Ahhh, Santa Barbara. At this California seaside city on the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find pristine beaches, stunning views, mountain hiking, shopping, museums, and a picturesque, walkable downtown bedecked with Spanish-style architecture. With all this resort town has to offer, it’s no wonder why many vegan celebrities and business owners call Santa Barbara home. If you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles or California’s Central Coast, don’t miss this vegan-friendly destination full of great food and activities. Here’s 10 reasons why:
1. Down-home Comfort Food
A haven for gluten-free foodies, Adama Vegan Comfort Cuisine serves up fancified all-American faves like fried “chicken”, shepherd’s pie, and Caesar salad. Be sure to save room for dessert—their pecan pie and housemade gelato are a must.
Mesa Verde, Santa Barbara’s newest plant-based joint, showcases the best of Mediterranean cuisine from Moroccan and Egyptian to Provincial French and Sicilian. Solar panels, reclaimed wood, and local produce augment the restaurateurs’ commitment to sustainability. Mesa Verde also makes delicious fresh-pressed juices.
3. Day at the Spa
Nothing says Santa Barbara more than a luxurious day at the spa, and that perfect escape awaits you at Alchemy Arts Center. In addition to offering healing therapies, yoga classes, wellness lectures, and cleanses, Alchemy has a terrific café that dishes out healthy, organic, and veggie-laden farm-to-table fare.
4. Some Like It Hot
Hike up to the hidden Montecito Hot Springs to make your own watering hole in Santa Barbara’s backcountry, home to Veganist author Kathy Freston and vegan-ish Oprah Winfrey. Locals have figured out how to create their own DIY hot tub by diverting water from the springs to crudely fashioned depressions in the ground. It’s serene, lush, and totally worth the trip.
5. Pizza & Beer
After a long hike or bike ride, you deserve a gourmet pizza and draft beer or local wine. At Pizza Guru, start with the garlic breadsticks and vegan ranch, and then customize your own pie with a gluten-free crust, Daiya cheese, a garlic white sauce, vegetables, and “meaty” toppings like veggie pepperoni, Canadian bacon, marinated tofu, and ground beef.
6. Urban Wine Trail
Explore Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail by foot or bicycle taxi in the hip arts district known as the Funk Zone. Festooned with tasting rooms from local vineyards and galleries, the area is also home to Green House Studios. The quaint and cozy studio/showroom belongs to vegan artist Erika Carter and sits on a plot of cultivated space that grows fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs. Ask Erika for her famous pozole recipe—it’s divine!
7. Two for Tuesday
Meander the streets of Santa Barbara’s historic downtown on a Tuesday and find yourself in farmers’ market paradise. With so many farms in a 100-mile radius, you’ll get the cream of the crop … from luscious olives and oils to juicy figs and fresh pistachios. It’s also Bargain Tuesday at the downtown theater. Dinner and a movie, anyone?
8. Let’s Go Boating
Take an excursion to one of the Channel Islands for a tranquil day of wildlife viewing (hello, dolphins, whales, seals, and foxes) and wandering through the remote, impressionistic landscape. Carve in some downtime and bring a copy of the award-winning book, Island of the Blue Dolphins, which was inspired by this region. Spoiler alert: the main character goes veg!
9. Wine & Rock Art
While on a daytrip to the Santa Ynez Valley for wine tasting, stop by the Painted Cave to see some of the finest remaining rock art created by the Chumash Native Americans. These paintings are estimated to be from the 1600’s and are protected by the state of California. Bring a flashlight!
10. Foodie Favorites
Looking for goodies to take back home to the dog sitter? Isabella Gourmet Foods sells innovative products from local entrepreneurs, including The Angry Vegan line of pasta sauces, Punk Rawk Labs nut cheese, and Rock Rose Provisions’ Maple Spice Almond Butter. Free samples make it worth the short detour from State Street.
Carolyn Merino Mullin is the founder and executive director of the National Museum of Animals and Society in Los Angeles. She is lucky enough to call Santa Barbara her home away from home.