Top Sunny Destinations in Southern California

Two Golden State getaways promise sun, surf and sips

By Carrie Bell December 7, 2018


This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Seattle magazine.

This article appears in print in the December 2018 issue, as part of the Best Winter Getaways cover story. Click here to subscribe.

Fighting the dead-of-winter doldrums by getting outside in the Great Northwest is all well and good, but sometimes the only solution is sunlight. And that usually means heading south. Get a dose of vitamin D while exploring locals-approved seaside neighborhoods in these perennially pleasant Southern California cities.

Santa Barbara
The tourist bucket list for this affluent but laid-back American Riviera town has stayed basically the same for decades: hit the mountains and beach on the same day, gaze out over red tile roofs from the top of the historic courthouse clock tower, take a selfie on Stearns Wharf, spoon up McConnell’s ice cream while strolling State Street shops, eat Julia Child–approved tacos at La Super-Rica and constantly be on the lookout for Oprah (the town’s most famous resident).

Head to Test Pilot for tiki-themed drinks. Photo by Rob Tran

Then, less than six years ago, Santa Barbara got the funk…The Funk Zone, that is. Despite being a solid contender in any “worst name ever” contest, the end result of a revitalization project of the industrial section between U.S. Highway 101 and the shore was a game changer for anyone putting together an itinerary. Street art popped up; galleries and stores, such as The Blue Door, opened; and warehouses gave way to winery tasting rooms (Municipal Winemakers, The Valley Project), breweries (Figueroa Mountain), bars (tiki-themed Test Pilot) and star-worthy restaurants (such as The Lark, where dishes on its locally sourced menu are served family-style; Santo Mezcal, with its modern Mexican menu; and Lucky Penny, with its wood-fired pizza).

With your belly full and souvenirs purchased, you can practically roll back to the mod-meets-Moroccan Hotel Californian, a luxury boutique opened in 2017, just a block from the sand. Before checkout, catch the sunset from the rooftop pool, borrow a bike, and book the spa’s couple’s suite for a magnesium soak and massage combo.

San Diego
Never-ending urban sprawl, one-way streets and growing traffic congestion can be confusing and frustrating for first-time visitors to this city of 1.4 million. Instead of wasting too much time traveling to and fro, narrow the focus of your stay in this craft beer capital (with more than 150 breweries) to downtown’s Little Italy and enjoy a calmer and mostly car-free couple of days.

Find an array of multicultural food options at the new Little Italy Food Hall. Photo by Diana Rose Sciacca

The Italian enclave is compact and bustling, making it both easy and safe to walk to and from a spacious Hotel Republic corner suite in the neighboring Columbia district. And you will want to walk, even if only as a justification to stop at the new multicultural food hall in Piazza della Famiglia or to gobble up more hand-rolled pasta at Barbusa. Open-air dining is plentiful—even Devil’s Dozen Donut Shop has a rooftop with bay views—but frequently requested, so if you want an alfresco experience at a trendy hot spot like Kettner Exchange, make a reservation. (It will be a long time before you stop dreaming of its lamb Szechuan noodles and watermelon “poke.”) There’s lots to devour at the 10-year-old, twice-weekly farmers’ market. The Saturday edition is massive, extending six city blocks and featuring live music, bocce, and stalls hawking all things local and artisanal, from vegan croutons and homemade almond milk to olive oil and mead. Drop by well-curated shops Love & Aesthetics and Vitreum or the nearby USS Midway battleship museum, if only to stop eating. Back in your hotel room, further aid digestion by unfurling the provided yoga mat in front of the wall of windows. Watching planes pass by twinkling skyscrapers as they prepare to land at the nearby airport is meditative.

CLOSE QUARTERS: From top: At Fifth & Rose in the Pendry Hotel where a vending machine dispenses Champagne. Photos courtesy of Pendry Hotels

For a change of scenery, walk a mile to the Gaslamp Quarter, where buskers and boozehounds make for excellent and often hilarious people watching. Duck into Fifth & Rose (in the Pendry hotel) to give the rare Moët vending machine a whirl. Feeling homesick already? Head next door to Provisional for that Seattle specialty: geoduck prepared tableside and on the menu seasonally. 

Getting There

There are non-stop flights to Santa Barbara and San Diego from SeaTac Airport. Both cities are in southern California about 220 miles apart.


Santa Barbara 
Courthouse clock tower, 1100 Anacapa St.; 805.462.6464
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., 137 Anacapa St., Suite F; 805.694.2252
Hotel Californian, 36 State St.; 805.882.0100
La Super-Rica Taqueria, 622 N Milpas St.; 805.963.4940 
Lucky Penny, 127 Anacapa St.; 805.284.0358
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, 120 State St., Suite B; 805.324.4061
Municipal Winemakers, 22 Anacapa St.; 805.931.6864
Santo Mezcal, 119 State St.; 805.883.3593
Stearns Wharf, 217 Stearns Wharf
Test Pilot, 211 Helena Ave.; 805.845.2518
The Blue Door, 4 E Yanonali St.; 805.364.5144
The Lark, 131 Anacapa St.; 805.284.0370
The Valley Project, 116 E Yanonali St.; 805.453.6768

San Diego
Barbusa, 1917 India St.; 619.238.1917
Devil’s Dozen Donut Shop, 2001 Kettner Blvd.; 619.780.0914
Fifth & Rose (inside the Pendry hotel), 550 J St.; 619.738.7316
Hotel Republic, 421 W B St.; 619.398.3100
Kettner Exchange, 2001 Kettner Blvd.; 619.255.2001
Little Italy Food Hall, 550 W Date St., Suite B; 619.269.7187
Love & Aesthetics, 621 W Fir St.; 619.341.3192
Vitreum, 169 W Fir St.; 619.237.9810
Provisional, 425 Fifth Ave.; 619.738.7300
USS Midway Museum, 910 N Harbor Drive; 619.544.9600

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