Pacific Coast Highway, USA: Santa Barbara

Santa Barbra seafront

Day 2 of the Pacific Coast Highway trip and we were in Santa Barbara!

The trip from the outlets (see previous post) to Santa Barbara on the Pacific Coast Highway was mainly large open spaces and straight roads. The vastness of America, their incredibly straight roads and 90 degree intersections was clear to see! Thankfully I wasn’t driving, but if you’re a Brit be aware that even when a traffic light is red, you can turn right at the intersection if there’s no oncoming traffic. We learnt this before we left, but it is unnerving (especially when driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road) and we were beeped at once for being too slow! (oops)

As we got closer to Santa Barbara, the vast desert-like spaces were replaced with lushes green parks and then urban sprawl.  The road meandered into the city and I knew from the sat nav that we were approaching our hotel on the ocean front.

If you like beaches, you’ll like Santa Barbara

Firstly…. WOW! The beach here is to die for, with the most gorgeous promenade and the tallest palm trees. We drove in on East Cabrillo Boulevard and I instantly fell in love with Santa Barbara. It had a squeaky-clean, all-american vibe: very much like the ‘Visit California’ adverts. We had the car roof down, the sun was beaming and the beach seemed to go on for miles. Seeing college kids playing games on the grassy areas next to it only added to the aura.


We stayed in the Hilton DoubleTree Fess Parker Resort, which is right on the ocean. Its a large resort with plenty of parking and large rooms. I had a lot of HiltonHonor loyalty points to use on this trip (accumulated through work!), so used Hiltons when I could to keep costs down. This resort seemed to have everything, but we barely spent any time here, so I can’t really comment on much of the services. The reception were friendly at check-in and check-out but be waned – the hotel is next to the railway and you can hear it at night (our jet-lag may have made this more noticeable, but we had even paid for an upgrade to a room away from the trains on receptions recommendation!).


When right by the ocean it makes sense to eat from it, which is why we chose the ‘Santa Barbara FisHouse’ for dinner. We took a little detour to get there, messing around on the beach (it was my first time at the Pacific Ocean!)

By the Pacific Ocean for the first time

By the Pacific Ocean for the first time

The ‘FisHouse’ was really busy and we were asked to wait at the bar for a table. I’d only just ordered my wine, when we were told our table was ready (great service). We had chosen to sit outside to make the most of the Californian weather. After ordering our food though, we thought we might regret it…. there was a chill in the air! BUT the wait staff came out and lit a big fire pit which was so lovely, meaning we were able to sit and have a meal overlooking the ocean.

The food was lovely. I actually can’t remember what I ordered, but I do remember it was tasty and came presented beautifully.

Dinner at the Santa Barbra FisHouse

Dinner at the Santa Barbara FisHouse – top marks for this place

The jet-lag was catching up with us.  We didn’t have a late night and headed back to the hotel after dinner (although we were awake at 3am!). The road by the beach was pretty dark at night time which surprised me – lone travellers should bear that in mind.

Sightseeing and shopping

The following morning we filled a few hours with wandering the streets of Santa Barbara. Theres some fantastic architecture here, more akin to the Mediterranean than America, reflecting the city’s Spanish colonial heritage. The city had a laid back vibe which I loved – inviting an instant holiday mood. I don’t know how people manage to live and work in such a beautiful place. All the main areas are within walking distance from each other, making the city pretty easy to get around when using Apple Maps as a route guide. Once we’d seen the city we headed back to the hotel to check-out. We still had a long way to go, so it was time to make our way North on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Montaña de Oro State Park

I spotted that a short drive from the PCH was a state park and thought it’d make a nice detour. I had no real plan, other than to stick the zip code (93402) in the sat nav and see what we find.

By the way, if you’re hiring a car I highly recommend paying for the sat nav. Being from overseas, using our phones would have cost a bomb to use the data, and it would have drained battery. The sat nav was totally worth the $40 or so it cost.

We arrived to huge sand dunes, grassy hills and forests. The trails were well signposted from the car parks… as was the wildlife!

Wildlife warning signs

Let’s hope we don’t come across a mountain lion….. I am not prepared for that

The state park was quiet and it was nice to have a bit of California to ourselves. The variety of terrain made it an interesting place to explore whilst the ocean provided a scenic backdrop. If you fancy a bit of an outdoor adventure, without getting too far off the beaten track, I recommend it as a stop off. Just watch out for the mountain lions 😉



Dune pic

We hiked to the top of the dune! Get my fave Herschel bag here


Montaña de Oro State Park sand dunes

Montaña de Oro State Park sand dunes



Other stops on my Californian Pacific Coast Highway adventure:




San Francisco

San Francisco Food Favourites

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