Santa Barbaras popularity with tourists is in parts linked to the city’s location. It is located directly at the Pacific Ocean with a distance of approximately 2 hours from the mega city Los Angeles. Bordering city limits is the Los Padres National Forest, a giant protected habitat with various leisure opportunities, while the Santa Ynez Mountains take care of an impressive backdrop scenery. In addition, there is the Channel Islands National Park off of the coast of Santa Barbara. If the mediterranean climate with mild winter temperatures and a soft breeze in the summer is taken into consideration, then Santa Barbara appears almost perfect as a vacation destination.
The Franciscan Mission Santa Barbara, built in 1786 with the intention to convert the native Chumash people, was the city’s cornerstone. The mission had been destroyed in an earthquake in 1812 and was reconstructed afterwards. The mission station built then as still being used as a church and is also open for visitors, who can tour a small museum and the church garden. The mission is on Mission Street and is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
As early as in December 1846, with the war between the United States and Mexico still raging, Santa Barbara came to the Americans without battle. Under the new rulers, the city developed quickly and population numbers doubled from 1850 to 1860. In contrast to almost all other cities in the American West, Santa Barbara did not get a chessboard street grid, basically because the surveyor in charge messed up. In 1872, a pier was constructed, Stearns Wharf, then the longest at the coast, which made the supply with goods via water and the arrival of guests distinctively easier- Today, the pier is one of the most popular day trip destinations of the city. There are several restaurants and shops there as well as the Ty Warner Sea Center, part of the Museum of Natural History, where visitors can discover the ocean’s wildlife. The center is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. The link-up of Los Angeles to the railroad network in 1887 made the way to Santa Barbara by land significantly easier, too. At the same time, the promotion of the city as a tourist destination was intensified, which brought quick success. Shortly thereafter, the discovery of oil off of the coast brought another boom to the city, followed by the founding of several film studios here.
In 1925, the city was hit by a strong earthquake and many of its buildings were destroyed. Santa Barbara was rebuilt quickly and in doing so, the idea of reconstruction was mostly relinquished and it was built anew instead. In most cases, the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style was applied. In that time, some buildings much worth seeing were created, for example the County Courthouse on Anacapa Street, which is open to visitors. After World War II, during which Santa Barbara was home to a navy base, the city experienced another growth in population. In 1969, several ten thousand barrels of crude oil leaked from a well off the coast and caused severe oil pollution of Santa Barbara’s beaches. Relations between residents and the petroleum companies, which had already been strained before, reached a new low point and after the incident, the petro industry was gradually replaced by cleaner businesses. At the same time, the future population numbers of the city were limited. Severe wildfires in the years 1977, 1990 and 2008 each destroyed several hundred homes in Santa Barbara.
Just like at the Mission Santa Barbara, visitors get a glimpse of the city’s past at Presidio of Santa Barbara on East Canon Perdido in Downtown. The original building was constructed in 1782 and served as a military post for the former Spanish colonists. In the course of time, the Presidio was repeatedly severely damaged by several earthquakes an in the 2000s, an elaborate reconstruction of the property began. Since the 1920s, the annual fiesta in August serves to remember the Spanish heritage of Santa Barbara with a series of events and a traditional parade. Something similar happens in June, on the weekend following the summer solstice, when the Summer Solstice Parade draws up to 100,000 spectators watch the very colorful parade going to Alameda Park. Another important fixture in the events calendar is the Santa Barbara Film Festival in January. Each Sunday, people meet on Cabrillo Boulevard for the traditional Arts and Crafts Show, where local artists and craftspeople offer their works and products for sale.
Those who want to see Santa Barbara’s sunny side, mostöy go to East Beach, where most of the city’s tourist hotels are located. The beach is often hosting Beach Volleyball tournament. Contrary to that, swimming is not allowed at West Beach, here the surfers and sailors meet. Leadbetter Beach offers opportunities for surfing as well as for swimmers. Arroyo Burro Beach is popular with families, who will find a restaurant and grassy areas for picknicks here. In a small distance from Arroyo Burro Beach, there is the Douglas Family Preserve, a public park directly at the ocean with a network of hiking trails.
Among the city’s museums, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is notable. It has been founded in 1916, can be found in the suburb of Mission Canyon and shows a multitude of artistic nature depictions. The museum also has a planetarium. Exhibitions are open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. On State Street in Downtown, there is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, exhibiting a broad range of artworks, from African sculptures and French impressionist to an Asia showcase with works from China, India, and other places. Also at the museum, the Alice Schott Doll Collection has dolls from three centuries. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm.