Santa Barbara, CA weather: seasonally surprising
When a city bills itself as "The American Riviera," its weather has much to live up to. The mild, mostly sunny climate of Santa Barbara, CA does just that, drawing outdoor lovers, wine and food fanatics, shopaholics and anyone who wants to experience the Golden State's good life. But Santa Barbara's climate resume contains more than endless sunshine and cool ocean breezes. To maximize basking-at-the-beach time, schedule your visit accordingly.
Summer: Warm, with morning fog and a good chance of afternoon sun
As an escape from soaring summer temperatures and humidity, Santa Barbara is hard to beat. Its beachside setting ensures summer days in the low to mid-70s and nights about 10 degrees cooler. The catch comes when warm desert winds blowing in over the Santa Ynez Mountains collide with the cold Pacific. The city awakens to a fog layer which usually – but not always – burns off by noon. Known as June gloom, the phenomenon persists until the ocean warms; in some years, it remains into August. Even with June gloom, summer is SB's most crowded and expensive tourist season.
Fall: Mostly sunny and warm with a chance of gusting winds
With the crowds and June gloom gone and daytime temperatures staying in the high 60s to mid-70s, fall can be a great time to visit Santa Barbara. Things change quickly, however, if Santa Ana winds blow in from the northeast. Gaining strength as they squeeze through the mountain canyons, the Santa Anas may hit the city with gusts over 50 mph, temperatures in the mid-90s and humidity low enough to parch your skin. Fall is also a Santa Barbara shoulder season, with moderately discounted hotel rates.
Winter: Cool days, chilly nights and a good chance of rain
Winter is Santa Barbara’s coolest and rainiest season, with daytime highs hovering in the 60s and nighttime lows dipping into the 40s. You’re also most likely to need an umbrella if you visit between December and February, when more than 12 inches of the city’s annual 15 inches of rain falls. On the upside, the brisk, damp weather means minimal crowds and the lowest hotel prices of the year.
Spring: Practically perfect
With its rain-fed hillsides covered with green grass and wildflowers, Santa Barbara is at its best in spring. March, April and May are ideal hiking months. The rain has moved on, sunny days in the mid- to upper 60s rule, and it's too soon in the year for big crowds. As summer approaches, however, hotel prices climb. If you come in spring, come early.
Santa Barbara staples for any season
Cool to warm by day and cool to chilly at night, Santa Barbara is one place where you'll want to keep your clothing options open. Leave the raincoat and umbrella at home from late spring through fall. Otherwise, these are your year-round staples:
- One pair each of casual and dressy long pants – casual for cool weather and dressy for stepping out after dark
- Short-and long-sleeved tops
- A lightweight sweater or jacket
- Comfortable walking shoes. Santa Barbara is best appreciated on foot.
- Flip-flops for the beach
- A swimsuit, sunglasses and sunscreen. Even when the ocean is too cold for swimming, you shouldn't miss the chance to soak up some rays.
- A picnic blanket for picnicking on the Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden lawn