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Santa Barbara or Solvang?

London, United...
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Santa Barbara or Solvang?

In the middle of a long Californian road trip, we will leave LA at about 2.00pm on an August Friday. My intention was to drive to Santa Barbara and spend a couple of hours looking round (I think I mainly want to see the State Street area and Stearns Wharf) and then head on to spend the night at Solvang. I realise if we do it this way, we will be arriving late at Solvang. Would it be better to spend the night at Santa Barbara and then head to Solvang the next morning? Is a coupe of hours enough to see a bit of Santa Barbara? Should we bother coming to Santa Barbara at all? We will have been to LA (including Catalina island) and will stop at least twice more on the coast up to San Francisco (I'm thinking Cambria and Carmel). Should we head straight to Solvang or does Santa Barbara give us something different we won't see elsewhere? In addition, will traffic out of LA be terrible at that time?

San Francisco
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1. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

Stay in Santa Barbara. Many more (and better) dining options for one thing.

Solvang doesn't need more than an hour -- it's gotten to be a bit of a tourist trap. There is a Mission there, although not one of the more intriguing ones.

Corona del Mar, CA
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2. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

There is more to see and do in Santa Barbara and more options for dining and shopping and hotels.

New Jersey
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3. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

Los Olivos and Paso Robles are the more interesting towns especially if you like wine. But most wine tasting rooms close by 6pm.

San Anselmo...
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4. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

Having recently spent a few hours in Solvang I found it somewhat fun if a little kitschy. But I am a retired native California and I can waste time in the small places if I want. I concur with the suggestions to pass it up and stay in Santa Barbara. I highly recommend the inexpensive shuttle on State St. for getting around there. I must also say that Stearns Wharf and State St. in a couple of hours is pushing it.

I will point out that Los Olivos and Paso Robles are a bit far afield for someone traveling the Coast.

Los Angeles
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5. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

Since I think Avalon (in Catalina) is about as touristy as Solvang and neither can compare, as a destination with Santa Barbara, naturally I'm going to recommend Santa Barbara. Solvang is fun, though, and a good place for breakfast (although there are many wonderful breakfast spots in SB, they are perhaps a bit more pricey; Solvang is the land of the Danish pastry, as well as apple fritters and thin Danish pancakes for breakfast - apparently the Danes like sweet things).

I'd probably stay Santa Barbara, explore a bit, and then do some wine tasting at a tapas place, then walk the beach some more and look for seafood. There's far more to do in SB during an evening than in Solvang.

You will get to see an actual beautiful California resort town, which IMO, Avalon is not. Cambria is *by* the beach, but its shops and business area are small and not leading right down to the beaches (but they are beautiful beaches). Santa Barbara is the kind of place with beach volleyball, lots of open air activities, a wide sandy beach, beautiful architecture both old and new. Avalon is nice, lacks a wide beach right nearby the harbor, is cramped and is almost completely filled with tourists and tourist shops. Santa Barbara has a wide range of eating and shopping experiences (some of the world class).

Carmel has a small but lovely beach, and its shops can trend toward art (which I love - the side streets of Carmel are some of my favorite places and I love the residential architecture there, could wander for a couple of hours easily). But neither Cambria nor Carmel has the "Riviera" aspect that Santa Barbara has (completely with gleaming houses stacked up the hillsides). Cambria has hills, but its a more tree-friendly, sparsely populated place. Its eateries are good, the better ones are largely supported by tourism (whereas the local SB community eats out a lot, which gives a variety of restaurants seldom seen in a smallish city in California).

If you are interested in wine, SB has an urban winetasting trail...

Since you'll be spending the next night at Cambria, you can spend part of the next day in SB (there's not a whole lot to do right in Cambria, except maybe go up and see the elephant seals - but you can do that the day after). Are you planning on doing Hearst Castle?

Santa Clara...
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6. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

Another vote for SB. I go to Solvang for potty break and a decent brunch on my way to and from somewhere.

Santa Barbara...
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7. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

Another vote for Santa Barbara here. There's more to do and it won't be as stifling hot as Solvang will be. Also if you could leave a little bit earlier from LA you'd miss some traffic. Friday afternoons are kinda notorious for a slow drive up the coast.

Avila Beach...
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8. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

Solvang is not far out of your way if you stay in SB and head out the next day towards Cambria. Take the 154 freeway from SB - beautiful views of SB and the ocean on the way up the pass and of Lake Cachuma on the way down the opposite side. This is a more direct route than staying on the 101 the entire way although it is a two lane road most of the way. Stop at Cold Springs Tavern, a historic stagecoach stop, on your way. Take the turn off (past the turn off for rte 246) and pass through Los Olivos. It's only a few more miles to Solvang. Probably won't need much more than a drive through, or you can stop for a meal. If you want to wine taste, there are beautiful vineyards on that route and all around the Los Olivos area (think "Sideways" if you've seen the movie - it was filmed here).. You can rejoin the 101 freeway up to San Luis Obispo from there (you will then take the turn off for Rte 1 to get to Cambria).

Manhattan Beach...
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9. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

Stay the night in Santa Barbara, so much more atmosphere at the coast. Better shops and restaurants.

You could check out Solvang in under an hour on the way north.

London, United...
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10. Re: Santa Barbara or Solvang?

Thank you for all the replies. That's such helpful information and Santa Barbara does sound great. As you have all been so helpful, I'm wondering if you can give me some more advice on the next part of our journey. If we leave SB in the morning, my plan would be to pass through Solvang (and on the advice of those here, perhaps also los olivos), then go on to the Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Preserve or Pismo beach before arriving at Cambria in the evening to sleep, I'm open to alternative suggestions of better things to do and better places to spend the night. The next day I was planning to do Hearst Castle and the Julia Pfeiffer State Park before arriving at Carmel for the evening. Again I'm open to suggestions. Is Monterey nicer? I should mention that I am travelling with my sixteen year old daughter, so things like wine tasting probably won't work for us, but we're open to most things!