The Glory Days of College Living in Santa Barbara

It’s January in Barcelona, and constantly sunny and warm(ish). I’m blissfully reminded of the only other place I’ve ever sunbathed in January: Santa Barbara, my home for three years. This week, as part of’s #HipmunkCityLove campaign, I’d like to show off my favorite college town in a series of posts. 

IV chair

The perfect image of my college neighborhood.

The majority of my UCSB college years were spent in the tiny square-mile student ghetto of Isla Vista (IV). We jammed 15,000 students into a of couple blocks bordering the beach; it was our little slice of paradise.

However, once in a while IV was too chaotic. Too many beer cans. Too much dub-step. That’s when we’d remind ourselves we were just up the coast from one of California’s most beautiful cities (and the namesake of our university), Santa Barbara.

A trip to downtown Santa Barbara was our antidote for an overdose of college. For a couple of hours, it felt like real life, away from books or booze. Here’s how we’d do Santa Barbara right on a Saturday visit:

Saturday Farmer’s Market

If the previous night didn’t get too crazy, we’d be out the door by ten and heading downtown. First, we hit up Santa Barbara’s biweekly farmer’s market. We mostly go for the yummy samples (if we’re being honest), but we also buy some veggies to break up the Top Ramen and mac ‘n cheese routine. We get a little something extra for lunch, and have a picnic on the grounds of Santa Barbara’s Spanish-style courthouse.

State Street Shopping

State Street has some fantastic shopping, so as college students, we were in a constant dilemma. Next term’s tuition fees, or Anthropologie’s new top? Sometimes they weren’t the wisest decisions. However, even if you’re on a tight budget, State Street is still a gorgeous place to window shop. Red brick sidewalks, white adobe buildings, and tiled roofs give it a classic Spanish feel.

Wine Tasting

At the end of State Street we reach the Funk Zone, an area with some great bars and most importantly, wine tastings. Just inland of Santa Barbara is the heart of Southern California’s wine country, and these wine bars have a great selection to show for it. In an attempt to be classy adults, not college students, for a day, we take a break from Keystone Light and taste the subtle tones of a cabernet.

Tacos. Enough Said.

At dinnertime we would hit another huge dilemma: Where to eat. Santa Barbara’s food scene is exploding. There are so many restaurants contributing to the organic movement. Hell, even our university dining halls sourced fresh and local! There are an equal number of ethnic restaurants, including top-notch Thai, sushi, and Italian. However, it’s Southern California, so I can’t pass up Mexican food. We head to Los Agaves for their unparalleled tacos and salsa bar.

Where to Stay

If you aren’t a college student renting a shoe-box apartment in IV, chances are you’ll need lodging. When my mom helped me move houses each year, we’d stay a night or two at our favorite bed and breakfast, The Bath Street Inn. A spread of homemade desserts and a wine and cheese hour kept us coming back. Check out these tips if you’re looking for more budget-friendly hotel options in Santa Barbara (perhaps you’re not spoiled by a mom suffering from empty-nest syndrome).

I’ve since graduated and moved abroad, 7,000 miles away from Santa Barbara. I love Barcelona, but every once in a while, I could use a college dance party, a stroll down State Street, and of course, those heavenly fish tacos.

Have you ever visited Santa Barbara? What’s your favorite thing to do there?