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Sunrise hiking at Santa Barbara's "Rock Garden" on Gibraltar. Photo by Elliot Hawkey, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Featured Article

The Holidays on the American Riviera

Spend the Holidays in Santa Barbara for an Unforgettable Experience.

Article by Anna Jacobson Naughton

Photography by Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Originally published in SW Lake Lifestyle

Tucked between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara (CA) stands out from other coastal cities with its iconic Spanish-influenced architecture, sparkling seas, palm-lined paths, walkable downtown and waterfront, vibrant culinary scene, and easily-navigable Urban Wine Trail. 

Santa Barbara is known for its lively events and festivals throughout the year, and Thanksgiving is no exception. The city comes alive with special holiday events that add a festive touch to a visit. One highlight is the annual Santa Barbara Turkey Trot, a family-friendly 5k run/walk that takes place on Thanksgiving morning. Wine, beer, and architecture tours will be taking place throughout the month (reservations recommended). Restaurants will be offering multi-course meals from brunch through supper. 

Additionally, the city's cultural venues, such as the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and Lotusland, often host special Thanksgiving-themed events, including art exhibits, garden tours, and workshops providing insight into the cultural heritage of the region.

Santa Barbara offers a delightful blend of natural beauty and beaches, outdoor activities, a vibrant culinary scene, shopping, and holiday traditions that make it a fantastic destination for Thanksgiving. After a long weekend in Santa Barbara, visitors typically leave refreshed and thankful. 

Sailing and Seaside Serenity

Santa Barbara's winter season is known for stunning clear skies, mild temperatures, and dramatic coastal sunsets. The region’s unique south-facing coastline makes for a sailing paradise, with a palm-lined shore and gorgeous mountains backdropping the sea. Visitors can rent sailboats of all sizes at the Santa Barbara Harbor, join an intimate coastal charter with SunSwept Sailing, or hop on a cocktail sunset cruise with Santa Barbara Sailing Center. Whether you're an experienced sailor or a novice, local charters and sailing tours cater to all levels, making it an excellent way to bond with family and friends. 

Scenic Hiking Trails

November and December are great months for those who prefer to explore on foot along an impressive network of hiking trails. Trailheads are all within a 5-to-15-minute drive from downtown, making them easily accessible compared. The Santa Ynez Mountains provide a stunning backdrop to the city, and hiking through the Los Padres National Forest offers a perfect opportunity to connect with nature. Whether it's along the coastal bluffs at Douglas Family Preserve, up into the hillier Rattlesnake Canyon region, or the iconic Inspiration Point with panoramic views, hiking is one of the most satisfying things to do in Santa Barbara.

Memorable Dining 

Sailing and hiking build up an appetite. With a year-round growing season and sustainable seafood caught fresh every day in the Santa Barbara Channel, Santa Barbara County offers up the raw ingredients for an unforgettable taste vacation. Experience the area’s agricultural and culinary scene by visiting local farmers markets, meeting purveyors and savoring regional delicacies. When cooking pioneer Julia Child retired to Montecito, the Saturday downtown farmers market was her regular stop. Visitors may enjoy taking a guided tasting tour with Eat This, Shoot That!, Santa Barbara Tasting Tours, or Bouchon restaurant’s Foodie Stroll. The State Street Promenade—a pandemic silver lining—has revitalized the downtown corridor, with its mile-long street closure allowing restaurants, bars and pedestrians to expand into the streets. The promenade has lent a festive, European atmosphere to the city, and selecting a restaurant here is an excellent choice. Other neighborhoods worthy of checking out the food scene include the Presidio Neighborhood, the waterfront and Funk Zone, and nearby Goleta and Montecito. When you're ready to step it up to fine dining, there are 14 Michelin Guide-listed restaurants, a notable feat for the small city. Many local eateries are offering specialty menus during the Thanksgiving season.

Wine Time

Santa Barbara County is one of the most diverse wine-growing regions in the world with more than 275 wineries. The unique east-west orientation of the region’s mountain helps create a wide variety of microclimates ideal for growing more than 80 varietals of grapes. Primarily produced by smaller, family-owned boutique wineries, its wines are highly acclaimed by connoisseurs. One of the easiest ways to get to know regional wines is through the tasting rooms of the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, most of which are located in walkable downtown Santa Barbara. Comprised of nearly 30 member wineries, many within walking distance of hotels and downtown beaches, the trail has some new tasting rooms, including Longoria Wines, La Lieff Wines and Frequency Wine Co. 


Santa Barbara's shopping scene is another reason to visit during Thanksgiving. Stroll along State Street and explore the charming boutiques, art galleries, and specialty shops lining the iconic shopping promenade. Every Sunday from 10 a.m. until dusk, the long-running Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show features original works for sale from 200 Santa Barbara County artists on Cabrillo Boulevard, bordering East Beach. Mujeres Makers Markets pop up at different locations on the first Sundays of the month to showcase artisanal goods made by creative women of color. In downtown Santa Barbara, La Arcada and El Paseo (California’s first) date back to the 1920s and are home to a mix of wine-tasting rooms and eclectic boutiques. Arlington Court, adjacent to the Arlington Theater, boasts local contemporary retailer, Diani, and its sister boutiques. Further afield, Montecito Country Mart next door Montecito is a curated collection of one-of-a-kind boutiques offering homewares and fashion from the latest designers. Additionally, Summerland (a few miles south of Santa Barbara) is a mecca for the interior design set that has been cemented after a flurry of chic home decor and antique store openings in recent years, including Field + Fort, The Well, Porch, Garde and more. Whether you're seeking unique holiday gifts or treating yourself to some retail therapy, you'll find a wide array of options in Santa Barbara.

Known as “The American Riviera” for its pristine coastline and mountainous backdrop, the city’s abundant outdoor activities, culinary delights and rich holiday traditions offer a unique and unforgettable experience in an idyllic setting whether for Thanksgiving or the December holidays.

About the Author: Anna Jacobson Naughton works at Visit Santa Barbara. Learn more by visiting

  • Taking a break from biking Stearn's Wharf. Photo by Jay Sinclair/Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara
  • Sunset at Goleta Beach with Goleta Pier in the distance. Photo by Karna Hughes, courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara
  • Parasailing with Santa Barbara Parasail. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Parasail/Visit Santa Barbara
  • Old Mission Santa Barbara. Photo by Jay Sinclair, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara
  • Chasing the sun top-down on Cabrillo Boulevard. Photo by David Collier, Courtesy of Visit California/Visit Santa Barbara
  • Sailing... takes me away. Photo by Blake Bronstad/Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara
  • On the "Eat This, Shoot That!" Food and Wine Tour in The Funk Zone. Photo by Cecilia Rosell / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara.
  • Sunrise hiking at Santa Barbara's "Rock Garden" on Gibraltar. Photo by Elliot Hawkey, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara
  • A family soars at sunset on Butterfly Beach. Photo by Blake Bronstad, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara