FX Excursions

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How to Explore Santa Barbara, California’s, Iconic Architecture

by Aoife O’Riordan

Apr 10, 2024

© Visit Santa Barbara


The architectural style of Santa Barbara is like few other places in the world. Many notable architects left their mark on the Californian city, from George Washington Smith to Lutah Marie Riggs. Of course, the history of how Santa Barbara developed its unique architectural styles is better seen than read about.


Santa Barbara

Lotusland © Visit Santa Barbara

Here are some of the best sites in the city to appreciate Santa Barbara’s rich architectural history and presence:

Red Tile Walking Tour

Go on this unique tour, which features 17 stops and 22 historic adobes, to see the best of the city’s iconic white stucco walls and red tile roofs. Stops include Santa Barbara Courthouse, Santa Barbara Public Library, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Hill-Carrillo Adobe and Presidio Avenue.


El Presidio

El Presidio © Visit Santa Barbara

The Old Mission and El Presidio

The Mission, known as the Queen of the Missions, was built in 1786 and has long been noted for its historical preservation and impressive size. This Spanish-era building isn’t the only one in the city, however. El Presidio, constructed in 1782, is a former military installation and features El Cuartel, the second-oldest surviving building in California.


Lobero Theatre

© Visit Santa Barbara

Lobero Theatre

California’s oldest continuously operating theater has been bringing productions and other events to the city for the last 150 years. The building used the original 1922 plans of George Washington Smith and Lutah Maria Riggs to give the theater a facelift in 2013.



Bellosguardo © Visit Santa Barbara

Historical Homes and Gardens

Make for Bellosguardo, a lavish, Italianate villa constructed in 1902. The estate recently began offering small, docent-led tours on its grounds. Over in neighboring Montecito, Lotusland is also worth a visit. These gardens span 37 acres, complete with orchards, a parterre, topiary garden and more. Montecito is also home to Casa Del Herrero, a Spanish Colonial-style house built in 1925. Boasting a collection of French, Spanish and Italian art, the house also sits on the grounds of 11 acres and Moorish-style gardens. Docent-led tours of the gardens are available.

Looking to the Future

Spanish-style buildings may be characteristic of Santa Barbara, but the city continues to evolve with modern architects reshaping the city. Architect Jeff Shelton, for example, has devised modern and eclectic designs within the city’s architectural guidelines, resulting in unique buildings and structures. Take a self-guided tour to see Ablitt Tower, Shelton’s Dr. Seuss-like building, or live-work spaces at Cota Street Studios.


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