Belmond El Encanto
800 Alvarado Pl., Mission Canyon
Perched on an olive tree-studded hillside overlooking the Pacific ocean, the Belmond El Encanto is more than deserving of its Forbes five-star accolades. The ninety-two room hotel (consisting of Craftsman-style suites and freestanding bungalows) re-opened in 2013 after undergoing a comprehensive renovation, which added a pool and tricked-out fitness studio to the grounds. Thankfully, the historic property’s architectural integrity and immaculate gardens were kept intact. Complete relaxation is the name of the game at the full-service spa where guests and day-trippers are pampered by way of water therapies, steam rooms, and local ingredient-inspired, seasonal treatments. When planning his California-coastal menu, Executive Chef Leo Andres Ayala takes full advantage of Santa Barbara’s bountiful produce offerings—including herbs from Ayala’s on-site herb garden and cheese made from the milk of the Belmond’s resident dairy cow, Ellie.
Old Mission Santa Barbara
2201 Laguna St., Mission Canyon
A true Santa Barbara landmark, this historic building, 10-acre garden, active parish, and mausoleum, is still home to a group of Franciscan friars as it was when it was built by the Spanish in 1786. It’s a great and scenic place to take kids to learn about California’s history.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
2559 Puesta del Sol, Mission Canyon
Housed in Spanish Revival-style buildings on an extensive property with lush gardens, the museum is the home of an extensive collection of artifacts including a fantastic bird collection, a 72-foot Blue Whale skeleton that greets you upon entrance, and a planetarium. A relatively small museum, it’s not overwhelming, and perfect for a visit with kids. The Natural History museum also owns the Sea Center, which is located on the water and worth a visit on another day.
Santa Barbara Botanical Garden
1212 Mission Canyon Rd., Mission Canyon
For nearly a century, these gardens have been preserving and celebrating California's endemic plant life, which spans over 78 acres, thanks to numerous gifts of land over the years. It is a great place to walk and wander, though they offer plenty of more structured, docent-led tours. There's also a Japanese teahouse on-site.