The title says it all! This past week, I’ve been having such a great time hanging out with my extended family in Santa Barbara, California! I haven’t seen most of them in close to a year. All of us have such busy lives, but I’m grateful that we get to come together for a week and spend some time together before we go our own ways once again. We’re trying to make annual family reunions a thing… did you see our trip to DC last year?
We stayed in a super nice Airbnb with a whole kitchen filled stocked with a giant refrigerator and all sorts of kitchen appliances, so naturally we headed to the supermarket and bought a ton of ingredients so we could cook some nice meals. Usually when we are with family, we don’t eat out as much, just because it’s much easier and cheaper to make a ton of food for our large group to enjoy.
However, we did end up stopping at some pretty yummy restaurants. They were all so good! If you’re ever visiting the Santa Barbara area, you HAVE to stop by and try out some of these places.
Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is situated right off the sandy beaches of the city. It’s on a long wooden pier filled with restaurants and stores called the Wharf. It’s the perfect place to spend a couple hours exploring, sightseeing, and relaxing in the warm Californian sun while listening to the waves crash against the shore. Although there is usually a long line to get your food, the wait is worth it, in my opinion. You just can’t skip this iconic restaurant while visiting!
All of the food is freshly and locally caught right in the surrounding waters below the Wharf! All of the seafood is kept alive in tanks up until they are cooked and served to the public; you can really taste the freshness of the seafood! I ordered the lobster tacos, and also tried a bit of my parents’ cioppino. We also shared a plate of Santa Barbara’s specialty – sea urchin. It’s served raw on a slice of lime and with some soy sauce. I found myself pleasantly surprised! Usually I’m not so adventurous when it comes to bizarre foods like urchin, but I thought it was pretty good.
McConnells’ Ice Cream
If there’s one thing I’ve learned this week, it’s that there’s no such thing as a true “winter” in California. You can tell by our outfits – I’m wearing a thin, kind of summery top, and my cousin is wearing a cardigan and a spaghetti-strap tank top. So, when she recommended this well-known ice cream shop to us, I had to give it a try. Usually I think ice cream in the middle of December is kind of weird, but it was so nice and sunny outside! I had to make an exception just this once.
There are so many unique flavor combos (see the image of the menu above); I wanted to try at least half of the menu! Because it was a couple days before Christmas, I ended up getting a cup of the reindeer tracks; I felt obliged to be festive! A “single scoop” comes with two flavors, so I also got a scoop of double peanut butter chip, obviously, because peanut butter is my one true love.
The French Press
My cousin was dying to get some coffee one afternoon after we’d been exploring the beaches for a bit, so we decided to stop by the French Press to grab some coffee and relax for a bit. Instead, I chose to get McConnell’s ice cream, so I didn’t get my own coffee. However, I tasted some of my mom’s chai latte (which was really good) and snagged a quick picture of my uncle’s regular latte! Isn’t the latte art so pretty?
If you’re looking for a nice little coffee shop to swing by while visiting Santa Barbara, I highly recommend this one!
We made breakfast ourselves in the kitchen of our AirBnb every day except for our last day in SB. My cousin suggested Anderson’s, which is a danish bakery and restaurant. The interior is European style and very doll-house-esque, with pale pastel walls and dainty chandelier.
The waiter spilled a tray of water when he was giving us our drinks (bless his heart!!) but other than that, the people there were so fun and treated us to a very nice brunch experience. The eight of us split a giant cinnamon kringle, from their bakery. I’d actually never had a kringle before until then, and it was SO good (they have some at Trader Joe’s but for some reason I’ve never gotten around to trying one). I also got the Denver omelette, which literally the size of my face.
And of course I had to get a latte! Because if you’re having brunch without a latte… are you really having brunch?
Mortensen’s Danish Bakery
Mortensen’s isn’t technically in Santa Barbara… it’s actually in a town about an hour out from SB called Solvang; it’s a little Dutch town (established only about 8 years ago) with a bakery literally on every single street. The whole town smells like a croissant… it’s amazing.
This bakery is apparently known for their danishes, so of course we ordered 6 of them: 2 the cream cheese danishes, 3 of the blueberry danishes, and one cherry danish. We also got 3 pistachio squares, which ended up being my favorite! We ordered so many sweets that even the 8 of us had trouble finishing it all. Although I still fondly look back on this day, I do recall having a pretty bad stomach ache afterwards. It was all worth it though!!
We ended up having lunch at Habit Burger one day, which is another burger chain located exclusively in Cali. We had just spent the whole morning hiking around the botanic gardens, so we were famished when lunchtime rolled around! Initially, we were planning on going to Lilly’s Tacos, but they were closed for the week of Christmas, so we were lured over by the smell of french fries and beef patties on the grill. We so hungry I’m sure we could have eaten anything, but I distinctly remember the onion rings tasting REALLY good. I think my burger was called the charburger or something, and my mom and I split an order of sweet potato fries.
And some of our home-cooked meals! + farmer’s market pics
homemade breakfast (right) and hot pot (left)
our home-cooked christmas dinner
farmer’s market pics!!
Honestly, I could go on and on about the amazing restaurants we ate at in Santa Barbara, but in my opinion, some of my fondest memories this past week were made gathered around our dining room table, surrounded by family, eating food made by us! We went to the farmer’s market in the morning, so we were able to enjoy fresh produce right from local Californian farms. Breakfast was usually pretty simple: usually just scrambled eggs, toast, tomatoes, pancakes, coffee, and fruit. There was a clementine tree in the backyard, and also an avocado tree and a lime tree!
On Christmas, since no restaurants were open, my uncle whipped up some seafood pasta. The clams were bought fresh from the seafood market just a couple blocks from where we stayed, and my goodness it was SO GOOD! You could really taste the freshness of the tomato sauce (which was homemade!), but the clams really took the dish to a whole new level. I’ll never be able to eat seafood back at home in Texas again!
For Christmas dinner, we really wanted to prepare something special for us to all enjoy. My cousin grilled some steak, and my uncle baked some creamy scalloped potatoes and oven-roasted veggies as side dishes. My mom prepared some daikon / pork soup, and my aunt tossed together a simple green salad. I ended up making a cheesecake, which I was really nervous about, but it tasted pretty good! It was my own recipe, so I’m definitely going to have to recreate it when I get back home and post the recipe here.
Oooh! And we also had a yummy hot pot on the final night in Santa Barbara. My aunt and uncle got my cousin her very own hot pot, which also doubles as a Korean bbq grill! I was so jealous… she is going to have so much fun with it!
We headed to LA after spending a couple days in Santa Barbara and we had some pretty great food there, so be on the lookout for an LA food guide coming soon! I had such a great time spending the holidays with my family, but honestly I’m just glad to come back to TX and enjoy the rest of the break at home.
Thanks for reading ! I’ll see you guys soon!
Nice writing! Glad you enjoyed the gathering. Happy New Year!