20220326_103403Mission Santa Barbara (March 2022)

Santa Barbara is a coastal city located just 90 miles/145 km from Los Angeles, along the central coast of California. Home to just 88,000 residents, the city is a notable change to the nearly 4 million of its neighboring LA– in contrast to the big city life, Santa Barbara feels sleepier in comparison, all the while still offering beautiful beaches and sunny Mediterranean climate. It’s no wonder, then, that its population is rapidly growing, as more and more people from Los Angeles and other parts of the state, even country, flock to get a piece of that laidback, California living.

I first visited Santa Barbara in 2010, as part of a summer road trip up to San Francisco for university visits of several campuses in California– I was about to finish high school, and I was looking into schools that I could apply to and attend. Santa Barbara was one of the stops, and I merely had a brief stop there to see its state campus (UCSB) and a bit of the pier before I moved on. I also had one night in town in 2019, but again, all I really did was grab dinner at one of the pubs by the waterfront and that was about it.

It wasn’t until last March that I returned to Santa Barbara, this time for a longer visit. I was celebrating my birthday over a long weekend by driving up the central California coast with my dad, and we decided to make our first stop there. We left early from Los Angeles, taking the famed Highway 101 all the way. We reached town by 9h00, where we promptly stopped at Stearns Wharf to stroll the boardwalk. Weather was foggy, even drizzling, while there, but I actually like it– I’m a cold weather kind of person, so the nippier, the better!

20220326_094550Along Stearns Wharf

Afterwards, we headed over to Mission Santa Barbara, one of the 21 missions in California. Specifically of the Franciscan order, this mission was founded in 1786 and is part of the cluster of missions that were founded in the latter half of the 18th century along the coast. Such establishments began as religious sites for living and prayer, which would later contribute to the founding of California as a state. Having grown up in California, I learned all about them in grade school, even doing school projects on them. The missions left such an indelible mark on my state’s history, and for me to visit one in person made my textbook learning come to life.

20220326_101735Chapel of the mission

The entrance fee was $15 USD, which given the small size of the mission (i.e. small) is a bit steep. However, as it’s a historic site, it helps to charge more to upkeep maintenance and overall preserve its infrastructure. We explored its chapel, along with its cloister and gardens. The flowers weren’t quite in full bloom yet, as we went just as spring started– any case, Mission Santa Barbara was charming, and again, it was great to see history I’d learned in school first-hand.

20220326_101516Gardens of the mission

We didn’t stay long in Santa Barbara afterwards, instead continuing to other stops in central California. We did return following the road trip, this time stopping in town for a quick lunch. One of my good friends had gone to university there, and she had recommended a taqueria (taco shop) that’s popular among locals and students. Besides being really affordable (about $2 USD per taco), this joint had some really authentic tacos, including cuts like tripas (intestines), cabeza (cow head), and carrillada (beef cheek).

20220328_112044(0)Beef cheek, cow head, and intestines tacos

All of the tacos were very flavorful and fresh: the tortillas were warm and homemade, and the meats were tender. My only gripe was the texture– this was just my personal taste, but I actually don’t care for intestines; I find it too thick, too chewy, and too slimy. The cow head was pretty good, although there were some gelatinous bits (from the brain??) that put me off. The beef cheek was my favorite. I’m typically an adventurous eater, and I like most things, but the tripas and cabeza tacos just didn’t do it for me. It was worth a try, though!

That was about it for my time in Santa Barbara last March. Even though I still didn’t spend much time in town, I managed to see a lot more than my previous trips. I’d love to return to focus solely on Santa Barbara, as I heard that it’s well-known for its high-quality uni (sea urchin)– and I do love sea urchin! Given that I’m just an hour or two away, I hope for another visit sooner than later.

More of my adventures from the central California coast is coming soon!

— Rebecca

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40 thoughts on “Destination: Santa Barbara, California

  1. Santa Barbara is one of my favorite places. I love the Mission, State Street shops and dining, and the beautiful Spanish tiles everywhere. I’m surprised about its small population, though! But maybe that adds to the relaxed atmosphere!

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    1. Santa Barbara is a wonderful city to visit, especially along the coast of California; it makes the perfect stop while going from the south to north of the state (or vice-versa)! More of my food adventures on my California road trip to come!

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  2. I love SB, it’s such a pretty town. We visited around the same time as you, when our daughter was in college in Oregon. I was cringing at your description of the various meats in the tacos, since I’m not much of a carnivore, but I always admire adventurous eaters; way to go!

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    1. What a coincidence! We must’ve crossed paths. Santa Barbara is certainly lovely and worth exploring more and in depth for future visits…haha, I like trying new food, but even after some time, I’ve come to know my limits, too (e.g. intestines)!

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  3. I’ve never been to Santa Barbara. But when someone enations it I immediately envision stunning cliffside views, pristine beaches, a gorgeous Mediterranean climate, historic architecture, and a sense of community β€” pretty much a place that is something like a coastal paradise. But given that I’m – just like you – a cold-weather kind of person, I wouldn’t mind experiencing it on a foggy day. I find that relentless waves crashing upon jagged boulders and rocky outcrops can provide a spectacular show. Thanks for sharing and have a good day πŸ™‚ Aiva xx

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    1. Santa Barbara offers a dramatic view of the California coast, and a different, more-rugged kind compared to the sandy, calmer waves in Los Angeles or San Diego. Still a lovely place to be! Thanks for stopping by, Aiva. 😊

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  4. How timely, I’m headed here in a couple weeks! We will try to squeeze a visit to the mission into our itinerary; it looks pretty, even though it’s small. Do you by chance remember if the taco shop has vegetarian options?

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  5. Wow, hats off to you for being such an adventurous eater. I don’t care much for intestines either, in fact it’s one of the few things that I truly cannot stomach. Good to hear that you are a cold weather person given the recent much nippier than usual temperatures in California.

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    1. Like you, I don’t like intestines, either; it’s one of the few foods I don’t enjoy. I do prefer cold weather, but I admit that the freezing temperatures these days are a bit too much! πŸ₯Ά

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  6. Ah the pictures are so beautiful! I’ve never been to Mission Santa Barbara, but I have visited Mission San Juan Capistrano and the resemblance in structure and architecture is so similar! I don’t live in California anymore, but the pictures and this blog posting made me miss it!

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    1. To be fair, I haven’t visited Mission San Juan Capistrano! I’ve only visited two, maybe three of the 21 missions in California, so it’d be cool to go mission hopping sometime. Even though you don’t live in the state anymore, I’m sure that circumstances will bring you back some day! 😊

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      1. I’m sure they will! I have family out there I haven’t seen since the pandemic so it’d be nice to give it a visit while I see them. I absolutely love the simplicity in the way the mission is built along with the beauty of the church. Much more narrow than modern day ones but feels so sacred and I love it!

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  7. I’ve never been to Santa Barbara but it does look like a great city! I think the intestines tacos would not have been to my taste either, even though I’m not a picky eater at all!

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    1. Santa Barbara is a lovely city worthy of a visit. Like you, I don’t think I’m a picky eater, but after trying intestines a couple of times (and cooked differently), I can vouch I’m not a fan!

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  8. I heard so much about Santa Barbara from friends who have moved there, and to this date I have yet to do a visit. My travel list just keeps getting longer each day πŸ˜…. Well done on trying out the tacos – I like tacos but I think I’ll pass on those 3 😬

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    1. Haha, same here! It feels as if I complete visiting one place, I find 10 more places I want to visit! Also, I was feeling adventurous when getting those tacos: the taqueria has other, more-standard flavors like al pastor or chicken, so it’s not all that bad! Hope you can visit SB some day… 😊

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