A Design Lover’s Field Guide to Santa Barbara
Everything from beautiful views to the best burrito you'll ever eat
Published Jul 1, 2019 7:00 AM
When you only have days (or hours) to explore a new city, Domino’s Field Guide is a need-to-know edit of the coolest bars, hotels, restaurants, galleries, and boutiques in the top design cities
Sun, surf, and serious style abound in this idyllic enclave. Read on for the best of the California coastal town (often called the American Riviera) and surrounding area, curated by Santa Barbara local and Domino contributor, Kerstin Czarra.
Where to Stay
Canary Hotel Interior designer Michael Smith blended touches of Spanish, Moroccan, and California design throughout this boutique property, situated in the heart of Old Town Santa Barbara. Borrow a hotel bike to explore the nearby shops and cafés.
Belmond El Encanto Hidden away on a hillside with sweeping ocean views, the site was once popular with plein air artists in the 1920s. Today guests lounge by the zero-edge pool, or wander the olive-tree–lined pathways that lead to the Craftsman-style suites and cozy bungalows.
El Capitan Canyon About 20 miles north of Santa Barbara, El Capitan is located in a seaside pocket on more than 300 acres along the Pacific. The nature-immersed accommodations include cabins and luxury tents on raised wood decks. Roughing it has never looked better from the heated swimming pool.
San Ysidro RanchA former citrus farm, this recently reopened Spanish Mission resort sits at the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Private cottages come complete with laid-back luxuries—think: stone fireplaces and outdoor hot tubs—and the price tag to match.
Where to Eat
Jeannine’sJoin the lazy brunch crowd on the sun-dappled terrace at this Montecito village institution. Any stress from the long order line is quickly washed away with a fresh peach Bellini. Tuck into the Norwegian Benedict or lemon poppy-seed pancakes and be sure to grab some pineapple coconut scones to go.
C’est Cheese Locals and picnickers alike have flocked to this fromagerie for 15 years to sample the more than 100 varieties of cheese from around the world. You can also pick up Spanish jamón, imported olives, and wines that pair nicely with an Époisses or English Stilton.
Loquita One of the hottest tables in town—thanks to Spanish tapas with a twist, like pork belly with kimchi paella. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, from the whitewashed modernist dining room to the terracotta patio surrounded by jacaranda trees, bougainvillea, and flowering vines.
Olivers If Nancy Meyers set a movie in a plant-based restaurant, this would be it. The upscale vegetarian eatery epitomizes indoor-outdoor living with a warm wood dining area that spills out onto a tree-lined patio. Locals and weekenders rave over the Kung Pao cauliflower, jackfruit tacos, and cocktails—all made with restorative cold-press juices and kombucha.
On the Alley Relaxed and family friendly, try this popular salty-dog fave located in the Santa Barbara harbor. Kids go nuts for the waffle fingers and burritos with tater tots, and parents can opt for a chopped sesame salmon salad or clam chowder. Sit outside to watch the gently bobbing boats.
Where to Shop
Channel Islands Surfboards Opened in 1969 by legendary board designer-shaper Al Merrick, the shop continues to masterfully craft world-class surfboards for every level. Even nonsurfers have been known to pick up pieces to display in their homes like sculpture.
Garde At this design store–cum–apartment rental, you can stay the night and purchase what you like. Every piece of California minimalist design, from settee to toothbrush, is for sale. Don’t miss the Silkie chickens that run free in the side garden.
Jenni Kayne Kayne virtually created the modern, laid-back luxe look. Her Santa Barbara outpost has a curated collection of the designer’s staples: slip dresses, cozy sweaters, and sleek suede mules that essentially make up the local uniform. Her new home line includes creamy alpaca pillows, ceramic vessels, and linen napkins.
Mate Gallery This gallery is a slice of coastal New England in the heart of California. Owners Matt Albiani and Rob Brand’s shipshape shop is filled with vintage textiles, oil paintings, tattered sail flags, and, if you’re in need, an old copy of The Official Preppy Handbook.
Raoul Textiles Owner Sally McQuillan’s hand-printed textiles on fine Belgian linen use vibrant color and unexpected patterns inspired by traditional designs found in Mexico, Indonesia, India, and Africa. The shop also stocks a selection of furniture from George Smith, Janus et Cie, and its own Engle & Deutch line. Take home a charming tea towel or tote bag as a souvenir.
Tecolote Bookshop A local treasure, Tecolote has been open for nearly a century—and has the huge literary selection to prove it. The worn chairs are the perfect place to peruse a stack of best-sellers or hear a writer speak at one of the author events. The store is also happy to track down an out-of-print gem for you.
William Laman Enter this clapboard cottage and browse the tiny rooms filled with elegant furniture—from Eames chairs to seagrass stools—in addition to lighting, garden planters, and tabletop pieces that are, in the owners’ own words, “not what you need, but what you want.”
What to Do
Channel Islands There are endless ways to explore this eight-island archipelago off the coast of Santa Barbara. Enjoy a whale-watching tour, hike miles of scenic trails, or navigate the islands via kayak.
The Funk Zone Locals–including fashion designer Heidi Merrick (see more of her picks below)–flock to this downtown Santa Barbara neighborhood for its mix of boutique hotels, restaurants, art galleries, and farmhouse-meets-industrial-style tasting rooms. Browse the mid-century pieces and vintage designer accessories at the Blue Door, then sip some local Viognier at the Valley Project.
Lotusland Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, this botanical wonderland is the creative vision of singer-turned-gardener Ganna Walska. Walking the property is like stepping back into another era, and it hosts a dizzying array of exotic plants. Last-minute types, take note: You need to make a reservation in advance.
Montecito Country Mart An old-fashioned town square with real style cred. Browse the chic home goods at Hudson Grace, buttery leather bags at Kendall Conrad, and seaworthy accessories at Mate Gallery. If hunger strikes, order a slice at Bettina pizzeria, designed by architect Barbara Bestor, or drop by Merci, the new artisanal café from pastry chef and Spago alumna Elizabeth Colling.
Rose Story Farm This magical 15-acre farm is brimming with 120 varieties of roses, interwoven with avocado and lemon trees. Take a floral-arranging class and leave with one of its sweet-smelling rosebushes.
Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market Warning: This may ruin all produce buying for you. From freakishly large strawberries to otherworldly artichokes, farmers bring their finest fruits, vegetables, and much more to this Saturday-only market. Pick up your favorites, along with fresh bread and local honey, for a sublime picnic.
In the greater Santa Barbara area, there’s a sandy spot for everyone. Take a stroll on Butterfly Beach and stay for the stunning sunset. Set up a surf lesson at the beginner-friendly Padaro Beach just off Santa Claus Lane. Head to Arroyo Burro Beach, also known as Hendry’s Beach, to walk your pup on the flat sandscape. For those wanting to soak up the scene, Rincon in Carpinteria is the locals’ surf break, as well as a breathtaking place to spend an afternoon.
Passing Through Carpinteria? Here Are Heidi Merrick’s Suggestions:
The Apiary Come here for amazing meads and ciders. The owners taught my husband how to brew up a batch, and they sell a vintage made from our apples called the Weekend Farmer, which is named after us.
Beach Liquor Don’t miss this spot on the main drag for the most delicious burritos you’ll ever eat. I love the carnitas with homemade pico de gallo. And it’s in a liquor store so, you know, two birds.
Rori’s Ice Cream The owner used to be a food stylist, but now homemade ice cream is her passion. The flavors are insane—we love the lemon curd and fresh mint patty.
Carpinteria Bluffs A few years back, people in the town raised money to buy and preserve the bluffs and create a boardwalk trail—a beautiful demonstration of the community and their love of nature.
The Farm Cart This is my friend’s organic cart in the middle of town. You can get anything—even oranges from a neighbor’s tree. The farm boxes are filled with strawberries, fresh cilantro, and whatever’s in season. They include recipes, too.
Rincon Brewery Rincon makes the best burger I’ve ever had, topped with local Coleman Farm lettuce and thin-cut fried onions. I go late at night with friends after an event.