Despite the hefty price tag – Santa Barbara's cost of living is 122 percent higher than the national average – the city's Mediterranean climate, diverse housing options and abundance of social and recreational activities for seniors combine to make Santa Barbara one of the top places to retire.
"Santa Barbara has an almost perfect climate with year-round temperatures mainly in the 70s. With a population of around 91,000, it is not too big, but it still has so many wonderful amenities," said Renee Grubb, co-owner of Village Properties real estate agency. "There are a lot of cultural events, including a symphony, museums, and numerous beautiful theaters. There is also excellent shopping in the downtown area and endless dining opportunities as Santa Barbara ranks as one of the cities with the most restaurants per capita in the USA."
The ocean breezes rising off the Pacific help moderate temperatures in Santa Barbara. Summers are cooler and winters much warmer than California's more inland communities. Temperatures average in the high 60s in the winter and rarely rise above the 70s in summer. The city's climate mimics that of cities in the Mediterranean region of Europe, and thus Santa Barbara has been dubbed "The American Riviera." The mild temperatures make it easy for seniors to be outdoors and stay active.
Plenty of Places to Play
Santa Barbara's location between Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean offers a host of recreation opportunities for retirees. The mountains provide some of the best hiking in the state, with trails for both the novice and experienced hiker, and several outfitters offer guided hikes for seniors. The Santa Barbara portion of the California Coastal Trail stretches from the Arroyo Burro Estuary to the end of East Beach and the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge. The trail system is popular with walkers, cyclers and equestrians and is even wheelchair accessible. The waters off the Santa Barbara coastline are perfect for sailing, sea kayaking, paddleboarding or surfing. Stearns Wharf is a great place to whale watch – or people watch. Bicycling is not only a good form of exercise but is also a popular means of transportation with dozens of bike paths and trails crisscrossing the city.
In addition to the more than two dozen parks and open spaces, the city also operates two recreation centers for seniors that offer fitness classes, dance classes, lawn bowling clubs and arts and crafts activities. The parks and recreation department also offers sports programs, such as golf, tennis, swimming and basketball, specifically geared toward seniors.
"It is very easy to be outdoors and active in Santa Barbara because there are many beautiful parks, beaches, hiking and horse riding trails," Grubb says. "Beautiful, safe beaches and mountains make for a stunning backdrop and great playground for the active senior adult."
Arts in Abundance
"Santa Barbara's historic beautiful downtown offers unparalleled art and culture for this size community," says Anne Monroe, Social Services Director for Valle Verde senior living community. Valle Verde is one of 34 senior living communities in Santa Barbara. Monroe says an important contributor to the city's vibrant arts and culture scene is the University of California Santa Barbara which hosts free lectures, performances and film screenings as well as continuing education classes through its Extension office. Santa Barbara is home to the Arlington Theatre, which hosts the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival; the Lobero Theatre, which hosts smaller concerts; and the Granada Theater downtown.
The Santa Barbara Bowl amphitheater hosts outdoor concerts and offers spectacular views of the mountain canyon. Santa Barbara also boasts a symphony orchestra and opera company, which hold performances throughout the year, and the parks and recreation department sponsors free concerts in Chase Palm Park every Thursday in July. Residents also enjoy a full calendar of festivals, including the annual Old Spanish Days-Santa Barbara Fiesta in August, which celebrates the city's Spanish heritage, and the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show.
Health and wellness are major quality-of-life issues for seniors, and Grubb says Santa Barbara ranks high in that category as well.
"In addition to many home care agencies in the area, there are three 55+ communities and 34 senior living communities in Santa Barbara. There are also two state-of-the art hospitals and a great transportation network for seniors to get them to and from doctor's appointments," she said. "There are local farmers markets six times a week, a public market and easily accessible shopping areas."
Santa Barbara boasts nearly 1,000 non-profit organizations – including the Central Coast Commission for Senior Citizens-Area Agency on Aging – which not only offer assistance to seniors in need but also give retirees opportunities to volunteer and become involved in philanthropic work and to socialize with others in the community. Research shows that seniors who are social and involved in their community have a lower risk of depression or other mental maladies and tend to have improved physical health.