This month, I took off on a road trip to a very special part of Southern California. The idea of the trip was to have a diverse experience that could be done slowly. The destinations were Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Ojai, all close together yet unique in their own right.
[This post is created in partnership with Visit California. As always, all opinions are own.]
The hope of this California road trip was to be in one area that was not several hours apart. Rather, discover and explore destinations that were close to each other but ever so different that each felt exciting in their own way.
Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Ojai came together for an incredibly complimentary trip. As we picked these three destinations, there were elements of all that drew me in for a week-long trip. It was my ideal road trip that had city, adventure, and downtime.
First off was Santa Barbara, a coastal city with incredible restaurants, hotels, architecture, and beautiful beaches. Santa Barbara was the destination to get a city experience along the ocean that has something for everyone. The second destination was Ventura, home to the iconic Channel Islands National Park and hidden gems. Ventura offers adventure and a chance to discover unparalleled outdoors. The final stop of Ojai, a place to relax the soul with a focus on local and slow.
With it all, this trip had an equally important focus. It was to travel responsibly. If this last year at home has taught me anything, it’s the importance of my impact on others. To be respectful of where I visit and the communities that call each of these beautiful destinations home.
So I hope you’ll be inspired to hit the open road. To be inspired to discover all that there is to savor and do so responsibly.
A Slow Road Trip Guide to Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Ojai
Traveling Responsibly and Safely in California
As part of visiting and traveling through California, there are a few tips to do so responsibly as part of the California Responsible Travel Code. I’d love to share a few and invite you to check out the entire code here.
Explore Responsibly and Preserve California. First and foremost, the impact of tourism can be devastating when not done with respect. As an example, many of our national parks have been left with trash and human waste over this last year. When visiting California’s outdoor spaces, be sure to pack out what you take in. Being mindful of our footprint will preserve these beautiful spaces for generations to come.
Get Educated Before You Travel. You’ll find that many things have changed in the last year. Across counties, regulations and rules around dining and openings change frequently. My number one tip? Get educated before you arrive. Know what is open, what are local county rules, and adhere accordingly.
Travel Safely. Take the measures to ensure the physical health of the communities you’re visiting. Follow local guidelines and rules, as these allow California to continue to be open for exploring.
What To Know Before Planning Your Road Trip
Best Time of Year to Visit
While certainly all of these destinations can be visited year-round, there are certain seasons that are more favorable. My recommendation is Spring or late Summer-Fall to avoid the summer crowds and have great weather.
Length of Time
Our hope is to encourage slow travel that allows us to discover and celebrate the culture of these destinations. I will be recommending two nights in each of these destinations, though you can spend 1-2 in each according to what you hope to see.
You will need a car for this road trip, any car will do! These are heavily populated areas, all amenities are easily found.
In The Car
Something we’ve been doing for this last year of road trips is having a basket that has everything we need. The items we don’t leave home without are: gloves for pumping gas, masks (extra), hand sanitizer, a towel, refillable water bottles, and snacks.
Destination: Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, also known as the American Riviera, is certainly a stunning city. From Spanish architecture that dots the skyline to sprawling powdery beaches, it has it all. The endless list of amazing restaurants, hip hotels, and unique experiences makes Santa Barbara a must-see on any California road trip.
Where to Stay
The Kimpton Canary Hotel — Set right in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, the Kimpton Canary Hotel has it all. You’re in footsteps of the Main Street, so the location is practically unbeatable. The rooms have the Spanish-inspired architecture that you see all around Santa Barbara with cozy beds and unique art. One of my favorite parts of the Canary Hotel is the rooftop bar, pool, and hot tub. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset, take a soak, or even lounge poolside. BOOK HERE
Where to Eat
Backyard Bowls — My husband and I have been coming here for years for their acai bowls and fresh fruit, a must-stop when visiting.
Sama Sama Kitchen — This Southeast Asian-inspired restaurant was where we kicked off the trip. There are dishes that take you right to Indonesia like their krupuk and sambal and mie goreng. All made from ingredients from local farms!
Goat Tree — Located at the Hotel Californian, this brunch spot is a perfect place to spend a leisure morning out on a patio. Their menu has healthy options like their chia pudding and a wide variety of sweet/savory choices.
Dune Coffee — Pop into this local coffee shop for you caffeine fix!
Flor de Maiz — Wow, wow, and wow! This taste of Oaxaca restaurant close to the beach was a highlight. Bold flavors that transported you to Mexico, a great ambiance, and you can’t miss their range of mezcal cocktails.
Bettina’s — This is Neapolitan-pizza made with a lot of love and Bettina’s is seriously fantastic. If you can’t snag a table, you can always take it to go! (Located in Montecito Country Mart).
What to Do
Stroll Main Street — This last year Santa Barbara closed down Main Street to pedestrians only, opening up a wonderful area to take a stroll. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, shops to pop in, and it just makes for a pleasant place to walk sans cars.
Discover the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens — What a gem in Santa Barbara, the botanical gardens were a highlight, incredibly scenic, and a perfect spot to get outdoors. There is a small entrance fee, inside you can stroll different kinds of gardens, they even have redwoods.
Embark on the Red Tile Walking Tour — One of the unique parts of visiting Santa Barbara is getting to experience Spanish architecture and historic buildings. You can follow a walking trail on your phone that will take you to different historic buildings and passageways. Find the tour here.
Go Wine Tasting in the Funk Zone — The Funk Zone is such a fun area of the city to explore whether you pop in for a bite to eat or to browse the shops. You most definitely should go wine tasting as you can get a taste of local wine. We stopped in at Pali Winery and Santa Barbara Winery for a tasting (they’re five minutes walking distance apart). Both were different from each other and made for a great afternoon of wine tasting.
Spend an Afternoon at Butterfly Beach — My favorite beach in the area has always been Butterfly Beach. Near to Montecito, this lovely long beach is scenic and perfect for a day of sunbathing. The sunsets here are also incredible.
When it comes to Ventura and its gems, one cannot overlook the national park it has off the coast. Channel Islands National Park, often referred to as the Galapagos of California, is one park many don’t get out to. It’s one of the most amazing national parks in California for hiking, snorkeling, and untouched landscape. For this reason plus all of the unique and hidden gems of Ventura, you don’t want to miss a stay here. After reaching new heights on the islands, come back to Ventura and explore its bustling downtown with hip antique shops and great eateries.
Where to Stay
Waypoint Ventura — A total hidden gem in Ventura is this unique hotel called Waypoint. They’ve taken vintage trailers and given them a major makeover to be luxurious inside. The trailers are spacious and spread apart so you have quite a bit of privacy. In the communal areas, you’ll find fire pits that you can use at night and enjoy s’mores. The best part? You’re five minutes to downtown or the beach! BOOK HERE
Where to Eat
Paradise Pantry — Both a restaurant and one well-stocked cheese/wine pantry, this joint on Main Street is delicious. We ate out on the patio, loved their veg sandwich and burger!
Rumfish y Vino — For all things seafood and Central American-style in downtown, look no further. The fun ambiance of this tucked-away patio at Rumfish is great for a date night. Popular dishes here are ceviche and Caribbean fish stew.
Brophy Brothers — Right at the marina in the harbor, pop in for lunch to enjoy their famous clam chowder.
Cafe Nouveau — Set in a Spanish Bungalow, Cafe Nouveau is always packed for their brunch. We had the beignets and waffles, and both were amazing.
Spencer Mackenzies — We didn’t quite make it here but this one came recommended over a dozen times for their fish tacos!
What to Do
A Day Trip to Channel Islands National Park – With a little bit of planning, you don’t want to miss a day trip to the islands. You’ll need to decide which island to visit, my suggestion is to hike on East Santa Cruz Island. Book a ferry transfer in advance with Island Packers who will bring you roundtrip. Once on the island, enjoy the natural wonders. Pack out what you pack in, there are no trash cans, you’ll also need to bring your own food and water. Harbor Cove Cafe near the ferry can supply box lunches as well. It’s a wonderful day trip and truly a highlight of visiting California.
Shop the Main Street — There are several unique shops along Main Street which has been shut down for pedestrians. Pop into Folke and Contrast for design furniture, Tiki Girl for clothes, and don’t miss the several antique stores along the way.
Explore Ventura Harbor and Stop by Coastal Cone – After your adventure out to the islands, you don’t want to miss strolling through the harbor. Make sure to stop by Coastal Cone for one of their taiyaki cones! If you’re also looking to get out on kayaks or SUPs, you can rent one to use around the harbor from Ventura Boat Rentals.
Go Hiking — One of the newer places to open in Ventura for hiking is the Harmon Canyon Preserve which has 2,100 acres to land to hike. Alternatively, check out the Botanical Gardens, where you can hike up through to a scenic vista point.
Catch Sunset at the Pier — If you’re looking for a sunset spot, head out to the pier to catch the last rays of light over the ocean.
Ojai, a place to rest to your soul, discover the local bounty and just be. It’s a destination for those looking to slow down where you can spend your days poolside. Or get in touch with your creative side and try your hand at a pottery class. All of Ojai is quite close to each other, so you certainly don’t want to miss one of the several hip shops or incredible restaurants while there.
Where to Stay
The Capri Hotel — If you’re coming to Ojai to rest and soak in its year-round sunshine, you’ll want to carefully pick your hotel. The Capri was the perfect spot to soak it all in by its large pool and patio area. Though what may be the highlight for me is the design — it’s one hip place to stay for the design-lover. Rooms are carefully thought out with beautiful tones and you’ll even find some of Eny Lee Parker’s handmade lamps in the room. BOOK HERE
Where to Eat
Farmer and the Cook —An organic market and cafe, they serve tasty vegetarian Mexican-inspired food. We came in for lunch and absolutely adored their Huarache. Afterward, stroll through to stock up on any goods you may need for the week!
Azu Restaurant — A high-end restaurant in town for those who love Spanish and Mediterranean food. They have a patio available in the backyard for spacious outdoor dining.
Ojai Rôtie — A true joy to eat here, the food was so delicious and flavorful. Definitely get the rotisserie chicken, a few of their “snacks’, and don’t miss their fatouch salad. All of the bread is also made in-house, wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring some home!
LOVE Social Cafe — From vegetarian to breakfast burritos, pop in here for a breakfast made with love. Such a friendly team here who will certainly start your day with a smile.
Tipple and Ramble — This chic wine bar has a stunning patio to enjoy an afternoon of drinks, charcuterie boards, and bites.
Topa Topa Brewing Company — Right in downtown, this brewing company that started in Ventura has a huge patio to try their beer on tap. You can even do a flight tasting and pair it with food from Little Sama.
What to Do
Take a Pottery Class at Firestick Pottery Studio — This is such a unique thing to do while in Ojai, I highly recommend booking in advance if you have ever had any interest in trying out pottery. Led in a small group format and spaced out, you’ll learn an introduction to pottery and get to make a few of your own pieces. If you don’t live nearby, they’ll even do the glaze and ship (extra cost). It’s a very therapeutic thing to do to work with clay and loved getting to do something with my hands. You can book direct here. Also, stop by to shop local artist’s ceramics as well!
Shop Local — There are a plethora of incredible home and design stores you don’t want to miss in Ojai. I loved Summer Camp, In the Field, and deKor & Co. One unique store you don’t want to miss is one of the largest outdoor bookstores around called Bart’s Books!
Try the Local Olive Oil at Ojai Olive Oil Company — Set out down a back road of Ojai, you’ll arrive to the beautiful olive tree-lined property. There are picnic tables set up to enjoy (I recommend bringing food + drinks) and you can do a self-led olive oil tasting. They also make for a great gift to bring home.
Relax Poolside — With sunshine almost year-round, nothing beats a day poolside.
Do a Honey Tasting at Heavenly Honey Company — Family-run and made with a lot of love, this was a fun experience in the heart of downtown. You can pop in, shop their incredible honey (we brought a lot home!), and do a honey tasting. Their varieties are packed with flavor and along the way you’ll learn all about the process of making honey.