With wine country, a bustling urban epicenter and beachside scenery for days, your method(s) for getting around Santa Barbara should very much match the vibe of your itinerary. In The American Riviera, getting around town and its often mountain-clad outskirts can be as fun as the destination itself.
The options here span the quintessentially Californian option of a bike (and e-bikes, too), an intricate bus system, a major train line and, yes, you’ll need a trusted shuttle after hitting all those wineries. Beyond the car, here are the transportation options to help you weave your way through Santa Barbara.
Stroll State Street, the Funk Zone (and, well, everywhere)
With pleasant year-round temps and a breathtaking view at every turn – seaside cliff, architectural masterpiece, towering mountain, you name it – this is a town to explore on foot. State Street and the waterside paths along Shoreline Drive and Cabrillo Boulevard are beaming with pedestrian friendliness and accessible options. In order to make State Street a better place to stroll during the pandemic, a ten-block pedestrian walkway between Sola and Gutierrez Streets took form. For now, the colorful hodgepodge of outdoor dining areas and walking areas isn’t going anywhere, but keep an eye on local political headlines for any changes.
If you’re just getting acclimated to the city, Free Walking Tour Santa Barbara offers a 90-minute Funk Zone tour and a two-hour waterfront experience. Though it’s totally free as the name suggests, tips are very much appreciated. In 2022, the company will launch an Old Town tour focused on the 400 to 600 blocks of State Street and the Brinkerhoff Victorian District.
Bike to Santa Barbara Mission
Okay, you can easily get to the Santa Barbara Mission by numerous modes of transport. But, if you'd like to rent a bike and pack as much Santa Barbara magic as possible into one low-stress trip, make it from Stearns Wharf to the Mission. Wheel Fun Rentals remains the go-to for tourists and has three shops downtown, including one at 24 E. Mason Street – just two blocks from Stearns Wharf. For electric bikes, e-bikery has an expansive inventory. Before splurging on a rental, make sure to check with your hotel as many now have complimentary bikes available for guests.
In 2021, the city of Santa Barbara launched the pilot phase of a public bike share system. Sprinkled along State Street and throughout town, you’ll find BCycle bike docks that offer e-bikes for $7 an hour and monthly/annual plans.
Take the train for your coastal day trips
There are four principal Amtrak train stations in Santa Barbara County – Lompoc, Goleta, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. If you’re staying in or around Downtown Santa Barbara, hopping on the iconic Pacific Surfliner is the perfect way to embark on your inner-county day trip. Along the way – particularly from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria and between Goleta and Lompoc – enjoy the ocean vistas as the train hugs the cliffs-meets-sandy coast. Take note of the Pacific Surfliner schedule ahead of time as typically only five-or-so trains head in each direction daily.
Hop on a bus for off-the-beaten-path journeys (and maybe a touristy one, too)
The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (MTD) bus system is extensive and sophisticated. In total, the MTD has more than 40 routes and 700-plus bus stops touching every part of the city. Standard fares run $1.75 for adults and may be paid via cash or coin on-board – exact fare only as drivers can’t provide change. Some routes are trialing contactless card payments but they’re not in use across the entire network yet. If you find the system’s various passes and routes confusing, head to the MTD’s hub, The Transit Center, located at 1020 Chapala Street. Primarily for the tourist crowd, the MTD also operates the Downtown and Waterfront zero-emission shuttles. For 50 cents a trip, these shuttles travel along the coast, through town and even stop at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
If your Santa Barbara adventure starts and/or ends at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the Santa Barbara Airbus is an absolute game-changer. Rather than slugging solo along US-101 and through LA’s notoriously traffic-heavy roads, this daily shuttle will pick you up outside the Santa Barbara Zoo and drop you off at your terminal at LAX, and vice versa. A one-way ticket costs $50, which will be substantially lower than any car option.
Take a shuttle to wine country
If you’ve loaded up your Santa Ynez Valley itinerary with tastings at wineries, wineries and more wineries, driving yourself isn't an option. Fortunately, Santa Barbara’s wine shuttle game is strong. Companies including Destination Vine, Rooted Vine Tours, Coastal Concierge and Stagecoach Co. Wine Tours typically offer group or private transportation to wine hotspots (e.g., Los Olivos) that can typically be an hour's drive out of town.
For those looking to work up a thirst and take a multifaceted route, the I Bike Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours option is a winner. A shuttle picks everyone up in Santa Barbara and then guests bike a 15-mile loop, hitting wineries and tastings along the way. A ticket costs $149 and the entire journey lasts about seven hours.
Cruise by car
Driving has its perks in and around Santa Barbara County. Pick one of the county’s cliffside beach destinations west of the city and hit the 101 to get to them. Arroyo Burro Beach County Park and El Capitán State Beach are always solid options – be prepared to regularly stop and gawk at the incredible views along the way. In the city of Santa Barbara, Lyft/Uber and car rentals are readily available. For parking, you’ll see plenty of free street spaces with 75-minute limits. The city’s lots also offer free parking for 75 minutes and then it’s $1.50 per hour after. Should you choose to drive in Santa Barbara, stay aware of bikers, e-bikers, folks on scooters and skateboarders – they are everywhere.
Accessible transportation in Santa Barbara
The frequently touristed State Street, Stearns Wharf and paths along the shoreline are accessible to those with varying mobility needs. Each city parking lot also has accessible spaces. Amtrak and MTD are fully accessible. Should a route not fall within other public transportation options, Easy Lift provides those with accessibility needs rides in Santa Barbara for $3.50 each way.