When you’re talking tacos in California, you’ve got to do it right. There are a few criteria to live by when you’re choosing where to feast. Look for a small menu, small shop, corn tortillas, cilantro/onion/lime/hot sauce/salsa bar, Spanish-speaking staff, and smiling faces. Lilly’s Taqueria has it all. Three time winners of Best Of Santa Barbara, the family-owned institution hasn’t changed a bit since the day they opened. An easy walk from east beach and the famous Santa Barbara pier, it’s worth finding even though it’s a little off the beaten track.
Many of the bike paths lead either into or directly past the Funk Zone, Santa Barbara’s up-and-coming industrial neighborhood. If you catch yourself passing through, there is no shortage of places to eat and drink. Some top choices are The Lark, Metropulos and Lucky Penny.
Another great option is Helena Avenue Bakery. A newer spot situated in a historic warehouse, their fresh bread and pastries are some of the city’s finest. It’s a great spot to grab some picnic ingredients to go before heading out to explore the beaches.
Completed in 1929, the Spanish Colonial Revival style courthouse building still stands as the tallest in the city. The red tile roofs and white stucco walls are amongst the first things a visitor will notice when looking across town.
It’s easy to catch yourself sinking into the streets of the Funk Zone or the sand of Butterfly Beach, contemplating a move to your new favorite city, but don’t forget to look up — and if you can, go there. The Santa Ynez mountains are a true local’s quiet getaway. You do need a car to get up there, but the reward is worth it. The sunsets are spectacular and the landscapes are unlike anything else in the area.
Take East Camino Cielo Road up to the top of the ridge, and at one point you’ll catch yourself on a narrow pass overlooking all of Santa Barbara, with the ocean on one side and the expansive Los Padres National Forest on the other. If you’re lucky, someone might tell you where the hot springs are, but at the very least you’ll find peace and a view.
Overlooking the ocean, situated across from the harbor and along the city’s extensive biking paths, sits Hotel Milo. A must-stay in Santa Barbara, it’s centrally located and has strong ties with the community. Talking to a staff member is like getting an inside scoop from a local. They really want to be the best place to stay in Santa Barbara, and do a good job at it for a fair price.
A bit more removed from town is AutoCamp, which makes glorified camping look so good. The rooms are renovated airstreams fitted with wood deck outdoor areas, and include bikes to explore the city. Like everything else good in Santa Barbara, after trying these, you won’t want to leave.
Story and headline photo by Liam Snider