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Cruises to Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara (Photo: Gabriele Maltinti/Shutterstock.com)

About Santa Barbara

Sometimes called the "American Riviera," especially by the real estate industry, Santa Barbara is a well-tended community that practically defines the mellow, sun-drenched California Coast aesthetic. But unlike busy L.A., 95 miles down the coast, Santa Barbara has always been a bit sleepy, which has made it highly enviable to seekers of seclusion and sprawling estates (along with under-the-radar neighbor Montecito -- home to Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres).

Santa Barbara had been settled for thousands of years by Native Americans -- the Chumash -- when European occupation started in 1782 with the building of the last of the Spanish presidios (forts). The Old Mission Santa Barbara is the 10th of the missions established in California by Franciscans from Spain. Today the city has a population of about 88,000, and the growth of Santa Barbara is largely limited by strict zoning laws and building codes that inhibit density. Major industries are aerospace and defense companies, while tourism is a mainstay and an agricultural bounty is found just over the mountains in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Although most of us can't afford to live in Santa Barbara, it's a great stop on a cruise itinerary. Sitting at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the beach-fronted town is small enough to be easily revealed during a day visit, even on foot. The food and wine give us at least a taste of the lifestyle here, which is upmarket and exclusive, without being pampered or pretentious.

Architecture -- especially Spanish Mission and Mediterranean -- is a big piece of the eye candy. Following a 1925 earthquake, city planners decreed that all future building would adopt the style. You'll find it at both the historic sites like the Mission Santa Barbara and the fine county courthouse downtown, as well as in the gorgeous homes that line the avenues paralleling State Street, the main artery through town.

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden represents a feast of California native plants, while those who plan ahead with a reservation can take in Montecito's legendary estate, Lotusland. If your cruise stops here on a Saturday, be sure to visit the Santa Barbara Farmers Market, which brims with robust local produce year-round. Walking, jogging or cycling the pathway lining the beach is an option for independent types, as is touring the harbor or seafront by kayak or standup paddleboard. And just strolling along the rounded archways, adobe walls, and cafes and shops lining State Street can make for a perfectly enjoyable wander.

  • More about Santa Barbara

  • Why go to Santa Barbara?

  • Santa Barbara Cruise Port Facilities?

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Norwegian Jewel
Norwegian Jewel

8 Night
Repo - Pacific CoastalDetails

2,298 Reviews
Leaving:San Diego
Cruise Line:Norwegian Cruise Line
Apr 23, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Radiance of the Seas
Radiance of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

5 Night
Pacific Coastal CruiseDetails

1,205 Reviews
Leaving:Vancouver
Cruise Line:Royal Caribbean International
Oct 15, 2022
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Royal Princess
Royal Princess

7 Night
U. S. Pacific Coast CruiseDetails

1,708 Reviews
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Koningsdam
Koningsdam docked alonside in San Diego. (Photo: Holland America Line)

7 Night
Classic California CoastDetails

788 Reviews
Leaving:San Diego
Cruise Line:Holland America Line
Nov 5, 2022
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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120 Night
120 Night Viking World JourneysDetails

1,060 Reviews
Leaving:Los Angeles
Cruise Line:Viking Ocean Cruises
Jan 6, 2024
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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137 Night
137 Night Viking World CruiseDetails

1,060 Reviews
Cruise Line:Viking Ocean Cruises
Dec 20, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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7 Night
Pacific Coastal CruiseDetails

2,149 Reviews
Leaving:Los Angeles
Cruise Line:Celebrity Cruises
Mar 25, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Cruise Critic Favorite

7 Night
Pacific Coastal CruiseDetails

2,149 Reviews
Leaving:Los Angeles
Cruise Line:Celebrity Cruises
Apr 1, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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7 Night
U. S. Pacific Coast CruiseDetails

1,708 Reviews
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
Oct 23, 2022
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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7 Night
Alaska CruiseDetails

385 Reviews
Leaving:Los Angeles
Cruise Line:Oceania Cruises
Sep 26, 2024
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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7 Night
U. S. Pacific Coast CruiseDetails

1,708 Reviews
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Cruise Critic Favorite

132 Night
132 Night World CruiseDetails

367 Reviews
Leaving:Miami
Cruise Line:Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Jan 6, 2024
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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7 Night
U. S. Pacific Coast CruiseDetails

55 Reviews
Leaving:Los Angeles
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
Oct 15, 2022
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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19 Night
World CruiseDetails

385 Reviews
Leaving:Vancouver
Cruise Line:Oceania Cruises
Sep 14, 2024
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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7 Night
Transpacific CruiseDetails

385 Reviews
Leaving:Los Angeles
Cruise Line:Oceania Cruises
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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More about Santa Barbara

Why go to Santa Barbara?

Pros:

Spanish-Colonial and Mission architecture, great wineries nearby, fine weather year-round.

Cons:

Tender port; beaches are beautiful but the sea is cold for swimming in winter and spring.

Bottom Line:

Unadulterated, upscale Central California coast lifestyle at its best.

Santa Barbara Cruise Port Facilities?

Santa Barbara is a tender port. Sea Landing, the small harbor for cruise tenders, has some facilities, including volunteer-staffed information tables with maps, brochures, bus schedules and more. The Santa Barbara Visitors Center is located at 1 Garden Street and free Wi-Fi is available here.

Good to Know?

"Sideways," the 2004 Oscar-winner that simultaneously introduced the world to actor Paul Giamatti and caused merlot sales to plummet, was filmed 30 miles up the road in the Santa Ynez Valley. The town of Solvang is a cute hub for explorations, with winery locations such as Kalyra, Los Olivos and Fess Parker not far away. Reach the Santa Ynez Valley by rental car or reserve a seat on one of the winery tours departing from Santa Barbara.

Getting Around?

On Foot: Santa Barbara is an easily walkable town, especially the sidewalk fronting the beach leading away from the port (paralleling Cabrillo Boulevard) and along State Street, which leads to downtown. It's 1.5 miles from the port to downtown and 3 miles on foot to Mission Santa Barbara (with a modest incline most of the way).

The Red Tile Walking Tour is a self-guided, 12-block-long loop trail through downtown visiting some of the city's most significant historical gems. Pick it up along State Street, between De La Guerra and Anapamu streets. More information on this and the Santa Barbara Coastal Trail is available at the visitor center.

By Public Transportation: The Santa Barbara MTD operates a Downtown-Waterfront electric shuttle for 50 cents a ride. The route extends from the harbor, where tenders dock, up State Street to Sola Street, and down Cabrillo Boulevard to the zoo and Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and then back to the harbor -- a distance of about 8 miles total. Shuttles run every 15 minutes.

The MTD also has a bus network connecting Santa Barbara and the neighboring communities, for about $2 a ride; $6 for a day pass. There are discounts for seniors and young children ride free. These buses don't stop at the harbor, but main routes through downtown -- lines 11, 14, 21 and 21X -- converge around the Museum of Art on State Street.

The Santa Barbara Train Station is located close to the port and Amtrak serves the coastal communities near Santa Barbara.

By Taxi/Rideshare: Metered taxis are usually waiting near the port when tenders start coming in, and shared rides like Uber and Lyft are easily hailed.

By rental car: There is an Avis Rent a Car branch at 34 East Montecito Street, just off State Street, and a Hertz outlet at 633 East Cabrillo Boulevard, inside the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money?

The U.S. dollar rules in Santa Barbara, although major credit cards are widely accepted. Visit xe.com or oanda.com for current exchange rates. ATMs are plentiful; you'll find one at Sea Landing, where tenders disembark, along State Street, at the Santa Barbara Visitors Center and another in the Funk Zone.

Language?

English is the native tongue for most, but Spanish is a common first or second language for some residents.


Santa Barbara Cruise Reviews
Went to Take Five for priority tender ticket. Boarded shuttle shortly after 8 and docked at 8:30am. Did self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour, including touring the El Presidio State Historic Park. Browsed a couple thriRead More
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macusr
We took the free shuttle to the middle of town, and leisurely walked back to the ship while doing a bit of shopping.Read More
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CineGraphic
Tender port. We took a nice trolly tour here. Check out the pier, nice to walk on.Read More
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KayakOtter
Nice town....Read More
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kevin7173

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