Like a Local: 10 Unique Shops in Santa Barbara

by Jeff Rindskopf  |  Published June 14, 2016

Santa Barbara is California beach culture at its finest, boasting natural beauty and a relaxing atmosphere removed from the bustle of Los Angeles just an hour’s drive away. Surrounded by lush natural landscapes and expansive ocean views, the town of just 90,000 people offers enough shopping to rival much larger cities, with many streets lined by unique storefronts housed in red-roof Mission style buildings.

A view from the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (Photo: Jeff Rindskopf)

A view from the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (Photo: Jeff Rindskopf)

Antique Alley

Nestled between more high-end destinations along the main drag of State Street, Antique Alley is a treasure trove of used goods too numerous to organize neatly. It’s easy to lose yourself in the many crowded alcoves of this shop full of curiosities, each with its own history, from campaign buttons and gaudy jewelry to tea sets and humble oil paintings. Antique Alley’s wares won’t have the same sheen as new furniture from pottery barn, but they have more than enough character to make up for it.

706 State St

The Book Den

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but The Book Den’s modest storefront gives way to a surprisingly expansive collection of books, neatly arranged in categories on wooden shelves that seem to stretch on and upwards forever. Located within walking distance from the city’s library and art museum, this independent bookstore offers bargain deals on books both used and new. It is set in a modest space that devotes virtually every square inch to storing their vast collection of literature and picture books.

15 E Anapamu St

Channel Island Surfboards (Photo: Jack Hoff via Flickr)

Channel Island Surfboards (Photo: Jack Hoff via Flickr)

Channel Island Surfboards

If you’re looking to take southern California beach culture home with you, try browsing the selection of casual swimwear, tops and wetsuits for reasonable prices at Channel Island Surfboards, a Santa Barbara staple since 1969. Of course, the focus at this beachside shop is on the surfboards themselves, and the staff is always willing to help beginner and experienced surfers pick from a selection of endlessly unique surfboards designed and constructed with care in their state-of-the-art facility.

36 Anacapa St

Chaucer’s Bookstore

A bit further from the center of things than their competitors at The Book Den, Chaucer’s Bookstore nonetheless rivals their selection with shelves almost literally overflowing with books covering all sorts of special interests. There are colored pencils and coloring books to entertain children while parents scour the greeting cards or the history section for the perfect used gem to take home. Ask the staff for recommendations, and don’t forget to thumb through their literary-themed t-shirts: the perfect outerwear for any avowed literature fan.

3321 State St

The Closet

The Closet doesn’t focus solely on vintage, nor does it pretend it doesn’t exist. The Santa Barbara location of this regional chain boasts a wide array of old- and new-school women’s clothes and designer accessories for permanent sale prices, wonderfully straddling a fine line between boutique and standard thrift store. As the name suggests, The Closet is a wonderful place to obsess over your outfits and make use of the friendly staff for help finding the perfect match.

920 State St

Inside Tienda Ho (Photo: Matthew McQuilkin via Flickr)

Inside Tienda Ho (Photo: Matthew McQuilkin via Flickr)

Tienda Ho

It’s often difficult to separate one clothing store from another, but thankfully that’s not the case with Tienda Ho, Santa Barbara’s premiere store for finding authentic imports from Morocco, India, Bali and a host of other far-off locations. Flowing, colorful one-size-fits-all garments in every imaginable shade abound in this store. It is packed with exotic accessories you normally wouldn’t see outside of an outdoor market on the other side of the world, including wicker lamps, rugs, vases, masks and unfamiliar stringed instruments. Whether you’re looking for something to wear or a new addition to your home décor, Tienda Ho will help you find something truly one-of-a-kind.

1105 State St

Art from Scrap

Garbage becomes inspiration at Art from Scrap, a retail art supply store that has expanded into the environmental education program Explore Ecology. Their storefront just a few blocks east of State Street lets aspiring artists use seemingly useless old trinkets to create their next original mixed media art project. This includes recycling unexpected materials like pill bottles and old postcards instead of letting them crowd the Santa Barbara County landfill. Don’t forget to check out the AFS gallery upstairs, where you can look at other artists’ recycled creations to get your own creative juices flowing.

302 E Cota St

Santa Barbara Harbor from Stearns Wharf (Photo: Jeff Rindskopf)

Santa Barbara Harbor from Stearns Wharf (Photo: Jeff Rindskopf)

The Blue Door

The Blue Door is a used consignment and antique shop with three stories of space, which still hardly seems like enough for all the funky articles of clothing and furniture they have. They arrange their repurposed and used furniture and housewares into impressive displays that make it feel as though you’ve stepped into another place and time. It makes perusing the shop a unique delight—even amongst the stiff competition elsewhere on State Street—so it’s often difficult to resist buying at least one item out of their seemingly endless collection.

4 E Yanonali St

Game Seeker

Board games might seem like a needless diversion to some, but they can inspire true passion and even fanaticism. The management and staff at Game Seeker are passionate about their board games and always willing to help guide customers through their walls lined with endless varieties of both simple party games, as well as more complex, strategic ones like Settlers of Catan or Pandemic. There are enough plush toys and trinkets to keep younger children occupied, but Game Seeker is all about the easygoing competitive spirit of the great board games they carry in spades.

537 State St

Art Walk

Local artists emerge in droves every Sunday to help contribute to the city’s largest weekly celebration of everything artistic, including sculpture, painting, photography and all other manner of arts and crafts. Regular artisans are always eager to meet locals and visitors browsing through the pop-up stands on beachside strolls to Stearns Wharf, where the art walk takes place. Each event lasts from 10 a.m. until dusk and boasts a new selection of work you can purchase to support the 200-plus Santa Barbara County-only artisans that turn out for each event.

Cabrillo Blvd at Stearns Wharf

Paintings at Santa Barbara’s Art Walk (Photo: Tony Zeoli via Flickr)

Paintings at Santa Barbara’s Art Walk (Photo: Tony Zeoli via Flickr)