Literary City Guide | Santa Barbara, CA

On days when it seems the food for the journey
is clay, not bread, and the spirit famished,
as dusk transfigures everything
I pause, near silence: listening.
— Barry Spacks, former Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara

Tour Guide: Nicole Gulotta


Nicole is the creator of Eat This Poem. After attending UC Santa Barbara, she stayed another four years in this idyllic beach town before moving to Los Angeles. Luckily, Santa Barbara is a short drive away, so she still visits several times a year.



Relationship to Santa Barbara: Former eight-year resident, and now a frequent visitor

Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Barbara Kingsolver

Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Alice Waters

Writing soundtrack: Jazz, almost always

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or Tea: Is wine an option?

Paperback or Hardback: Paperback 

Good Reads


The Book Den. A local staple since 1933, The Book Den is one of California's oldest book stores. Today, they sell new, used, and out-of-print titles.

Chaucer's. This local bookstore is away from the bustle of downtown, but worth a visit. They're big supporters of local and regional writers, and host readings throughout the year. 

UCSB Bookstore. Santa Barbara has wonderful local bookstores, but the nostalgic side of me secretly loves walking around the campus bookstore at UCSB with a pale mocha from Nicoletti's in hand.


The Karpels Manuscript Library. This is a museum holding the largest private collection of original manuscripts and documents in the world. It's a gem just off bustling State Street.

Santa Barbara Public Library. The Central Library is conveniently located adjacent to the art museum. 

UCSB Library. I spent many hours here as a college student. Head to the eighth floor for an expansive view of campus and the ocean. 


Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival.  Each year, this festival features a variety of panelists and up to nearly 100 booth vendors offering books, author appearances and nonprofit information.

UCSB offers events through its Arts & Lectures series, and the College of Creative Studies hosts Wednesday afternoon readings during the academic year. 

Women's Literary Festival.  This conference celebrates the work of contemporary female authors.



On the third Monday of every month, locals gather at 5:15 pm to read their favorite poems at Blue Agave. Visitors welcome.

If you're looking to create a writer's retreat for yourself, spend time at La Casa de Maria in Montecito. The grounds will fill you with inspiration.

For expansive views, go up the clock tower at City Hall, or wander through Elings Park above Hendry's Beach. 

Good Eats


Dune Coffee Roaster (formerly The French Press). This coffee shop has two locations, including one on bustling State Street and the more tucked-away option on nearby Anacapa Street. Both offer ample seating and are places you can stay a while.

Coffee Cat. I'm nostalgic for this downtown coffee shop because I spent many hours writing papers here during my student days. If you're on the move, grab a cup to go and walk across the street to the courthouse. Take the elevator up the clock tower for a panoramic view of the city. 


Bouchon. This was the first restaurant that introduced me to the beauty of pairing wine with food. Their mostly-local wine list, farmer's market menu, cozy atmosphere, and personable staff has made this my favorite restaurant in town since I started eating there in 2006.

Jeannine's.  A  family-owned restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch. They offer an impressive array of baked goods to go with your coffee or tea (that tend to sell out by the afternoon), as well as hearty and healthy meal options, like lobster benedict, whole grain pancakes, or warm quinoa with seasonal fruit and almond milk. I'm partial to the Montecito cafe (within walking distance to Butterfly Beach).

Les Marchands Wine Bar. If your idea of "proper" includes wine, baguettes smeared with butter, and salmon cured with creme fraiche and tarragon, this new wine bar is the spot for you.

The Lark. Next to Les Marchands in the renovated Funk Zone near the Santa Barbara harbor, The Lark is a community restaurant that celebrates the bounty of the central coast.

Olio Pizzeria. The sister restaurant to Olio e Limone, the pizzeria next door is a great spot for lunch. Try the Umbra pie with mushrooms and truffles. 


Isabella Gourmet Foods. This boutique grocery stocks foods from local purveyors, like olive oil from Ojai, Santa Barbara pistachio meal, and chocolate. 

Crushcakes. This cupcake store and attached cafe is a good place to calm your sugar cravings. They also brew Intelligentsia coffee. 

C'est Cheese. If you're in the mood for a picnic or are heading up to wine country, stop here to pick up an assortment of cheeses, salamis, and other goodies for your basket.

Rori's Artisinal Creamery. Located in the new Santa Barbara Public Market, Rori's serves up organic ice cream in tempting flavors like lavender honey, lemon curd, and root beer float.

“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can't.” 

― Christopher Paolini, Eragon

Nicole's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view. Beautiful views can be found at Elings Park. To get there, go through the park entrance then drive to the end of the road, where you'll come to a parking lot. Just before the lot, turn left up the hill, then wander around the pathways, sit under trees, and take in the sweeping views of the harbor. 

2. Favorite place to write. On a bench overlooking Butterfly Beach, or in a local coffee shop.

3. Favorite museum. Karpels Manuscript Library. It's a hidden gem tucked away off of State Street.

4. Favorite coffee shop.  I love Jeannine's Bakery in Montecito. The whole grain pancakes and scones are favorites.

5. Favorite thing about Santa Barbara. Everything. And that's not an exaggeration. It has the culture and amenities of a big city, but it's really a beach town at heart. Plus, you're at the base of one of the world's best wine country regions. Also, the sea.