Photo credit: Jin
Bars, Music, and More: A Local's Guide to Santa Barbara Nightlife
February 07, 2019
Santa Barbara may be know as a vacation destination, but the town is anything but sleepy. Of course this sweet little city will (thankfully) never reach the levels of metropolises like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have fun and interesting nightlife options. If you’re looking for a night out on the town without forking over mounds of cash, Santa Barbara has plenty to offer, particularly in these fun neighborhoods.
Where to start? State Street is the main artery, running from the wharf into the heart of downtown, and it’s chock-full of bars and restaurants the entire way. State Street and the larger downtown area is dotted with the colorful, open-air stores and shops you imagine when you think of the California coast. When it comes to venturing inside, your options are almost endless, but here are some of the best:
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.: For craft-beer fanatics, this family owned and operated brewery prides itself on staying true to the landscape where they began, the Santa Ynez Valley, through their brews and the labels that accompany them (think hand-drawn labels). Figueroa started out as a father and son venture blossomed into a 200-plus employee and six taproom operation throughout California’s central coast. Go for the mocha-esque Davy Brown Ale if you like ‘em darker and the Fig Mtn Light if you like to keep things a little more traditional.
EOS Lounge: EOS has everything you’d expect from a dance club—private booths, DJs, and a lively dance floor all wrapped in neon lights. They bring in DJs from around the globe to perform in the venue that consists of three separate bars spread out across two floors, an outdoor patio for taking full advantage of the California weather, and a fireplace for ambiance.
Red Piano: This piano bar has quickly become a Santa Barbara favorite. You’ll find live music every night, both from piano players who have quickly developed a following as well as local bands. You’ll find a wide variety of craft cocktails to enjoy, and there’s room to dance. If you can’t help singing along when a favorite gets played, you won’t be the only one.
The Good Lion: The Good Lion refers to itself as a "neighborhood cocktail bar," and it delivers with both the friendly atmosphere and fine quality drinks in its intimate space on State Street. The weekly rotating cocktail menu incorporates, fruits, herbs, spices, and produce grown locally. You’ll also find a variety of California craft beers and local wines to sample. For dining, the nearby restaurant Sama Sama provides a menu of tapas and other small plates to go along with the drinks.
Cadiz: If you’re looking for a full meal, Cadiz features Italian and Spanish seaside cuisine, as well as a full bar. Enjoy the seafood offerings from the gorgeous, Mediterranean-inspired interior or eat al fresco on the patio facing State Street. The seasonally driven menu is heavily influenced by what’s available at the Santa Barbara farmers market. On weekend nights, the restaurant is transformed into a European style lounge and is open until 2 a.m.
Bobcat Room: The Bobcat Room, located on West Ortega Street, is a quieter lounge inside of the Wildcat Room, one of Santa Barbara’s best known dance clubs. Take a break from the club music to enjoy the hand-crafted cocktails, comfortable seating, and relaxed vibe.
Continue northwest on State Street and you’ll reach the Uptown neighborhood of Santa Barbara. Here you’ll still find plenty of bars and restaurants, but the vibe is a little bit more local. You’ll find boutique shopping in the area, plus you’re right next to the Santa Barbara foothills. If you need to work up an appetite, head to Stevens Park in the San Roque Canyon and enjoy the two-mile nature hike. Once you’re ready for a night out, here are some of your Uptown options.
Uptown Lounge: This laid-back lounge features just about anything you could want on a night out. Live music? Enjoy listening to local pianists on the baby grand piano. Sports? Take your pick of flat screens to watch all the games. Bar fun? Pool tables and ping pong are available for competitions against your friends. Or simply enjoy its spacious patio on a warm Santa Barbara evening. You’ll find daily drink specials as well as pizza (from its own outdoor pizza oven) and pub favorites to satisfy your cravings.
Lure Fish House: When you’re in the mood for seafood, the Lure Fish Houseis the place to be. Start with the wide selection of oysters on the half shell, and then move on to ceviche, shrimp, scallops, grilled fish—just about anything you’d want that comes out of the water that’s fresh and sustainably caught. Pair it with one of the local wines for a perfect California meal.
Yellow Belly Tap: Interested in trying a new beer? The Yellow Belly Tap features a rotating list of 10 craft beers from across the country on tap. You’ll also find a selection of California wines, plus a creative play on a traditional pub menu, with excellent burgers, homemade pizza, and even buttermilk fried chicken.
Los Agaves: Los Agaves goes far above standard Mexican fare. You’ll find an enticing menu filled with delicious moles, soups, ceviches, and seafood entrees in addition to creative tacos and burritos. You can tell that everything is made in-house with great thought and preparation.
Harry's Plaza Cafe: Opened in 1968, Harry’s is an iconic Santa Barbara spot. The plush leather booths are a throwback to a different area, and the generous servings of comfort food on the menu are sure to satisfy. Looking for steaks and strong drinks? Harry’s can’t be beat.
While Mesa isn’t the first place that jumps to mind when you think about a bustling nightlife, there are plenty of diamonds in the rough in this little neighborhood that has views for miles (literally). Despite it being one of the more relaxed neighborhoods of the city, there are a couple of spots tucked away in its streets that make for a perfectly relaxed evening.
Mesa Cafe and Bar: When you’re looking for a casual spot to relax, the Mesa Cafe and Bar is where to go, especially if you went a little overboard the night before. The place has been described by USA Today as a "Santa Barbara legend," and it you’ll find a lot of great comfort food on the menu, as well as a full bar.
Alcazar Tapas Bar: For some yummy and easy to share bites before a night out with friends, head to Alcazar. If you’re more of a wine or cocktail person than a beer aficionado, you’ll like what you find here, especially considering that one of its gin drinks has secured the title of the 2017 Official Drink of Santa Barbara.
The Cliff Room: A slice of dive bar perfection is the best way to describe The Cliff Room. The best thing about this place, though, is that it serves up all the grunge and cheap drinks you expect from a dive, but none of the sassy service. Friendliness is the only thing you’ll find here (besides a good drink).
This Santa Barbara neighborhood between the ocean and Highway 101 has become one of the town’s hottest spots. Known its converted warehouses and graffiti murals, the Funk Zone is filled with art galleries, wine-tasting venues, and eclectic shopping options. It’s also home to the largest part of the Urban Wine Trail, Santa Barbara’s self-guided map to more than 20 tasting rooms that represent Santa Barbara County wines. For nightlife, here are just a sampling of your options.
The Waterline: This project turned an industrial warehouse property into a hip destination for food, beer, wine, and artwork, all created by local artisans. You have several options when it comes to food and drink: The Topa Topa Brewing Company and Lama Dog feature award-winning beers, The Fox Wine Co. offers tastes of its wine, and The Nook offers a creative menu of food options. The toughest part is deciding where to go first.
Municipal Winemakers: A tasting room open until 11 p.m. on the weekends, Municipal Winemakers works to bring together the personality and elegance of old-world wines with the freshness of a modern style of wine. Stop in and enjoy their offerings—you just may surprise yourself with what you enjoy.
The Lark: If you’re looking for a quintessential California dining experience, The Lark is your destination. The restaurant focuses on sustainable, seasonal ingredients from California’s Central Coast, with its creative menu mostly served family-style. Enjoy classic cocktails made with seasonal fruits and vegetables and a comprehensive wine list featuring many small Santa Barbara County producers.
Written by Cinnamon Janzer for Knockaround.