A Day Trip to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles

A Trip to Stearns Wharf, State Street and the Funk Zone

A couple weekends ago, my parents had planned a day-trip to Santa Barbara, CA. I, currently living at home (part-time but that’s another post), was invited to come along! Admittedly, I have been to Santa Barbara but never had the chance to enjoy  the neighborhood – it was always a stop on a road trip or visits to a friend further inland. I’m not in that area of California often, so I was curious how the community got on. Living in Orange County, CA for almost a decade now, I wondered, “was it similar? are people just as laidback or more?” and more importantly, “where is there good grub?

Los Angeles to Santa Barbara: Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner

For my first official visit to Santa Barbara, my parents and I decided to take the Amtrak from Union Station in DTLA! We got in around 7:20AM, parked in the Union Station lot (which had a $16 all-day price tag) and hopped on our train.

Los Angeles Union Station
Los Angeles Union Station at 7AM

We were among the first to board so we nabbed the four group seats for families. I believe there’s only 2 family group seats per car, so step to it if you want to sit with your group. For the 2.5 hour ride, it was nice to talk to each other and check out the coast side without having to turn around constantly.

Note: since it was Saturday morning, we did have the company of groups of young adults on their way to get their brunch and wine on. So it was a tad noisy and a few people were getting obnoxiously drunk. But, in all, who cares? I took a nap.

My parents lived a few years in Santa Barbara while my dad had attended UCSB. I’ve heard my fair share of their fun college days- how Halloween was wild, what times Stearns Wharf was poppin’ and which places have the BEST fish n’ chips. Obviously, the area has changed since 1987, but from what I’ve heard, not by much.

We got off on State Street, about two blocks away from the Wharf. Since it was a bit after 10AM, it was too early for lunch, but we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet so we decided on…

Stop 1: Fish and Chips

There are a lot of spots to order fish and chips, two of which are on the Wharf: Moby Dick and the Harbor Restaurant. My parents didn’t feel like sitting in, so we opted for Char West, since they advertised this dish.

Char West’s Fish and Chips

Without getting into it, the fish and chips here sucked. Read my review on it here. Kind of a bummer to start off our day trip that way, but we took the L and went on our way back to the main street to check out the vendors. On the way out, we came across this man who crafted this awesome sand sculpture of a mermaid!

on Stearn’s Wharf
Mermaid Sand Sculpture

Stop 2: Cabrillo Boulevard

We made our way back to the main road to check out the row of vendors. Apparently, this wasn’t a typical Saturday occurrence, so it was pretty awesome to experience a bit of local flavor. We walked past a lot of unique and intriguing wares, but bought nothing. No room on the train and no room in our handbags! We stayed practical. We had lunch plans at Brophy Bros, so we decided to take our time walking through the marina. After about a 15 minute walk, we checked in for a table at Brophy, then went to enjoy the view on the fourth floor of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum to pass the time. Really, you just get a view of the marina, and a bit of the hustle and bustle below but still great!

Stop 3: Brophy Bros

Unfortunately, after reading endless online reviews of the amazing seafood here, my family was severely let down by both the food and service. I did take some photos (of course) but everything was either bland or overcooked. The only dishes we enjoyed were the blackened sea bass and the average New England clam chowder. I just don’t understand how this place is so popular when my clams were rubber. Read my full review on Yelp.

Anyway! We had some more time to burn so we made our way back towards Stearns Wharf to check out…

Stop 4: The Funk Zone

I am a hipster. After a quick Google search on things to do in Santa Barbara, this artistic cultural neighborhood, deemed The Funk Zone, piqued my interest. I sought out those art murals and took a few photos of my mom. Saw the cute library in the back in the red telephone booth.

I hear that the Zone has wine tasting rooms a-plenty, so it’s a great option for a wine-hopping tour in close proximity. My parents and I stopped by Brass Bear Brewery for a beer. It was a pretty warm and humid day so that Tangerine IPA was a great way to cool down. Downed it in a jiffy.

Brass Bear Brewery

We had a bit of time to kill before our train home so we decided to check out some of the shops in the area. We stopped by Oreana Winery, hoping to get a tasting. It was packed so we weren’t able to get a drink, but the live music was great. I caught a glimpse of a Yayoi Kusama mural across the street – that was awesome! Seeing that, I urged my parents to cross (so I could get closer, really) to check out the vintage store, The Blue Door, since it looked inviting.

Yayoi Kusama? What are you doing here?
Hi! Me at the Blue Door

After 3 floors of browsing and pining after a vintage vanity bench, we made our way over to wait for the train. We had about half an hour to spare, so my mom and I decided to get an acai bowl from Backyard Bowls. My dad… took a nap. Opted for a dragon bowl with some bee pollen and a drizzle of honey. I gotta say, the bowl was GREAT. However, watching the staff make a complete mess in the kitchen and look absolutely miserable doing it took away from the otherwise sunshine atmosphere Santa Barbara offered. Such a weird observation, but it was my mom’s and my first time trying bee pollen (and her first ever acai bowl!) that nothing could take away from the experience.

Dragon bowl with bee pollen

Walking back to the train station, we noticed all the confetti on the streets. I heard from passers-by that La Fiesta was happening but we had never heard of it! You can read more about it here. The train arrived more or less on time and we, once again, successfully got the group seats with the ocean view. We’re basically train veterans now. There were multiple groups of brunch parties (read: drunk people) throughout the cars. I’m gonna put that idea in my back pocket if I’m looking for a weekend brunch adventure with friends!

Back Home to 626

We finally got back around 8PM and decided to have dinner at Mama Lu’s. My parents are still in love with this spot. Check out my earlier review on my blog! There was no traffic back home but… there was a 30-minute wait. Good thing they started implementing Yelp’s Waitlist system, Nowait, I was able to add us the moment we left the station! We had a hearty dinner, then wearily made our way home for a good night’s sleep.

It was a full day in the SoCal sun with a few miles of walking – I didn’t bring a charger so no photos at the end of our trip because… my phone died. I’m really proud of my parents for being great sports. Sure, my dad napped twice, but it made for a relaxing trip. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted in Santa Barbara, like check out the Public Market, but I’ll save it for next time. Overall, the train ride and downtown Santa Barbara have been lovely experiences! Relaxing, affordable and on-time, I’m jotting this one down as a cute date idea!

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