Santa Barbara is a popular destination for travelers from around the world thanks to the Mediterranean climate, white sand beaches, coastal mountains, and Spanish-style architecture. Nicknamed the American Riviera, it’s easy to understand why. This small beach town is a little piece of paradise, and it can come at a price.
Santa Barbara can seem notoriously expensive if you don’t know where to look, so we’ve come up with a few local tips and travel tricks to help you vacation in Santa Barbara on a budget.
Vacation in Santa Barbara on a Budget
Tricks of the Trade – Low Hotel Rates
Picking a hotel is one of the most important parts of planning a vacation. At Hotel Santa Barbara we know all the tricks of the trade, and we’re sharing a few ways to help you get the best value during next hotel stay in Santa Barbara:
- Book your stay midweek – Rates are always lower during the week from Sunday through Thursday.
- Call us directly to book your stay – We offer lower rates to guests who call to book a reservation directly. Also, by calling the hotel directly you can let us know of any special celebrations or requests, and staff can notify you of new special promotions. Be sure to ask about partnerships and discounts around town, such as two-for-one wine tasting, discounts at restaurants and complimentary added spa services.
- Avoid traveling during peak months – June through August are the most popular times to travel, so rates are highest during these months. But in Santa Barbara the summer weather continues into September and October without the top summer rates. Or try November and December for the lowest weekend rates of the year. Hotel Santa Barbara’s best deal of the year? Stay the week after Thanksgiving.
- Travel Car Free – Ditch the car and take the train! By leaving the car at home you’ll save on parking and gas, and our central location means you can walk everywhere!
Santa Barbara is brimming with restaurants from quick and casual to fine dining. The key to finding wallet-friendly spots in Santa Barbara is to look off the beaten path, take something to-go, and know where to find the places with great specials.
For an inexpensive breakfast option, try ordering a local breakfast burrito to go and taking it to the end of the Stearns Wharf for a morning meal with a view. Try Rudy’s Fresh Mexican Food for inexpensive and authentic Mexican breakfast burritos. The Cajun Kitchen has reasonably priced, delicious food and outdoor seating just a short walk from the hotel, or head across the street to Joe’s Café for a classic All American breakfast to-go with eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast for under $13.
For lunches the locals love and a quick and inexpensive option if you’re shopping along State Street, try The Habit, a classic burger joint that originated right here in Santa Barbara. You can also order your meal to-go and take lunch down to the beach or sit on their State Street facing patio and people-watch. We also love Kyle’s Kitchen, a local fast-lunch café off the main drag of State Street. Kyle’s serves up affordable gourmet burgers, sandwiches and salads, plus local craft beer and wine. Perfect for a picnic down at the beach.
Happy Hour and Taco Tuesday
If you’re vacationing on a budget in Santa Barbara then you need to know the proper lingo to look for a great deal. “Happy hour” and “taco Tuesdays” are key for enjoying some of Santa Barbara’s finest restaurants and bars without breaking the bank.
Santa Barbara Happy Hour
Flor de Maiz is Santa Barbara’s newest beachside restaurant, and they have one of the best Happy Hour menus around. Grab a seat at the bar and enjoy an array of Mexican-inspired cuisine for just $7 per plate. And don’t miss out on their $6 Happy Hour margaritas.
Oku, located right next door to Flor de Maiz, is new Asian fusion hot spot with a great happy hour. Monday – Friday, from 2:00 – 4:30 pm, you can get happy hour cocktails for $7 and small bites with special pricing, like their Saigon wings for $9.
While your down at the beach we recommended a visit to Santa Barbara Fishouse for one the best happy hour menus in town. Enjoy beach views from their outdoor patio while noshing on ahi poke, fried calamari, fresh oysters on the cheap and a happy hour beer for $5.
Head up State Street to Jane for their Sidewalk Happy Hour Monday – Friday from 5-6 pm with a rotating selection of food, local wines and craft beers.
For some taco Tuesday action love Mony’s Mexican Food, a small family-owned restaurant tucked away in the super cool Funk Zone neighborhood. Great for taco Tuesday (frankly, any day of the week), these flavor packed tacos are only $1.95 each. Pair them with one of the unique fresh salsas made from scratch daily. Hit the salsa bar and try the pistachio, peanut, avocado, and mango salsas!
Or try Lilly’s Taqueria – home to authentic Mexican street tacos found tucked away at the end of Chapala in a little corner of downtown SB. Sample classic Mexican offerings like carne asada, al pastor and lengua. Tacos are only $2 each so you can load up.
Santa Barbara Activities that Won’t Break the Bank
Santa Barbara Beaches
They say the best things in life are free. And that saying rings true when you experience the sand, sun and sea along the SB coastline. Santa Barbara has miles of wide sandy beaches where you can soak up the sun, swim and hammock among the palm trees for $ZERO.
Located along Cabrillo Blvd, East Beach is one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted beaches in Santa Barbara. Free-to-use volleyball courts are located at the far East-end of the beach. The palm trees along Cabrillo Blvd are a favorite for setting up a hammock and watching the biker riders and sailboats go by. Free parking is available along Cabrillo Blvd. Or visit Hendry’s Beach, a popular spot to walk dogs, play Frisbee, and enjoy a picnic while the sun sets. Free parking is available but keep in mind that the parking lot gates close at sunset.
Hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains
For a short-but-sweet hike with amazing views try Inspiration Point. From the top you’ll have uninterrupted views of the ocean from Montecito to Goleta. For a little more challenge try the Seven Falls hike also located at the end of Tunnel Road. At the end of the trail, you’ll find natural ponds where you can cool off before heading back down. Or drive up Hwy 154 to explore Lizard’s Mouth, a rock outcropping with full SB views, famous for the iconic rock formation where it gets its name. This is also a popular spot for rock climbing.
Tour the Town
There is a lot to see in Santa Barbara and by taking a tour you can experience the town like a local and see some off-the-beaten-path gems. Try one of the many Santa Barbara self-guided tours available, including walking tours, driving tours, and nature hikes. Discover Santa Barbara’s unique architecture, historic sites, and gorgeous coastline.
Or try a tour with MORE! Find tours that offer a unique Santa Barbara experience plus a little extra. The 3-hour food, wine and photography tour with Eat This, Shoot That tour company is big bang for your buck. For only $109 guests will enjoy 6-8 locations with food and wine tastings at each, led by a professional tour guide. We also love the farmers’ market Foodie Stroll with Bouchon Santa Barbara. Tour the market with Chef Greg Murphy, select ingredients and return to the restaurant at 6 pm for a three-course dinner with wine, all for $125/person.
More SB Fun on a Budget
- Go for a Santa Barbara bike ride. Santa Barbara has an extensive bike path system and great trails for mountain bike riding. Bring your own bike or try one of the many bike rental companies in town where you can cruise everywhere and all day for less than $40.
- Have a picnic! Grab some goods from the Santa Barbara farmers’ market (a free event held in Downtown SB every Tuesday and Saturday) and head to the Mission rose gardens or Chase Palm Park. Or get a cup of clam chowder at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company and sit on the edge of Stearns’ Wharf for exceptional views.
- Visit the Santa Barbara Zoo for hours of fun and beautiful views, all outside. Admission prices range from $12 – $20, but the rich experience of the SB Zoo is worth so much more.
- Explore Downtown Santa Barbara: a walk from the top of Downtown to the end of Stearns Wharf is a great (and free) way to do some window shopping, take in the architecture and visit some historic sites. Take a detour to visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the historic El Presidio.
While Santa Barbara can seem like an expensive town to visit, there are plenty of ways to vacation in Santa Barbara on a budget. Big outdoor spaces with great weather are some of the best features of Santa Barbara and those are FREE! Plus, with a little insider info you’ll know how to find great deals tucked away all over town.
For more low-cost recommendations for your trip or to book your stay, call our 24/7 Hotel Santa Barbara staff at 1 (800) 549-9869.