5 Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, CA

5 Best Places to Live in Santa Barbara

Searching for the best places to live in Santa Barbara, CA? Here are 5 of the best neighborhoods!

Located on California’s central coast, the laid-back city of Santa Barbara is a great destination for young professionals, entrepreneurs, families, and retirees alike. Renowned for its stretches of pristine beaches, surfing, prime hiking, mountain trails, and world-class dining, living in Santa Barbara is the perfect place for any nature enthusiast and adventurer. Plus, home to multiple top colleges and universities including the University of California at Santa Barbara, further your education while learning in paradise. 

Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, CA - Here are the Best Places to Live in Santa Barbara California

Though the cost of living may be high, Santa Barbara is still considered one of the best places to live in California. Whether you are making the big move to California for work or simply for a change of scenery, consider making Santa Barbara your new home. Before moving, you might be wondering what the best areas to live in Santa Barbara are. With the help of this neighborhood guide, learn all about where you should live while staying away from any dangerous areas. Read on to learn more about the 5 Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, California!

1. Downtown Santa Barbara

Did you know that Santa Barbara is actually a pretty small city? Spanning for only 21 square miles, there are multiple neighborhoods in the area that will appeal to any lifestyle. Downtown Santa Barbara for example has made the top of this list for its beach vibe and small-town charm. Recognized as the heart of Santa Barbara, the streets of Downtown are where locals can find top restaurants, museums, art galleries, nightlife, entertainment, and historical landmarks. Considered walkable, most residents that choose to live in Downtown Santa Barbara are young professionals and families that want to be surrounded by only the best amenities that the city has to offer. Not only are commute times short to work, but getting around on these city streets is easy to navigate. 

Beloved for its Spanish architecture and vibrant culture, there are plenty of housing options to consider. Have your pick of single-family ranch-style homes, historical cottages or bungalow homes, contemporary apartments, or renovated townhomes and condos. Known as a popular destination, most residents can be found near State Street which is the hub of shopping and entertainment. Known as a generally safe and beautiful city, living in Downtown Santa Barbara is highly sought after. Plus, if you are moving to the area with school-aged children, Downtown Santa Barbara is home to highly-rated public and private schools.

Local Favorites:

  • Happy Canyon Vineyard: A proud American Viticultural Area, this vineyard encompasses 492 acres of vines in the mountains. At the Downtown Santa Barbara tasting room, bring together your friends and family to sample some of the best wine in Santa Barbara County. 

  • Grassini Family Vineyards: This local tasting room is offering wine flights of red and white wine alongside chocolate pairings. Grassini Family Vineyards has also won plenty of awards including “Best Winery” and “Best Tasting Room.”

  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art: Open since 1941, this contemporary art museum displays inspiring collections of art that span a period of 4,000 years. Featuring both permanent displays and rotating exhibitions, this is a must-visit for art lovers. 

  • Cold Spring Tavern: This American restaurant is a truly unique experience with its western saloon atmosphere and historical decor. Serving up local wine and game, dine on exotic meats, and enjoy live music performed by local musicians.

Downtown Santa Barbara aerial view and skyline with the mountains in the backgrounds

2. Mission Canyon

The neighborhood of Mission Canyon is a suburb of Santa Barbara. Considered more remote than other nearby neighborhoods, Mission Canyon is found directly between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Surrounded by picturesque views and beautiful natural landmarks, this residential area stands out from all of the others. Considered one of the most magnificent neighborhoods in the area, Mission Canyon, unfortunately, does not provide many amenities due to its focus on sought-after parks and natural wonders that attract many tourists and visitors. Most of the entertainment, shopping, and restaurants can be found in Downtown Santa Barbara. 

Surrounded by lush vegetation, forests, and valleys, there is much to see and explore when living in this neighborhood. On the other hand, due to all of this lush vegetation, the risk of wildfires remains high and is a concern for residents. Perfect for well-established couples and successful business professionals, most residents that live in Mission Canyon have been around the area for a while. 

Described as both eclectic and historic, most homes in Mission Canyon are found along the hillside and situated close to one another. With many home styles to choose from, have your choice of single-family homes built in the 1920s and the 1930s, ranch-style homes, cottages, bungalows, modern architecture, and Spanish Revival styles. Some of the largest homes and lots in this area have a median home value of up to $3 million. It is safe to say that living in Mission Canyon comes with a high price tag. 

Local Favorites: 

  • Old Mission Santa Barbara: Founded in 1786 by the Franciscan order, this mission was built with the purpose of religious conversion for Native Americans. Today, this mission sits on 15-acres and directly overlooks the Pacific Ocean. A display of true Spanish architecture, this historic mission is a must-see at least once. 

  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden: Spanning for 78-acres, this botanical garden is home to over 1,000 species of plants that are both rare and local. A great place to bring the family, make sure to snap some pictures while admiring nature at its finest. 

  • Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: Attracting over 150,000 visitors each year, this museum features both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Learn all about the history of Santa Barbara and the land by taking a tour, attending a workshop, or participating in an educational program. 

  • Old Spanish Days Festival Santa Barbara: Taking place every August, this Santa Barbara tradition celebrates the history of the city and its founders in a week-long fiesta and celebration. Participate in dancing, parades, live music, and enjoy some of the best food and drinks in the area.

Santa Barbara beach at night time with the sunsetting and beautiful scenery

3. The Riviera

Santa Barbara is often referred to as the “American Riviera” and this neighborhood is a prime example of why. Characterized by its white stucco and red-tiled rooftop homes, the neighborhood of the Riviera closely resembles a Mediterranean coastal city. Situated only 10 minutes away from Downtown Santa Barbara, The Riviera is in a prime location and has become one of the cities most desirable neighborhoods. Surrounded by the beautiful mountain landscape, homes are nestled in the hillside with breathtaking views of the deep blue Pacific Ocean. In fact, instead of having front and backyards, most single-family homes are adorned with decks and balconies instead in order to witness the stunning scenery every day.

Attracting an older demographic, most residents in this neighborhood are either well-established professionals or retirees. Since there are no schools in this area, living here is not ideal for families with children. Often described by residents as relaxing and serene, living in The Riviera is a true reflection of what Santa Barbara is all about. If you are looking for a neighborhood that lives at a slow pace among curved streets and out of this world views then consider moving to The Riveria. Featuring stately mansions and large estates, most homes here sell from anywhere between $1 million and $3 million. In our opinion - The Riveria is one of the best neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, California.

Local Favorites: 

  • The Channel Islands: This collection of eight islands is located just off of the coast of southern California and is a cool weekend getaway or day trip. Take a boat over! 

  • McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream: Open since 1949, this family-owned ice cream shop is serving up classic flavors sustainably at two locations. 

  • West Wind Drive-In at Santa Barbara: Get a taste of nostalgia at this old-school neighborhood drive-in theatre. Grab a group of friends and watch movies from your car. There are even select free showings during the summer. 

  • Santa Barbara Shellfish Company: Enjoy authentic New England-style fare at this coastal eatery. Make sure to order clam chowder in a bread bowl for the full experience. There is even an outdoor patio near the water to allow for prime ocean viewing near the beach. 

4. The Mesa

The Mesa in Spanish translates to a “flat-topped hill with steep sides.” This neighborhood lives up to its namesake due to its elevated and flat two-and-a-half-mile stretch of land. Located next to the Pacific Ocean, the neighborhood of The Mesa is close to nearby beaches, parks, green spaces, walking trails, and many other amenities. Beloved for its youthful ambiance and historical influence, many young professionals, families, and college students have decided to call The Mesa home. Recognized as one of the youngest and newest residential communities in Santa Barbara, this is an up-and-coming area with a lot of potential for further development and growth.

Offering many housing options, most single-family homes in this area are of Mediterranean, ranch, contemporary, and cottage styles. Divided into three separate districts, residents decide to live in East Mesa, West Mesa, or Alta Mesa. East and West Mesa are closer to the ocean and have higher home values while Alta Mesa is a bit further away. Residents that decide to live in this neighborhood are often outdoor enthusiasts that love to spend their free time in nature. Often prized for its small-town and intimate vibe, The Mesa is a great neighborhood for those wanting a tight-knit community and friendly neighbors. 

Local Favorites: 

  • Shoreline Park: This wide-open green space is perfect for relaxing or reading a book. Only a short walk from the ocean, this park has beautiful views and a plethora of tall palm trees. 

  • Rose Cafe Santa Barbara: Claimed to be one of the best Mexican restaurants in Santa Barbara, this eatery is serving authentic dishes and housemade margaritas. 

  • Mesa Verde: Specializing in vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free dishes, this restaurant is dishing out only fresh and locally sourced food. 

  • Alcazar Tapas Bar: This tapa bar is inspired by Latin American and European cuisine. Enjoy specialty-made craft cocktails and wine in an intimate setting.

Downtown Santa Barbara close up of the city and streets

5. Isle Vista

Due to this neighborhood’s proximity to the University of California at Santa Barbara, many college students and young professionals decide to call Isle Vista home. Prized for its high safety rating, living in this neighborhood is highly sought after. Surrounded by many local coffee shops, bookstores, restaurants, boutiques, and exciting nightlife, Isle Vista is a prime example of a college neighborhood. Since most of Isle Vista is centered around the university, expect to find many rental apartment buildings and homes as well as cheap entertainment. With a population of over 27,000 people in this community, there is always something to do and an event to attend. Plus, since the neighborhood backs upright to the beach, many residents can be found in the sand or surfing the waves. If you are looking for a home in the area, it is advised to start your home search before the start of the school year in order to beat the college student crowd.

Local Favorites: 

  • Campus Point Beach: Also known as Goleta Beach, this is the surfing beach of the University of California at Santa Barbara. 

  • Sands Beach Santa Barbara: A peaceful beach, this is a great place to watch the sunset and admire the ocean view. There is even a trail that leads to the University of California at Santa Barbara campus. 

  • Art, Design, and Architecture Museum of Santa Barbara: Located on the University of California at Santa Barbara campus, this art and architecture museum features over 8,500 works of art. 

  • Chaucer’s Bookstore: This independent and locally owned bookstore has been around since 1974 and has over 150,000 books to choose from. A Santa Barbara gem, this little bookshop is a local hotspot for book lovers. 

The Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, CA - The Bottom Line

Once you have found the neighborhood of your dreams in Santa Barbara, then it is time to reach out to one of our knowledgeable and experienced Realty Specialists to aid and guide you through the home buying process. Whether you want to live in a home close to the ocean or nestled deep in the hillside, there is a neighborhood for you. Contact us today to find the perfect home and neighborhood in Santa Barbara, California! Our team will lead you through every step of the way.

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Ryan Fitzgerald

Hi there! My name is Ryan Fitzgerald, and I am a REALTOR®. My goal is to help you learn more about real estate through our Real Estate Blog! Hopefully, you enjoyed the above blog post and it found a way to provide help or value to you. When you're ready to buy or sell a home of your own let us know here. Please feel free to join the conversation by dropping us a comment below.