The Ultimate Travel Nurse Guide to Santa Barbara

travel nurse guide to santa barbara
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My third travel nurse assignment took me from my home state of Nebraska to the sunny state of California!  A place I had dreamed about living/visiting for so long.  I had very little idea what Santa Barbara would have in store for me, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to leave such an incredible place.  If you’re on the fence about signing a contract in Santa Barbara, I urge you to take the leap and do it!  Or if you’ve just signed a contract in Santa Barbara, know that you’re in for the time of your life in one of the most beautiful places in the USA.

Having spent 13-weeks exploring the ins and outs of Santa Barbara and the surrounding area, I’m thrilled to share this ultimate travel nurse guide with you.  I hope that you acclimate to your assignment quickly and maximize your time in the area, seeing and doing the most incredible things in a short 13-week timeframe.


Everything You Need to Know About Santa Barbara for a Successful Travel Nurse Assignment


Best Time to Be a Travel Nurse in Santa Barbara

girl walking amongst big palm trees

Located in central California, the weather in Santa Barbara is sunny and warm year-round.  In the summers you can expect high temperatures with the ocean breeze cooling you down on a hot day.  And in the winters expect temperatures high enough to head to the beach, but low enough to wear a light sweater.  It’s an ideal location if you plan to chase summer year-round.  (If you do end up in Santa Barbara during the summer months, know that it will be very hot, and a lot of living accommodations don’t have air conditioning).


My experience:  I traveled to Santa Barbara from October-January and the weather was perfect.  While I don’t recommend signing a contract over the holidays (perks of being a travel nurse), I highly recommend Santa Barbara around this time.


Where to Live in Santa Barbara

aerial views of santa barbara with the mountains in the background



One of the most stressful things about being a travel nurse is figuring out where to live!  Know that the price to live in Santa Barbara is quite steep, but you’re paying for incredible beaches and ocean views.  If you want to find something cheaper I recommend looking in Goleta, Ventura, or Carpentaria and commuting in.  When searching for housing I usually search on Furnished Finder or Airbnb.  But keep in mind that Airbnb prices tend to be outrageous due to all of the extra fees.  Because you’re renting a place for 3+ months, it doesn’t hurt to message the Airbnb host requesting a discount before booking.  Half of the time I’ve been told yes, and half of the time I’ve been told no.

If you decide that you want to pay the price to live in Santa Barbara, I recommend getting as close to State Street and the ocean as possible.  That’s the main street in town and central to everything else you’ll want to do in the area.  The great thing about Santa Barbara is that it’s small and walkable so you’re never too far from any attraction.


My experience:  I found a little apartment near the beach and only a 10-15 minute drive from the hospital.  It was expensive, but I enjoyed the area I was in and the family that rented to me.  They lived downstairs and I lived upstairs with a private entrance and a parking spot for my car.


For a more comprehensive guide on how to find housing as a travel nurse, read Resources for Finding Housing As a Travel Nurse



The price of living in Santa Barbara is outrageous.  The median home price in Santa Barbara is $1,161,300.  Because of its location and proximity to Montecito, where a lot of celebrities live, Santa Barbara is prime real estate.  Not only is rent expensive, but daily activities are also expensive.  Expect eating out to run you a pretty penny, as well as drinking.  Other activities such as water activities are also expensive.  But remember, you’re getting what you pay for which are incredible beaches, ocean views, and a fun downtown area.


Travel Nurse Guide to Transportation in Santa Barbara

girl driving a moped



As stated earlier, Santa Barbara is a small and walkable town.  While you don’t need to have a car, I highly recommend bringing one.  If you live in a central area, you can walk to most attractions, but you may not be able to walk to the grocery store/hospital.



The main airport in Santa Barbara is the Santa Barbara Airport located 10-miles west of downtown.  Because it’s small, it’s also expensive.  If you’re looking for an airport that will be cheaper to fly in and out of, your best bet is LAX in Los Angeles.  There’s a bus that will take you from Santa Barbara to LAX for $50-$60 one way.  You can find out more about the bus here.



Rideshare is available in Santa Barbara.  You can rest easy knowing that both Uber and Lyft operate in the area.


Hospitals in Santa Barbara/CA Licensing

pictures of palm trees and a pink sky as sunsets

The main hospital in town is Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.  It’s a 450-bed teaching hospital and the biggest hospital located between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Travelers are often welcomed at Cottage with most units utilizing them.  If you hope to work in Santa Barbara, but don’t have your California nursing license yet – get it now.  Licensing in CA can oftentimes take up to four months so you’ll want to plan well in advance if your dream is to head to the west coast.

Parking:  There is a free parking lot at the hospital.  Simply scan your badge and you’re in!

Cafeteria:  This is one of the best hospital cafeterias I’ve ever been to.  Fresh sushi, a yogurt bar, and more await families and healthcare providers.  Note that the cafeteria is closed at night, so if you’re working the night shift, plan to pack your food.


Prioritizing Your 13-Week Stay – What Should You Do?

girls standing in front of rainbow colored structure as the sunrises creating a pink sky

Whenever I arrive at a new destination, I sometimes feel completely overwhelmed at all there is to see and do.  I think to myself, how in the world do I accomplish all that I want to accomplish without wasting any time in 13 VERY short weeks?  Where do I even start?  Well, that’s what I’m here for!  Santa Barbara is brimming with things to do.  Here is a comprehensive list of what to do, restaurants to eat at, bars to visit, and more!



funk n love painted on a garage door

Funk Zone

Butterfly Beach – A few miles east will bring you to the charming town of the rich and famous – Montecito, California.  Here you’ll find this serene public beach known as Butterfly Beach.  Easily reachable by foot, bike, or car if you’re in Santa Barbara make sure not to miss it.  Plus since it’s a bit further away from the main drag in Santa Barbara there tends to be fewer people occupying the beach.

Hendry’s Beach – South from Santa Barbara you’ll find this dog-friendly, surfer-friendly beach.  Walk along the long stretch of California’s coast or hit the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach for brunch, dinner, or happy hour!

State Street – State Street is the main street in Santa Barbara.  It ends on Stearns Wharf in the Pacific Ocean and is where most of the main attractions are found.  You’ll be able to shop high-end boutiques, find the best ice cream shops, and more.  With all of the outdoor cafes, you’ll also be treated to a taste of Europe!

Funk Zone – Located near the ocean, but away from State Street, you’ll find an artsy community and the Urban Wine Trail in a place known as the Funk Zone.  The Funk Zone is a recently renovated part of Santa Barbara and is now a vital part of the community.  Here you’ll find boutiques, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, breweries, and more.

State Street Farmer’s Market – On Tuesdays from 1600-1930, State Street shuts down and vendors set up shop.  At this diverse farmers market, you’ll be able to find everything from wine, vegetables, pies, honey, and more.  There’s even a bar nearby, Wildcat Lounge, that serves “farm to bar” style cocktails on Tuesdays.  One of their bartenders heads to the market when it opens and picks up a variety of herbs.  They then craft farm to bar-style cocktails using the herbs that were just bought.  (I wouldn’t recommend hitting Wildcat unless you’re specifically going for this reason).

Cold Spring Tavern – One of the most unique activities located just outside of Santa Barbara is making the drive to this mountainside western saloon, Cold Spring Tavern.  Famous for their live music on the weekends, beer, and tri-tip sandwiches.  It’s where bikers come to gather and everyone leaves as friends, don’t miss this activity during your short assignment!

Stearns Wharf – Don’t miss the opportunity to walk down the wharf, deeper into the Pacific.  Stearns Wharf has kitsch tourist shops, wine tasting opportunities, and restaurants.  It also offers great views of Santa Barbara from a different vantage point.



Los Olivos – An hour drive northwest will take you on a stunning drive through mountains and valleys, and spit you out in wine country.  Los Olivos is an incredibly beautiful area and much less visited than wine country in northern California.  10/10 recommend making the drive to spend some time in the region.


For more information on visiting Los Olivos, read Wine Tasting in Los Olivos – The Best Vineyards to Visit!


girl riding mint green bike through danish town

Solvang – South of Los Olivos and north of Santa Barbara, you’ll find the Danish town of Solvang.  Famous for its windmills, Danish-style buildings, and wine tasting rooms; Solvang shouldn’t be missed.  I prefer to drive up to Solvang early in the morning for breakfast, before heading north to Los Olivos for the day.


For more information on visiting Solvang, read The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Solvang, California



Santa Barbara is known to have some of the freshest seafood, most diverse food scene around California.  From ramen, to poke, just about every ethnic food is somehow represented in this small beach town.  While a lot can be found on the main street in town, State Street, the true gems are tucked away on lesser-known streets.


For a full rundown of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara, make sure to check out Places to Eat in Santa Barbara – 10 Restaurants You MUST Try



santa barbara winery

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. – Located in Santa Barbara’s funk zone, you’ll find this brewery serving tap beers and live music.

Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop – Also found in the Funk Zone, Lama Dog is one of three bars sharing space in a big industrial building.  Unlike the other two bars in the building, Lama Dog serves delicious food out of a small window to enjoy with your drinks.

The Good Lion – A swanky spot to go for a cocktail or two.  Centrally located on State Street.

Santa Barbara Wine Therapy – A cool and relaxed board game/wine bar on State Street.  There’s typically live music and even themed nights!


Luckily, because Santa Barbara is quite small, there’s a good chance you’ll get to see all you want during your 13-week contract.  With beaches to visit, wine to drink, and seafood to eat, I hope that you make the very best of living in such an incredibly beautiful place.


For more information on Santa Barbara make sure to check out these posts:

California’s Best Kept Secret – Santa Barbara the American Riviera

Santa Barbara Funk Zone Wineries – A Guide to the Wine Tasting Rooms

Pictures of Santa Barbara to Inspire You to Visit


If you’re looking for other ideas of where to be a travel nurse, check out these posts:

The Ultimate Travel Nurse Guide to Austin

The Ultimate Travel Nurse Guide to Boston

The Ultimate Travel Nurse Guide to Chicago

The Ultimate Travel Nurse Guide to Omaha

The Ultimate Travel Nurse Guide to San Francisco

The Ultimate Travel Nurse Guide to Seattle


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Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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