Car-Free in Santa Barbara

The city has teamed up with Amtrak and their Visitors Bureau to promote a green initiative in the form of car-free travel. One can get to the top sightseeing spots by public bus and electric shuttle, as well as on foot. Nicknamed the American Riviera, Santa Barbara presented us with a major challenge: there is so much to do.

Trip Log

Our extra long weekend began at the Solana Beach, CA Amtrak station. It is a sleekly designed building with onsite free parking. For a slight premium, on the Pacific Surfliner, we travelled Business Class which includes a continental breakfast, newspaper, comfortable seats with headrests, fold-down trays and footrests, plus electrical outlets for laptops. Its Café Car offers sandwiches, snacks and

Getting Ready to Ride the Rails

We arrived in Santa Barbara at the conveniently located Amtrak station and walked four blocks to our first hotel, the Franciscan Inn. We unpacked and wandered over to the nearby harbor to see the sights. Upon our return, we were delighted to find warm chocolate chip cookies in the charming lobby of the hotel. We had dinner at Emilio’s Ristorante, an intimate harbor-front bistro, featuring healthy Mediterranean influenced cuisine.


In the morning, after a continental breakfast at the Franciscan Inn, we were off to the Farmers Market via the Electric Shuttle to shop for artisan cheese, freshly baked bread and a bottle of wine for dinner.

Lunch was Italian food served in an inviting atmosphere at Olio e Limone. That afternoon, we boarded the Land Shark for a 90 minute narrated tour in an amphibious vehicle that winds its way through the city, past residential areas and the historic Courthouse, Mission and Presidio.
The excursion’s finale is a dive into the Santa Barbara Harbor for an up-close look at Stearns Wharf, the marina, private yachts and commercial fishing boats. The views of the coastline and the Santa Ynez Mountains offer a great photo op.

Stearns Wharf and the Santa Ynez Moutains


The Funk Zone and Urban Wine Trail is a few blocks away. There, we enjoyed sampling wine at the Santa Barbara and Oreana Wineries.

Santa Barbara Winery Tasting Room


We changed headquarters to the very cool, full-service, luxury boutique, Canary Hotel, located in the heart of town. We then strolled to the nearby Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Their newest exhibition was the fascinating Noble Tombs at Mawangdui: Art and Life in the Changsha Kingdom. Later, we took the Electric Shuttle (25¢ per person) to the Art Walk along the harbor-front. It features a full spectrum of arts and crafts by local artists and is not to be missed. That evening we dined at the eclectic Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro.

Santa Barbara Art Walk

The next morning we headed to Le Reve Organic Spa & Boutique for relaxing massages. We ate lunch on the porch at Elements Restaurant & Bar, while enjoying the food and a great view of the Santa Barbara Courthouse and its Sunken Gardens.

Santa Barbara Courthouse


We meandered up and down State Street, window shopping at world class stores and boutiques. For dinner, we ate at Aldo’s Italian Restaurant. It features a romantic courtyard as well as an indoor dining room. The building dates back to 1857 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

After a sound sleep, we rolled our suitcases to the Amtrak station for our scenic, trouble-free, on-time ride south, wishing we had one more day to visit.

Hotel Hopping

The Franciscan Inn offers a quiet location, comfortable rooms, extensive continental breakfast, warm cookies and wi-fi included in the rate. Call 1-805-963-8845‎ or go online to

The Canary Hotel is chic and sleek with a terrific bar, first class amenities and attentive employees. For more information, log onto or call 1-805-884-0300.

The Canary’s Rooftop Features Casual Dining and a Pool

Restaurant Recommendations

Emilio’s Ristorante – don’t miss their panko crusted cambozola cheese appetizer (

Olio e Limone – the risotto with sausage and tomato sauce is outstanding (

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro – order the grilled duck breast and a flight of wine (

Elements Restaurant & Bar – fire roasted tomato soup and the pulled pork “Sloppy Joe’s” are my picks here (

Aldo’s Italian Restaurant – look closely at the chalkboard nightly specials and house specialty menu, but make sure to order the swordfish chowder and their bruschetta (

Finally, the Saturday Farmers Market is the place to go for a do-it-yourself meal. This Certified Farmers Market is a non-profit organization formed in 1983 and made up of 130 growers (

Wonderful Wine

All of the restaurants listed we visited offer outstanding vintages and some offer wine specials. In keeping with the car-free theme, there is no need to drive to the nearby vineyards. The Urban Wine Trail in the Funk Zone is where you will find the Santa Barbara Winery,, and Oreana Winery, The tastings are reasonably priced, fun and informative.

Travel Tips

“Take the CAR out of your CARBON Footprint” is the 2010 promotion from the Santa Barbara Car Free Project. It invites visitors to make green travel choices and save up to 50 percent at more than 40 hotels, activities and restaurants throughout the year. For complete information and hundreds of car-free options including a free, colorful map visit or call 1-805-696-1100 or the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission at or 1-805-966-9222.

For more about Amtrak including specials, discounts and fares, log onto or call 1-800-872-7245. Suggestion: upgrade to business class.

The Land Shark’s schedule and excursions can be found at or call 1-805-683-7600.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art features first class exhibits throughout the year. Check their calendar at or call 1-805-884-6430.

The Santa Barbara Art Walk is the place to go on Sunday. It features ceramics, photography, original oils and watercolors, jewelry and crafts. It’s a perfect venue to shop and support local artists; for more information go to

Le Reve is a relaxing oasis and the first and only spa in Santa Barbara to be Green Certified. A full menu of their services can be found at Or, call their knowledgeable staff at 1- 805-564-2977.

Safe travels and enjoy the journey…
Howard Hian

Thanks to the various websites for information. Before you go please check details, dates, rates, hours and availability.

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