If you’re hoping to fill your Instagram feed with photos that will stand out, Santa Barbara is the perfect place to do it. This eclectic town on California’s central coast offers everything from Old World architecture to picturesque mountain and beach scenery. Some spots are so unique they can’t be captured anywhere else.

    Even if you’ve been to Santa Barbara before, there are bound to be some obscure places on this list that you’ve never heard of. As we’ve done the hard work in scoping them out, all you need to do is bring your camera and start snapping.

    1

    Old Mission Santa Barbara

    A classic spot with multiple photo ops

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    Founded in 1786, Old Mission Santa Barbara sits on a hilltop overlooking the city and the Pacific Ocean. A combination of Spanish, Greek and Roman architectural styles, its 6 pink columns make it unique from most others. Known as the ‘Queen of the Missions,” its façade is one of the most popular for photographs, but the grounds are impressive too.

    The garden is especially tranquil, filled with palm trees and roses. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours at Old Mission Santa Barbara, taking a self-guided tour to soak up the natural beauty.

    Location: 2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 805-682-4713

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    2

    Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

    A living museum of native California plants

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    The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a beautiful spot for romance, thanks to its diverse plant life and spectacular mountain views. It serves to protect plants that are unique to California’s central coast region. One thing’s for sure, you’re guaranteed plenty of flora and fauna for your Instagram feed.

    Although it’s not your typical landscaped botanic garden, you’ll discover unexpected gems among the nearly 6 miles of walking paths. There are over 1,000 kinds of plants with highlights including a redwood grove, authentic teahouse and garden, and the 219th-century Mission Dam.

    Location: 1212 Mission Canyon Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 805-682-4726

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    3

    Stearns Wharf

    Check out the famous dolphin fountain and ship’s wheel

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    Stearns Wharf provides multiple photo-ops, starting with the requisite selfie in front of the iconic dolphin fountain that sits at its entrance. Stroll down the state’s oldest wooden wharf for another pic as you steer the decorative ship’s wheel that overlooks the Pacific.

    Time your visit to arrive at dusk and you’ll be able to capture the glorious colours as the sun dips below the endless blue of the sea. Stearns Wharf is also where you’ll find the Deep Sea Tasting Room, where you can sip on Sauvignon Blanc with an unmatched view of the coastline and the water.

    Location: 217 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA

    Open: Friday–Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm, Sunday–Thursday from 11 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 805-618-1185

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    4

    Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove

    Get up close to thousands of monarch butterflies

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    The Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove, just west of Santa Barbara, is where thousands of monarch butterflies gather in a eucalyptus grove between November and February. What makes this experience even more impressive, is that they have the unique ability to navigate and reach a precise place they’ve never been to, which can be as far as 3,000 miles away.

    The beautiful insects, distinguishable by their orange wings laced with black lines and white dots, huddle in massive clumps, creating a stunning sight. For the best photos at the Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove, visit during the warmest part of the day, between 12.30 pm and 2 pm.

    Location: 7559 Palos Verdes Dr, Goleta, CA 93117, USA

    Phone: +1 805-961-7571

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    5

    Seven Falls hiking trail

    Discover waterfalls and tranquil pools

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    The Seven Falls hiking trail, just 2.5 miles out-and-back with 8 ft of elevation gain, leads to a series of small waterfalls and punchbowl-like pools that provide postcard-perfect photo ops. Be sure to bring your swimsuit as you can end your hike with a refreshing splash, depending on the season and current rain levels.

    Your best opportunity for flowing water is between late October and late April, but it’s picturesque all year round. When you're in the first 3/4 mile of the Seven Falls hiking trail, you’ll enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Pacific and Channel Islands in the distance.

    Location: Tunnel Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA

    Phone: +1 805-681-4200

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    6

    Santa Barbara County Courthouse

    For an unbeatable bird’s-eye view of Santa Barbara

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    The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is an iconic landmark, occupying a gorgeous Spanish Colonial Revival-style building with elegant arches and a red-tile roof. A classic spot for photos in the city, you’ll want to capture photos of its exterior from various angles. 

    Climb to the top of the 85-ft-tall El Mirador Clock Tower, where you can check out the still-functioning clock and take panoramic photos of Santa Barbara and beyond. If you want to take a peek inside, you’ll find ornate wrought-iron chandeliers, spiral staircases, and elaborate hand-painted murals dating back to the 18th century.

    Location: 1100 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA

    Open: Monday–Friday from 8 am to 5 pm, weekends from 10 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +1 805-882-4520

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    7

    Butterfly Beach

    Magical sunsets and surfers in action

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    Butterfly Beach is a scenic spot for locals to unwind in Santa Barbara. It's in Montecito, just 1 mile east of the Waterfront area. You can snap photos of the beautiful stretch of golden sand, complete with swaying palms. There's a bike path lined with beautiful flowers, attracting hundreds of butterflies – which gave this beach its name.

    Butterfly Beach is also a great place for water sports, so you’ll be able to fill your frames with kayakers, surfers, and stand-up paddleboarders in action. With the coastline running east to west, magical sunsets are guaranteed, too. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a pod of dolphins frolicking in the waves.

    Location: Montecito, CA 93108, USA

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    photo by Niranjan Arminius (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    8

    Tiled stairs at Paseo Nuevo Mall

    Capture Santa Barbara’s Spanish vibe

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    Paseo Nuevo is a beautiful outdoor shopping mall and one of Santa Barbara’s most Instagrammable landmarks, thanks to its brightly coloured tiled staircase.  

    Make your way to this stairway for a photo of vibrant and intricate Spanish tiles that fully captures the city’s Spanish vibe. A shimmering vision, each step has its own unique pattern, with the view from the bottom particularly stunning. No matter which angle you take, the result is sure to be impressive.

    Location: 651 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA

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    photo by Rebecca Moon (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    9

    Chromatic Gate

    A gateway with a rainbow of colours

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    The Chromatic Gate is a scenic structure that'll make you feel as if you’re walking below a rainbow. Located along the waterfront in Cabrillo Park with lush green mountains providing the backdrop, the 21-ft-tall landmark was the work of Austrian-born artist, Herbert Bayer. 

    He spent a decade in Santa Barbara, creating and leaving his legacy for anyone to enjoy. It’s surely one of the coolest photo-ops in the city, painted in brilliant shades of red, orange, yellow, blue and purple. 

    Location: 2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA

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    photo by Orange County Section California Chapter American Planning Association (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    10

    Ganna Walska Lotusland

    Great for garden lovers and Instagrammers

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    Ganna Walska Lotusland, or simply Lotusland, is a visual feat spread over 37 acres in Santa Barbara. You’ll want to have plenty of battery life and storage available for the hundreds of photos you’re bound to take. Often referred to as a ‘botanical nirvana,’ it features unique stone statues, exotic palms, prickly cactus, rare cycads, blue agaves, and much more.

    The Japanese Garden is serene, but the Cactus Garden may be Lotusland's crown jewel, with over 300 species grouped by country of origin. Other must-visits include the horticultural clock, Neptune fountain, and classic topiary garden.

    Location: Cold Spring Rd, Montecito, CA 93108, USA

    Open: Wednesday–Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm (closed from Sundays to Tuesdays)

    Phone: +1 805-969-9990

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    photo by J Brew (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    K.C. Dermody | Contributing Writer

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