5 Beautiful Historic Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara, California, features several historic neighborhoods where visitors can see beautiful examples of past architectural styles, and observe how the city’s built environment has evolved over time.

One such neighborhood is the Brinkerhoff Avenue Landmark District. Dr. Samuel Brinkerhoff gave the district its name as the original owner of the area. Henry Tallant bought the land from Dr. Brinkerhoff in 1886 and separated it into several plots, then redeveloped the land as low-density, single family housing. A stunning architectural diversity only adds to the beauty of the district, with styles varying from Colonial Revival to National Folk to Queen Anne. The neighborhood remained entirely residential until the 1960s, when businesses saw its closeness to State Street and considered it a promising area for their enterprises. Despite its age, the Brinkerhoff Avenue Landmark District maintains its authentic allure and now contains boutiques and galleries, as well as family homes.

The Riviera Campus Historic District stretches from 2020 to 2064 Alameda Padre Serra in the Riviera neighborhood north of Santa Barbara’s downtown. While residential buildings dominate the district, a few businesses and institutes have managed to make their way into the area as well. A topographical advantage in the Riviera neighborhood provides breathtaking views of the city, ocean, and Channel Islands. In contrast to the Brinkerhoff Avenue Landmark District, the Riviera Campus Historic District’s primary attraction is the Normal School of Manual Arts and Home Economics (now called the Riviera Campus), which was constructed during the early 20th century. At that time, the new school attracted developers to a bare, hilly swath of land north of town and fueled an era of rapid building and infrastructure development. The result was the birth of Santa Barbara’s now-famous identity as the “American Riviera.”

downtown Santa Barbara
Santa Barabara’s Downtown Shopping District – image courtesy WikiCommons

Like the other two districts, the El Encanto Historic District was built for housing, but it differs in a significant aspect of that housing: who was intended to live there. The El Encanto Hotel located in this area was originally designed as student housing for the State Normal School of Santa Barbara, but it was transformed into a cottage-style resort in 1918. The El Encanto neighborhood started to come into its own after Santa Barbara began advertising itself as a vacation destination. The Craftsman style was used for many homes in the area built in 1913, although Spanish Colonial Revival cabins joined the neighborhood in the 1920s when the city decided to consolidate itself around one aesthetic. Amazing gardens protected by sandstone walls and a pergola and lily pond surround these bungalows.  A considerable number of the original homes remain, thanks in part to a meticulous restoration project in 2013. The El Encanto Historic District specially honors the 17 buildings and seven natural formations that add particular historic value to the neighborhood, while acknowledging the historical merit of the entire area as well.

While the previous three neighborhoods have official recognition from the city as historic districts, the Bungalow Haven Historic District has been added to the city’s list of potential historic resources, but has not gained official standing yet. Bungalows swept through the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, becoming a popular staple of American architecture. An average bungalow is a one-story structure developed for a warm climate, with verandas used for outside leisure, overhanging eaves, and several windows to provide shade and cross-ventilation in the pre-air-conditioning era. The warm climate and economic opportunity made California a very desirable place to live for many Americans, so Craftsman bungalows began to appear all over the Golden State. By the Ready-Cut Bungalow Company’s estimations, the company transported more than 40,000 bungalow kits to Southern California from 1910 until the 1920s. All the required materials to build a bungalow would be delivered to your lot for approximately $650. As a result, the bungalow joined palm trees and citrus groves to become part of the iconic California landscape.

Another potential historic district is the West Beach Historic District, which symbolizes Santa Barbara’s residential and commercial growth along the waterfront from 1900 through 1950. This area contains a valuable assortment of Spanish Colonial Revival multi-family homes, as well as hotels, small commercial buildings, and apartment buildings constructed around common courtyards. One significant landmark in the area is the Burton Mound, an archeological site previously occupied by a prehistoric Chumash community. The Potter Hotel, a substantial luxury resort, also stood in this location during the early 20th century. A fire destroyed the hotel in 1921, and the land was subdivided for multi-family homes, acquiring the name “The Ambassador Tract.” Spanish Colonial Revival is the prevalent architectural style in the area, although some structures made in the Arts and Crafts and Minimal Traditional styles remain. This historic and timely area continues to attract tourists from all over the United States and even abroad, giving more credence to its claim as a potential historic district.