20 Best Places to Eat in Santa Barbara
I’ve been visiting Santa Barbara my entire life, I lived here for 4 years during college, and now my parents own a condo here. So I consider myself a bit of a local now and it is one of my favorite places in the world!
I have eaten at most of the restaurants around Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Isla Vista and definitely have my regular favorites along with some others I haven’t frequented as much but are still worth adding to this list. There are constantly new places popping up and I’ll include a few of the newer places on here!
These are in no particular order :)
• Lure Fish House
The food and decor here tops any other restaurant I’ve been to in Santa Barbara. We come here every trip and will definitely be back more often now that we have a house nearby! It’s my family’s favorite and we usually reserve the private room with the large table for our big group. It may not have a beach view like some other restaurants in Santa Barbara, but you won’t even care once you step inside. Keep in mind this is a “fish house” so most of the menu is seafood. You can definitely find something if you’re vegan or vegetarian, but maybe not as a main course.
I’m not usually an oyster person, but their charbroiled oysters are one of the best things I’ve had at any restaurant! A must-order – even if you hate oysters. The seared ahi is my go-to dinner order and baja fish tacos for lunch, but every single item on the menu is 10/10 – including their cocktails and sides!
Besides the incredible food and perfectly planned interior design, the staff here are the most polite and friendly people and you’re guaranteed to have a lovely lunch or dinner experience.
• Shoreline Beach Cafe
If you’re looking for good food with a view, Shoreline is it. All their tables have a gorgeous beach view and they even have some tables right on the sand where you can dig your toes into the sand. They have the usual beachy menu – amazing fish tacos, ahi salad, etc. BUT they also have a Hungry Planet™ Vegan Burger which looks and tastes just like the real thing.
They also have a walk-up area where you can order take-out and eat it on the beach – great if you’re on a break between SBCC classes (right across the street).
• Sama Sama
I’ve been here a few times now because my sister is the hostess and it’s fun to make her bring me sparkling water.. kidding! Kind of. This restaurant has a unique style and flavor paired with a modern and trendy look. The food is family-style, so you order a few dishes and share them between everyone. The crispy brussels sprouts are my personal favorite. Make sure to get the Blue Ginger Margarita, too!
They will usually ask if you have any diet restrictions and will make you vegan and/or gluten-free versions of some of the dishes on request.
I went to this restaurant often in my first couple years of college for nice dinners out of Isla Vista. It’s an Italian restaurant with amazing food! All their food comes from other local Santa Barbara businesses so you’re eating completely local. They have paninis, gourmet pizza, and face-stuffing worthy pasta. They have plenty of vegetarian options and most of the paninis and pasta can be ordered vegan (hold the cheese). Oh, and the bread they bring the table is SO good.
• Lucky Penny
In the heart of the Funkzone, the Lucky Penny is a small restaurant with outdoor-only seating. The front wall is tiled with.. you guessed it! Pennies! I had the most amazing roasted beet sandwich here, which I’ve remade about two dozen times because it was THAT good. I haven’t tried anything else from here, but their menu is incredible and I’ll definitely be back.
Before I stopped eating meat, I had an amazing burger here and great fish tacos. While I can vouch for their beef burgers and fish tacos, I haven’t tried their veggie options yet. They do have a Veggie Beet Burger which is what I will order next visit! They have a great atmosphere inside and I’ve sat at the bar before and had beers with dinner.
If you’re looking for the best sandwich you’ve ever had, stop by Valentino’s. It can be hard to find a veggie sandwich that is satisfying, but I actually day dream about this place when I’m craving a sandwich. It is now run by the sons of the owner and they’re always so nice! It’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall place and doesn’t have much seating so this is definitely a place to order and take out – maybe on a picnic up on Painted Caves Road like I did!
• Kyle’s Kitchen
The veggie burger at this place is unreal. As I’ve probably mentioned before, veggie burgers can be a hit or miss. This one is definitely a hit! And for only $6 it’s a great deal. Their fries are great, burgers are great, and they donate a portion of their proceeds each month to a special needs organization – amazing!! I don’t have a single complaint.
They have 3 locations – 2 in Goleta and one in Santa Barbara.
• Cajun Kitchen
I haven’t been here since I stopped eating meat and I’ve only been here a couple times for brunch with friends after a night of partying (oh those Isla Vista days…). They do have really good food and it gets high praise reviews online. This is definitely a place I would like to visit a couple more times since it has been a few years since my last visit.
• Hollister Brewing Co.
If you’re vegan and don’t like to only eat salad, this place probably isn’t for you. While they have some options without meat – pizzas, eggplant parm, salads, you won’t find many vegan options on this menu aside from a protein bowl. Even their fries are unfortunately fried in duck fat (which I have had numerous times before going vegetarian and can say they are pretty dang tasty).
If you aren’t vegan or vegetarian, you’ll find plenty of delicious plates here!
• Beachside Bar-Cafe
If you’re looking for a place with the sound and view of the ocean, make a reservation for the outside patio here! They have plenty of heaters to keep you warm no matter the weather and you’ll get an incredible view of the ocean and Goleta pier as the restaurant itself is on the beach. This is actually the restaurant I went to with family after my SBCC graduation ceremony, although we’ve been a few times since then.
This last visit we sat on the patio for the first time and it was incredible with the sound of the ocean. Pictured below is from another time when we ate inside – the giant windows still give you a great view. They do have a few vegetarian options including this pasta dish with portobello mushrooms which was delicious.
• The Natural Cafe
This place is a popular one for vegans and vegetarians especially. They have a menu that has more than enough non-meat options in a separate “vegetarian entrées” section. They also have vegan/vegetarian options throughout the other sections of their menu – including veggie burgers and even have the Hungry Planet™ burger (the best!) as mentioned earlier. I’ve always had good food here the few times I’ve been!
They have one location in Goleta and another on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.
• On the Alley
Just a few doors down from Natural Cafe in Goleta and right next to the movie theatre, On The Alley is a great place to grab a bite for lunch (they also serve breakfast and dinner). They have plenty of vegan/vegetarian options, which I am eager to try! The avocado tacos sound delicious and I’d like to see if their black bean patty burger is a hit or miss.
• Pickles & Swiss
This is a restaurant that is very new to me, as it was built AFTER I graduated from college so I have only had it a couple times during trips to our condo. Their sandwiches are good, although pretty expensive for vegetables or meat between bread. The reason for the high price is their use of all local, fresh produce and homemade ingredients. It’s really cute and trendy inside which always makes for a nice atmosphere and good photos.
I really like the veggie malta melt, but you can also build your own – of course vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options are available.
• Hana Kitchen
Alright, I’ve had this more times than I can count because it is my FAVORITE place in Isla Vista. If someone asks me where I want to eat in IV, Hana Kitchen is always my answer. Not only do they have great chicken bowls, their VEGAN bowls are to-die-for. I’m guilty of adding spicy mayo to my bowls which voids them of their vegan title, but still vegetarian! It’s like a teriyaki “chicken” with cabbage and carrots. Okay, it sounds just okay, but trust me on this one – an absolute MUST visit if you’re in IV for any reason.
• Bagel Cafe
My first-ever hangover in IV was cured with the “Super Emma” from Bagel Cafe. It’s a bagel (obviously) with cream cheese (still sounding basic, but just wait), topped with avocado, and then more cheese, and then sprouts (whaaat). It sounds like the most odd combination of things, but it’s delicious. Plus, the entire thing is toasted so the cheese melts on top of the avocado.
They have a big menu of all kinds of interesting combos like this one. They are amazing – hungover or not!
• South Coast Deli
Another hungover-brunch spot my friends and I went to almost every Sunday morning. They have great bagel sandwiches and a cute outdoor patio to sit around and talk about the shenanigans from the night before. Again, this place is great whether you’re hungover or not. The Dar’s Breakfast Sammie was my go-to because I just love the combo of cream cheese, avo, and sprouts!
They have a whole section on their menu with vegetarian and pescatatian options, although you would have to ask for no cheese to make them vegan.
They have 2 locations in Santa Barbara, one in Goleta, and this one in Isla Vista.
• Buddha Bowls
These aren’t the heathy sauteed vegetable bowls you ordinarily call Buddha Bowls. These are bread bowls loaded up with your choice of sauce, veggies, meats, cheeses, etc. and then toasted! There is a menu that has staff favorite bowls (one of them cleverly named the “hangover bowl”), but you can also completely customize your own – making it vegan or vegetarian, too! I had a bowl here with a cracked egg on top which was so yummy. You can even just get mac n’ cheese in a bread bowl. Carb-load me up!
Now, Freebirds is kind of an Isla Vista celebrity. You can find Freebirds packed on weekend nights with drunk college students eating overpriced, giant burritos and mile-high piles of nachos. They have been known to over-charge drunk people because they know they can get away with it, but can you blame them?.. maybe. Although $11-12 is a steep price to pay for burritos or nachos (especially for broke college students), it is well worth the visit at least once.
Their nacho servings are ENORMOUS and even at my hungriest I have never been able to finish them myself. They are perfect for sharing, though! I can, however, finish an entire burrito myself, although it is a bit monstrous, too. Both the nachos and burritos are SO good. It’s one of those places you have to go at least once if you’ve never been.
• Pizza My Heart
I have so many good memories here! The first PMH I ever went to is the original one in Capitola. When it opened up in Isla Vista my junior year (maybe sophomore…) it was so exciting because I love their pizza! Once I turned 21, my friends and I would come here on the weekends to get pizza and cheap, delicious beer before going out for the night. They are open until midnight week nights and 1am weekends, but they stop serving beer at 10pm.