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California may have more cool cities than any other state in the US. From Northern California to SoCal, the West Coast state is dotted with desirable destinations, our favorite of which, Santa Barbara, lies just 90 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. The city of 90,000 has it all: beautiful beaches, hiking trails, colonial charm, world-class wineries and an amazing food scene. Best of all, it lacks the crowds and touristy feel of its more popular Northern California counterpart, Napa. While you could easily spend a week here, we’ve handpicked the best the city has to offer, for three perfect days in Santa Barbara.

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Day 1: Beaches + Downtown Santa Barbara Funk Zone

On your first day, start your vacation as any perfect trip to Santa Barbara should begin: with breakfast at Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery. Okay, so our favorite of its several locations is in Montecito (there are two locations in Santa Barbara proper) but it’s worth the few extra miles. The adored bakery has some of the best coffee in town, and they’re famous for their freshly-baked scones. Get there early to snag a seat on the sidewalk and watch the town awaken around you.

Once you’ve finished breakfast — and since you’re already in the neighborhood — head around the corner to the beautiful Butterfly Beach. Known for its awesome sunsets and popular with the surf crowd, a walk along the beach is an idyllic way to spend the morning.

If you worked up an appetite, do not fret! It’s time for things to get a little funky, in a good way. The Funk Zone is like the Brooklyn of SB; young people haveflocked to thearea to open shops and restaurants, breathing life into the neighborhood. Lunch time in the Funk Zone is synonymous with the Lucky Penny. Equal parts coffee shop and pizzeria, and 100% chill, they’re constantly pumping out delicious wood-fired pizzas and fresh salads. Grab a table on the outdoor patio for a quick nosh in between tasting-room visits.

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Lucky Penny | Photo by Compass + Twine

Belly fully, it’s time to explore all the funkiness. A fun blend of hipster-wino-foodie, this newly developed area is the place to hang out downtown. Having experienced exponential growth inthe last few years,the Funk Zone has attracted some of the best new restaurants, wine tasting rooms, boutique shops, art galleries, microbreweries and more.

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Les Marchands | Photo by Compass + Twine

Probably our favorite spot for a glass of wine and small plates with friends is Les Marchands. The wine list is extensive and exceptionally curated, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Simply ask for recommendations and the staff can help pick out the perfect glass (or bottle). Attached to Les Marchands is one of the hottest restaurants in town, The Lark. The dishes range from small bites, like Deviled Eggs with Crispy Pancetta, Jalapeño, SmokedPaprika and Chive, to delicious share-plates like the Hamachi Crudo, and a great selection of pastas as well. The Brussels sprouts here are some of the best we’ve ever had.


Day 2: Explore Wine Country

With the spread of the Funk Zone came lots of tasting rooms in downtown Santa Barbara, and while they’re fun to go to, there’s something special about visiting the vineyards to see where the region’s renowned wine originate. About 45-minutes north of SB is the region’s wine country. Towns like Buellton, Lompoc, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Santa Maria are booming with world-class winemakers. Award-winning Pinot Noir and deliciously crisp Chardonnays are made — not in the Napa Valley — but righthere in Santa Barbara wine country. Plenty of driving services are available for hire if you plan to spend the whole day tasting, and there are a few can’t-miss wineries you’ll need to visit. Start at Pence Ranch and Winery. Set on 200 acres, the winery is also an organic working ranch that hosts expansive crops of olive trees, walnut trees and chickens. The horses are bred and trained there as well, and there’s no doubt you’ll be greeted by a family of majestic Rhodesian Ridgebacks upon arrival.

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Pence Rance and Winery | Photo by Compass + Twine

RELATED: The secret to doing wine country without a car

Next, head to Presqu’ile, a new, modern vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. Their wine maker Dieter Cronje is a master at blending varietals, and their Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are killer.

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Presqu’ile Winery | Photo by Compass + Twine

If you have time, drive out to Sanford Winery, too. The views alone are worth the trek, and the Pinot Noir in particular serves as a delicious reward for going that extra mile. Ifyou’re looking for a place for a tasting experience with a picnic option, Demetria Winery and Estate is the perfect spot. Just outside the town of Los Olivos, it’s easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Tucked off the country road next to a much larger winery, the appointment-only winery offers a stunning 100% Mourvèdre.

Back in Santa Barbara, it’s time for some fresh air and seafood. The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is the place to go when the weather is nice, providing breathtaking views of the palm-tree–lined Santa Barbara coast. Set over the ocean on Stearns Wharf, both the killer setting and succulent Dungeness Crab make a visit well worth it. Cheers to a pretty perfect day!

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Santa Barbara Shellfish Company | Photo by Compass + Twine

Day 3: Historic sites and flower gardens

Spend a morning at the Mission Santa Barbara and you’ll fall in love with SB if you haven’t already. Called the “Queen of the Missions,” it captures the city’s rich history in one iconic structure. At 230 years old, the mission was originally founded by Spanish Franciscans. Today, it continues to house Franciscan friars and maintains an active church presence. The rose gardens on site are meticulously maintained and if you’re lucky, a gardener may even send you away with a freshly snipped bouquet.

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Mission Santa Barbara | Photo by Compass + Twine

Flowers in hand, head to the nearby Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Yes, you read that right. We’re recommending you visit a courthouse while you’re on vacation — but for good reason! The building itself is enchanting but what’s above you is most important here. Climb the stairs or take the elevator to the top of the Clock Tower where the panoramic views of the city, ocean andmountains are simply unbeatable.

Since you aren’t far from the Mexico border, a proper Mexican lunch is important. La Super-Rica has long been one of the most beloved spots in town. Get there early, because the line at this famous, powder-blue building wraps around the block just about every day. Perhaps a surprise, this little hole in the wall was also a favorite of Julia Child because the food is simple, authentic and oh-so delicious.

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La Super-Rica | Photo by Compass + Twine

State Street will send you straight into downtown Santa Barbara for an afternoon of shopping. Skip the big-box retailers like Nordstrom and head instead to the local shops peppered along the block. Casual restaurants and bars are plentiful in this area, if you’re in need of an afternoon cocktail.

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Lucky’s | Photo by Compass + Twine

No trip to Santa Barbara is complete without dinner at Lucky’s. The old-school steakhouse has long been a favorite among locals and it’s one of the only places where you’ll find fresh abalone on the menu every single night. The velvety shellfish is served lightly pan fried in a buttery sauce. Get the appetizer portion for a taste and save room for a steak or – our favorite – the dover sole meunière.

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Compass + Twine
Sarah Driggs and Lindsay Ridenour are the story-tellers behind the NYC-based luxury travel blog, Compass + Twine. Follow along on Instagram @compassandtwine as they unearth some of the best hotels and travel experiences around the globe. From scenic landscapes to local cafés, they reveal the true character of a destination, always highlighting the best place to stay on .

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