Guide to Santa Barbara: 10 Must-Try Restaurants and Coffee Shops
We’ve been to Santa Barbara a few times now. One of our favorite things about Santa Barbara (besides the scenic beaches, gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture, vineyards, and all-around perfect weather) is the incredible food offered all around town. We’ve visited tons of great coffee shops, breweries, brunch spots, and nice restaurants during our trips to Santa Barbara, so I figured it’s probably time to write a guide.
The toughest part about trip planning is deciding where to eat. So, we put this list together to help you navigate around town easier. Santa Barbara is a beach town where you can get truly terrific seafood, but the town offers much more than that! In this blog you will find my absolute favorite restaurants and coffee shops in Santa Barbara. If you find yourself lucky enough to visit the American Riviera, you will definitely want to add these Santa Barbara foodie spots to your list.
1. Santa Barbara Main Harbor: The Fish Market
Seafood served at the Santa Barbara Harbor passes directly from the fishing boats to the chefs’ hands, so it’s a no-brainer to start here if you want the best seafood in town.
The Santa Barbara Fish Market gives the public access to whatever the commercial fishermen are bringing in that week. They also offer a selection of prepared foods like sashimi platters, poke bowls and uni shooters.
We ordered a tray of half dozen oysters and 4 sea urchins ($15 apiece). They charged a small shucking fee. They have outdoor seatings in the patio, but we preferred sitting by the harbor. We bought a beer from the Harbor Market…and off we went to the perfect spot to enjoy the uni.
Enjoying the fresh sea urchin with the beautiful view of the harbor in the early morning was truly magical!
2. Santa Barbara Public Market: The Empty Bowl Noodle Bar
Nestled in the heart of beautiful Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Public Market is a vibrant and bustling destination that offers a delightful array of culinary delights, unique shopping experiences, and a lively atmosphere.
You’ll find an impressive collection of eateries, each offering its own unique culinary experience. From gourmet burgers to artisanal pizzas, from fresh seafood to farm-to-table delicacies, there’s something to please every palate.
The Public Market is chock-full of some of the best restaurants in SB, but the one that is really not to miss is Empty Bowl Noodle Bar where they specialize in authentic noodle dishes and small plates from Thailand and Taiwan.
With counter-only seating, you might stand in line for a bit… but it’s oh so worth it. We had a taste of their famous Khao Soi. It’s a northern Thai noodle soup that uses wheat-based egg noodles and is served in a coconut milk curry broth. It’s made with chicken, and the bowl is topped with crispy deep fried noodles.
3. Arlington Plaza: Cajé
Arlington Plaza is a small shopping mall found in Santa Barbara’s downtown arts district. This is the place to find an eclectic collection of locally owned shops and dining spots. This charming strip of glass-fronted shops sits just across the road from Arlington Theater.
I’ve heard Santa Barbara be considered the “American Riviera,” and it truly does have its similarities to the French and Italian rivieras. One of my favorite things to do when we’re on vacation, especially when we were in France and Italy, is to sit back and relax at a cafe with a cup of coffee and pastry in hand. Whether it’s a bakery attached to a wine tasting room or a hipster coffee stop, SB has their own versions of a place to take a step back and enjoy the moment. And one of our favorite coffee shops in SB is Cajé.
Located in the Arlington Plaza is the famous coffee shop – Cajé. If you’re looking for an Instaworthy Santa Barbara coffee shop, Caje Coffee is it! The dazzling cafe showcases verdure wrapped white walls, long flowing drapes and arched hallways, a soothing water fountain center stage, crafty wooden furnishings among numerous cute seating arrangements, lush exotic plant life, a few fireplaces, and a picturesque Spanish courtyard setting where you and even your furry four-legged friend can soak in some more lavish California sun rays.This is the place I could easily make an excuse to visit every day.
Known for its impressive craft drinks, they attract many people for “Instagram-worthy” photos of their artistic drinks. The price reflects this at about $9 to $12 a drink, but it’s worth the splurge. We ordered their famous signature drinks: Burnt Out, Jupiters Forest, and Bella Rose.
The Jupiter Forest is an iced oat milk latte made with cold brew, juniper berry, sage syrup infused with grapefruit and garnished with grapefruit peel, golden flower, and sage. An excellent coffee alternative is the Bela Rose. An iced matcha latte made with strawberry-elderflower syrup, and grenadine. Garnished with crushed rose petals cascading down the side of the glass and topped with beetroot powder and a fresh strawberry.
The Burnout is served up, made with espresso, milk, bourbon pecan syrup, activated charcoal, garnished with ginger salt, candied ginger, and a fresh blackberry.
4. Santa Barbara Funk Zone: Dart Coffee
Once an old and sleepy warehouse district, the Funk Zone has recently become the “it” spot in Santa Barbara. This area used to be the industrial, marine, and manufacturing part of town. Over the past decade, the city has converted abandoned warehouses and buildings into artisan boutiques, eclectic shops, trendy cafes, studio spaces, art galleries, wine-tasting rooms, farm-to-table and upscale eateries.
The city has kept the area unique and cater to Santa Barbara’s contemporary side. While there is no shortage of things to do in Santa Barbara, the Funk Zone is one of the most unique spots. Nestled in this neighborhood is Dart Coffee Co. This is one of the coffee shops that I could easily see myself visiting multiple times a week.
This coffee shop offers a unique experience for coffee lovers and art lovers alike. From the freshly roasted beans that line the shelves to the bright and vivid colors that decorate the cafe inside out, this cafe is an Instagrammer’s paradise.
The best thing about Dart is the large garden area across the street. It is easy to miss because it looks like it is the backyard of home, but you’ll find a little gate that says Dart Garden.
Dart Coffee offers a variety of other drinks, such as teas, smoothies, and even tasty bites, so you can fill up with wholesome treats before getting back to exploring the Funk Zone. Whether you’re looking for a caffeine fix or just want to get lost in its artsy ambience, Dart Coffee is definitely one of Santa Barbara’s most coveted coffee shops.
5. Stearns Wharf: Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.
Stearns Wharf is located in the harbor and is home to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Here you can also find waterfront restaurants, wine tasting, and shopping.
Located on Stearns Wharf is the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. It’s one of the most beloved local institutions for salt-of-the sea favorites like chowder, shrimp cocktail and steamed crab.
They have a wide variety of options, including clams, mussels, oysters, and prawns. They also have a selection of fish and chips and seafood chowder. When visiting Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, a must-try is the Raw Scallops topped with Uni.
The restaurant also features a casual atmosphere and outdoor seating, making it perfect for a relaxed lunch or dinner. The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is perfect for those who want to enjoy fresh shellfish in a casual setting.
6. Montecito Country Mart: Bettina
Montecito, California, is a beachside subset of Santa Barbara county filled with hidden gems and idyllic local favorites. While spanning fewer than 10 miles, Montecito is chalk-full of luxury shopping, fantastic food, and quiet, sprawling beachfront.
Located right off the freeway in the Montecito Country Mart, Bettina is a cozy neighborhood restaurant that offers seasonal farm-to-table dishes and authentic Italian wood fired pizzas. You can order traditional pizzas, like Pepperoni or Margherita, or unique flavors, like Carbonara or Hazelnut. Bettina also offers an impressive selection of wine, select beer, and cocktail options.
7. Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant
Perched on the dock of Santa Barbara Harbor, Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant is another great spot for shellfish lovers. It is perfect for those who want to enjoy fresh shellfish in a casual, waterfront setting.
Crab cakes, shrimp cocktails, and chowders are some of the tastiest dishes on the menu. They also have a variety of fish and chips, seafood platters, and raw bar.
It’s truly magical to soak in the views of the American Riviera coastline while devouring a plate of seafood pasta. The restaurant has a casual, laid-back atmosphere, making it perfect for a casual meal with friends and family.
8. Dune Coffee
Opening in 2009, Dune is one of most popular stylish cafes in the area. A large sunlit patio and ample seating complement the rich espresso and coffee drinks served at the Dune Coffee Roasters location on Anacapa Street. Everything at Dune Coffee Roasters is done well. Iced americanos, matcha lattes, pastries, pour overs, and nitro cold brew…you really can’t go wrong.
9. Caffe Luxxe
Sleek, sophisticated, and smooth are three ways to describe both the interior design and coffee of Caffe Luxxe at the Montecito Country Mart. The marble countertops serve as the perfect canvas for the shop’s baristas to prepare your roast, and the minimalist décor evokes a sense of luxurious architectural wonder. Inspired by café culture in Italy, the shop’s creators champion hand crafted artisanal espresso and brewed coffee.
10. Handlebar Coffee Roasters
Handlebar Coffee Roasters immediately became one of my favorite Santa Barbara coffee shops. This Santa Barbara coffee shop ticked all the boxes. Quality brews, a friendly crowd and welcoming atmosphere, and amazing pastries.
The vibe was also very SoCal. The place was packed with locals in the SoCal uniform…t-shirts and flip flops. Swing by for an iced vanilla latte and warm scone–the perfect start to a morning in Santa Barbara.
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