Conveniently positioned between Los Angeles and Monterey, Goleta offers the same gorgeous scenery as neighboring Santa Barbara but with much smaller crowds.
The town has a population of just under 31,000 and wasn’t incorporated as a city in Santa Barbara county until 2002! These days, Goleta is known as a relaxed little town with great access to outdoor adventures, farm-fresh produce, miles of beachfront and moderate temperatures year round.
Goleta is a great little place to spend a couple days taking in the views (and fresh seafood), but that’s not all it has to offer. The town’s origins as an agricultural hub have led to its present-day lineup of independent restaurants, bars, and cafés—and that’s before you’ve even hit the beach!
While I was there filming a video series for go Goleta, I got a taste of all the bounties it had to offer. Here are some of the top things to do, see and eat with 24-hours in Goleta, from sitting down for breakfast to tucking in at night.
Nourish with Breakfast
Being a hotspot for fresh produce and good food, it’s not hard to start a day in Goleta with an excellent breakfast. Crushcakes is a solid pick whether you’re looking for something lighter (think granola, or eggs and toast) or even a more filling option, like a breakfast burrito or pancakes.
If you’re more of a “no breakfast, just give me coffee now” person, head to The French Press for a cup of local brew and a fresh pastry.
Hike the Gaviota Peak Trail
Santa Barbara County is known for its natural beauty, so of course one of the area’s many trails would find a spot on this things to do list. We hiked the Gaviota Peak Trail. The 3-mile roundtrip trek had a lot of steady uphill climbing, but you’ll be rewarded with wind caves and a panoramic view.
If you’re visiting between November and February, on the way to Gaviota you can stop by the Goleta Butterfly Grove to see the thousands of butterflies that migrate there every year.
Get Pokeed for Lunch
There’s a restaurant trend that’s getting more and more popular along the California coast — poke shops. At these eateries you build-your-bowl from top to bottom with things like spicy tuna, yellowtail, seaweed salad, avocado, corn, etc.. Sold? Try Pokemee for affordable, delicious and massive poke bowls.
Not in a fishy mood? Pick up a sandwich at Pickles and Swiss on your way to your next stop. I highly recommend the Chipotle Turkey Club!
Catch a Wave Surfing
Another afternoon activity to add to your itinerary is trying to catch a wave surfing. The waves at Campus Point are pretty mild, so it’s the perfect place to learn if you aren’t experienced at hanging ten. Doug at Surf Country may be one of the most patient instructors out there, I know because am a very difficult student! But, he didn’t let me quit until I finally caught a wave.
If you’re not a surfer, you can head to Evergreen Park to check disc golf off your bucket list—it’s a fun game that mimics regular golf, but uses nets and frisbees instead.
Get a Beer Flight
By this point in the afternoon, you’ve earned a beer. At Draughtsman Aleworks, a local craft brewery and taproom, you can try a flight of local brews. The brewery offers some familiar pours, like their California-style Severance IPA and Sustenance Session Ale, but you can branch out as well if you’re looking to try something new. Check out their Nama Biru Japanese Rice Lager or Proton Russian Imperial Stout for something a little more unique.
The Draughtsman taproom isn’t open too late—they close at 9pm on the weekends—but it’s a good afternoon stop. Line up a flight (or two) and enjoy bar games like giant connect four and foosball.
Relax with a Delicious Dinner
For dinner, Jane at the Marketplace should be toward the top of your list. Try one of their refreshing cocktails, like the Secret Garden made with rosemary infused simple syrup, Kettle One vodka, and blood orange juice.
The menu offers something for everyone, with plenty of seafood options. I recommend the salmon on cedar, and the coconut chiffon cake for dessert—they’ve been making it for over 30 years!
For a more casual dinner, try the nearby Cajun Kitchen for jambalaya, seafood gumbo, or blackened fish. A little further up the road, there are noodles and dumplings on offer at Nikka Ramen.
Catch the Sunset on the Goleta Pier
There’s no better place to watch the sunset than by the ocean. The views from the pier at Goleta Beach Park are stunning. Get there a little early, walk all the way to the end of the long pier and just wait for the spectacular show.
For a less crowded viewing spot, follow the locals to Haskell’s Beach. It’s less popular than Goleta Beach Park, but many locals prefer it for taking in the sunset.
Have Drinks at The Imperial
Stop by The Imperial for a late night drink. The swanky bar has a speakeasy-meets-tiki-bar vibe and an impressive line-up of craft cocktails. Cocktail enthusiasts have all kinds of options, like the bars signature house cocktail—Aviation gin, Lillet dry vermouth, and Luxardo Italian cherry liqueur—or the Brandy Crusta, with El Fundador brandy, Luxardo, and Angostura bitters. The moody and comfortable interior makes it a great spot for a date night or girl’s get-together, and a few fancy drinks.
It can be a little hard to find due to limited signage, but the front signage will say bak dor on it.
Go to the Drive-in
Alright, so you might be way too tired to drag yourself to a movie at this point, but the old-fashioned drive-in at West Wind is well worth it if you can muster up a second wind. Check out their site to see what’s playing.
Get Some Well-Deserved Sleep
It’s been quite a fun-filled and it is definitely time to tuck yourself into a cozy bed. Luckily, there are plenty of lodging options in Goleta, from budget to luxury.
On the budget end of the spectrum, the Best Western is a solid option. With it’s lush grounds (see below) you’ll think your at a fancy hotel. If a boutique hotel is more your style, consider the Kimpton Goodland—it’s complete with a gorgeous lobby and heated outdoor pool. And on the luxury end of the spectrum, go for the Bacara’s absolutely gorgeous seaside views and lux rooms.
The tiny town of Goleta is often overlooked by tourists visiting nearby Santa Barbara, but it’s a nice haven if you’re looking for more laid back getaway, far from the crowds of California’s bigger cities.
After a day of relaxing on the beach, eating fresh foods at the local restaurants and markets, and trying the beers and craft cocktails coming out of Goleta’s drink scene, you’ll be ready to move onto the next stop on your California coast road trip. That is, if you actually ever want to leave.
Essential Tips for Visiting Goleta
Getting There: The Santa Barbara Municipal Airport is the nearest major airport to Goleta. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to the city center, you can take a shuttle, a taxi, or use Uber or Lyft.
Where to Stay in Goleta: Accommodations in Goleta and Santa Barbara tend to be on the costly side. For the best value, try the Best Western Plus South Coast Inn (moderate) in Goleta, or the Best Western Plus Pepper Tree Inn (moderate) in Santa Barbara. You can also try the Agave Inn Motel (moderate) located in Santa Barbara. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Goleta, or the Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Renting a car in Goleta is the best way to really experience the city and RentalCars.com has some great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of options. Taxis, Lyft and Uber are available all over the city.
Best Tours in (& Near) Goleta: You can find some of the top tours at Get Your Guide or Viator, and here are some of the top ones:
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