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4 days in Santa Barbara

My husband and I are coming to Santa Barbara for 4 nights to celebrate our one year anniversary. We are looking for recommendations for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the area. We have no plans while we are there other than relaxing, exploring and eating well. All favorite restaurant referrals - low key brunches, romantic dinners, casual cafes, gourmet spreads, hole in walls - are greatly appreciated. Chow on!

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  1. There is a fairly consistent list of favorites with one top one: Julinene so try and get a reservation there for a start. Then there are plenty of good, but not necessarily great restaurant choices depending on your own personal likes and pocketbook.

    Where will you be staying and any more hints on what you would like to experience because there is such a range in almost every category in this town. Restaurant "ground zero" is the 1000-1300 block of State Street with its side street blocks for the best concentration of recommended places - pick anyone for what ever your feel like and you will be well-served.

    San Roque area blocks of Upper State Street - about the 3000 blocks or so have a lot of our own local favorites but they don;t carry the same downtown tourism appeal of the city itself, but up there we like Renaud's for french bakery and small lunch plates; Brummis for wonderful German dinners; Jade for creative California fusion; Via Maestra for elegant Italian deli.

    Heading out towards Montecito is Stella Mares with beautiful views across an inland lagoon in an old French home and Tre Lune and Mollies in the "Lower Village" are solid favorites we like to repeat as well.

    The Harbor and Stern's Wharf has more standard restaurants but often good for what they offer and the experience of being over or near the water makes up for any culinary deficiencies.

    One can "taco crawl" all up and down Miplas Street hitting both the famous and local spots. A hidden gem if you can get a Thurs or Friday night reservation only is the local community college "Gourmet Dining Room of the SBCC Culinary Arts Dept (see their website for number to call).

    And a great drive out into the mountains about 20 minutes away to the very historic Cold Springs Tavern means you can almost call yourself a local. And there are now multiple restaurants worthy of a day's journey into the Santa Ynez Valley wine country - Mirabell, Grapolo and Ballard Inn top the list.

    And don't overlook Carpinteria a few miles to the south for Giancarlo's highly acclaimed Italian creations in this qauint small town with other worthy contributions down there as well.

    Well, do you have your four days of dining all planned out now?

    Breakfasts: Renaud's and Andersons Danish Bakery would be my first choices, any Carpinteria cafe
    Lunch: Ca' Dario or Via Maestra 42, Cold Springs Tavern, La Superica, Tre Lune, Hungry Cat , Arts and Letters Cafe
    Dinner: Julienne, Downey's. Wine Cask, Olio et Limonie, buchon, Brunmis, Jade, Stella Mares, Petit Valentin, Louie's at the Upham Hotel

    NB: No human being could ever eat that much food in four days but you gotta try!

    And if you need a mid-day snack you will find me at Super-Cuca's on the Westside chowing down their Super-Nachos and a medium horchata. And for a real out-lier is the Crocodile Restaurant in the Lemon Tree Inn that tries had and does a lot of things well in a very unlikely setting but one with some built in charm .... at a midtown State Street motel.

    The only place I totally avoid is Enterprise Fish Company which is great for drinks and snacks but please spend your dining dollars and calories elsewhere.

    Wine Cask
    813 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

    The Hungry Cat
    1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

    The Ballard Inn & Restaurant
    2436 Baseline Ave, Solvang, CA 93463

    Via Maestra 42
    3343 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

    Tre Lune
    1151 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

    Stella Mare's
    50 Los Patos Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

    1. If I had 4 days in SB.....

      breakfast...Minnow Cafe on the harbor. Cajun Kitchen downtown. Palapa- where 101 and 154 meet.

      lunch...El Bajio- 100 block of Milpas. Rose's Cafe on the Mesa. Palapa- excellent patio for catching rays and drinking beer. Picnic sandwiches- Panino has 3 locations- #17 and #15 are my fav- pricey but worth it!

      dinner...The Chase- red leather booths/excellent cocktails/calamari piccata and 1 billion tiny white lights, making it so romantic and unique. Aldos downtown- Italian. bouchon. Cold Spring Tavern is a must for alot of folks- on the weekends it tends to be packed- especially on Sundays.

      Drive to Jalama Beach for a nice walk and a world famous burger- would be nice to combine with a winetasting at "the ghetto" in Lompoc- from downtown SB it would be 1.5 hours door to door- WORTH IT. Ask for a pass at the kiosk and you get a 1 hour pass to eat and take a walk or pay day use which is a ten spot.

      Pack a picnic and drive the back roads of the Santa Ynez Valley- Armour Ranch Rd to Happy Canyon- drive till you want to turn around or do the 1.5 hour loop- WORTH IT. You will end up in Los Olivos and can have a wine tasting and then eat at Mattei's Tavern or Ballard Inn...or Cecco a new Italian place in Solvang. Hitching Post . Grappolo. Red Barn. Root 246- all great places to enjoy a evening.

      Hope you have a great anniversary and please post your results- we love to hear them!

      Cold Spring Tavern
      5995 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

      Root 246
      420 Alisal Road, Solvang, CA 93463

      3687 Sagunto St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460

      Mattei's Tavern
      2350 Railwy Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441

      Palapa Restaurant
      4123 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93110

      1 Reply
      1. re: OldJalamaMama

        Love love love the Chase for the best Calamari Picatta...omg, it's like abalone and reasonable too.
        Cold Spring Tavern
        La Super Rica taco shop
        Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch
        The Nugget in Summerland for one of the best patty melts..local place
        Renaud's for fab croissants
        Brophy Bros for seafood lunch

      2. If you are celebrating your one year anniversary you must be young so my suggestions will try to take that in to account. Cadiz on lower State is the hot restaurant right now. Great cocktails and good tapas. The bar scene heats up as the night progresses. Julienne for the best food in town and Hungry Cat for another fun youngish feeling vibe. They have two restaurants in LA and also have great cocktails and good seafood. Olio Pizza is a pretty new place that is very fun and casual. Crush cafe is a great spot for breakfast a block off State street near the Arlington theatre. And cocktails and stuffed clams at Brophy Bros overlooking the harbor is a nice "view" place.

        The Hungry Cat
        1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

        Brophy Bros
        Breakwatr, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

        1 Reply
        1. re: macdog

          Forgot one of the best places in SB-La Super Rica on Milpas. Had their #16 today, grilled pasilla chiles, pork and cheese with homemade corn tortillas and their special chile rellenos--YUMMM!

        2. when we stay in SB the place we make sure to visit is the Shellfish Co. at the very end of Stearns Pier -- when spiny lobster or spot prawns are in season they'll be kept in live tanks. all the preparations are simple, to not obscure the fresh seafood essences. excellent fried clams and onion rings, and the onion rings come with many entrees. it's the least fancy of all the eating places on the pier, which you must pass by on the stroll, more of a fish shack in ambience than a restaurant.

          for breakfast we favor an old school diner, Domingo's in Goleta.

          2 Replies
          1. re: moto

            We walked out of that "fish shack" with a $100 dinner bill once for lobster and beer. Be sure you check out the "market price". But it is good - just a little casual for a $100 meal sitting at a small bench on stools along the wall. Order accordingly.

            1. re: glbtrtr

              I love SBShellfish Co- they have 2 sister places in town- one across the street from the dolphin fountain @ Stearn's Wharf called FISHOUSE and another west of the pier by a few miles- @ "Hendry's Beach" called THE BOATHOUSE.

              I love their crab sandwich, shooters and fresh cooked from the tank offerings. Great clams and mussels!

          2. Heads up for a new breakfast lunch spot opening up soon - check while you are here to see it this has happened yet.

            Called Scarlett Begonia, it replaces the wonderful old Cafe Bianco in Victoria Court and had added some intimate outdoor seating. Menu is a bit edgy, but interesting so it is worthy of a chow exploration for sure.

            I hope this quiet secret courtyard spot returns to its well loved ambiance as a place to have a daytime bite to eat, enjoy the sun and read your paper for the downtown crowd like it was the local hangout when it was Cafe Bianco.

            Here is where you can get your civet cat partially-digested Green Star Coffee - I did say edgy, didn't I? Probably goes well with their peanut butter and bacon muffin, or any of the other quite wonderful sounding treats that do push the culinary envelope ..... but looks like mainly in a good way.

            BTW: bacon is sure showing up a lot in strange places these days - even in our local artisan ice cream.

            1. Wow! Thank you so much for all of the suggestions. We leave this week and I'll update you when we are back. Very much looking forward to our trip!

              2 Replies
              1. re: jacocash

                We really enjoy getting reports back plus often learning about surprises that we locals are in too much of a rut to explore ourselves. Hope your trip was wonderful. Looking forward to hearing how it all worked out.

                1. re: jacocash

                  you should have some gorgeous weather- always a bit foggy in the am- burning off quite early! Its harvest time here in the Valley, so slow down for the tractor pulling white bins of fruit! Happy Anniversary!

                2. D'Angelo's or Jeannine's in Montecito for breakfast. Hungry Cat, Ca'Dario, Paradise Cafe for dinner. Love SB Shellfish Co. fo an easy lunch - and by easy I mean steamed shellfish, anything else you might try to order (tacos, pasta, etc) might place this spot in the mediocre category. Sly's in Carpenteria for dinner if if you're up for a drive. Panino's to grab some sandwiches if your planning on a winery picnic.

                  those are a pretty good start. :)

                  The Hungry Cat
                  1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: Kvguzman

                    What a great weekend! We absolutely fell in love with Santa Barbara and can't wait to come back. We took a quick detour to LA/Malibu for an overnight so we didn't spend the whole time in SB but really enjoyed our drive down the coast. Here's a quick rundown of our culinary adventures...

                    Your Place Thai - we went here on the suggestion of our cabbie. Great Tom Kah soup and curry
                    Julienne - we were a little disappointed that there weren't ANY vegetarian options as we don't eat a lot of meat, but the food was still fantastic. We had a squash appraiser, beef cheek ravioli with fava beans, pork belly with Chinese green beans and earl grey ice cream. We felt all of the items were great and really unexpected. This was our anniversary dinner and loved the romantic setting.
                    Chase - amazing dinner. This was my favorite food of the trip. We had poor service (had to wait 20 minutes for our wine, brought the wrong food to the table, etc), but the food more than made up for it. I had eggplant parmesan with ricotta and my husband had muscles in a spicy red sauce. Excellent, excellent Italian and a really darling setting.
                    Boat House Cafe - a really fun find as we were out driving. We both had the veggie tacos and thought they were great. A beautiful setting on the ocean!
                    Epic Bowl and Backyard Bowl (in Goleta) - we loved both these places and wish they had bowls like this near us! It was great to have a breakfast spot that was quick and really healthy.
                    French Press - great coffee. We live in Seattle and have high standards :)

                    Thank you all again for your suggestions! This was a fantastic vacation and we are really looking forward to spending more time in SB! How lucky you all are to live there full time!!!

                    Boat House
                    1445 N Hwy 1, Bodega Bay, CA 94923

                    Backyard Bowls
                    331 Motor Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

                    Your Place Thai Restaurant
                    22 N Milpas St Ste A, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

                    1. re: jacocash

                      Thank you so much for your feedback- and you added some new places to consider for us locals too who often get into a rut of going to our favorites over and over. Chase was one of the very first restaurants that started the more creative dining possibilities in this town several decades ago when there were very few choices - it was really meat and potatoes town and often closed up early.

                      Chase brought that special San Fran neighborhood restaurant to our rather pedestrian town and they now hold their own even after we became quite a restaurant/dining destination - all that change started after President Reagan put our sleepy little town on the map -- or rather the east coast press corp who would come out with him who had to hang around in town twiddling their thumbs while Reagan was up at this ranch - they were the ones that started asking for more and giving our city its entertainment/tourist destination presence a big boost.

                      There are two new vegetarian/vegan restaurants we should have also suggested to try that are also downtown that have taken that kind of dining up a few notches from just a bean sprout cafe setting into the realm of real dining experiences. We will be sure to remind you when you come back again.

                      Backyard Bowls was just some guys with an idea and they made it work - so you could think about opening a place just like it back home yourself! Never been there but have enjoyed hearing these fellows success story grow in a town that can really be hard on new restaurants. Some like Chase have the magic touch and others can spend thousands to create an image but fail quickly in the delivery and never get the enthusiastic loyalties the old-timers and now some select newcomers have been able to generate.

                      Guess what, it was almost too hot today! yes, we do have a special town and we have to work hard to keep it that way. Glad you felt the welcome mat was still out to enjoy your time with us. Best wishes.

                      1. re: glbtrtr

                        President Reagan and his Western White House...Rancho de Cielo is on Refugio Rd and sits at the tip top of the Santa Ynez Valley- I grew up seeing the fuss made here in the Valley with each visit..his detail spent many a am at Solvang Restaurant, and spent evenings at the western place (now AJ Spurs) in Buellton- drinking away. Santa Barbara may get the press, but the home is here, in the Santa Ynez Valley.

                        Glad you enjoyed the Chase- and really glad you could get past the errors and enjoy the good food!!

                        Where did you eat in Malibu?

                        1. re: OldJalamaMama

                          The White House press corp used The Palace restaurant (Cajun) as their main watering hole when in Santa Barbara. It was an interesting time and I am sure the image of sunshine and ocean along Cabrillo Blvd being used as a backdrop for news broadcasts in the middle of winter brought a lot of free publicity to our town - they used the old Miramar as their press headquarters which just recently was taken over by Hyatt and will most likely get a very nice face lift.

                          White House Restaurant
                          340 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

                          1. re: glbtrtr

                            Speaking of face lifts, any word on the latest with El Encanto?

                            1. re: PolarBear

                              Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz -- that is the best word I can think of for the El Encanto right now. Stay tuned. I'll go check it out and see what the latest "expected reopening" is. It will be a gem when it gets back online and has been sorely missed.

                              And naturally with all the overall building and grounds remodeling fuss, the restaurant quality will be the first thing I will scrutinize. If they even let non-hotel guests in to use it? This is a redo by the very high end Orient-Express company.

                              Here is a link to the latest Riviera Neighborhood Association newsletter article about this project: http://rivieraassociation.org/categor... (Scroll down for the El Encanto article) In April 2011, they claimed you could make Thanksgiving dinner reservations for "Nov 2012". (?)

                      2. re: jacocash

                        Glad you had a great trip!
                        Can't believe you didn't have the calamari picatta at Chase...oh well, next time!

                        1. re: Beach Chick

                          Went to look at the local restaurant reviews for Chase since it has been decades since I have been there and never think about putting it on my own recommendations list. Got quite a mixed bag of reviews, yet this is an enduring Santa Barbara institution -so whatever they are doing it seems to be working for them: http://www.santabarbara.com/dining/re...

                          PS - I was also a fan of their Chicken Piccata with their "Alfreddo" side back then.

                          1. re: glbtrtr

                            Hey G..
                            That side of Alfredo fettucini is still off the chain with the chicken piccata..
                            Great lunch spot...report back if you get in there soon!

                            1. re: Beach Chick

                              I am convinced. Time to go back and check them out again. I do love their open Twinkle Light-Land look which is a gift to a State Street early evening amble with their interior decorations for all to see. And they go over the top for the holidays even beyond this is always a treat too. No wonder they built up such loyalty and they deserve this support holding their own on this expensive street where their are almost monthly restaurant births and deaths.

                              State Street Cafe
                              440 E Ortega St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101