Santa Barbara is one of the most popular California destinations for romantic travel. It’s easy to see why; the Central California coastline is just as beautiful, but calmer and more accessible than that of Northern California. Central Coast wineries are not just the new kids on the (wine making) block anymore; they’re award winning and wonderful. There are a handful of 5-star luxury resorts in the Santa Barbara area that count among the best in North America, and for a medium sized town, there are a remarkable amount of cultural activities. Anyone planning to celebrate a romantic occasion — Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, etc — in Santa Barbara will want to make reservations at one of its best upscale romantic restaurants. Here are The Vacation Gals’ five recommendations for the top romantic restaurants in Santa Barbara, California.
Top Romantic Restaurants in Santa Barbara, California
Bouchon: Full disclosure: We like this restaurant so much, we reserved a private room in Bouchon for my husband’s 40th birthday party. The menu varies with the season, and the wine list is extensive and well-rounded. In fact, the wine list here is among the best of any restaurant along California’s central coast. Santa Barbara and Napa Valley wines are especially well represented. This is a very popular, “hip” restaurant, so ask for the quieter, more dimly lit side of the restaurant for a romantic meal.
Downey’s: Hands down the best restaurant on State Street, Santa Barbara’s main thoroughfare, Downey’s menu changes with the seasons — guaranteeing fresh, delicious appetizers and entrees. Give the artisanal cheeses a try with some merlot or a California Syrah. Also recommended are the seafood dishes; the shellfish is outstanding, and the wild caught salmon (only seasonally available) is special, too. Downey’s is a truly upscale restaurant, and it would be a real treat to celebrate Valentine’s Day with dinner here.
Toma Restaurant & Bar: Billed as Santa Barbara’s Most Romantic Restaurant, Toma Restaurant is at heart an Italian restaurant, but with local seafood and other “100 mile”-sourced ingredients for a Central Californian flair. The location is a great asset; right across from the wharf, Toma Restaurant & Bar is small enough to feel intimate and romantic, and popular enough that reservations are definitely needed (especially during holidays). It goes without saying that a bottle of champagne will complement the romantic meal, but this bar also has specialty cocktails worth a try.
Olio e Limone: I’ve found that Olio e Limone caters to an older crowd than Bouchon, though it’s on the same block as top-rated Bouchon. The atmosphere is that much more quiet and sedate, perhaps lending itself more to a romantic dinner than Bouchon. The wine list is solid but can’t compare to Bouchon or the Stonehouse. Olio e Limone really specializes in fantastic Italian food; in particular, more Northern Italian specialties and less red sauce. The pasta is made to order, and outstanding. In short, it is a small, intimate restaurant, very well-suited for a romantic Valentine’s Day meal.
Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch: An actual citrus packing factory from the 1800s has been transformed into a truly luxurious, romantic restaurant at The San Ysidro Ranch. Now, this top-rated restaurant and resort are actually in Montecito, but Santa Barbara is less than 10 minutes away. Stonehouse Restaurant has attentive service and fresh entrees made, in part, with herbs and fruits grown right on the resort property. Even the bread basket, filled with just-made lavosh, is a treat. The dining is romantic inside by the fireplace, or outside, with the ocean in the distance and the scents from the property’s fruit tress in the air. People travel miles to come to The Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch, and its is most highly recommend for romantic meals.
Valentine’s Day is just one of many opportunities given to us to go have a lovely, romantic meal. Anyone traveling to California’s central coast for their anniversary, honeymoon, or weekend winery trip will be more than pleased with the dining experiences at any of these five top romantic restaurants in Santa Barbara.