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How to Visit Santa Barbara on a Budget

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Known as the American Riveria, the mild winters and warm summers make Santa Barbara a popular vacation spot. Here’s how to have the ultimate Santa Barbara vacation without the designer price tag.

Disclosure: My trip to Santa Barbara was provided courtesy of Expedia. All opinions are 100% mine.

Santa Barbara on a Budget

Home to Flying A Studios, Santa Barbara played a pivotal role in the movie industry. Considered “Hollywood North” Santa Barbara County was the backdrop for hundreds of silent movies. It’s no surprise that this beach city still draws celebrities.

Despite being home and a playground for the rich and famous Santa Barbara is affordable. Here’s how to visit Santa Barbara on a budget.

How to Get to Santa Barbara

Car

You can rent a car and drive to Santa Barbara.

You can rent a car and drive to Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is a:

  • 1 1/2 hour drive (without traffic) from Los Angeles
  • 4 1/2 hour drive from San Diego
  • 6-hour drive from San Francisco

Pro-tip: If driving during rush hour or on a holiday, it can take twice as long to drive.

Plane

American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and United Airlines fly to Santa Barbara's municipal airport.

Photo courtesy: American Airlines

American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and United Airlines fly to Santa Barbara’s municipal airport.

Non-stop flights are available from:

  • Dallas (American Airlines)
  • Denver (United Airlines)
  • Los Angeles (United Airlines)
  • Phoenix (American Airlines
  • Portland (Alaska Airlines)
  • San Francisco (United Airlines)

Shuttle

The Santa Barbara Airbus provides transportation between Los Angeles International Airport and Santa Barbara. | Santa Barbara on a budget | Where to stay in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara beachfront hotel | California | American Riveria | http://www.TravelingWellForLess.com

Photo courtesy: Santa Barbara Airbus

The Santa Barbara Airbus provides transportation between Los Angeles International Airport and Santa Barbara. You can find the shuttle in the Lower Level at LAX near the Green “FlyAway Bus, Long Distance Van” signs. The Santa Barbara Airbus picks up and drops at the Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara.

Cost is $55 one-way or $100 round-trip for 1 person. Discounts available for two or more passengers.

Pro-tip: Pay in advance and save $5.

Train

Amtrak offers daily service into the downtown Santa Barbara train station. The Pacific Surfliner stops in Santa Barbara five times a day. While the Coast Starlight makes one daily stop in Santa Barbara. | Santa Barbara on a budget | Where to stay in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara beachfront hotel | California | American Riveria | http://www.TravelingWellForLess.com

Amtrak offers daily service into the downtown Santa Barbara train station. The Pacific Surfliner stops in Santa Barbara five times a day. While the Coast Starlight makes one daily stop in Santa Barbara.

Pacific Surfliner tickets start at $31 from Los Angeles, $42 from San Diego and San Francisco. Tickets on the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles start at $24 from Los Angeles and $31 from San Diego and San Francisco.

You can also book a Superliner Roomette (sleeper cabin with meals) on the Coast Starlight for $104 from Los Angeles and $201 from San Diego and San Francisco.

Pro-tip: Save 20% on your Amtrak ticket through Santa Barbara’s Car Free program.

What to Do in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara offers a wealth of activities for visitors of all ages. From golden beaches, unique museums to award-winning wineries, your visit to Santa Barbara can be action packed or laid back.

Best Views of Santa Barbara

Take the scenic drive up Alameda Padre Serra to Franceschi Park for the best views of Santa Barbara. You can enjoy a picnic, hike the horticultural trails, and see the home of botanist Francesco Franceschi. | Santa Barbara on a budget | Where to stay in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara beachfront hotel | California | American Riveria | http://www.TravelingWellForLess.com

Photo by Jay Sinclair/Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Take the scenic drive up Alameda Padre Serra to Franceschi Park for the best views of Santa Barbara. You can enjoy a picnic, hike the horticultural trails, and see the home of botanist Francesco Franceschi.

Pro-tip: Limited parking.

Funk Zone

For a lively evening head down to the Funk Zone. The Funk Zone is a revitalized multi-block area between State Street and Garden Street where you can shop, eat, and drink to your heart's content. | Santa Barbara on a budget | Where to stay in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara beachfront hotel | California | American Riveria | http://www.TravelingWellForLess.com

Photo by Mark Weber/Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

For a lively evening head down to the Funk Zone. The Funk Zone is a revitalized multi-block area between State Street and Garden Street where you can shop, eat, and drink to your heart’s content.

Pro-tip: Parking is $1.50 an hour. You get 1 free 75-minute parking a day (if you can find a spot). Save money by taking Uber!

Museums

Culture lovers and families will appreciate Santa Barbara's nine museums. There's a museum for every taste from the MOXI, Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. | Santa Barbara on a budget | Where to stay in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara beachfront hotel | California | American Riveria | http://www.TravelingWellForLess.com

Photo by Jason Rick, Courtesy of MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation/Visit Santa Barbara

Culture lovers and families will appreciate Santa Barbara’s nine museums. There’s a museum for every taste from the MOXI, Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Pro-tip: Check out the rooftop garden in the MOXI.

Wineries

You can explore the various wineries in Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez. There are over 200 wineries in Santa Barbara County from to Alma Rosa to Zaca Mesa and every winery in between. | Santa Barbara on a budget | Where to stay in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara beachfront hotel | California | American Riveria | http://www.TravelingWellForLess.com

Photo by Blake Bronstad/Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

You can explore the various wineries in Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez. There are over 200 wineries in Santa Barbara County from to Alma Rosa to Zaca Mesa and every winery in between.

Check out all the things you can do in Santa Barbara.

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara

Beachfront in Santa Barbara on a budget at the Santa Barbara Inn. With a California Mission, Spanish Mediterranean architecture style, the hotel only looks expensive. Rooms are affordable and include daily breakfast. | Where to stay in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara beachfront hotel | California | American Riveria | http://www.TravelingWellForLess.com

Santa Barbara offers a variety of accommodations for all budgets. If you want to stay in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara consider staying at the Kimpton Canary Hotel.

You can enjoy a beachfront hotel without the beachfront price tag at the Santa Barbara Inn and the Fess Parker Doubletree. Both hotels are across the street from the popular East Beach. East Beach has volleyball courts, a playground, and picnic tables.

On my recent visit to Santa Barbara, I stayed at the Santa Barbara Inn. I loved being able to walk across the street for early morning walks on the beach and see the sunrise over the ocean.

Read my review of the Santa Barbara Inn.

Pro-tip: If heading downtown and didn’t rent a car take Uber or the Downtown & Waterfront Shuttles. Shuttles run every 10 minutes and cost $1.75 per person each way.

Conclusion

A trip to Santa Barbara, the American Riveria, doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You can save money by booking a vacation package through an online travel agency like Expedia.

Or use your airline miles to fly into Santa Barbara or Los Angeles. Los Angeles is 1 1/2 hours from Santa Barbara. You can rent a car and drive or relax and take the train or shuttle.

There are so many things to do in Santa Barbara. Relax on the beach, stimulate your mind at one of the many museums, or go wine tasting, the choices are endless.

Beachfront hotels like the Santa Barbara Inn and the Fess Parker Doubletree are affordable. Rooms are large enough for the entire family to enjoy without feeling cramped. All rooms at the Santa Barbara Inn include free daily breakfast.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Santa Barbara?

Pin this to your travel, vacation, and/or California boards:

Known as the American Riveria, the mild winters and warm summers make Santa Barbara a popular vacation spot. Here's how to visit Santa Barbara on a budget. | Photo by Jay Sinclair, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara| Santa Barbara on a budget | Where to stay in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara beachfront hotel | California | American Riveria | https://www.TravelingWellForLess.com

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The Santa Barbara Inn is a boutique hotel with 70 rooms including suites. Every room offers a view of the ocean, Channel Islands, Stearns Wharf, or Santa Ynez Mountains. With a California Mission, Spanish Mediterranean architecture style, the hotel only looks expensive. | Where to stay in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara beachfront hotel | California | American Riveria | www.TravelingWellForLess.com
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Madhu

Sunday 23rd of September 2018

Great tips..Looks like an amazing place..Love the pics

Kay

Saturday 22nd of September 2018

Yesss, good ol' Santa Barbara! I love all the nearby hikes (Like Knapp's Castle!). Totally budget friendly too!

Debra Schroeder

Sunday 23rd of September 2018

Hi Kay,

Gotta love a budget destination. :)

Jen Joslin

Thursday 11th of January 2018

I love Santa Barbara! These are great tips for making the most of your visit on a budget. Taking the Amtrak train is such a comfortable way to get there. We're planning a trip to Santa Barbara this summer, so it's great to know we can save 20% on Amtrak tickets through Santa Barbara's car free program! Also a really good tip to Uber and save money on parking. As you said, the wineries in Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas are really nice. There are also several wineries in the city on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. The wine bar on the pier is especially lovely if you can get up there for a tasting around sunset :)

Ami Bhat

Wednesday 10th of January 2018

Seems like a gorgeous place for a relaxed holiday by the beach. And the wineries bit spices that up. I wouldnt mind the museums too from what I see. On the whole a holiday, where you do nothing and yet do something,

Jennifer Melroy

Tuesday 9th of January 2018

I just want to visit every winery in California at some point. I found this great little wine bar last time I was in Santa Barbara. I can't remember the name but they had a great little patio and an amazing selection of local wine. Great guide on all the public transport options to get to Santa Barbara.

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