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Like a slice of the Mediterranean Riviera, Santa Barbara is a real charmer. Downtown, iconic red-tiled roofs and whitewashed adobe buildings beautifully echo the city’s Spanish colonial past. By the beach in the emerging Funk Zone, you can shake hands with young winemakers and brewers, rule-breaking artists and locavarian chefs.
Santa Barbara’s best-known sight is the queenly 18th-century Catholic mission that stands on a hilltop above downtown. For even more incredible panoramas of the sparkling ocean and mountains, climb to the top of the clock tower inside the county courthouse – it’s free. Nearby State Street, downtown’s main drag, overflows with boutiques, creative restaurants and bars thronged by UCSB college students.
Stearns Wharf, one of California’s most historic piers, anchors the waterfront. Rent a candy-colored cruiser bicycle to pedal past beach after beach, or drive outside town to even bigger state park beaches off Highway 101. Santa Barbara’s wine country is another fun day trip: discover bucolic wine trails, farm-to-table restaurants and the kitschy but cute Danish village of Solvang.