The Santa Barbara Courthouse under a pink sunset with clouds.

Santa Barbara is well known as a destination for luxury and relaxation between the sea and the mountains, but it also has a rich history and intriguing past. While you’re here, we recommend exploring some of the spots that help to make the city what it is today.

Here is our guide to the best historic landmarks in SB:

The Old Mission  

Founded by the Spanish Franciscans in 1786, the Old Mission is Santa Barbara’s premier landmark. The massive stone building offers plenty to explore including the active church and parish, a museum, cemetery and mausoleum. We recommend planning an afternoon visit and bringing blankets to relax and enjoy the Rose Garden across the street with the whole family.

Old Mission. 2201 Laguna Street. 805 682 4713.

El Presidio  

The Presidio of Santa Barbara is the last Spanish fortress that was built in California in 1782. Two of the original buildings still stand today in the heart of Downtown and are open to guided and self-guided tours daily. As an important part of history and a well-preserved adobe site, it would be a mistake to skip a visit while you’re here!

Santa Barbara Presidio. 123 E Canon Perdido Street. 805 965 0093.

Santa Barbara Courthouse

The Santa Barbara Courthouse is such a stunning work of architecture it is almost hard to believe it is a fully functioning office of law. Built in Spanish Colonial revival style in 1929 and located Downtown, the courthouse is surrounded by beautiful sunken gardens and welcomes visitors and picnics. While you’re there, don’t forget to climb the clock tower for one of the best views in town.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse. 1100 Anacapa Street. 805 882 4520.

Lotusland

Lotusland is a hidden gem in Santa Barbara and a beautiful part of the city’s history. Built on an estate originally purchased in 1882, Madame Ganna Walska later transformed the property into her vision of a horticultural dream. Visitors are required to make reservations for guided tours, but the trip is well worth the wait as you can explore the various themed gardens with over 3,000 plants from all over the world.

Lotusland. Cold Springs Road. 805 969 9990.

Chumash Painted Cave

The Painted Cave in Santa Barbara, located off Highway 154 headed towards Santa Ynez Valley, contains some of the best remaining cave paintings from the Chumash Native Americans. Visitors are welcome to climb the path to take a peek, although the art is protected. Still, dating back to the 1600s, this is a site any history buff will want to see!

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park. Highway 154. 805 733 3713.