Pros:Weather, weather, weather - particularly in September
Cons:A little pricey, the wine tasting is not great
The Bottom Line: Santa Barbara is a great place to go - lots of stuff for both kids and adults!
I went with my family to Santa Barbara in early September for a week's vacation. We rented a large house for 10 people (two families of 4 + 2 grandmothers) in the "Riviera" area of town, which overlooked the ocean. We had a fabulous time - here are some of the details.
Lodging: Since we were there with 4 kids total, we wanted a large, safe house with a pool. We rented through www.sbluxuryrentals.com, and found this agency very helpful and responsive. They have several houses that can accomodate small to large groups. The house that we stayed in (called "Vista Riviera") was lovely - a beautiful pool, spacious bedrooms, a small but functional back yard, large kitchen, and big living spaces. We did have some problems with the appliances (the dishwasher wasn't the best; the washing machine seemed to get clothes dirty rather than clean), but otherwise it was a great place to spend time.
Weather: This was the highlight of the trip. The weather was spectacular, particularly coming from the Bay Area where the summer's tend to be cold and foggy. We only had foggy mornings a couple of times, and it burned off by 11am. The highs were in the mid-80s, and the lows in the low 70s. Given that Santa Barbara can experience "June gloom," and be socked in with fog for weeks at a time, I would highly recommend early September as the time to visit. In addition, there were not many tourists there.
Wine tasting: One of the reasons we were excited about Santa Barbara was because we like the Pinots made in the surrounding areas. However, we were disappointed with the wine tasting experience. Most wineries are clearly still living out the "Sideways" dream (if you haven't seen the movie, sorry for the obscure reference), with steep tasting fees for below average wines. I would recommend concentrating your tasting to the downtown area in Los Olivos and not venturing beyond, as the wineries are fairly spread out and, in my opinion, not worth the drive. We really liked the Los Olivos Tasting Room, and the prices there were very reasonable.
Zoo: We loved the zoo! It is a very manageable size for our kids (4 and 2), and the highlight for our 4 year old daughter was getting the opportunity to feed the giraffe. For those who belong to their local zoo, there is a pretty generous policy whereby you get discounts to the SB Zoo if you a member elsewhere. Also, make sure that you check out the giraffe with the malformed neck - quite a site to see!
Restaurants: For taquerias, check out La Super Rica. For a nice dinner, go to Wine Cask. We also had a great experience at Agave, which served fantastic, high end Mexican food.
Golf: My wife and I played "hooky" one day and went to Sandpiper to play golf. The course was spectacular...normally when courses advertise themselves as "ocean front," it means that you need to crane your neck to see anything. This is not the case with Sandpiper - there is one hole (#11, a great par 3) where if you fly the green you end up on the beach.
All in all, a great time for families! I look forward to going back.
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Best Suited For: Families
Best Time to Travel Here: Sep - Nov