farms. Its short list of cocktails is regularly freshened up, but the bar continues to serve up new favorites, such as a coffee negroni with cold brew to a swizzle with the house rum blend and green pineapple.

The Good Lion
The Good Lion
The Good Lion [Official Photo]

Sama Sama Kitchen

Sama Sama Kitchen
Sama Sama Kitchen

Sama Sama Kitchen creates cocktails with a compelling mix of Indonesian ingredients and farm-fresh produce. The 14-drink list is a mix of seasonal specials and signature mainstays that will appeal to both the adventurous and the uninitiated. Choose from a lemon basil G&T or the popular Jamu margarita with Italian orange liqueur, pineapple, and turmeric.

Sama Sama Kitchen
Sama Sama Kitchen

Milk & Honey

milk & honey
milk & honey
milk & honey [Official Photo]

Stop by Milk & Honey for award-winning caliber cocktails. Owner Alvaro Rojas — who’s also behind Alcazar Tapas — has won many competitions and has been credited with furthering the local craft cocktail movement since 2000. His menu, which is categorized by spirit for easy perusal, will appeal to every type of drinker from pickleback shooters to sherry cocktail lovers. There’s even a “Fauxito” for teetotalers.

milk & honey
milk & honey
milk & honey [Official Photo]

The Pickle Room

For a taste of Santa Barbara history, stop by The Pickle Room located next to Three Pickles Deli. This Presidio District neighborhood bar occupies one of the few buildings left of the city’s Chinatown. Here was where Jimmy’s Oriental Garden Bar served faithful locals for nearly six decades. Now it’s where bar flies and tourists, looking to escape bustling State Street, knock back $10 Pickletinis. But if martinis with pickle juice aren’t your jam, consider house cocktails and classics, such as Singapore Slings, Mai Tais, and Negronis. Drinks are affordably priced under $13, but score $2 off drinks and food during the daily happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Riviera Bar

For no-nonsense drinking and cocktails under $14, the Riviera Bar, which occupies the former Sportsman space in the Edwards and Plunkett-designed building off State Street, serves up familiar favorites, such as Old Fashioneds and martinis. Even its easy-drinking house cocktails don’t stray too much into “mixology” territory, instead offering twists on classics, such as white negronis and ginger Pimm’s.

La Paloma Cafe

For those desiring a chill neighborhood cafe with refreshing margaritas, there’s La Paloma Cafe on the corner of Anacapa and Ortega streets in downtown Santa Barbara. The original La Paloma Cafe, which occupied the space from 1940 to 1983, was a traditional Mexican restaurant. This one, updated by the Acme Hospitality group, focuses on Mexican as well as Indigenous and Spanish dishes and agave spirits for its cocktails. Specialty margaritas range from the Tamarind Dreamin with ghost tequila and tamarind to the Hibiscus Margarita with hibiscus and strawberry shrub. And don’t miss brunch here, with options such as a bloody Maria and Mexican coffee.

Venus in Furs Bar + Bottle Shop

Even though Venus in Furs on Cota Street is a natural wine bar and bottle shop, it also offers an array of next-level wine cocktails that go beyond sangrias and spritzes. The popular Black Leather cocktail made with amaro, sweet vermouth and lemon will appeal to wine nerds who love Manhattans and Bitter Giuseppes. While Mai Tai lovers will be intrigued by the “wine tai” Personality Crisis, a mix of dry vermouth, cappalleti, lemon, orgeat, demerara, and Punt y Mes.

Shaker Mill

This Old World Havana-inspired cocktail bar located on lower State Street has got all the fun libations: a variety of punches, blended frozen cocktails, fizzes and stirred drinks. Here’s where one would find a Mango Lassi cocktail, an espresso martini available as a shot and even a boozy Arroz Con Pollo cocktail made with bourbon, rum, coconut horchata and mezcal pechuga.

Test Pilot

Test Pilot
Test Pilot

The island-inspired Funk Zone spot evokes a warm vacay feel with its ‘jungalow’ decor, tiki masks, and banana leaf prints. Grab a seat at a tiki head bar stool and order a Painkiller slushy before perusing the menu. Because with over 20 cocktails on the list, it might take a while to decide. Is it going to be the Oaxacan Dead, a zombie variation with mezcal and aged tequila or the Thai iced tea cocktail with Thai tea-infused rum and passion fruit pearls?

Test Pilot
Test Pilot

The Lark

The Lark Santa Barbara
The Lark Santa Barbara

The Lark, which is located in the vibrant Funk Zone, has been a destination for fine food and wine since it opened in 2013. Bar manager Alberto Castillo and team create a new cocktail menu every season, celebrating the very best of the Central Coast. An intriguing example off their current list is the Yankee Point daiquiri with a rum blend, strawberry and sumac.

The Lark Santa Barbara
The Lark Santa Barbara

Loquita Santa Barbara

Three colorful cocktails with a dram of whiskey on a bar.
Cocktails at Loquita.
Loquita

Loquita leans into the town’s Spanish history and Mediterranean climate with its decor, wines, and dishes, which include tapas and paella. But the bar program with its gin tonicas, farmers market fresh sangria, and Spanish vermouth selection completes the Iberian vibe, especially when the drinks are enjoyed on the restaurant’s beautiful bougainvillea-dressed patio — the best seats in the house.

Three colorful cocktails with a dram of whiskey on a bar.
Cocktails at Loquita.
Loquita

Santo Mezcal

Santo Mezcal
Santo Mezcal

This hip Mexican restaurant’s bar emphasizes mezcal and tequila, but it also offers cocktails that explore other spirits, such as the Riviera Hermosa made with bourbon and housemade blood orange sage-thyme syrup with a float of local pinot noir. But its wide range of agave-based offerings should be explored. Try one of the many margarita variations with Fresno mezcal or Serrano tequila or dig into a mezcal flight. 

Santo Mezcal
Santo Mezcal

Djinn

Smoky purple cocktail presented with greens.
Djinn.
Djinn

Devon Espinosa — formerly of LA’s Tasting Kitchen, Ink and the Church Key — has brought his creative cocktail-making skills to the Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. As the hotel’s beverage director, Espinosa designed the drink menus for the whole property, from pool bar to in-room dining. But the Moroccan-dressed lobby bar, Djinn Library Bar, is where to drop in for well-crafted sippers with Instagram-ready presentations. The blueberry bourbon drink Puff, Puff, Pass is served on a moss bed enclosed in a smoke-filled glass cloche, literally ready to appear in a puff of smoke.

Smoky purple cocktail presented with greens.
Djinn.
Djinn

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