Comparison Analysis for Travelers: San Diego vs Santa Barbara

Zack Garhart
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Comparison Analysis for Travelers: San Diego vs Santa Barbara

Trying to decide between traveling to San Diego and Santa Barbara? For normal travelers, there are certain advantages to being in both cities. For students, the same thing is true. We’ll break down the differences in this comparison analysis for travelers.

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San Diego for Casual Travelers

The beaches. The nightlife. The fish tacos. San Diego has a lot to love. From the bohemian vibes at Ocean Beach to the stunning sunsets you can catch on the cliffs at La Jolla, San Diego’s different pockets are what make it unique. If you’re looking to catch a baseball game, the downtown area has plenty of fun bars and great restaurants within walking distance of Petco Park to give you a complete experience.

Pacific Beach, in particular, is a place where people love to stretch out in the sand and catch a tan, but also party. This part of San Diego is a popular destination when it comes to Spring Break and surfing. The waves are impeccable, and the electricity is contagious. Our Beach Bungalow Surf Hostel is a perfect place to get a taste of what Pacific Beach is all about.

Ocean Beach, as mentioned, is a place where hippies, artists, and backpackers converge. There are plenty of spots where you can catch an open mic, shoot some pool, or grab a cold beer and converse with locals. People like Ocean Beach because of its unique character, eclectic shops, and diverse food scene. Many bars offer rooftop seating, giving you ample places to catch the sunset while you sip something cold. The coffee shops in Ocean Beach are also top-notch, and the town has more than a few local roasters.

For a taste of city life, San Diego has a vibrant downtown that offers more than just bars and restaurants. The Padres have a loyal following and their games are a perfect way to experience the food and culture in San Diego in one sitting. Balboa Park, meanwhile, is located within walking distance of downtown and is a must-see. This massive park is one of San Diego’s most prized jewels and offers an array of museums and activities. We recommend bringing a few friends and having a picnic in the park before hitting up downtown.

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San Diego for Students

The University of California San Diego is one of the top 20 research universities in the world. Their campus is located in La Jolla, which offers students a tremendous opportunity to explore some of San Diego’s best beaches and hiking trails. Black’s Beach is one of our favorite beaches in San Diego, while La Jolla Trail offers a semi-challenging hike with tremendous views.

While La Jolla is where the campus is located, many UCSD students live in the North Park and Hillcrest neighborhoods of San Diego. These areas offer more affordable options and a diverse range of accommodations. Both neighborhoods are filled with hip bars, interesting shops, and plenty of cafes for studying. One more area that offers more reasonable housing options is University Heights.

Additionally, our Little Italy Adventure Hostel offers long-term stay options for students who are getting acclimated to San Diego. This is a great way to meet travelers and become familiar with the city before getting settled. Our location is ideally located near downtown and is also within walking distance of the water. Contact our staff for rates and availability.

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Santa Barbara for Casual Travelers

For an escape from the business of city life, people flock to Santa Barbara. The town is steeped in history that dates back to over 10,000 years. At one point, Santa Barbara was the original Hollywood. There are remnants of Santa Barbara’s rich history and culture all throughout town. It’s a great place to spend a weekend or more walking around, checking out the different beaches, and eating fresh, local food. With farmer’s markets held regularly around town, and local fish purveyors easily found, Santa Barbara offers plenty of different ways to eat on a budget.

Some of the best beaches in Santa Barbara are Leadbetter Beach and East Beach. Also, we recommend taking a little extra time to pop over to either Goleta or Carpinteria. The town of Goleta has incredible beaches and is home to a plethora of small, local businesses and shops. Carpinteria is more low-key, and smaller, but also boasts some wonderful beach fronts and eateries. With a little time on your hands, take a day trip to Carpinteria from Santa Barbara.

As far as the nightlife, Santa Barbara’s main drag is State Street. With everything from British pubs and pool halls to dive bars and live music venues, State Street is filled with places to spend a night with friends on the town. Tuesdays are a great day to hit up Wylde Works for their open mics, while the weekends are the best days to hear local bands jamming out. Other than State Street, the Funkzone is a hip part of town that offers an array of breweries and eateries. The Funkzone maintains a different vibe and is where a lot of locals hang out. Both areas offer great opportunities to experience the nightlife in Santa Barbara.

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Santa Barbara For Students

For starters, the University of California Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. Its campus is located right on the ocean, in the town of Isla Vista. Students will often live in Isla Vista, while many also choose to live in Goleta or Santa Barbara. In Santa Barbara, you’ll also find Santa Barbara City College. The close proximity of all three towns gives students plenty of housing options that are within a short commute from their college. As far as it goes for finding housing options as a student, there are plenty of options we recommend exploring.

Students tend to spend their nights partying in Isla Vista, as it’s so close to campus. From house parties to the different bars, you’re sure to find something going on in Isla Vista once Friday or Saturday night rolls around. Going out in Isla Vista is also good for students since many of the restaurants, cafes, and bars tend to be more affordable.

For students studying or staying in Santa Barbara, the nightlife is still strong but geared more towards the bars. The Red Piano and Sandbar are two popular places for college students to party on State Street. Otherwise, The Biergarten in the Funkzone features Thursday nights as their “college nights”. You can find specials all throughout town, but checking out the local happy hour specials in Santa Barbara is one of our best recommendations for stretching your budget.

Curious about what the UCSB campus looks like? Watch this video!

For students and travelers alike, our ITH locations offer great accommodations for short or long stays. We offer discounts on longer stays and also have a Traveler’s Club that will help you save on all your future bookings. 


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