California Road Trip: Day 3 in Pismo Beach & Santa Barbara

Good morning,
I hope you’re all having a fantastic day! We’re halfway through the work week, so that’s something to celebrate, right?! This week has been flying by! As you read on the blog this week, we primarily spent the first couple days of our Pacific Coast road trip in Monterey and Big Sur. While our final destination was San Diego, today I’m excited to share all about the next leg – our road trip to Santa Barbara.

But first, In case you missed Monday and Tuesday’s posts where I recapped our first and second days of our California road trip, I’ve linked them here so that you can catch up before diving into day three:

Day 1 in San Jose, Santa Cruz & Monterey

Day 2 in Monterey, Big Sur & Pismo Beach

Disclaimers: As we took this road trip prior to COVID-19, the hotels, restaurants and attractions featured in my post may not currently be open, or they may be offering limited service. If you use this post to plan your road trip, please verify these important details directly. Also, for those traveling now or planning a getaway in the very near future, please wear a mask to protect the locals and your fellow travelers. We’ll get through this pandemic together!

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Day 3: Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara

Pismo Beach

After a full day on the road the day prior, Pismo Beach was the perfect stop-over to grab dinner and sleep, after a full day driving from Monterey through Big Sur. Our Pismo Beach hotel, Cottage Inn by the Sea offered a complimentary continental breakfast, so we grabbed some fruit and oatmeal and hit the road early so that we could spend as much time as possible in Santa Barbara. Before leaving Pismo Beach, we stopped at Surfside Donuts to grab iced coffees for the road. OK, we might have also bought a donut to split because…YOLO!

Rather than taking the Pacific Coast Highway, we opted to take the 101 to Route 154. This was mainly to save a little time since there weren’t any towns between Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara that were a must-see for us.

We did make a stop at Lake Cachuma (located between the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains) along the way, as it looked like a perfect spot for some fresh air and to enjoy our donut.

Quick donut break at Lake Cachuma before continuing the rest of the way to Santa Barbara!
Quick donut break at Lake Cachuma before continuing the rest of the way to Santa Barbara!

Santa Barbara

We arrived in Santa Barbara around 11am, and I was brimming with excitement. This coastal city had been on my travel list for years and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love. From the friendly locals and the architecture, to the natural beauty and food, I could easily picture myself living there. It was too early to check-in, but the Santa Barbara Inn held our bags for us so that we could freely explore (I never like leaving luggage in the car, no matter how safe the area seems). From here, we headed straight down to Stearn’s Wharf and the beach. It was a gorgeous September day in the low 80’s – perfect weather for walking around and people-watching!

Our road trip to Santa Barbara led us here - the bridge to Stearn's Wharf.
Bridge leading to Stearn’s Wharf in Santa Barbara
Stearn's Wharf, Santa Barbara. Not a lot of places boast ocean AND mountain views!
Stearn’s Wharf, Santa Barbara. Not a lot of places boast gorgeous ocean AND mountain views!

While heading up State Street in search of a spot to grab a cold drink at, Josh spotted Finney’s, a crafthouse that serves thirty local craft beers on draft. My beer-loving husband ran in like a child that had just spotted a candy store. Ha! We sat at the bar only intending to grab a beer, but soon realized it was past lunchtime and we were starving. Josh ordered the pastrami reuben sandwich and I got the Moroccan chicken salad. It turned out to be one of the most delicious salads I’d had in quite a long time. It was HUGE and I couldn’t stop eating it. Not the best idea considering our early dinner reservation at Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach was just a few hours away. Oops!

After our pit stop, we returned to the Santa Barbara Inn and checked into our room. The room itself was beautiful and spacious, and I loved the heated floors in the bathroom. We had a balcony that overlooked the pool and that faced the beach, which was directly across the street.

View from our room at the Santa Barbara Inn, nestled in between the beautiful palms
View from our room at the Santa Barbara Inn, nestled in between the beautiful palms

After showering and changing, we headed back out to scope out Santa Barbara’s downtown. We had fun poking around some of the local shops (OK, maybe I had fun – Josh, like most men, isn’t much of a shopper but he supports my hobby!) and I was excited to spot a Nordstrom at Pasa Nuevo Shops & Restaurants, an outdoor shopping area with Spanish-style architectural details. I had realized that I didn’t pack the best footwear for this trip, and wanted a casual, non-athletic sneaker for all of the walking we were doing. We were in and out of Nordstrom after successfully purchasing a pair of new sneakers. From there, we Ubered over to Hendry’s Beach which was about a 15 minute drive.

We had an early dinner reservation booked for 5:30pm at Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach so that we could score a table on their patio for the sunset. Just a quick note to avoid any confusion – the official name for this beach is Arroyo Burro County Beach Park, although it’s referred to as Hendry’s Beach by the locals. Because we had a later lunch, neither of us were hungry at that point so we scrapped our dinner plans and instead just grabbed a drink. It was absolutely packed given it was happy hour, which runs from 3-6pm Sunday – Thursday. The blood orange margarita was ridiculously good! Although, to be fair, I think any cocktail tastes good if you’re at the beach. 🙂

After getting out of work, the locals started to arrive at the beach with their dogs, who are permitted to go off leash here. I once again caught myself daydreaming about living here. What an absolutely gorgeous and fun spot! Parking there can be a little tough so we were glad we Ubered over, but don’t let that deter you. The restaurant and this beach are an absolute must if you’re in Santa Barbara.

Boathouse at Hendry's Beach, Santa Barbara
Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach, Santa Barbara
Hendry's Beach, also known as Arroyo Burro County Beach Park
Hendry’s Beach, also known as Arroyo Burro County Beach Park

After leaving Hendry’s Beach, we headed back downtown where we caught the tail end of the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. The market sets up directly on State Street on Tuesday’s from 4-7:30pm and they close down the road for it. I purchased a couple different kinds of peaches after sampling a variety of peaches and plums, which the farms encourage. The produce in California can’t be beat and I get so excited when I stumble across a farmers market!

Farmer's Market on State Street in Santa Barbara
Farmer’s Market on State Street

After a little more shopping downtown, we had worked up an appetite and were craving Mexican. A quick search on our cell phone had us heading to Los Arroyos. Since you’re all friends, you should know that this place is a hidden gem. Almost two years later Josh and I STILL talk about the guacamole and the shredded beef chimichangas, which are some of their specialties. Food portions were enormous and I only managed to eat half of my food. Josh powered through the entire dish and then soon regretted it. Ha!  

We ended this fun-filled day by grabbing a flight of beers at Santa Barbara Brewing Company. This iconic brewery has since been replaced by The Cruisery. While I can’t speak to The Cruisery, the SBBC bartender wasn’t overly friendly but we chalked it up to him having a bad day. I learned after the fact that they were two weeks away from closing, which kind of explains it. The beer was decent there – except for the pale ale on the left which resembled water. 🙂

Beer flight at Santa Barbara Brewing Company (no longer in business).
Beer flight at Santa Barbara Brewing Company (no longer in business).

Be on the lookout for tomorrow’s post where I recap day four of our California road trip through the LA area. There’s certainly no shortage of things to do in Los Angeles, Venice Beach and Santa Monica!

I welcome all your comments or questions below and will be sure to respond to each. I absolutely love talking about trips and helping others plan their own getaways!

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California Road Trip: Day 3 in Pismo Beach & Santa Barbara