A Travel Price Comparison for California Santa Barbara vs. Sonoma for Food, Beaches, Hiking, and Couples

Should you visit Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

Should I visit Santa Barbara or Sonoma? This is a common question asked by many travelers. By figuring out which city has activities that align with your interests along with knowing which is more affordable, you'll understand where you can get more bang for your buck. So, let's dive into the details and the data, which all comes from actual travelers.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a stunning, wealthy, and opulent coastal town. Because this is such a big city, visitors will find many sights and attractions around town. Many visitors also come because of it's amazing beauty. As this is a very quaint destination, you'll find it has a special atmosphere. It's also popular because of the museums, nightlife, and food.

Sonoma

Sonoma is a scenic, serene, and relaxing county. You'll find world class beauty here as well. Other popular activities here include beaches, hiking, and shopping.

Santa Barbara and Sonoma: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Good scuba and snorkeling destination
  • Popular beach
  • Scenic old town
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for students
  • Good public transit
  • Very walkable
  • Impressive beauty
Things to Consider
  • Less popular with backpackers
Pros
  • Active nightlife
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Impressive beauty
Things to Consider
  • Less museums and historical sights
  • Less popular with backpackers
  • Public transit not as usable
  • Less walkable


Is there more to do in Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Travelers will usually find more to do in Santa Barbara. Although Santa Barbara and Sonoma are popular destinations, Santa Barbara has more sights and attractions for tourists. Santa Barbara is very popular for its museums, scuba diving & snorkeling, beaches, historical sights, hiking, shopping, big city activities, and quaint atmosphere, while Sonoma attracts visitors for its food and nightlife. Sonoma is more touristy than Santa Barbara and is popular for its world-class winemaking and sustainable agriculture. Santa Barbara is famous for its historic missions, pristine beaches, world-class surfing, and scenic hikes that are full of coastal views. It is also well known for The Old Mission Santa Barbara.

How is Santa Barbara different from Sonoma?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Sonoma and Santa Barbara. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is a great coastal town for its historical sights. However, Sonoma is not known for its sights and museums.

You'll find a good number of museums and monuments packed into Santa Barbara. The city is famous for its missions, with Mission Santa Barbara being the most iconic. Also visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center.

Sonoma offers a handful of options for museums and historical sights. While most people don't think of museums when they think of Sonoma, there are actually some interesting local options. The California Indian Museum, the Cotati Museum, and the Depot Park Museum are also local are fascinating.


Is the Food Better in Santa Barbara or Sonoma? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Sonoma is renowned for its local cuisine and restaurants. Also, Santa Barbara is not as famous, but is still a good coastal town to visit for its restaurants.

For foodies, Sonoma is an obvious choice, as it is one of the food capitals of the world. Although wine may be the first thing you think about, the region is also filled with farm-to-table restaurants and award-winning dining options. The food is almost always fresh and local. You can sample many local ingredients such as vegetables, cheeses, olive oils, and fish.

The food selection at local restaurants is excellent in Santa Barbara. The city is best known for its fine dining, particularly if you enjoy seafood. The scallops, oysters, clam chowder, and sea urchin (when available) are all world class. Head for a waterfront setting for the best views and some of the freshest seafood.

Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for Nightlife?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Sonoma is a well-known place for its evening party scene. Also, Santa Barbara is not as famous, but is still a good coastal town to visit for nightlife.

Sonoma offers plenty to do in the evening. Lounges, wine bars, and live music venues offer a variety of activities for visitors during the evening hours.

With a handful of venues, visitors can find a fairly lively vibe in Santa Barbara. For the best nightlife in the city, head downtown to State Street. This is where you'll find the most active bars and biggest crowds. There's a large student population in town, so you'll find much of the nightlife scene is focused on the younger population.

Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for Resorts?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara and Sonoma offer a relatively similar set of excellent luxury resort options.

Santa Barbara is known as a popular and fun resort destination. Many people enjoy the luxurious vacation rentals around Santa Barbara, but there are also a number of high end resorts including the Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort, The Ritz-Carlton, and Hotel Californian.

Vacationers can choose from a number of terrific resorts in Sonoma. Spa hotels, charming inns, and beautiful resorts all offer a variety of options for visitors.


Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is adequate for snorkeling and scuba diving. However, Sonoma is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

There are few places where you can go snorkeling in Santa Barbara. Snorkeling areas not far from town include Refugio State Beach and Tajiguas. You'll see a few fish, beautiful rocks, and anemones that are unique and impressive.

Sonoma is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for Beaches?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is terrific for the beach. Also, Sonoma is not as popular, but is still a nice county for its beaches.

Santa Barbara is considered to be a world-class beach destination. The city is famous for its pristine, sandy beaches. Whether you want to enjoy world class surfing or enjoy a gentle ocean setting, Santa Barbara has many options.

Many people visit Sonoma for it's beautiful beaches. The county has a coastline that includes several great beaches as well as rocky shoreline. The beaches include secluded coves and picturesque cliffs as well as sand dunes and sandy beaches.

Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for its Old Town?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is a coastal town with good options for its historic old town charm. However, Sonoma does not have a historic old town.

Santa Barbara has an old town worth visiting. The city's downtown "Old Town" is a high end, pedestrian-friendly area with plenty of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.

Sonoma does not have a historic old town.


Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for Hiking?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is terrific for hiking. Also, Sonoma is not as popular, but is still a nice county for the nearby hiking options.

Around Santa Barbara visitors will find world-class hiking trails. Just outside of town are countless hiking opportunities that offer spectacular ocean views. Popular hikes include Inspiration Point, San Ysidro Trail, and Cold Spring East Fork.

Sonoma is a popular spot for hiking. In between wine tastings you can explore the area's stunning natural beauty. There are hikes through the vineyards, along the coast, or through forested parks. Some of the best hikes are found in Jack London State Historic Park, Sugarloaf State Park, and Armstrong Woods State Park.

Is the Shopping Better in Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is terrific for its shopping areas. Also, Sonoma is not as popular, but is still a nice county for shopping.

Many people travel to Santa Barbara specifically to go shopping. The city is famous as a high end shopping destination. Head to State Street for a palm tree lined street with local boutiques.

Sonoma is an extremely popular place for shoppers. You'll find a range of local vendors in the area, selling everything from jewelry to art, home decor, and olive oil.

Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for Families?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is a great coastal town for its kid-friendly activities. Also, Sonoma is not as popular, but is still a nice county for its family-friendly activities.

You'll find plenty of family-friendly things to do in Santa Barbara. The city has some nice family-friendly activities including a zoo, some cool museums, and even whale watching. There are also many beautiful beaches where everyone can run around and play, as well as parks and other outdoor settings. For animal-lovers, there are wildlife centers and sea life opportunities.

Sonoma is a family-friendly place to visit. While most people think immediately of wine tours, there's actually a lot more to Sonoma County. Kids will enjoy the many outdoor activities in the area, which include beaches, parks, wildlife viewing, and more. There's also horseback riding and even ziplining opportunities.


Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for Couples?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

With fun activities for couples, both Santa Barbara and Sonoma make for a terrific place to visit.

Santa Barbara makes for a terrific place to visit as a couple. The town is a stunningly beautiful destination with beautiful beaches, excellent shopping, and nice resorts that make for a great honeymoon or romantic trip.

For those traveling as a couple, Sonoma has plenty to offer. It has long been a favorite honeymoon destination for couples who come for the vineyards and wine tours. There are also charming hotels, award winning restaurants, and beautiful beaches.

Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for Students?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is a great coastal town for its student-friendly activities. However, Sonoma is not popular with students.

Students come from all over to stay in Santa Barbara. With a major university right in town, there's plenty of student life that international students or locals can enjoy.

Sonoma is not popular with students.

Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is a coastal town with good options for times when you don't have a car. However, Sonoma is not known for its public transit.

While Santa Barbara offers some public transit options, it might not be your first choice. Transit options include buses, trolleys and water taxis.

Public transit is limited or non-existant in Sonoma. While there are buses, they are almost never used by tourists. There is the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley which you should purchase tickets for in advance.


Is Santa Barbara or Sonoma a more walkable city?

Santa Barbara
Sonoma

Santa Barbara is a great coastal town for its ease of walking around. However, Sonoma is not known for its walkability.

Santa Barbara is a very walkable destination. The downtown area is very pedestrian-friendly and best explored on foot.

Sonoma is not a walkable coastal town. You really must have a car to get around the area and explore it efficiently.

For even more information, also check out Is Santa Barbara Worth Visiting? and Is Sonoma Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Sonoma or Santa Barbara?

How long in Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

It's fun to spend time in either Santa Barbara or Sonoma. Generally, people tend to spend more time in Sonoma due to the larger number of activities and things to do. Usually, 2-3 days is a good amount of time for Santa Barbara, and 2-4 days is enough time in Sonoma.

Families should spend more time in Santa Barbara than Sonoma. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in Santa Barbara, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Couples should spend more time in Santa Barbara than Sonoma. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in Santa Barbara that are great for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Santa Barbara than Sonoma if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in Santa Barbara.


  • How many days in Santa Barbara or Sonoma? Ideal Length of Stay
    Santa Barbara 2-3 
    Sonoma 2-4

One day in Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Many travelers enjoy the museums and nightlife when visiting the destination of Santa Barbara. Hikers are also drawn to this area. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than one day exploring.

Many travelers enjoy the shopping and nightlife when visiting the scenic destination of Sonoma. It's also a relaxing resort destination. Don't miss the food, as that's what most people do. Your budget might influence how long you stay. Since there is so much to do in the area, one day is probably not enough for all of it.

A weekend in Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Santa Barbara is a great place to explore. It is common to spend a weekend here. With all of its activities, you can easily fill a weekend here. Your budget might influence how long you stay.

It's hard to know how much time to spend in Sonoma. Make sure you spend some time hiking while you're in the area. Don't miss the food, as that's what most people do. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do. For many, it makes a great getaway for a weekend. A weekend is usually enough time to experience most activities.


Five days in Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

It's hard to know how much time to spend in Santa Barbara. Make sure you spend some time hiking while you're in the area. Five days may feel like too much time unless you plan to do a lot of relaxing. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do.

Travelers enjoy the food and shopping when visiting the relaxing destination of Sonoma. Travelers enjoy the resorts in the area as well. This county offers a variety of activities to choose from. Five days is usually plenty of time to spend here with extra days to spare. With this much time, visitors often visit nearby destinations or take day trips.

A week in Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Travelers enjoy the shopping and museums when visiting the opulent destination of Santa Barbara. This coastal town offers a variety of activities to choose from. Many travelers plan to spend time hiking while in the area. Most people find that one week is more than enough time to see everything.

You'll find shopping and nightlife around the beautiful county of Sonoma. People often spend their time relaxing at one of the resorts. One week is more than enough time to enjoy everything. Take some day trips to nearby places to fill the extra days. The length of your ideal trip is an individual decision.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best Bicycle Tours in United States of America, Tours for Outdoor and Nature Lovers in United States of America, The Best Coach Bus Tours in United States of America, and The Best Adventure Tours to United States of America.


Which place is cheaper, Sonoma or Santa Barbara?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Santa Barbara is $162, while the average daily cost in Sonoma is $219. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Santa Barbara and Sonoma in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Santa Barbara $88
    Sonoma $93
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Santa Barbara $176
    Sonoma $186
Compare Hotels in Santa Barbara and Sonoma

Looking for a hotel in Santa Barbara or Sonoma? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Santa Barbara


Hotels in Sonoma


Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.


Our Analysis
We've analyzed the average and typical hotel prices based on guest reviews, star ratings, and hotel amenities here: Santa Barbara Hotel Prices and Sonoma Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Santa Barbara $42
    Sonoma $134

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Santa Barbara

Some specific examples of transportation prices in Santa Barbara:

  • Private Transfer from Santa Barbara Port to Los Angeles Airport: $94
  • Private Transfer from Santa Barbara Cruise Port to Los Angeles: $94

Is it cheaper to fly into Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Prices for flights to both Sonoma and Santa Barbara change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Santa Barbara $46
    Sonoma $56

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Santa Barbara $27
    Sonoma $16

Tours and Activities in Santa Barbara

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Santa Barbara are as follows:

  • 2- Hour Pottery Workshop and Studio Tour in Ojai: $65
  • City & Sand Electric Bike Tour: $105
  • Crime Solving Detective Experience Goleta / Isla Vista, CA: $15
  • Downtown SB Walking Food & Drink Tour: $175
  • Electric Bike Adventure in Santa Barbara Wine Country: $83
  • Epic Zipline Tour Over The Santa Ynez Valley: $139
  • Guided Kayak Wildlife Tour in the Santa Barbara Harbor: $55
  • Kayak Tour of Santa Barbara with Experienced Guide: $55
  • Montecito Coastline Electric Bike Guided Tour: $125
  • Murder Mystery Detective Experience Santa Barbara, CA: $15
  • Private Guided Tour in Santa Barbara on Electric Bikes: $80
  • Private Helicopter Tour in Santa Barbara: $149

Tours and Activities in Sonoma

Also, here are some specific examples of entertainment, tickets, and activities for Sonoma.

  • Sonoma Scavenger Hunt Walking Tour & Game: $49
  • Sonoma Valley: Wine Trolley Tasting Tour with Lunch: $125
  • Sonoma Valley: Guided Winery Tour with Picnic Lunch: $126
  • Create your own wine blend experience: $140
  • From Napa Valley Classic Sidecar Tour to 3 Wineries: $300

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Santa Barbara $12
    Sonoma $41
Typical Alcohol Prices in Santa Barbara

Below are a few samples from actual travelers for alcohol and nightlife costs in Santa Barbara:


  • Camping
    $20

Sample the Local Flavors in Santa Barbara

Here are a few nightlife and alcohol tours and activities from local tour providers in Santa Barbara:

  • Paranormal Pairing: Wine Tasting Walk with Ghost Storytelling: $105
  • Solvang Valley Small Group All-Inclusive Wine Tour : $185
  • All-Inclusive Full-Day Wine Tasting Tour from Santa Ynez Valley: $199
  • 6 hour Private Wine Tour of Santa Barbara County : $199
  • Wine Tasting Tour in Santa Ynez Valley (All-Inclusive & Full-Day): $215
  • ‚ÄčAll-Inclusive Full-Day Wine Tasting Tour from Santa Barbara: $219
  • Taco Tour & Wine Tasting Funk Zone Santa Barbara: $225
  • Small-Group Wine Tasting Tour of Santa Barbara Wine Country: $235
  • Santa Barbara Small-Group Wine Tour to Private Estates & Wineries: $235
  • Small-Group Wine Tour to Private Locations in Santa Barbara : $235
  • Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez Wine Tour (We Drive Your Vehicle): $300

Sample the Local Flavors in Sonoma

Here are a few nightlife and alcohol tours and activities from local tour providers in Sonoma:

  • San Francisco: Half-Day Wine Tour with 2 Tastings Included: $189
  • Sonoma Food & Wine Tour: $235


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Santa Barbara and Sonoma, we can see that Sonoma is more expensive. And not only is Santa Barbara much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Santa Barbara would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Santa Barbara and be able to afford a more luxurious travel style by staying in nicer hotels, eating at more expensive restaurants, taking tours, and experiencing more activities. The same level of travel in Sonoma would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Sonoma than you might in Santa Barbara.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Santa Barbara Expensive? and Is Sonoma Expensive?.


Which is Bigger, Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Santa Barbara has a larger population, and is about 9 times larger than the population of Sonoma. When comparing the sizes of Santa Barbara and Sonoma, keep in mind that a larger population does not always imply the destination has more attractions or better activities. So, always research the type of place that you want to visit along with the activities and attractions that interest you.


When is the best time to visit Santa Barbara or Sonoma?

Both places have a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. As both cities are in the northern hemisphere, summer is in July and winter is in January.

Should I visit Santa Barbara or Sonoma in the Summer?

The summer brings many poeple to Santa Barbara as well as Sonoma. Many visitors come to Santa Barbara in the summer for the beaches, snorkeling, the hiking, the city activities, and the family-friendly experiences. Additionally, most visitors come to Sonoma for the beaches, the hiking, and the family-friendly experiences during these months.

Santa Barbara is cooler than Sonoma in the summer. The daily temperature in Santa Barbara averages around 65°F (19°C) in July, and Sonoma fluctuates around 73°F (23°C).

Santa Barbara usually gets less rain in July than Sonoma. Santa Barbara gets 0 inches (1 mm) of rain, while Sonoma receives 0.1 inches (2 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Summer Average Temperatures July
    Santa Barbara 65°F (19°C) 
    Sonoma 73°F (23°C)

Should I visit Santa Barbara or Sonoma in the Autumn?

Both Sonoma and Santa Barbara are popular destinations to visit in the autumn with plenty of activities. Most visitors come to Santa Barbara for the hiking trails, the city's sights and attractions, the shopping scene, and the natural beauty of the area during these months. Also, the autumn months attract visitors to Sonoma because of the hiking trails, the shopping scene, and the natural beauty of the area.

In the autumn, Santa Barbara is around the same temperature as Sonoma. Typically, the autumn temperatures in Santa Barbara in October average around 62°F (17°C), and Sonoma averages at about 62°F (17°C).

In October, Santa Barbara usually receives less rain than Sonoma. Santa Barbara gets 0.5 inches (13 mm) of rain, while Sonoma receives 1.3 inches (33 mm) of rain each month for the autumn.


  • Autumn Average Temperatures October
    Santa Barbara 62°F (17°C) 
    Sonoma 62°F (17°C)

Should I visit Santa Barbara or Sonoma in the Winter?

Both Sonoma and Santa Barbara during the winter are popular places to visit. The winter months attract visitors to Santa Barbara because of the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine. Also, the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine are the main draw to Sonoma this time of year.

In January, Santa Barbara is generally a little warmer than Sonoma. Daily temperatures in Santa Barbara average around 52°F (11°C), and Sonoma fluctuates around 46°F (8°C).

Santa Barbara usually gets less rain in January than Sonoma. Santa Barbara gets 3.2 inches (82 mm) of rain, while Sonoma receives 3.8 inches (96 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Winter Average Temperatures January
    Santa Barbara 52°F (11°C) 
    Sonoma 46°F (8°C)

Should I visit Santa Barbara or Sonoma in the Spring?

The spring attracts plenty of travelers to both Santa Barbara and Sonoma. The beaches, the activities around the city, and the natural beauty are the main draw to Santa Barbara this time of year. Also, many travelers come to Sonoma for the beaches and the natural beauty.

Santa Barbara is around the same temperature as Sonoma in the spring. The daily temperature in Santa Barbara averages around 57°F (14°C) in April, and Sonoma fluctuates around 56°F (13°C).

In April, Santa Barbara usually receives less rain than Sonoma. Santa Barbara gets 1.1 inches (27 mm) of rain, while Sonoma receives 1.2 inches (31 mm) of rain each month for the spring.


  • Spring Average Temperatures April
    Santa Barbara 57°F (14°C) 
    Sonoma 56°F (13°C)

Typical Weather for Sonoma and Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Sonoma
Temp (°C) Rain (mm) Temp (°C) Rain (mm)
Jan 52°F (11°C) 3.2 inches (82 mm) 46°F (8°C) 3.8 inches (96 mm)
Feb 54°F (12°C) 3.6 inches (92 mm) 51°F (11°C) 2.7 inches (69 mm)
Mar 55°F (13°C) 2.8 inches (72 mm) 54°F (12°C) 2.7 inches (69 mm)
Apr 57°F (14°C) 1.1 inches (27 mm) 56°F (13°C) 1.2 inches (31 mm)
May 59°F (15°C) 0.2 inches (4 mm) 64°F (18°C) 0.2 inches (5 mm)
Jun 62°F (17°C) 0 inches (1 mm) 69°F (21°C) 0.1 inches (3 mm)
Jul 65°F (19°C) 0 inches (1 mm) 73°F (23°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm)
Aug 67°F (19°C) 0.1 inches (3 mm) 72°F (22°C) 0.1 inches (1 mm)
Sep 66°F (19°C) 0.5 inches (12 mm) 70°F (21°C) 0.3 inches (7 mm)
Oct 62°F (17°C) 0.5 inches (13 mm) 62°F (17°C) 1.3 inches (33 mm)
Nov 57°F (14°C) 2.1 inches (53 mm) 54°F (12°C) 2.8 inches (71 mm)
Dec 52°F (11°C) 2.2 inches (56 mm) 46°F (8°C) 2.7 inches (68 mm)