What's it like to live in Santa Barbara, CA?

Profile written by local expert:

P.J. Heller

It has been described as the "American Riviera," a "playground for the rich and famous" and, quite simply, "paradise." Situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara, California, enjoys a nearly perfect year-round climate, making it ideal for outdoor activities and drawing tourists worldwide.

With a population of approximately 90,000 people, Santa Barbara isn't nearly as large as nearby Los Angeles, but it offers the cultural amenities of a bigger metro area. Downtown Santa Barbara features Mediterranean-style stucco buildings with red tile roofs, reflecting the city's Spanish colonial heritage. That motif, especially the red tile roofs, is visible throughout the city. The area welcomes hundreds of visitors during annual events such as the Summer Solstice Celebration, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the Old Spanish Days Fiesta.

Santa Barbara is considered part of California's south coast, along with its neighbors – trendy Montecito (home to Oprah Winfrey and other celebrity residents), the sleepy beach towns Summerland and Carpinteria to the south, and the city of Goleta to the north. Santa Barbara County encompasses nearly 3,800 square miles that include four of the five offshore islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park, as well as the official wine-growing regions of Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria Valley, which are home to more than 100 wineries.

See all the best places to live in California.


U.S. News analyzed 125 metro areas in the United States to find the best places to live based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people's desire to live there.

Santa Barbara, California is ranked:

#73 in Best Places to Live

#88 in Best Places to Retire

#1 in Best Places to Live for Quality of Life

#4 in Best Places to Live in California

#6 in Most Expensive Places to Live

#7 in Safest Places to Live




Best Places to Live

  • Desirability
  • Value
  • Job Market
  • Quality of Life
  • Net Migration

Read how we rank places

Santa Barbara, CA Quick Stats

  • 442,996

    Metro Population

  • $54,320

    Average Annual Salary

  • N/A

    Avg High/Low Temps

  • 33.7

    Median Age

  • $463,750

    Median Home Price

  • N/A

    AVG Annual Rainfall

  • 3.9%

    Unemployment Rate

  • $1,496

    Median Monthly Rent

  • 19.4 minutes

    Avg Commute Time

What is there to do in Santa Barbara, CA?

With its near-perfect climate and the ocean at its doorstep, Santa Barbara is an outdoor paradise. Along the beachfront, residents can bike, run, kayak, surf, play beach volleyball or stroll out onto Stearns Wharf, a historic wooden pier dotted with shops, restaurants and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, an interactive marine education facility. An inexpensive water taxi connects the wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor, where residents can charter a fishing boat or visit the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

Art, history and other museums and galleries are readily available. Entertainment options range from outdoor concerts at the Santa Barbara Bowl to lectures, music, films and theater performances at local venues.

Every Sunday, the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show takes place along Cabrillo Boulevard, featuring wares from more than 250 resident artists. A farmers market is held downtown every Tuesday and Saturday, and on other days throughout the area. Popular annual events include the Summer Solstice Celebration, Old Spanish Days Fiesta, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival held on the grounds of Old Mission Santa Barbara, the so-called "Queen of the Missions."

Outside the immediate area, residents can hike, camp and go wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley. Solvang, the historic Danish village, is a popular daytrip locale, as is the town of Goleta, thanks to its indoor ice skating rink, aptly named Ice in Paradise.

What's the cost of living in Santa Barbara, CA?

The high cost of renting or buying a home in Santa Barbara may not yet approach that of San Francisco or Silicon Valley, but it has forced many people who work in the city to live elsewhere and commute. The rental market is just as tough to get into, with a city vacancy rate of less than 1 percent, compared with 4 percent statewide. California also has some of the highest gas prices in the country.

Value Index

Index Score: 3.7 /10

How we calculate this.

Santa Barbara offer a lower value than similarly sized metro areas when you compare housing costs to median household income.

Housing Costs 2016-06

Santa Barbara


Housing Costs Over Time

Data sourced from Zillow median home sale price data series. Additional data provided by the Austin Board of Realtors, Houston Association of Realtors, Intermountain MLS, Omaha Area Board of Realtors, San Antonio Board of Realtors, and the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

Buying or selling a home? Find top real estate agents in Santa Barbara, CA.

What's the weather like in Santa Barbara, CA?

With its unique east-west coastline and south-facing beaches, Santa Barbara enjoys a moderate climate. However, in late spring and summer, the city experiences "June gloom," when weather patterns create fog that sweeps in from the ocean, making mornings and early afternoons gray and dreary until it burns off late in the day.

Like the rest of California, Santa Barbara is experiencing severe drought. That has prompted Santa Barbara residents to cut back on water use by about 25 percent.

What's the best way to get around Santa Barbara, CA?

Although it may be possible to live in Santa Barbara without a car, owning a vehicle allows you to easily get around, shop and explore surrounding areas. However, because Santa Barbara proper is rather compact – occupying roughly 20 square miles of land – it is an ideal location for bicycling, with miles of on- and off-road bike paths, and several more miles of bike lanes planned. 

To promote the use of alternative forms of transportation, Santa Barbara has made the downtown State Street area more pedestrian-friendly, with wide brick sidewalks and no on-street parking (free 75-minute parking is readily available in lots throughout the downtown area and many side streets).

The Metropolitan Transit District manages a number of bus routes throughout the city. It also runs electric shuttles down State Street to the waterfront, the Santa Barbara Zoo and the Santa Barbara Harbor. 

Three commercial airlines (United Airlines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines) fly in and out of the Santa Barbara Airport, located on the west side of town near the University of California, Santa Barbara. However, many residents fly in or out of Los Angeles International Airport, where more flight options are available. The Santa Barbara Airbus makes 16 trips daily (eight each way) to the LA airport, stopping in Goleta, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight routes serve Santa Barbara, and Greyhound Bus service is an option, too.

Commuting in Santa Barbara, CA

Means of Transportation
Below national average

Above national average

Equal to national average

Public Transit
Equal to national average
Average Commute Time

19.4 minutes

7.0 minutes less than national average

Average Commute Times by Zip Code

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Who lives in Santa Barbara, CA?

The Santa Barbara metro area attracts a mix of families, retirees and college students, as well as recent graduates (though high rents often prevent younger residents from living in Santa Barbara proper). The area is also home to a large Hispanic community, and Spanish is often heard on the streets.

South coast residents tend to be well-educated and affluent. The majority of Santa Barbara County residents don't affiliate with any organized religion; those who do often identify as Catholic.

Age Distribution

Marital Status Breakdown

More single people in Santa Barbara than
national average

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.