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The Best things To Do in Santa Barbara

My Tips on How to Explore this California Beach Town

Santa Barbara is a captivating beach town that to me, feels like nowhere else on along the pacific coast. It has a distinct, down-to-earth yet kinda quirky personality that is nestled in the midst of mountains, shoreline and sunshine.  For a Santa Monica resident like myself, I try to escape to SB a few times per year as it is a scenic 2 hour drive and a world away from the touristed, trafficky LA hotspots. Since so many people have asked for my favorite things to do when I go, I decided to post up some highlights.

Surrey the City

When I first arrive in a new town, I usually like to walk, jog or bike the streets to get a feel for the place. But in Santa Barbara there’s an even more unique and hilarious method of getting around– the Surrey! This ‘tuk-tuk meets bike’ is powered by your own two legs, but you can have the help of a partner, or even the whole family! You aren’t in a hurry in a surrey (wow didn’t mean to rhyme) but that is the beauty of it. You sit back, enjoy the scenery and easily stop whenever you want to take a photo or grab a bite.

I suggest taking your surrey along the beach front path and stopping at Shoreline Beach Cafe for delicious bites and drinks, right in the sand. I rented our surrey from Wheels of Fun, conveniently located right near the beach and at the start of the Funk Zone.

Kayaking Along the Coast

Santa Barbara has a spectacular coastline. Cove beaches, gentle waves and palm tree studded stretches of sand. The way the coast curves in and out makes for jaw-dropping views as the sun sets and I always envy the people drifting along the sailboats in the horizon.

I think the best way to appreciate Santa Barbara’s best asset (IMO) is by getting IN it! Swimming is wonderful but I prefer kayaking the deep blue waters to cover more ground, take photos and hang out for a few hours. The on-the-water vantage point lets you appreciate the shoreline to one side, the endless blue to the other and all the marine life all the way to the sea floor, below your paddles.

There are a few good options for kayaking. I’ve paddled the harbor and really liked the “front door” look at the breathtaking boats in the marina as well as the reverse perspective of the town from the water. It is also very family friendly since it relatively calm and can be done in an hour.

It also doesn’t hurt that on our paddle, sea lions were swimming alongside our boat. I’d recommend this harbor tour to set you up with kayaks and a guide

If you are looking for something a little more unique and more adventurous, the four kayak excursion at Refugio State Park might be more your speed. This 3 mile tour covers one of the least developed parts of California’s coast, which means LOTS of wildlife. Your guide informs you about all the plants and wildlife that makes these waters home. I also like that there’s even a stop to have an included lunch on a secluded beach. Learn more about the Refugio State Beach Kayak tour here.

Surfs Up

Whether you are a local looking to improve your skills or a visitor wanting to check off “surfing in California” from the Bucket List, it’s a good idea to pick up a board and head out. You are in California after all.

But many of our waves are no joke and I wouldn’t recommend diving into surfing as a novice–without some guidance at least (I always go out with a guide as I am still learning as well).

Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers that guidance, and the gear, so you can get out on the waves confidently and safely. Choose from a 2 or 4 hour lesson, which comes with boards, wetsuits and instruction– no matter what level you are at. You surf at a nearby beach that has gentle waves and is free from rocks which is a perfect place to learn. It’s also only 15 minutes away so you can still make it back to town for a well deserved post-surf lunch or happy hour.

Speaking of happy hour… THE FuNk ZoNe

It’s no secret that the Funk Zone is the fun place to be, especially from 4:30 to sunset. Every time I visit it, it feels different and to be honest, even better! My last time touring the FZ, I was pregnant, so I had a very sober look at all the wineries, breweries, cocktail bars and little shops in between. Let me tell you, if I thought it was awesome sober, imagine how great it is if you can have a drink or two.

After sipping our way through many, here are the stops in the Funk Zone that stick out.

Figueroa Brewing Company: The outdoor patio and frequent live music made me love this place, even though I don’t love beer.

Kunin: The Cape Cod beach vibe of this place made me fall in love immediately and it was lovely to post up a high top and linger over a glass of local pinot noir.

Test Pilot: I can’t help but love a good cocktail and a good cocktail in a perfectly decorated tiki style bar? My love overflows. Definitely stop here if just to admire the ship wheel lamp that adorns the main bar.

Wine Not?

The ideal way to experience the wine country near Santa Barbara is to do so worry-free. Booking with Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours takes away the hassles associated with transportation, itinerary, and they even provide lunch and cold drinks. You are spending the day drinking wine, so you aren’t driving so you’ll need a shuttle service anyway (much easier than trying to find ubers at some of these more remote locations).

SB Wine Country Tours offers one tour in particular that I think looks incredible. It is a Cupcake and Wine Tour, where you eat your way through a cupcake & wine pairing, explore Los Olivos and have lunch at a small winery. The town of Los Olivos is so charming and perfect for an afternoon visit. Plus the wineries that they takes you too, like Sunstone and Brander, make each stop intoxicating. 🙂

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For more of my favorite things to do, check out my 24 Hours in Santa Barbara video!

What are your favorite things to do in Santa Barbara? I am always looking for new things to try on my next trip!

xo

Kelley

torii gate

Top 5 Adventures in Setouchi, Japan

Japan might be synonymous with gardens, temples, sushi and cherry blossoms, but did you also realize that it is home to a wild variety of adventures? I spent 2 weeks exploring the Setouchi Region in Southwest Japan, which is famous for its breathtaking landscapes so it’s no surprise that outdoor adventures are plentiful here. I had no idea that Japan looked like this! We explored beaches and coasts, clear waters, rugged mountains, sweeping valleys and iconic cities throughout this region, and it is the adventures that stand out to me most. Here is a list of my favorite experiences throughout the region. Note that since Setouchi is all about the Seto Inland Sea, each of these experiences have to do with water in some way.

  1. Kayak the Floating Gate

torii gate

 

You’ve probably seen images of this incredible gate, the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine. Itsukushima is a Shinto Shrine and World Heritage Site, and I think it is a marvel unto itself. Built to honor the gods of the sea, it has been a popular place of worship for sea travels ever since the Edo period. This outdoor shrine is located on the shores of the sacred Miyajima Island, constructed near and even in the water. But this particular torii gate might be one of Japan’s most iconic images. The gate is built right on the water so during high tide, when the water surrounds it, it appears to be floating. High tide is the perfect time to see it up close, by kayaking!

Itsukushima Shrine

We rented kayaks from a small shop, right in the center of town. They helped us bring the kayaks out to the shore and provided a guide to help us paddle and navigate the two-seater kayaks. It was helpful to have help paddling since I had to stop a few times to take photos! I couldn’t believe how stunning the gate was as we passed through it. The vermillion color, the ornate carvings and the striking backdrop is even more tremendous when you experience it on the water. I will cherish the photos I took of this kayak adventure forever.

 

2. Fly in a Seaplane

Setouchi Seaplanes flight seaplane

The Seto Inland Sea is home to thousands of islands and it is probably the most dramatic part of this entire region. To take in the breadth of the sea as well as the beauty of the terrain, a seaplane gives you an incomparable perspective.

Setouchi Seaplanes

I couldn’t recommend Setouchi Seaplanes more. This company has an ultra hip, ultra modern checkin counter and lounge, complete with complimentary drinks and snacks. Check out their cute selection of souvenirs from their gift shop.

From there, you are guided onto the dock for a quick security check and then onto the seaplane. With one seat on either side, and 3 rows behind the pilots, our group of 6 had plenty of room. There are two amphibious aircraft available and I was excited that we flew in the bright red and green “L’ala Rossa.” As we took off from the water, it was exhilarating to see the islands, roads, and bridges get smaller and smaller. What I didn’t expect was how photogenic the landscape would be from this angle. I was captivated by the glittering sea, the uninhabited islands and the miniscule speeding boats as are we soared for 50 minutes. The pilots pointed out highlights along the route and I felt the entire service was very professional and the planes were very well maintained. Let’s not forget, it definitely pumps the adrenaline too!

 

3. Bike the Shimanami Kaido

Shimanami Kaido Biking

With over 37 miles of paved bike paths, it is no wonder that cyclist flock to Setouchi for their biking vacations. Not only are the paths very well constructed, they are extremely scenic as well! We picked up our bike at our homebase, the Hotel Cycle in Onomichi, and from there we biked along the coastal paths. This allowed us to stop at beaches, admire water views, cross some of Setouchi’s many architectural bridges and hop from island to island. We biked to Ikuchijima Island to explore the vivid Kosanji Temple. And if you are hungry, check out the delicious tempura restaurants in town!  

 

4. Cruise the Oboke Gorge

Oboke Gorge Iya Valley Boat

Yet another water adventure can be found away from the Seto Sea, up in the mountains of the Iya Valley on Tokushima Island. Surrounded by what seems to be endless, wooded peaks, this region is already spectacular. But try experiencing it by boat.

Oboke Gorge Iya Valley

We embarked on a sightseeing boat to explore the Oboke Gorge, a crystal clear part of the Yoshinaro River. The cruise was very relaxed and peaceful. It was such a lovely way take in the fresh air and surrounding nature of the Iya Valley. Plus the water is so clear, you are can see wild koi fish splashing about under the hull.

 

5. Cross the Kazura Bridge

Kazura Bridge Iya Valley

You wouldn’t expect a bridge to be an adventure, but this one is! The Kazura Bridge is a hanging rope bridge that spans 50 feet above a river. It is thought to have been built by the samurai that lived in these mountains, who chose to built it out of vines and ropes so they could cut it down in case they were being trailed by attackers.

Standing on the Kazura Bridge

Now it is a picturesque tourist destination for it’s Iya Valley views but also for the bragging rights of crossing it. I am not going to lie, I was a little scared when I stepped on it. I had not expected the vines to be so far apart, making me very aware of the 50 foot drop between each step. The bridge also sways with movement and with the wind, so hold on!

 

The best way to understand these adventures is to see them!

Check out my Adventure video where I dive into all these Setouchi experiences and even more that I didn’t mention! 

Food Guide of Valais, Switzerland

The Valais region in the South East of Switzerland is known for its sunshine! All this sun makes for a great growing season—fruits, vegetables, grains, grapes all grow very well here, making the food of the Valais so fresh and delicious. I tasted rosti, a fried potato hash, with pork sausage, at 3000 meters on top of Gornergrat and freshly made chicken with spaetzle on the Matterhorn. I sipped wines with a local vintner, ate handmade chocolates with a chocolatier and dined al fresco at family home on a hillside with a Michelin chef. Food is a way of life in the Valais, and it is savored. Don’t miss the apres ski bars in Zermatt to enjoy some of the local beers and wines too!

Featured: Chef Franck Reynaud, David Chocolates, Hotel Etrier, Hotel Pollux, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Gornergrat, Adrenatur Nature Park

Valais Luxury Switzerland

Luxury Guide of the Valais, Switzerland

Local Side of Cartagena

USTOA Live Like a Local
A Colonial coastal city with history, culture and personality in spades, it’s easy to fall in love with Cartagena. What really makes it stand apart is it’s amazing local culture & tradition so come dive right in with me!

Day Trips in Cartagena

USTOA Live Like a Loca
There’s plenty to do in the city but sometimes, you need a little R&R. I discovered that it’s easy to find incredible beaches like the ones in Manzanillo as well as jawdropping natural paradises on the Rosario Islands.

Cruising: All the Activities on board the MSC Divina

The stunning MSC Divina pulled into Miami’s harbor in November to start her Caribbean route.
There is so much to do on the Divina, from a waterslide to pools, open air lounges & the spa–you won’t want to get off the ship! I sure didn’t!