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Santa Barbara - Attractions

El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park

This 18th-century Spanish fort contains some of the city's oldest structures - still standing in spite of the need for constant restoration and rebuilding after earthquakes. Founded in 1782 to protect the missions between Monterey and San Diego, the presidio also served as social and political centre and as a safe haven for travelling Spanish soldiery. Be sure to visit the chapel, the interior of which is filled with kaleidoscopic colour and trompe l'oeil effects.

Mission Santa Barbara

Called the 'Queen of the Missions', Mission Santa Barbara sits high on a perch overlooking the downtown area. Established on 4 December, 1786 (the Feast Day of St Barbara), the mission still functions today as a Franciscan friary as well as a parish church and museum. Three adobe structures preceded the existing stone version, which dates from 1820; its main facade has elegant neoclassical-style columns. Inside you'll see Chumash Native American Indian wall decorations and beyond, peaceful courtyard gardens. Behind the church is an extensive cemetery, with over 4000 Chumash graves and elaborate mausoleums of early California settlers.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Impressive and ornate, the courthouse is a sight not to be missed. Built in the Spanish-Moorish Revival style, and completed in 1929, it features hand-painted ceilings, wrought-iron chandeliers, and wall and floor tiles specially imported from Spain and Tunisia. You're free to explore on your own, but the best way to see it is to take the free tour. If you don't, be sure to have a look at the mural room and climb up the 80ft (24m) clock tower to see panoramic views of the city.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art

This well-regarded art museum has paintings by European and American artists such as Monet, Matisse, Hopper and O'Keeffe as well as collections of Asian art, classical sculpture and photography. There's also an interactive children's gallery, a cafe and the usual giftshop.

The Waterfront and Stearns Wharf

It's worth taking an afternoon to imbibe some briny air and explore along Stearns Wharf. This rough wooden pier is the oldest continuously operating wharf on the West Coast. Built in 1872 by John Peck Stearn, in the 1940s it was owned by movie actor Jimmy Cagney and his two brothers. Partly destroyed by fire in 1998, it's now fully restored.

Further round the harbour, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum celebrates the town's saltwater history with memorabilia and hands-on exhibits, including a big game fishing chair where you can strap yourself down and reel in a trophy marlin. You can also take a virtual trip through the Santa Barbara Channel and peek through a 45ft/13.5m-tall US Navy periscope.

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